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Let me illustrate: do you remember Donald Sterling? He owned an NBA team. There was a media storm over some racist remarks he allegedly made—remarks recorded and turned over to TMZ and then to the public. He lost his basketball team, and I’m not sure how he is doing today. During that firestorm, Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, weighed in on racism by saying we all are racists in some form or fashion.
He went on to stereotype black people with hoodies and white people with tats. His comments set off another storm as the ESPN talking heads pushed his interview to the top of several of their shows, most of them condemning him for acknowledging the universality of racism.
The ironic reality to ESPN’s perspectives was the prejudice they had toward folks who are prejudice. (Read that sentence again, slowly.) It is a puzzle they do not seem to perceive presumably because their discrimination is morally superior, at least in their minds. Enter Clay Travis—FOX Sports—into the fray, who wrote a remarkable followup to Cuban and the ESPN talking heads.
Let’s be honest, white people don’t write or talk publicly about race unless it’s to condemn people for being racist. It’s easier that way. The company line from most white people is this: racism is bad and we’re not racist. In fact, most white people today fear being called racist more than just about anything in the world. How much so? Put it this way, if your average white person had to choose between getting arrested for a DUI or being publicly branded a racist, just about every single one of us would pick getting a DUI. That’s right, we’d rather put countless lives in danger, go to jail and face criminal charges than be called a racist in America today. – Clay Travis
This insight is striking. In a small way, I am a public figure, and what Travis said is not news to me. I have felt the impact of the power brokers who have more clout and swagger than I do in the arena in which I play. There are high-powered people in every field, including Christianity, and if you speak out against their preferences, their people, or their politics, they may persuade others to turn against you.
I am not for any racists comments from anyone; that is not my point. Racism is wrong—a position Christians believe. The point here is that there is a “little bit of racism in all of us.” The real issue is whether we will be humble enough and courageous enough to admit it. Travis explained it this way:
It’s 100 percent true. Every single person of every race and ethnicity judges people all day long based on how they look, how they walk, their mannerisms, what they say or do on social media. We all do it. If you doubt me, go read the comments on Instagram or Twitter. Break down what’s being said to its root essence, and the vast majority of the time, it’s a value judgment of one sort or another—we’re all tribal, seeking to classify people as either with us or against us. It’s impossible to avoid judging people; we’re biologically wired to do so. But we’re also smart enough to be conscious of our thoughts and examine whether they’re legitimate. – Clay Travis
Clay is talking about class prejudice. You can throw in that problem as one of our universal sins, too. There are certain kinds of people we tend to look down on irrespective of their skin color. Even if we are not racists, we struggle with class envy or class disdain.
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12).
This American Life aired a podcast called Americans in Paris. The last act of their show was about a black American—Janet McDonald—who moved to Paris and stayed, in part, because French folks didn’t treat her the way Americans treated her when she lived in the States.
To her surprise, after acclimating to the Parisian way of life, she learned there was another kind of prejudice that was not black but class. She talked to Cornell West about this and shared on the podcast what he said to her.
Basically, he suggested it was a class thing. And he said, well, you know, look at you, you are professionally articulate. Maybe if you brought fifteen of your cousins [to Paris from Brooklyn], it would be a whole different thing. So, basically, he was saying if I brought all my homegirls from the hood, like, who didn’t go to Vassar and weren’t lawyers and who didn’t speak French, you know, the reception might be a little chillier, even though they also are black Americans. I think if that is true, then it is not about racism, but it is about class. – Janet McDonald
Which are you? Are you a racist or a classist? Or both? Do you divvy people up by skin color, or are their particular types of individuals, behaviors, and attitudes you look down on and separate from them regardless of the color of their skin? Maybe it is the guy standing on the street corner with a sign, asking for food. Perhaps it is an obese woman with five children, delaying you in Walmart because she cannot find all of her food stamps—the ones you paid the government for so that she could stand in line and hinder you.
What kind of person stirs your self-righteous heart? I am not judging you. I ask what should be an obvious question because we all have someone we look down on from our high chairs. Would you say the doctrine of sin has not touched you this way? Have you successfully overcome what the Lord did when He separated people and created languages in Genesis 11:7-8? Mark Cuban is right: we all classify people. The question should not be whether we discriminate but whether we can talk about how we do it.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12).
This problem is not something outside the Christian experience, as though we are a better group. It is a significant issue within the church, a two-headed dilemma where Sterling’s sin and Cuban’s honesty highlight tensions in us. On one side, we want to stand up and speak out against one man’s racism, while on the other hand, we should have enough self-awareness to know and humility to admit that we are not all that different from the bigot.
If your first recourse is to punish a person for being honest, you will send them underground where the truth about their thoughts and struggles will never see the light of day. It is not wise to complicate a person’s sin by disliking them in a mean-spirited way. Speaking against a person has its place, but sinfully reacting to them makes us accessories to the future harm they do to themselves or others.
The church and ESPN can be similar this way: we can be quick to condemn a person for being a sinner. Though I expect this from sports media, Christians can do better because we have the solution for humanity’s sinfulness. I have counseled scores of people who were part of religious systems and institutions that punished them for sinning.
Rather than seeking redemptive means to restore them to God and others, these organizations seemed to be more about protecting the brand, keeping their team from contamination, and having no desire or competency to enter into the sinner’s problems. The gospel came to draw us out by creating contexts of grace that encourages people to talk freely, transparently, and honestly about who they are and how they struggle.
The first step in being free from sin is a confession—speaking the truth about what is wrong with you. If you struggle with any form of hate toward anyone, you must talk to God first, asking Him to forgive you. Perhaps, afterward, you need to pursue reconciliation with that person. Listen to John.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10).
It is not wise or appropriate to share your current sins with just anyone or everyone. There is no need to tweet your sins to the world, but you should be in a context of competent helpers who can come alongside you to help you overcome the things that hinder you in your sanctification.
The solution I’m suggesting is less about blaring your sins to the masses and more about being honest with a few people who can activate “one another-ing” in your life. What we must not do is condemn folks, with no hope of them getting on a path to change. Problems have to lead to solutions, or those problems will metastasize into all sorts of complicating matters.
Do you have folks in your life where you can share vulnerably and honestly with them? If you don’t sense that kind of freedom with your friends, start by assessing yourself. Are you doing something that hinders honesty? What are the things that distort an environment of grace in your relationships? How should you change? Start here before focusing on what others should do.
Prejudice is just one of the many ways someone can say, “I don’t like you.” If your goal is a redemptive-type activity in a person’s life, you want to identify and remove whatever hindrances keep you from being that way with them. Whatever it is that drives a wedge between you and others has a “condemnation element” to it.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
There is no sense of condemnation with the Lord (1 John 4:19). This news is good, and it releases you to come to Him with all of your problems. God will accept and love you, and He will not condemn you. God will help you if you are honest with Him, and you want to imitate Him to others (1 Corinthians 11:1).
The list of individuals we can struggle with is as long as the differences between people. Who is on your list? Can you love the person who has hurt you, disappointed you, or has not met your expectations? I’m not asking you to become best mates, but if you cannot love them, what is your response to the Savior’s words here?
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).
There is a distinction between being against a person’s sinfulness and against the person. I am talking about the evil of disdaining certain types of people because they are fellow image-bearers. This concept is where the gospel should have the highest inflection point in our hearts.