Can the Ethiopian Change His Skin?
Skin pigmentation, regardless of shade, is a beautiful gift bestowed upon mankind by his Creator. The amount of melanin in a person’s skin, a result of micro-evolution, is evidence of God’s grace upon the human race. Since the moment sin and death entered into the world through the Fall of Mankind (Genesis 3:1-24), every person has been subjected to the dangers of a fallen environment, which includes exposure to vast divergences in climate and exposure to harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation. God–through intentional and loving intervention, and not mindless “natural selection” (worldview matters)–allows the skin of humans to adapt to the environs in which they live.
God is good.
Racism, in any form, is evil. There is no justification for treating a person differently, whether by way of preference or by way of discrimination, because of the color of his skin. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots” (Jeremiah 13:23)? Contrary to what Mormon’s used to teach, the color of a person’s skin is not evidence of God’s blessing or curse upon a person. Every human being is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Every human being is an image bearer of the Creator. For any human being to see himself as of greater value to God or mankind than another human being is to sin against the God who created him (Romans 12:3; Philippians 2:3).
Donald Sterling, the Racist
The media in all its forms is abuzz this week with the recent revelations of what many people have known for years. Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA team the Los Angeles Clippers, is a racist.
This last Friday TMZ, a multimedia tabloid, released audio recordings of conversations between Sterling (80) and his “girlfriend” Vanessa Stiviano (31). Regarding the relationship between Sterling and Stiviano, the Los Angeles Times reports:
Much of what is known about Stiviano and the Clippers owner is laid out in a series of bitter legal filings made over the last few months.
Nearly 50 years Sterling’s junior, Stiviano was sued last month by Sterling’s wife, Rochelle, who seeks the return of the duplex as well as a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover she said her husband bought for Stiviano.
Rochelle Sterling alleges in the lawsuit that her husband met Stiviano at the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami. The suit describes Stiviano, 31, as a seductress who targets wealthy older men like the 80-year-old Sterling.
According to property records, Stiviano purchased the duplex in December 2013. But Rochelle Sterling says that she allowed her husband to pay for the house, believing that her name would be on the deed along with his.
Sterling also gave Stiviano $240,000 for living expenses, according to Rochelle Sterling’s lawsuit, amounting to $2 million of community property that he allegedly spent on Stiviano without his wife’s knowledge.
In a response to the lawsuit, Stiviano argues that Rochelle Sterling must have known that her husband of more than 50 years had romantic relationships outside of his marriage.
During the conversation between Sterling and Stiviano (a woman of Latin and African descent), Sterling is heard to speak about his disapproval of Stiviano’s public interactions with black people. I will spare the reader the utterly disgusting details of the conversation between a racist adulterer and his “kept woman.” Suffice to say, the conversation left little to the imagination regarding the depth and breadth of Sterling’s racism. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45).
Donald Sterling is a wicked, evil, and depraved man. Donald Sterling’s racism should not be tolerated by anyone.
While, in a legal sense, “freedom of speech” in the United States allows Sterling to think and speak his racist ideology, that same “freedom of speech” allows every other American to voice their intolerance of his racist behavior.
As of the time of the writing of this article, most of the major corporate sponsors of the Los Angeles Clippers have ended their relationships with the team–an exercise of each corporate sponsor’s freedom of speech and association (or in this case, disassociation). Professional basketball players inside and outside the Clippers locker room have made their feelings known. And fans are likewise speaking out–determined not to put any more money into Sterling’s wallet through the purchase of Clippers gear, future game tickets, and arena concessions.
Americans–sponsors, players, fans, sports reporters, civil rights organizations, political officials, the President of the United States–are expressing their intolerance of Donald Sterling’s behavior in the strongest possible terms. Many are petitioning the NBA to strip Sterling of his ownership of the Clippers. So intolerant of Sterling’s thoughts, words, and actions are the American people that they want to see Sterling have his property taken from him–his personal property–namely, the Los Angeles Clippers.
I applaud each and every person’s intolerance of Sterling’s racism. I have no problem with people being judgmental of Sterling’s sin.
But here’s the rub.
Only the Christian worldview can justify intolerance of what Donald Sterling has said and done. And the non-Christian, including people involved in other religions (which includes the atheist), must draw from the Christian worldview in order to make any attempt at justifying their intolerance of Sterling.
