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What the Donald Sterling Situation Means for Christians

The Wages of Liberalism AP Photo Mark J Terrill

AP Photo/Mark J Terrill

John V. Gerardi - published on 05/05/14

Racism is evil and deserving of condemnation. But remember that liberals think traditional marriage is, too.

Adam Silver, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, has imposed a $2.5 million fine and a lifetime ban from any involvement with the NBA upon Donald Sterling, the longtime owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. This followed racist statements the Southern California real estate billionaire made in a private conversation with his girlfriend, a conversation that was surreptitiously recorded and then leaked. Per the NBA’s bylaws, it is almost certain that the other 29 NBA owners will vote to force Sterling, himself the longest-tenured owner in the NBA, to sell the team he acquired in 1981.  

The ouster of Sterling is setting an interesting, and potentially troubling precedent: that those who privately or publicly hold generally disfavored views should be generally prohibited from engaging in certain business enterprises, whether or not such views affect the manner in which one’s business is run (though there were definite allegations that Mr. Sterling’s racism did negatively affect how he ran his various business ventures).

Specifically, my concern is focused on the fear that those who oppose gay marriage, more and more a minority viewpoint in our country, will be utterly ostracized from the broader culture, a problem we are already beginning to see. The firing of Brendan Eich from Mozilla solely due to a donation in support of California’s 2008 ballot measure Proposition 8 was in some ways an opening salvo in the campaign of the “dictatorship of relativism” to characterize any opposition to the gay agenda as bigoted hate speech.  Already in NBA circles, sabers are rattling to strip Rich DeVos, the co-founder of Amway, of his ownership of the Orlando Magic basketball team for his support of political candidates who favor traditional marriage.  

The Wages of Liberalism

Perhaps, though, the societal exclusion of people like Brendan Eich who hold traditional moral stances is a near-inevitable result within our social and political culture, since that culture is rooted in the principles of political liberalism.

Political life in America is centered around individuals self-defining their own conceptions of “the good,” and rights-centered guarantees for individuals to pursue their own definition of the good without external restrictions. Essentially, we may do what we will, unless and until we infringe on the freedom of others.

The Christian conception of the good necessarily views itself as universally applicable, based in moral decrees that God imposes on all mankind. Even a moral viewpoint based in natural law reasoning, and not purely on Christian revelation, holds that man has a certain nature that is common to all persons, and that there are discoverable moral norms that order us towards a single conception of the good of human flourishing. These ideas of human nature are hard to reconcile with the commonly-held liberal idea that governments are established to secure man’s pursuit of happiness, however he defines it, without undue governmental or private interference.

Thus, those who wish to uphold morally restrictive viewpoints as matters of public policy (against homosexual acts, against premarital sex, against contraception, even against abortion) are not necessarily doomed to fail, but they are certainly fighting an uphill battle from the start. If our society will not accept a single conception of the good, but rather agrees to let everyone pursue their own viewpoints, the only real villains are those who would hinder others from pursuing their own conception of the good. Invariably in our modern cultural debates, those people are Christians who believe in absolute moral norms.

Because Brendan Eich believed that the title of “marriage” should not be extended to unions of homosexual persons, he was deemed a kind of societal leper. Because Rich DeVos believes similar things, he might be, too. And if we’re being realistic, any Christian reading this might well also become a societal outcast at some point within the next 20 years

St. John Paul II recognized these very conflicts within liberal democracies in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor. In this encyclical, he taught that there is a danger for democracies to embrace moral relativism, and thereby to reject the very moral principles that are necessary for the just and free functioning of democracy in the first place. He says,

In the political sphere, it must be noted that truthfulness in the relations between those governing and those governed, openness in public administration, impartiality in the service of the body politic, respect for the rights of political adversaries, safeguarding the rights of the accused against summary trials and convictions, the just and honest use of public funds, the rejection of equivocal or illicit means in order to gain, preserve or increase power at any cost — all these are principles which are primarily rooted in, and in fact derive their singular urgency from, the transcendent value of the person and the objective moral demands of the functioning of States…

This is the risk of
an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism, which would remove any sure moral reference point from political and social life, and on a deeper level make the acknowledgement of truth impossible. Indeed, “if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.”  (
Veritatis Splendor, 101, emphasis in original)

The Lesson of Sterling

How does this relate to Donald Sterling? Quite simply, I would ask Christians to look at the ways in which racists are disfavored and diminished through law within our nation, often rightly so.  Look at Sterling, how he has been rejected from all civilized society and even from his chosen business. This kind of societal disfavor, and much worse, can be expected to be leveled against opponents of gay marriage.  

As St. John Paul said in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, “If one does not acknowledge transcendent truth, then the force of power takes over, and each person tends to make full use of the means at his disposal in order to impose his own interests or his own opinion, with no regard for the rights of others. . . ”  (Centesimus Annus 44, quoted in Veritatis Splendor 99).  

Brendan Eich was forced out of his job by a popular grassroots campaign, not by the demands of a minority elite. The same mob-majority intolerance for any opposition to the gay agenda will be levied against all of us through law, unless Christians can be faithful and fruitful in our vocation to be salt and light in evangelizing the broader culture.

John V. Gerardi is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School. He currently works as an associate for a law firm in Massachusetts. He writes on issues relating to law, politics, and ethics for online journals such as Aleteia, Ethika Politika, and his own personal blog,

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