Donald Sterling got into an argument with his girlfriend, he started yelling about the guys she hung out with, and “Bam!” he loses the team he bought before I was born and is fined $2.5 million dollars.
Is he a racist, I think so; was he a jerk, definitely; is it right to say such things, of course not. I think commentary on his comments has been exhausted but I want to draw a lesson from the NBA’s reaction to them.
So often in youth ministry we find teens that say stupid or mean things – I’ve heard worse than what Sterling said. And what do we want to do? Send them packing to Siberia like the NBA did with Mr Sterling. That’s exactly where we need to be different from the NBA.
At the Last Supper, Jesus knew Judas would betray him, yet gave him a seat of honour. Jesus knows that we’ll commit the same sins next month as last, yet he forgives us. Jesus bore the sins of us all, yet said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Inevitably, we will find teens in youth ministry who tell us that we’re a jerk. Some teens will consider it their job to disrupt us every 5 minutes. Others will come and tell that they’ve fallen and slept with their boyfriend. Still others will say that it’s mean and arcane that the Church won’t ordain women. A few will start fights during youth ministry. And many probably thing gay marriage is an OK idea. Of course these opinions, words, and actions are wrong but the question is: what do you do with these teens?
They are often just testing us. Frank Mercadante points out in Engaging a New Generation that for today’s teens, relationships can’t have ulterior motives. These teens want you to accept them in their failure and not just in their success. They want you to prove that you love them for who they are, and who they aren’t, not just so you can convert them and get a tick on your own salvation chart.
Our love is shown in how we deal with the toughest cases. The distinctive mark of the Christian is that we can love the unlovable, that we can love someone even though their actions are evil, that we can love someone at their lowest moment.
So how do we react to teens who step out of line? Are we like the NBA who bans someone for life over one comment made in private, or like Jesus who eats with tax collectors and sinners?
The recent events in the NBA are an opportunity to ask ourselves how we deal with those who step out of line. I don’t want to pass judgement on the NBA’s reaction to Donald Sterling; I do want to remind you not to do that in youth ministry.