“Tolerance” and “Coexist”: sentiments on bumper stickers, websites, college campuses, radio, and the idolatrous minds of individuals around the world: it’s all a facade. Tolerance is defined this way:
The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.
People, all people, are at best occasionally tolerant. People are tolerant of the sins they commit, the sins they love. People are tolerant of the sins others commit, if they are sins they freely commit themselves. People are tolerant of differences in others, so long as those differences don’t negatively impact their own comfort, sensibilities, and conveniences.
Oh, and don’t kid yourself. Smiling at someone you can’t stand, keeping your cool when someone does or says something in front of you that outrages you, and then whispering complaints to your friends later is not tolerance. It’s hypocrisy (Matthew 23:28) and gossip (2 Corinthians 12:20).
Here’s the problem: because of its arbitrary nature, most people’s brand of tolerance actually includes bigotry in its DNA. Since no one is perfectly tolerant, and since non-Christians appeal to subjective standards of right and wrong, their tolerance is determined by fallible preferences and opinions, likes and dislikes. Therefore, they ascribe to a worldview in which tolerance is defined by prejudices and not a universal, moral standard. While they may not be racists, most people are more like Donald Sterling than they care to realize. Like Donald Sterling, most people consider themselves tolerant based on the arbitrary moral code by which they live.
As so often happens, some will read the above statements and insist their standard of morality–their understanding and application of right and wrong–is objective, and they don’t need God to justify it. More often than not the professing “unbeliever” (everyone actually believes in God, as indicated in Romans 1:18-23) will appeal to one of two standards, or both: 1) morality is determined by the individual, or 2) morality is determined by society. Neither standard can stand up to even the simplest scrutiny.
Right and Wrong is Not Determined by the Individual
If right and wrong is determined by the individual, then each person’s standard is arbitrary and non-binding upon anyone who has a different moral standard. I believe racism in all of it’s forms is wrong. Donald Sterling is an unapologetic racist. If Sterling and I determine morality for ourselves, then neither of us can assert in any sort of binding way that the other is wrong. Yet everyone reading this article (including Donald Sterling, if he likes a little Gospel Spam with his morning coffee) knows racism is wrong. Everyone knows racism is wrong, but it’s not because people determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong.
Right and Wrong is Not Determined by Society
Similarly to the notion that moral standards are determined by individuals, if right and wrong is determined by societies, then each society’s standard is arbitrary and non-binding upon any society that has a different moral standard.
While not every German was a racist, a Nazi, or sympathetic to “the final solution,” German leadership of the 1930’s and 1940’s legalized some of the most horrific forms of racism ever known to man. And most of the German people stood by and did absolutely nothing, either giving hearty or tacit approval of what the German government and military was doing to people groups (not only Jewish people): homosexuals, the mentally and physically handicapped, dissenters, and Christians. Ironically, American society at that time waded deep in the mire of deplorable forms of racism of its own. While the American brand of racism was acceptable to many Americans, including some members of the military, America went to war with Germany, in part, to put an end to the butchery of a German society that thought it a good thing to exterminate millions of people…..because of who they were.
If morality is really determined by individual societies, if societies determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong, then according to that standard America and many other societies throughout the world were wrong for imposing their morality upon Germany. However, everyone knows what Nazi Germany did to millions of people was wrong, but it’s not because societies determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong.
The Moral Lawgiver
Donald Sterling is wrong. However, Donald Sterling is wrong, not because I say so; not because other individuals say so; not because society says so. Donald Sterling is wrong because God says so. The only moral code that is objective, pure, undefiled, and universally enforceable is the standard God has written on every human heart.
“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:12-15).
“What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7).
You, the reader, know that Donald Sterling is wrong the same way I do. God has given you a conscience. While there are times when you try and maybe even succeed to suppress your conscience to justify the sins you commit (lying, stealing, adultery, fornication, hatred, blasphemy, selfishness, hypocritical judgment of others, etc.), your conscience also accuses you of the very same sins you try to justify. And your try to justify your sins because you love your sin and you love yourself more than you love God.
Some reading this will try to argue against my point by accusing God of being immoral without realizing how absurd their reasoning has become. They will judge the Lawgiver, while denying moral absolutes, and turn to God’s Law to do it. In doing so, they will make my point. Most of America is intolerant without being able to justify why.
