Racism And Free Speech


ClipersDonald T. Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has allegedly been taped during a conversation with his mistress in which he made numerous racist statements. At issue, apparently was his mistress posting pictures with various African-Americans as well as her attending Clippers games in the company of African-Americans. According to a tape played on TV’s TMZ program, Sterling wanted her to take the pictures down and not to come to games with African-Americans.

According to the US Constitution, Sterling has a right to say he doesn’t want his mistress to post pictures of African-Americans or to attend games in their company. But in the aftermath of this TMZ reveal, sportscasters and players and any number of people have called for sanctions from the NBA for his comments and, more drastically, for him to be denied the right to own an NBA franchise.

I thought the whole “free speech” right protected people from just such reprisal.

Mind you, I have no way of knowing if Donald Sterling harbors hatred for a race of people. He is of Jewish ethnicity, as I understand, which doesn’t mean he is or is not opposed to others because of their race. But supposing he were, does the majority of society, which agrees that racism is wrong, therefore have the right to punish him for stating his views, to the point of wresting his property from him?

This is a serious issue. It’s easy to make Donald Sterling a target, especially if you live in the LA area as I do. He’s sabotaged his own sports team any number of times by his questionable decisions and his unwillingness to pay the going salary for top level players. To learn that he has a mistress, that he said inappropriate, racial things to her, and that these things were taped, doesn’t seem surprising. Rather, it’s Donald Sterling being Donald Sterling—someone who goes his own way without regard to others, who is greedy, offensive, selfish, and mean spirited.

So, is society allowed to withhold the rights of greedy, offensive, selfish, mean-spirited people? Is it OK to revoke his First Amendment rights because he’s a jerk with racist views?

We might wish so.

But here’s why it’s not a good idea to get on that bandwagon. There is no telling who society will next label as offensive, mean-spirited, and selfish.

I have no doubt, for example, that there are feminists who would find my views about women and about abortion to be offensive and perhaps sexist, though they’d have a harder time pinning that label on me as a woman than they would on men who might hold the same opinions.

In the same way, a growing number of people would find my views about homosexuality offensive because I still consider same sex activity to be sin. In fact, my views about the sin nature of humankind also are offensive to some people, and they are in contradiction to the general trend of society.

So how are we to view free speech? Are people only free to say what they want without reprisal as long as we agree with them? Or as long as they aren’t rich or in highly visible occupations?

I added that last phrase because of the Westboro Baptist people who waved horrible signs at the funerals of any number of servicemen. I don’t know what kinds of efforts people made to stop them, though I know there were some. However, I don’t recall anyone suggesting they receive a monetary fine from the Baptist denomination or that their church be taken away from them.

Lots of people would like to see the Westboro Baptist protesters and the Donald Sterlings of this world punished. We’d like them to shut up and sit down. We’d like them to stop holding offensive views, wrong beliefs.

Except, I’m offended by Sterling having a mistress. I think he’s a sinner who ought to be criticized in the press for his promiscuity as much as for his racism. If he were a politician who was maintaining a mistress on the side, I’m pretty sure his immorality would become a bigger issue—at least if the racist question wasn’t also part of the conversation.

My point is, different things are offensive to different people. But when it comes to speech, it is not OK to silence someone or punish them just because we think they’re wrong.

It’s uncomfortable to speak out against reprisals aimed at Donald Sterling, but I kind of think it’s necessary. Otherwise, tomorrow those reprisals might be targeting Christians who believe gay marriage is no marriage or abortions are wrong.

Free speech allows us to be a people of law, not of popular opinion. It protects us from the lynch-mob mentality we worked so hard to overcome in the days when the government sanctioned racist hatred.

So now, we’re going to bring back the idea of reprisals against those we deem to be prejudice? Today we’re clamoring for Sterling’s head because of his racist views, but tomorrow the “prejudice” could be against sexist men or homophobe Christians or people wearing red.

Seriously. In certain parts of the city, wearing the wrong gang colors requires reprisal.

At some point, we citizens need to decide what our values are. Here in the US we talk a good game when it comes to freedom, but then a Donald Sterling tape surfaces, and suddenly “free speech” comes with the right to institute sanctions against “that kind of talk”—the kind that ought not to be allowed in the NBA or anywhere else, so the outraged say.

Well, yes, I wish people didn’t think less of others. I wish people didn’t judge others by the color of their skin. I wish people didn’t malign those with whom they disagree. But if they choose to do so, I get to say they are wrong, but I don’t get to hurt them or take their property or put them in jail or fine them.

