Donald Sterling, Racism, and a Gospel Response
In light of the recent Donald Sterling scandal, there seems to be a lot volatile discussion in the media regarding the issue of race and discrimination.
Not surprisingly – the Christian voice is certainly among the chorus of responses I’ve seen – and I think that’s a good thing.
But, as is the case with most controversial topics, I’m strangely inclined to try and ask a different set of questions.
Regardless of where you land in this whole debacle, or how cognizant you are to issues of racial prejudice and bigotry – one thing still remains true:
“Sunday morning from eleven to noon is still the most segregated hour of the week.”
This, for me, is unacceptable. All the posts, tweets, and rants in the world doesn’t change the fact that, for many of us – our orthopraxy does not match our orthodoxy.
“Racism isn’t a bad habit; it’s not a mistake; it’s a sin. The answer is not sociology; it’s theology.” – Dr. Tony Evans
If Dr. Evans is correct (and I think he is), then our responses to matters like these must be rooted in something deeper than our knee-jerk reactions to the behaviors of famous men and women. If our theology does not confront injustice, cruelty, and prejudice – then we have to ask ourselves if we are, in fact, following the messiah Jesus.
In the book of Genesis, we’re given this beautiful picture of a God who creates human, man and woman, in his image. It’s here that I believe God lays the foundation for a biblical understand of race and ethnicity.
“We are made in his image. We are image bearers of the Creator.”
With this picture alone I would assert that attitudes denigrating people based on race are not only bigoted but blasphemous – insulting to the very God who created all people in his likeness.
To be perfectly honest – I think that one of the reasons many Christians have a hard time connecting their faith to issues like racial harmony and justice is because of a superficial understanding of the cross and salvation. If you get salvation wrong – all the subsequent things that are supposed to work, simply do not work.
For the Apostle Paul – conversion to Christ meant death, plain and simple. If you didn’t die, you didn’t convert. In many places in the New Testament, Paul seems to ask:
“For you Christ-followers – how can you, if you’ve died to racism, unkindness, malice, injustice, hostility, cruelty, evil, violence, ugliness, and prejudice – still live in it?”
And this stirs something deep within me. As both a broken pastor and a stumbling child of God – I’m regularly confronted by this question:
“Have we watered down the Gospel to decisions for Christ without a death with Christ?”
Despite popular belief, I also don’t think that the solution can be found in a sort of “color-blindness” that is often toted as a viable response to racism, because I think it misses the point in a big way.
Think about it.
What is the part of the Old Testament that we tend to skip most frequently?
There are probably very few pillows with needle-stitched lists of names, and even fewer paintings of cascading waterfalls with names like “Arphaxad” and “Salah” interspersed throughout.
The biblical authors apparently didn’t share our aversion to these seemingly insignificant lists. But why is this? Why “waste” the prime real-estate when they could be telling heroic stories of valor or weaving beautiful lines poetry?
Because race is important to God.
Personally, I think the main message of these lists is that God is interested in where people and nations come from. God is not a racist. We are a family – His family. He is not color-blind, He is colorful.
In fact, even in the genealogy that leads to Jesus we are given the names of four women (which would’ve been scandalous to begin with) who appear to be foreigners themselves.
Tamar and Rahab: Canaanites
While this can be easily glossed over, it has tremendous implications for us today. Consider this – if God were racist, would he really welcome foreign women into the family tree?
So, rather than pursuing a sort of “color-blindness” that seeks to homogenize or deride our ethnic difference, perhaps God would have us celebrate them, recognize them, own up to the past mistakes made as a result of them, and be unified amidst them.
At the end of the day – I believe this is a cross issue, a blood issue, a Gospel issue.
The Gospel, by faith alone, having our sins forgiven – is the key to triumphing over these sins that militate over the advance of racial harmony, and it is in Christ alone that we will truly find peace.
“The family of God is ethnically and culturally diverse. As Christians we not only permit such diversity, but we cherish it. This is because God Himself cherishes ethnic diversity. He is not color-blind; He is colorful. At His throne God welcomes worshipers “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev. 7:9). His plan of redemption is for the peoples of the world in all their rich variety. (Is Jesus the Only Way? Crossway, 1999, p. 29.)
“If we want the meaning and the worth and the beauty and the power of the cross of Christ to be seen and loved in our churches, and if the design of the death of His Son is not only to reconcile us to God but to reconcile alienated ethnic groups to each other in Christ, then will we not display and magnify the cross of Christ better by more and deeper and sweeter ethnic diversity and unity in our worship and life?” (Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, Bethlehem Baptist Church, 2002, p.207.)