Confusing Tolerance and Acceptance
Tolerance, by definition, necessitates that the one being tolerant believes that the one to whom they are extending tolerance is wrong. Therefore, a person cannot be objectively and correctly tolerant without an objective moral standard.
For someone to say they tolerate black people would be an expression of racism. If you listen closely to the audio recordings, several times Donald Sterling expresses his tolerance of black people. He thinks he is being generous when he is actually being racist, bigoted, and hateful.
At the same time, a person cannot be objectively and correctly intolerant without an objective moral standard. America is intolerant of the behavior of Donald Sterling and people like him. I am intolerant of the behavior of Donald Sterling and people like him. This is a good thing. However, it is only a good thing in a Christian worldview. Such a position cannot be supported, no matter how strongly felt, without submission to the laws of the Lawgiver–without adherence to a moral code that is above, beyond, and before the arbitrary moral musings of sinful mankind. All forms of both tolerance and intolerance that ascribe to arbitrary, non-binding moral codes are prejudicial and discriminatory. They are sinful. And this sinfulness is most often expressed with vitriolic hatred for the one to whom people cannot tolerate. Just listen to the hateful, judgmental rhetoric of the pundits expressing their intolerance of Donald Sterling, through various forms of media.
Many people confuse the ideas of tolerance and acceptance. Acceptance is defined as follows:
The act of taking or receiving something offered; favorable reception; approval; favor. The act of assenting or believing: acceptance of a theory. The fact or state of being accepted or acceptable.
I do not tolerate black people. I accept them. This is not to say I do any person of color a favor by accepting them. That would be demeaning and bigoted. Because I know God and His Word, through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, I know I am to love my neighbor as myself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9-10). I am to accept them and love them for no other reason than the fact that, as a fellow human being, they are my neighbor. A person is no less an image bearer of God than I am because their skin color is different than mine, or because of their nationality, or because of their social-economic status, or because of their age, or because of their gender. Regardless of who they are, God commands me to accept them as an expression of my love for Him and my love for them.
But God does not command me to tolerate the sinful behavior of my neighbor, no matter who they are. In fact, God commands intolerance of sin. While I am to love my neighbor as myself, I am not supposed to accept the sins of my neighbor.
“Got ya, Tony! ‘Judge not, that you be not judged'” (Matthew 7:1)!
Twist not Scripture that you be not like Satan. Jesus also said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). To judge a person according to the color of his skin is to judge by appearances. To do so is to show a lack of love for God and people. To do so is to sin against God and break His law. To judge the behavior of a person, not in a hypocritical way while committing the same or worse sins (an accurate interpretation of Matthew 7:1), but according to God’s moral standard, is to judge with right judgment (John 7:24).
As a Christian, I can accept a person for who they are, while rightly judging whether or not their behavior is good or bad, because I know the Lawgiver and He has made known to me his perfect, moral standard–a standard to which I cannot and will not ever measure up. Neither can you. I don’t have to tolerate what a person does in order to love them as a human being. This is why what I am about to write will only make sense to those who know God (Christians) and those God is drawing to Himself (people who will become Christians).
What I Wish I Had an Opportunity to Say to Donald Sterling
If I could meet with Donald Sterling, I would shake his hand, thank him for seeing me, and tell him this.
Mr. Sterling, you are 80 years old. Your time on this earth has been long, but you have no guarantee the God who created you will allow you to take so much as another breath, let alone wake up tomorrow.
When you die, you will stand before your Creator, God, and He will judge you according to the perfect moral standard of His law. At this moment, God sees you as a liar, an adulterer, a fornicator, and a murderer-at-heart. Yes, a murderer–not according to my moral standard, or anyone else’s, or societies, but according to the law God has written on your heart. The words that have come out of your mouth, words you likely never planned for the world to hear, reveal your hatred for your fellow man, your brother–people of color. God equates hatred with murder. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).
Mr. Sterling, because God is good–because He is holy, righteous, and just–He must punish sin. All sin, including yours. And the punishment God has ascribed for those who break His law is eternity in Hell. Loving my neighbor as myself means I cannot and do not want you to face God’s just and holy wrath against sin. While many people, right now, want you to go to Hell, I do not. While I wanted to vomit as I listened to what you arrogantly and hatefully said about people of color, I cannot say I love you as my neighbor while, at the same time, withholding from you the message of reconciliation with God–a message you so desperately need to hear and receive, right now.
