1.8.13

Riley Cooper, The N-Word, and the Unfair Placement of the Burden of Forgiveness

I was disappointed to learn Eagles' wide receier Riley Cooper dropped the N-bomb during a confrontation at a Kenny Chesney concert at Lincoln financial field. A by-stander uploaded a video of the ugliness. Naturally, it went viral. The Eagles acted swiftly but perhaps leniently and hit him with an undisclosed fine. Cooper, to his credit, manned up and apologized without excuse.
Cooper's sin is particularly hard for me to forgive. When Paula Deen fell from grace a few weeks ago for the public disclosure of her use of the N-bomb and her desire to have an antebellum-style wedding, complete with black waitstaff, some of my friends protested that her sponsors would abandon her without grace.

Not me. She dug her own grave, so be it, I told myself.

I'm not proud of my difficulty forgiving racial prejudice. I developed the chip on my shoulder growing up in a racially diverse home.
My adopted sisters are biracial. I watched how they were treated in high school. I remember the dirty looks when I went to the movies with one of my sisters, the assumption we were a couple instead of siblings.  So while I don't know what it's like to be a minority in our culture, I've gotten enough of a taste of racism to have deeply held attitudes about it.

The thing is I'm a pastor and am supposed to confront racism while simultaneously offering a call to grace and forgiveness.

Truth be told I'm not interested in the grace and forgiveness piece.

I realized this when driving to church in a rain storm. I saw a pick up truck pulled over on the side of the road. The driver readied the jack so he could change his tire. I started to pull over to help but then noticed a Confederate flag sticker on his back window. Anger rose to my throat and I pulled my van back on the road and left him to struggle on his own. It didn't take a lot of character for me to act the way I did. There was no love or grace in my behavior. I identified sin, judged it, and let the guy struggle. Not a very Jesus-y snap shot of my life, for sure.

I'm not proud of that moment. But it's a moment I had. So I think of Cooper's predominately black teammates and the burden of forgiveness the suddenly have placed on them. Who knows if Cooper apologized because he was truly sorry or if the words were an attempt to save his job? I'm not sure an outsider can ever know.

What I am confident of is that the reaction of his team mates will determine if Cooper will ever be accepted in the lockerroom again, if he can remain on the team, and perhaps if he can remain in the NFL at all.
A few of Christian team mates have spoken out. "Does it hurt? Yes, it does," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "But I still will deal with it as a Christian and I will always err on the side of mercy."

Vick, who needed the forgiveness of many to get back on the field “Riley came to us as a man and apologized for what he did. “As a team we understood because we all make mistakes in life and we all do and say things that maybe we do mean and maybe we don’t mean.

“But as a teammate I forgave him. We understand the magnitude of the situation. We understand a lot of people may be hurt and offended, but I know Riley Cooper. I know him as a man. I’ve been with him for the last three years and I know what type of person he is. That’s what makes it easy, and at the same time, hard to understand. But easy to forgive him.”

So I watch this situation, as an Eagles' fan and as a Christian who doesn't always want to forgive bigotry, and hope the team can tell a better story about reconciliation and forgiveness than I did when I left that wet redneck on the side of the road alone with his hate.

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