The Unpardonable Sins

In case you haven’t been paying attention this past week, Donald Sterling*, owner of the L.A. Clippers has been banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million. In addition to being slapped with heavy sanctions, Sterling will likely be forced to sell the Clippers, even if he stands to make a ton of money on the deal—but that’s another story for another day.

What, you may ask, was Donald Sterling’s transgression? Well, in case you have been living under a rock, Sterling was recently recorded** by his mistress*** spewing offensive racist comments. A celebrity gossip Web site broke the story, and the response from basketball players to cultural commentators to even the president of the United States has been swift in rightly condemning Mr. Sterling’s comments. Actually, some of the responses have condemned Mr. Sterling himself, and not just his comments.

Follow me here for a second: 1) Mr. Sterling’s racist comments are repulsive, and they betray an apparently stable attitude and worldview that he has espoused for many years. 2) For my limited knowledge of professional basketball, the NBA was right in their disciplinary action against Mr. Sterling. 3) An accepting and multicultural society like ours needs to address poisonous attitudes and encourage mutual respect among all people.

However, I wonder if our culture hasn’t gone too far. It seems that every few months we (with cheerleading by the media and our cultural Sirens) root out another person in our midst who is unacceptable to us, we flog him or her with righteous indignance, and we throw him or her away into the garbage dump for bad people, feeling collectively better about ourselves for having exorcised some social evil embodied in that person. And it’s not just one type of person with one type of political persuasion that receives the scorn and shame of an entire nation; everyone is already on their last warning to keep their thoughts and behaviors in check, lest they, too, be cast into the outer darkness.

But as a Christian leader, I am concerned that we condemn people so readily and close out the possibility of forgiveness and restoration. Think with me another second: What if Donald Sterling were to publicly apologize for his racist attitudes and behaviors?**** And not just the politically motivated non-apology that says, “I’m sorry if you were offended by my comments.” But what would we as a society do if he had a genuine change of heart, publicly repented and turned to God,***** and asked for forgiveness? Would we accept him and give him another chance? Or is Sterling’s sin one of the many unpardonable sins we have in our culture today?

As Christians, forgiveness is at the heart of who we are. We have been forgiven of our sins, so we must be ready to forgive others for their sins (see Colossians 3:13b). It’s what we do. Even Jesus—to Peter’s dismay—told his disciples that they must keep forgiving others who offend us, because God keeps forgiving us when we offend him.

So if I can offer yet another voice to this conversation about Donald Sterling and racism, it would be this: Yes, we need to gently encourage others toward respecting and loving all people, but yes, we also need to practice humility when faced with the temptation to condemn others.

And while we’re at it, why don’t we all take a second and pray for Donald Sterling.

* Born in Chicago in 1934 as Donald Tokowitz.

** Apparently without his knowledge or consent, which is actually illegal and inadmissible as legal evidence in California.

*** That is, not his wife, Rochelle Stein. Apparently adultery is acceptable in the NBA.

**** Not to mention his adultery.

***** He’s Jewish.


The Liberal Media Who Cried Wolf

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

We all know the fable about the boy who cried wolf: Sounding the alarm worked to alert the townspeople to danger…until they realized that there was no danger and that his cries were empty.  Likewise, these days the liberal media are crying wolf, desperately trying to change the political conversation that has gotten out of their control.  Whether it’s tea parties, town hall meetings, the recent Tea Party Express rally in Washington, or even Joe Wilson (whom I am not defending), liberal pundits have not known how to respond to those who are pushing back against the president and Congress’ plans, except to tar them with the racist label.

But every time they hit the nuclear button–usually for the banal reason of stifling debate and putting their opponents on the defensive–all legitimate charges of racism lose their force. Eventually, if these faux-racism mongers relentlessly keep crying wolf with no real evidence, our culture will become desensitized to the real currents of authentic racism that still pulse through our society.

So we all need to be vigilant to address racism in its varied forms, but we need to not impugn the motives of others in an attempt to demonize them and score a few political points.  Because that ultimately cheapens the race struggles in our nation and undermines the progress we have made toward racial reconciliation in America.  (After I started writing this, I watched a commentary by Brit Hume, which only augments my point.  David Harsanyi has also written a typically witty and provocative article here.)

For some reason, politically liberal media pundits–who find President Obama to be absolutely without blemish–cannot imagine that anyone would actually disagree with his policies without also being a bigot.  Sure, there are probably many racists out there who don’t like the president’s policy positions.  But there are also millions–maybe even tens of millions–of others who I’m sure can distinguish between a man’s racial background and his politics.

Here are a few wolf-criers:

Maureen Dowd is apparently hearing voices that aren’t really there.  So since we’re interpreting other people’s private motivations, maybe Ms. Dowd should visit a psychiatrist to get her auditory hallucinations checked out.

Joan Walsh accuses millions of white Americans with racism against the president without any evidence except his declining poll numbers (which actually could be due to many things, after all).  And then, after casting aspersions broadly, she tries to walk it back a little.  Bizarre.

Michelle Goldberg has written a rambling, incoherent rant against conservative Christians, suggesting in kind of a long-shot, coincidental way, that they are all racists and that any suspicion of invasive government is just a mask for racism.  I think.  Actually I’m not really sure what the point of her essay is.  If someone else reads it and can summarize her point, please let me know what it is.

Former president Jimmy Carter, while technically not a member of the liberal media, also piled on, apparently labeling any opposition to the current president’s policies as racist.  I wonder if he is able to separate how people feel about President Obama from his job approval; polls even show that many people like the person Barack Obama, but are at the same time dissatisfied with his leadership, handling of various issues, and even his political stances.  (See also Janet Daley’s smart commentary on our esteemed 39th president.)