Because I love you as my neighbor, Mr. Sterling, I beg you to continue reading.
God has provided but one way for you to receive forgiveness for your sins against God, which are egregious and legion.
This same God–for there is only one God–who is angry with the wicked every day, whose wrath abides upon the ungodly, who will judge the world in righteousness, is the same God who is loving, merciful, gracious, and kind. And He showed His great love for mankind when He sent His Son to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ—fully God and fully Man, yet without sin.
Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin just as the prophet Isaiah declared more than 700 years before Jesus’s literal, physical birth, lived the perfect, sinless life you cannot live. For some 33 years, Jesus lived a life in perfect obedience to the law of God—in thought, word, and deed—a life you and I could not hope to live for a mere 33 seconds. And then He voluntarily went to the cross. Yes, it was the Jewish people who hatefully and viciously demanded Jesus’s execution.
Yes, it was the Roman government that carried out the despicable act. But they were all merely willing instruments in the hands of another. For it pleased God the Father to crush God the Son under the full weight and fury of His wrath against sin. God the Father made God the Son, who knew no sin, to become sin on behalf of those who repent and believe the gospel so that through the sacrifice of His Son many would be made righteous in the eyes of Almighty God. In other words, on that great and terrible day God the Father looked upon God the Son as if He had lived the depraved life of a sinner and in exchange–a great exchange–God the Father looks upon those whom He has caused to be born again, to repent and believe the gospel, as if they had lived His Son’s perfect, precious, and priceless life.
Jesus shed His innocent blood on the cross. He died a literal, physical death on the cross. And He was buried in a tomb not His own. Three days later, Jesus forever defeated sin and death when He physically, bodily rose from the grave. And unlike every false god created in the imaginations of men–whether the false gods of Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oprah-ism, or Atheism (a religion like every other spiritual “ism.”)–Jesus Christ is alive today and He will return at a time of the Father’s choosing.
What God commands of you, the reader, is the same thing He commands of me and all people everywhere, and that’s that you repent–turn from your sin and turn toward God–and by faith alone receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
You must come to God on His terms. God does not negotiate with sinners. God will not be bribed by your religious practices or what you may perceive as “good works” acceptable to God. God will not weigh your “good” against your “bad,” for God does not see you or anyone else as good—good in keeping with His standard of moral perfection. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
If you do not read the gospel of Jesus Christ and see it for what it is, good news, it is because you love your sin more than you love God. It is because you love yourself more than you love God. It is because the love of God and the Truth of His Word is not in you. But if God causes you to be born again and extends to you the gifts of repentance and faith, which only He can give, then He will take your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. You will begin to love the things God loves and hate the things God hates. You will stop presuming upon God’s forgiveness as if it is something you have earned or deserved. Instead, you will have the confident assurance He has forgiven you—not on the basis of any deeds you have done in righteousness, but based entirely upon God’s mercy, grace, and love.
And why would God allow His one and only Son to die a sinner’s death He did not deserve in order to take upon Himself the punishment sinners rightly deserve for their sins against God, so that sinners could be forgiven and saved? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Mr. Sterling, please repent and believe the gospel while God has given you time. Turn to Christ and live.
Donald Sterling is a racist. Racism is wrong. Racism is wrong because it is a violation of the second of God’s two greatest commandments, to love your neighbor as yourself. Racism, like every other sin against God, is punishable by death in God’s courtroom. The punishment for racism and every other sin is eternity in Hell. Forgiveness of sin comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. For salvation and forgiveness is given and received by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
America should tolerate people, even people like Donald Sterling. America should never accept sin, including Mr. Sterling’s racism. But until America repents of her myriad sins against God, until the American people individually repent and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, the nation’s morality, both her tolerance and intolerance, will be nothing more than absurd, arbitrary, and hypocritical philosophical constructs–non-binding standards that will only quicken the pace of the nation’s moral decay.
Jesus Christ is the only hope for Donald Sterling. Jesus Christ is the only hope for America. Jesus Christ is the only hope for you.
Turn to Christ and live.
Tony has preached in many churches across the United States and in Canada.He has served as the keynote speaker at several different conferences. Tony is serving the Lord as an itinerant preacher and open-air evangelist.
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