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Donald Sterling, Racism and the Power of Forgiveness

Americans have been hyper-focused on the case of Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers owner and his wretched, offensive and hateful racist comments. Evidently, Mr. Sterling has harbored these despicable views for a long time and has behaved in a racist manner in the past.

His current comments were egregiously racist, and, thank God, intolerable in current American society.

I agree entirely with NBA Commissioner Silver's actions in, among other things, banning Mr. Sterling from the NBA for life.

However, as a Christian, I have to ask myself, how do I respond to Donald Sterling the man, as opposed to his racist bigotry? Jesus had a lot to say about forgiveness. And the forgiveness Christ called us to extend to others was not dependant on whether the person we were commanded to forgive was repentant or apologetic.

This kind of forgiveness is important to the one being forgiven AND to the forgiver.

Jesus knew that an unforgiving spirit poisons the heart that holds it, and it shrivels, shrinks and stifles every relationship in our lives – with God, with our spouses, with our children, with our parents and with everyone else.

Jesus knows that whatever anyone has done to you, it is not worth what it does to you to harbor an unforgiving spirit in your heart.

Jesus commanded His disciples, and us, to "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:43).

And Jesus practiced what he preached. On the cross, He prayed to His Father and said "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 22:34).

Even in His model example of how to pray, the Lord's Prayer, the theme of forgiveness is prominent. In fact, the way we use the Lord's Prayer is a classic example of the religious insensitivity of human beings.

Jesus said, when you pray don't use "vain repetitions as the heathen do" (Matt. 6:7). So what do we do? We vainly repeat the Lord's Prayer, rattling it off from memory without thinking about what we are saying.

Think about asking God to "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:12)? Do we really want God to model our lack of forgiveness in so many areas? To forgive me the way I forgive my spouse, or my ex-spouse? I suspect it would require a good deal of prayer before it wouldn't be dangerous for some of us to pray that part of the Lord's Prayer.

When finishing the Lord's Prayer, Jesus bluntly told his disciples that if we "do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14). Jesus is not speaking here of eternal salvation, but our current relationship and fellowship with God.

Do we condemn what Donald Sterling said? Absolutely! Do we condone the punishment he faces for his actions? Affirmative. Do we forgive Donald Sterling the man, and seek to act redemptively toward him? Hopefully, yes.

As Dr. King said many years ago, "those you would change, you must first love." It is a loss of Dr. Kings' spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation that has helped to perpetuate the racial animosity and resentment that too often permeates our society. May the Christian spirit of Dr. King prevail in our hearts.

That is the pathway to personal, racial, and social reconciliation. We need to understand Donald Sterling is one of the victims of his racist views, and the forgiveness of Jesus, modeled to Him by Jesus' disciples, can liberate and free him from his racist demons.

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