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3 Quick Exhortations for Christians on Dealing with Men Like Donald Sterling

The Witness

This weekend, it was reported that Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers, made racist remarks in a heated conversation with his girlfriend. The audio (obtained by an online gossip magazine) strongly suggests that Sterling has very unhealthy views regarding culture and ethnicity. It has also been reported that this isn’t the first time Sterling has been accused of being racist. As I stated on Twitter, Sterling’s remarks are unfortunate and disturbing considering his position in a league where minorities are the majority. Despite his views, Christians have a responsibility to God and therefore to Donald and men like him.

After observing the hoopla surrounding Sterling and the response of some Christians via social media, I have 3 quick exhortations for Christians on dealing with men like Donald Sterling.

1. We must love men like Sterling by understanding what he was actually trying to communicate.

It was reported by a gossip column that Sterling didn’t want Black people at the Clippers games, including Magic Johnson. After listening to the audio in full myself, I didn’t come to the same conclusion. It seems Sterling specifically didn’t want his girlfriend bringing blacks or other minorities to the games with her. It doesn’t appear he intended to band minorities from all Clippers games.

When engaging situations such as this and people like Sterling, in order to win them, the Christian must seek to understand. We should be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt instead of coming to the conclusion of the worst possible scenario. Sterling’s view is troubling enough without exaggeration. Unfortunately, it seems this is what the media did, and many Christians jumped on the bandwagon.

2. We must love men like Sterling by not overreacting and being quick to anger when they state their views.

I once saw a tweet that asked “Why are we surprised when sinners sin?” It seems that the sin of racism has been so demonized by the culture to the point that it’s one of the worst things anyone can be guilty of. When we spot it, we go on a rampage seeking to devour whoever is producing it, especially when they’re white. I understand this feeling because I’ve experienced it. When someone is challenging your intrinsic worth, it’s painful to listen to. How does God want us to respond when someone questions our worth with racist remarks? The scriptures call us to:

“make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-9).

I think the culture has influenced the church to a fault when it comes to racism. We must remember that scripture offers a proper view of sin that isn’t as black and white as the world’s view. We’ve simply overreacted to our history causing us to forget the power of grace. Men like Sterling must be called to repentance, not just for the sin of racism, but for all sin.

3. We must love men like Sterling by making the church a safe place for sinners, even racist sinners.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if racism is a sin, it will be with us until Jesus returns. Therefore, the church must be ready and willing to pastor and shepherd those who struggle with it. The church should be a safe place for racists. Often, many guilty of racism feel isolated and misunderstood. We don’t love them by misrepresenting them and overreacting when they reveal their struggle. Others who aware of church members struggling with these views and know they’re wrong are simply waiting for people like them to die.

This is unacceptable for the household of saints. We should want repentance. However, we can’t call someone to repentance when his or her sin is hidden due to shame, isolation, or because they feel misunderstood. The Gospel takes the blow for racists, offering hope and life, not condemnation.

When the world is screaming justice, the church should be screaming grace. Not cheap grace, but active grace that seeks to understand, is not quick to anger, and offers a safe place to rest the racist’s burden, calling him or her to repentance. Remember, the cross is sufficient for racism, not just of the past, but of the present and future.

16 thoughts on “3 Quick Exhortations for Christians on Dealing with Men Like Donald Sterling

  1. Christopher Zodrow

    Why call him out on his racism, not on his previous fornication? Why is he NOW some godless dude who needs grace? Before he was just a rich dude with a hot girlfriend? Hmm.

  2. george canady

    I am encourage every time I read something on RAAN even if I don’t fully agree with a particular approach. I just got through with Trillia’s new book “United” ; good stuff. I particular liked the part near the end where she says its worth the fight. The struggle is going in a good direction I think. My prayers are with you all here. Keep persevering in putting Christ in front of us on these issues , we need you.

  3. Phillip Michael Holmes

    Thanks for responding all! I responded to what I was able to. This post was meant to be a “quick” exhortation and not in depth. I wanted to challenge those who were offended without focusing too much on the offender. Ultimately, we can’t control what the offender does, but we can control how we respond. As someone who has experienced racism and prejudice REPEATEDLY, I speak from pain, experience and healing. The Gospel and Christ’s love through me for my enemy is what the Jesus calls us to. It’s the cross we must bear. Not a popular message, but nevertheless true. Also situations of race and ethnicity in America are much more complicated than we want to admit. But that’s a whole other topic.

    However, I do send a challenge to churches harboring racists here and share a bit of my experience.

  4. Phillip Michael Holmes

    George if you read this and still have questions about my stance here, let me know. Bless you brother and thankful for always reading and engaging.

  5. Phillip Michael Holmes


    Thanks for engaging brother. Just getting a chance to read these and respond where I could.

    1. What did I say would imply that I disagree with you here? What you stated in point 1 was my point. What he said was bad enough, why exaggerate it?

    2. Yes we overreact and yes your statement was a bit snarky but it’s all good. Not offended easily. 🙂 Brother, bad yes but why? Do you have the same righteous indignation for his habitual adultery or Kobe’s alleged rape or the countless domestic abuses in the league? We’ve gone to far in regards to the issue of racism. Is it bad? Yes. Should it grieve us? ABSOLUTELY! But I wonder when we yell “righteous indignation” is it really a cover up for “self-righteousness”.

