Recently, a host for a cooking show, Paula Deen, and a professional football player, Riley Cooper, were caught using the “n” word in different contexts. The word is inherently a racial slur and there is no appropriate context for its use. Both were contrite, though it seems the football player is getting a second chance with his team. The cooking show host was not as fortunate.
Racial tensions have been high again in light of the recent George Zimmerman trial. The truth is the tension is always high and that’s why emotions so quickly boil over where there is a perceived racial factor in unfolding news stories. For some, hardly any event can happen without it containing some kind of racial slight. For others, they pretend as if race is never involved, no matter how obvious it is that we still have many racial issues in our nation. Neither reaction involving the people of God is helpful to the kingdom of God.
Racism is a sin. Unintentional racism is still sin. The only way we can battle the racism in our own hearts is to constantly examine our stereotypes, our attitudes, and the language we use in talking about others from a different race. It is unwise to believe that you are above any racism in your heart. No, you may not be a racist—someone who hates those of a different race—but that does not mean that your heart is free of ungodly attitudes toward others of a different race, however subtle the problem may be.
Our society picks out the most high profile offenders and demonizes them to the point that it is a nearly impossible climb back up to acceptance, not to mention respect. I often wonder about the self-righteous selectivity of our society. A football player kills his own teammate by drunk driving and the lack of righteous indignation is palpable. The man was allowed to be on the sidelines during the rest of the football games! A man in the same profession uses a racial slur and it seems like everyone has a word of condemnation. Both actions deserve our moral outrage, but I have to wonder if society is more vocal on racism because we often condemn others for what lies beneath our own hearts.
The Riley Cooper story is an interesting story to me, because his team—the Philadelphia Eagles—are attempting to work toward reconciliation. Though Riley’s comments about not wanting forgiveness because that would place a burden on his teammates are telling. The fact is forgiveness is our burden, especially if we are Christians. That burden has been placed on us by Jesus himself and is only lifted when have to forgive others more than what Jesus has forgiven us (an impossibility—and if you don’t think so, then you really don’t get the gospel!)
This man deserves the vehemence thrown his way—I cannot write in this space exactly what he said—but it was despicable. But is the man to be labeled and marginalized for the rest of his life, even if he is contrite?
How you answer that question depends on how you view redemption. Do you believe Jesus died for the racist as well as the drunk driver? Both need to be held accountable. We all need to be held accountable, but I believe the blood of Jesus is not only powerful enough to forgive the racist, but also transform him/her. Society has its own form of redemption, offered by its own self-righteous selectivity. The Church has the grace of God offered freely to all in Christ Jesus. May we share such grace as it has been shared by God with us.