It’s the downside of free speech, that people like Donald Sterling get to say offensive things. It’s the upside that the rest of us get to say how wrong he is without worrying that he’ll prevent those who wish to watch the Clippers from doing so.

Jews And Jesus


Jewish_Pictures_Of_EthnicitySome months before the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, I began to hear that the Jewish community had serious concerns about the film. It seems they feared it would spark a new era of anti-Semitism.

I was astounded. I had no idea that “Christians” had been credited with instigating hate against Jews. After all, I grew up in a Judeo-Christian culture. I only knew of shared values and a determined stand against the Holocaust.

I learned that some “Christians” justified hating Jews because they had killed Jesus. It’s such an ignorant idea, I thought it had to be someone’s sick joke. But no, apparently this idea has a basis in history: some people waving the banner of Christianity turned against Jews because of the crucifixion.

In some ways, of course, the Jewish religious leaders responsible for convicting Jesus brought the accusation on their people when they told Pilate, who literally washed his hands of Jesus, that His blood would be on their heads and on their children’s heads (Matthew 27:25). But I always assumed that was either verbiage or calling down God’s judgment. I never imagined it to be an acknowledgment that would justify throughout history, profound racial persecution.

The idea of holding the entire Jewish race responsible for Christ’s crucifixion is ludicrous, and anyone following Him in truth would know this. First, Jesus Himself is Jewish. Not only was His mother a Jew, but He Himself said He was the fulfillment of the Law. That would be the Jewish law, given to Jews by God who chose the Jews to be His people–“the apple of His eye.”

Second, all the first Christians were Jews! Peter was a Jew, and so was Mary Magdalene, Salome, Stephen, Martha, Paul, Barnabas, Euodia, James, Jude, Synteca, Matthew, and countless others. A corollary to this point is that the vast majority of people in the Old Testament are also Jews.

Third, Jesus Himself called on God to forgive those who crucified Him. Did He mean only the Roman soldiers? There’s nothing to indicate Jesus intended such a limited understanding.

The greatest reason might be that the Christian understands he has been forgiven because of Jesus’s death on the cross. Without that sacrifice, we’d still be in our sins. If anything, we could see those responsible for His crucifixion as doing us a favor.

But the fact is, Jesus rose from the dead! He is alive today. So what’s the point of carrying a grudge against people, even if we did think they were responsible, when the act has been “undone”?

Besides, Jesus Himself said that no one was taking His life. He was laying it down. How can a people group be held accountable for that?

Finally, Scripture clearly indicates that Christ bridges racial divides. For example, Paul said in Colossians “there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (3:11). His Church–His family–consists of people from every tribe and tongue, including Jews.

The idea that Christians are against Jews as a people group is laughable. That some people want to lay that charge at the feet of Christians shows two things.

First, there are people calling themselves Christians who are lying. They aren’t following Christ, don’t believe in Him, and aren’t part of His Church. They are the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are the weeds Jesus talked about in one of His parables, allowed to grow up alongside the wheat, that will be sorted out and burned up at the harvest.

In conjunction with these pretenders are those outside the Church who accuse Christians of hating Jews. They are speaking in ignorance of the facts, perhaps because they’ve listened to the pretenders instead of the historical record.

Have there been Christian bigots?

Sadly, yes. Like any other sin, Christians are susceptible to disobedience of God’s law and we are subject to our own lack of understanding. Hence, as hard as it is for me to understand, a Christian might wrongly accuse the entire Jewish race of killing Jesus, and he might even disobey God’s command to love enemies. But it’s a leap to say that Christians as a people hate Jews. In fact, such a leap is just as heinous as the one a pretender makes in arriving at the idea that Jews are responsible for Christ’s death.

The real problem is the generalization. Did some Jews falsely accuse Jesus and condemn Him? Yes. Does that mean that all Jews are guilty of a heinous crime and deserving of punishment? Not at all. Do some Christians act out of prejudice? I wish it weren’t true, but yes. Does that mean all Christians endorse such and share the responsibility for those acts? Not at all.

How is it that we have come to paint people groups as if they believe and act in concert, or as if they ought to? One of the beautiful things about the Church is God’s clear instruction that we are not all the same and yet that we are all important. My role, my gift given for the building up of the Church, is different from someone else’s. Scripture makes the analogy with the body. I may not be a foot, but that’s OK. What would the body be like if we were all feet?

Sin, of course, is a different matter. If a person in the church is a bigot, he ought to receive Church discipline–something that has been seriously watered down over the years. But that’s another whole blog post.

Published in: on April 12, 2013 at 6:49 pm  Comments Off on Jews And Jesus  
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