    3. This point just made me wonder if you read my post or skimmed it. I didn’t flush it out because it was meant to be a “quick” response but repentance was addressed. The goal of the post was to remind the Christians that were ready to join the angry, self righteous mob of this world that we have the mind of Christ. I hate you got such shallow easy fixers from a post with statements like “Not cheap grace, but active grace that seeks to understand, is not quick to anger, and offers a safe place to rest the racist’s burden, calling him or her to repentance.” Perhaps I could have unpacked that more and I did here:

    Thanks again bro.

  6. miss ronae

    Thank you for speaking about this Phillip. Your words are real, challenging and bold. God bless- I am sharing this article.

  7. george canady

    Phillip, After reflecting on your post over night, I’m not so sure I agree fully with your take on how comfortable a practicing racist should be in the church. In the last Two reformed churches that I was in an elder felt comfortable enough to use the “N” word in my office at my work. The “N” word was used in a dinner club meeting in that same church when a nonbeliever became so comfortable with the racist conversation about the public schools by the believers in the room. The Sunday school classes were regularly filled with laughs and jokes about minorities. My wife and I walked out on one Christmas party it got so bad on one occasion and was thrown out after confronting the sin on another. I was threatened with physical harm by a Bible study group leader on another occasion After asking why the color of the skin the girl he was complaining about mattered. Their was no appeal to the leadership of this church and they covered it all. Surely this in not the comfort you are speaking of.

  8. Lynnelle

    Interesting perspective -thanks for sharing this with us

  9. Will Robinson


    Point 1- It’s bad enough for him to tell this bi-racial woman that he doesn’t want HER to bring people of color to the his(?) games. I don’t have to read more into his statements to be properly angry and hurt about them.

    Point 2- Overreaction? What would a proper reaction be in your opinion? “Well, I guess he just doesn’t like the brown folk. Let me pray for him”. Perhaps that is a bit snarky, but my anger at this is a reminder of how genuinely bad something like it is for all of us. Hate can easily beget hate, and seeing it in myself drives me to seek God’s forgiveness in Christ.

    Point 3- I can best love any sinner by pointing out that their sin, however socially accepted (greed, adultery) or socially unacceptable (racism, abuse of others) are sins that Jesus HAD to die for and that he was willing to die for and he did so for me. But, we can’t treat any anger, hurt and basic human revulsion at the vile things this man said as though Christians are supposed to be above it somehow. The Psalms express genuine anger, not just at God’s enemies, but David’s own, people whom he felt genuine anger toward (Ps 137, 109; 58:6-“O God, break the teeth in their mouths.”).

    Our churches should be open to racists and any and all sinners, but our churches must also be deadly serious about Christ dying for those sins and our insistence that We. Will. Not. Tolerate or Excuse.

    We do not seek vengeance, nor should we. I know for a certainty that the only hope for Mr. Sterling (and any one who hates) is Christ, and that racist people should be told that such loathing for those who are not like him, were it the only thing he were judged on, would be enough to condemn him to eternal punishment by the God who made all men and women in His own image.

  10. george canady

    Thank you Phillip. We agree with your post and try to live it but we have been in some churches where the attitude here you are referring to is in the leadership and is tolerated in the congregation and hardly ever confronted. Only recently, as the pressure out side builds, do we see some sort of movement. But it seems forced and not from the heart. Who knows what is in a mans heart until he says or dose something to reflect it. What do you do when your church intends on keeping it’s white majority leadership that has said its that way because there are no qualified minorities?

  11. MichaelEFear

    Incredibly well written and thought out. One of the most powerful statements I’ve read in awhile: “We must love men like Sterling by making the church a safe place for sinners, even racist sinners.”

  12. Tyshan Broden

    This is really a beautiful view point that allows people to grow, it reminds me that, “God’s goodness brings man to repentance.”

  13. Terry

    Awesome post! Took the words right out of my mind and mouth! Now I don’t have to blog. Great mix of truth and grace Phillip!

  14. Jb

    Phil, I’m with you 150% and I think you have made a much needed point. However, since I always have to push back on every (character flaw? Maybe?) I would suggest that while one-side of this coin needs grace, the other side needs historic-contextual understanding. As a black man myself I must say when I read the horrors of the racial history of America it is devastating. When I read about the lynchings I ask myself how could god let this happen(I know the answer intellectually, but struggle emotionally). Then as we have progressed and still have the same race hatred is frustrating. We know that the bible makes a distinction between committing a particular sin, and practicing/living a lifestyle of a sin. Also looking at the motif in the bible of collective responsibility, it seems that the nation of America as a whole has lived a lifestyle of practicing racism. And black people, as a whole are viewing this as an greater abomination because it seems that we should have learned from the past. The compounding of the same sin and asking for repentance is hypocrisy. And although this isn’t for individuals per se but collectively we ask: does hypocritical repentance call for grace or judgement? Therefore, I say that the church in particular, and America in General should distribute grace to fed-up minorities who last out because of the perponderance of injustice. So, although I agree that I and other black men must take your admonition of grace and apply it, I think that there must be a historical, contextual, and harmatological quantitative understanding of black frustration. Grace and peace.

  15. Phillip Michael Holmes

    Thanks for reading Ariel and thanks for your encouraging words.

  16. Ariel Bovat

    Very well written blog post showing Christian maturity and love. BRAVO RAAN

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