Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Sterling opportunity to forgive

The media have been all over the Donald Sterling saga like the proverbial fat kid on a Smartie, and truly, what else could overshadow the threat of WWIII starting in Russia and Ukraine, than the shocking revelation that an 80-year-old white billionaire philanderer holds racist views?

There have been some interesting viewpoints: Cam Cole points out that Sterling is not the first team owner who's acted or talked like an owner of the players; Steve Nash has weighed in, asking rhetorically how much longer people will be taught racism; Christie Blatchford spares no ammo in her delight at the NBA's response. Philip DeFranco offers a viewpoint which is, well, different.

But something is disturbing in all this (besides the fact that no one appears to have batted an eye at the fact that this guy dumped the woman who stood by him for 50 years in favor of a woman who's about that much younger): I'm not hearing anyone utter the F-word:


I thought this when Don Imus made a racist remark about the NCAA Women's basketball champions a few years ago and was subsequently drummed out of the business. I think this when I hear representatives of ethnic groups in Canada which have been wronged over the years -- native Indians, Chinese immigrants from a century ago, Japanese-Canadians who were interned during the Second World War, etc., etc. -- express their outrage and demand apologies from their oppressors. Wouldn't Jesus remind them to forgive?

Wouldn't Jesus remind us that casting the first stone is reserved for the one without sin? Wouldn't He remind us that if we don't forgive others for doing us wrong, how can God forgive us for what we do wrong to Him?

Forgiveness breaks the vicious cycle we get into when someone wrongs us. Like all of God's commandments, it goes against our natural instinct to hit someone back when they hit us. It also releases God's will and love over the situation. Sure, there may be soul- and flesh-satisfaction in barring Sterling for life from the NBA, fining him to the max and recommending a forced sale of the Clippers, but at the end of the day, what will that accomplish? Will Sterling be any less racist as a result? I realize it would be shocking to think that other old white guys who own sports franchises might also hold racist views, but will they come out of this with a refreshed way of thinking, or will they -- and other racist people -- simply drive their thoughts further underground and find more subtle ways of expressing them? (I note Mark Cuban's remarks at the end of Cam Cole's article and say that the guy has a point: indeed, that's a pretty scary aspect to this; because while I'm personally disgusted at this particular incident, what happens if, one day, the way I think and the things I believe run counter to the "accepted norm"*?)

But I digress. I keep considering a series of "What if"s:

  • What if someone said, "I forgive you for the hurt," and reached out with a hand of friendship? (As it's been said, hurt people hurt people.) 
  • What if someone said, "maybe you don't know me well enough - why don't we talk?"? 
  • What if someone said, "we don't agree, but we love you regardless and are here for you"?

Wouldn't that break down more barriers and accomplish more than a $2.5 million fine and public vilification? Wouldn't that shift the focus away from "us versus them" and onto "us and us, under God"? As the Apostle Paul writes, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28) 

Look at it this way: for over a century, we've tried to cure racial tensions by slapping down those who still hold those views and in some cases, trying to "re-educate" them, and we still have people with racist attitudes. Could using Jesus' approach possibly be any worse?

It's an opportunity to let God do His work over a situation, and I hope we seize on it.

*When people make statements that oppose the direction society has taken recently, they're sometimes told they're "on the wrong side of history". Which would you rather be: on the wrong side of history or the wrong side of God?

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