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What Would Jesus Do With Donald Sterling?

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Donald Sterling, the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team, received a lifetime ban from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Tuesday for making racist remarks in a recording with an alleged mistress. Sterling was also fined $2.5 million and pressure for him to sell the team is intense. But I wonder, would Jesus have taken the same action as the NBA?

The latest round of racial troubles for the Clippers owner started last Friday when a recording surfaced on the celebrity website TMZ of a conversation where Sterling criticized his ex-girlfriend for associating with black people.

“The man whose voice is heard on the recording and on a second recording from the same conversation that was released on Sunday is Mr. Sterling,” said Silver in his Tuesday press conference. “The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful.”

To make matters worse, this is not the first time Sterling has been blamed for being racially insensitive. He has been sued for discriminating against black and Hispanic tenants in his real estate properties, and was sued by former African American NBA star Elgin Baylor for age discrimination with an undercurrent of racism.

At the same time, the NAACP also hailed him for his contributions.

Before I tackle the question at hand, let me say the remarks by Sterling were not only stupid and insensitive, but also damaging to professional basketball and society. In other words, he’s a bigot in the 10th degree. The outrage from players was warranted and a severe penalty was necessary.

Now, let’s examine Scripture and see if we can get a glimpse of how Jesus would have handled the matter.

Thankfully, the New Testament is not written like an EEOC handbook, but it contains all the information we need to figure out how to handle those who sin against their fellow man.

For starters, we are told to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Granted, that’s a challenge for my scared human heart at times; however, Sterling should have shown the same respect and admiration for his neighbors of a different race. Although his past actions don’t bode well in this area, he still has time to repent and change his ways, albeit away from the spotlight of the NBA.

Matthew 6:9-15 teaches us the Lord’s Prayer and to “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus goes on to say, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

What I would like to see most is a sincere and repentant (not remorseful) apology from Sterling. At the time of this writing he has not done so publicly, but even if he never does, aren’t we still compelled to forgive? Yes we are.

Most of us are familiar with the story of the woman caught in adultery. When thrown in front of Jesus and asked what penalty she deserved, Jesus essentially gave permission for the Pharisees to stone her, but requested those without sin to throw the first one. There were no takers.

I can’t speak for you, but I can’t deny that I’ve had thoughts and said things that would have offended those of a different race. Maybe Adam Silver or some of the players and fans that were rightfully offended by Sterling haven’t, but I doubt it.

There is no shortage of professional athletes throwing stones at Sterling. Within an hour of the NBA Commissioner issuing the lifetime ban, social media is lit up with comments supporting the move.

“Former and current NBA players are very happy and satisfied with Commissioner Silver’s ruling,” Earvin “Magic” Johnson tweeted.

Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, tweeted, “I agree 100 percent with Commissioner Silver’s findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling.”

But I haven’t seen one prominent athlete or celebrity mention the need to forgive Sterling. It might not be politically correct, but it may cause some to take notice of their own heart.

Sterling most definitely should offer a heart-felt and sincere apology, but even absent of one, Christians are called to forgive those most offended them. How many times should be forgive them? Scripture says seventy times seven.  That means a lot.

Most, but not all, of the people I’ve spoken with support the lifetime suspension. After all, owning an NBA team is a privilege, not a right.

With all this said, forgiving someone does not mean you will trust them or that their actions will not produce negative consequences for years to come. I’m sure the woman caught in adultery had lots to deal with when she returned home.

But I also believe an opportunity was missed to take an action that was highly insensitive and wrong and turn it into an opportunity to find turn repentance and forgiveness. Now the precedence has been set that if anyone says, does or thinks something that is offensive to others, then banning them for life from their occupation or hobby is the only answer.

Banning Sterling for life from the NBA might satisfy many in the short term, but other options may have produced a longer-lasting benefit to professional sports and mankind. I believe Scripture makes a great case for how Jesus would have handled Donald Sterling and the rest of us.

Now that action has been taken, let’s pray for Donald Sterling, forgive him and move on.

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