What is the problem with Donald Sterling’s racist comments? As I am sure many of you are, I am tired of the perpetual news whirlwind around Donald Sterling. After days of regurgitated stories, angles and twists, it gets irritating and even frustrating to keep reading. So why throw another article at it? The purpose here is definitely not to report any news. That ship has sailed. Some recent stories will help to set the context, but there is a bigger “story” that isn’t often addressed when social incidents like this occur.
The short of it is a depraved billionaire with several legal bouts under his belt for alleged discrimination and racist comments made against African Americans, Latinos, and others living in apartment buildings he owns happened to make more racist comments (surprise!). The comments were recorded by his (50-years-his-junior) girlfriend, V. Stiviano [i]. Although she ratted him out, Stiviano doesn’t believe “in her heart” that he is a racist [ii]. Stiviano is currently dealing with her own lawsuit, as Sterling’s wife wants some fancy cars back [iii]. If he had only made it a few more weeks before this information was “leaked”, Donald Sterling would have received an NAACP lifetime achievement award, with Rev. Al Sharpton on hand [iv]. It seems financial support from Sterling’s charitable foundation was enough to keep the years of public racism under wraps and the hypocrisy of the beneficiaries at full throttle. Anyone who keeps digging can find this is likely only the tip of the iceberg with this entertaining cast.
So the media has been cued and the outrage has set in, but what benefit will it produce? Likely nothing. The NBA’s maximum penalty may force him to pay something like $20 (what is $2.5 million to a billionaire?) then sell the team for somewhere around $1 billion. But getting back to the opening question, what is the problem with Donald’s racism? Everyone is getting red-faced playing in the branches instead of addressing the root. And the root goes back to covenantal disobedience – in the form of a heritage/entitlement problem – with the people who happen to be my heritage. God covenanted with the Jewish people, blessed them immensely, and set forth a glorious purpose for the nation. This purpose reached a culminating point in the establishment of Solomon’s temple. This purpose was to be a light to all nations. Isaiah later articulates this international purpose:
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”…
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.” (Isa. 56:3, 6-7)
Despite their knowledge of the Scriptures, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day could not see this. Of course they could not even see the Messiah standing right before their eyes fulfilling the prophecies they knew so well – or at least thought they knew. Why? Covenantal disobedience. Joel McDurmon, in his book Jesus Vs. Jerusalem, describes the temple cleansing events (you know, the place in the Bible where Jesus gets angry) and the larger message that is often missed:
“Jesus was not just angry because people were buying and selling. He got angry because of what they were buying and selling: sacrifices…These people were not selling religious junk like the modern Bible stores; there were selling sacrifices. And a people that has accepted sacrifices for sin as a thing of everyday business, is a people that has given up on obedience – they had no mind for keeping the covenant, no mind for the discipline of holiness and prayer, and no mind for being a witness unto the nations.” (pg. 142)
In one of his last condemnations before the cross, Jesus charges the Pharisees with racism – one outworking of their disobedience. Israel thought the temple being theirs set them over the Gentiles. There was a misconstrued sense of entitlement because of their bloodline. Except God’s blessings were not the end, but the means for His purpose of proclaiming the gospel globally. McDurmon points to Solomon’s prayer before the altar of the Lord in 1 Kings 8 to further elucidate this international intent:
Hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name. (1 Kings 8:43)
All of this demonstrates the “magnificent unity of God’s covenants through all of history: His plan was always global in scope from day one.” [v]. Sins like racism are not new. This isn’t just something that will resolve over time as a closed-minded generation or two dies off, because the issue isn’t with a certain way that people grew up. The answer isn’t accepting a pluralistic society and conceding Christian ethics in hopes of building unity and tolerance. God designed a way for humanity to live in unity with one another: covenant-keeping obedience. We need to act on the basis of covenant keeping versus covenant breaking. We need to understand that bloodline or heritage can be interesting (I know mine is) and should not be forgotten; but it doesn’t really matter. Until we act in this way, this circle of hate, bigotry, and hypocrisy will not be broken.
[v] McDurmon, Joel, Jesus Vs. Jersualem, 2011, American Vision Press