A new phenomenon has emerged over the past few years known as the cancel culture. Cancel culture is where one group seeks to attack an individual or group because of a past wrong or current behavior or action that they have deemed unacceptable. While some of the things in cancel culture may be appropriate, one of the dangers of this culture is that the cancelling group can have the tendency to act like God and determine the future viability of a human being. The other issue is that sometimes the persons in the cancel culture may themselves have been forgiven or given a second chance at some point in their lives. The cancel culture also presumes that their perspective is the correct one and disallows the possibility of a different point of view.
Another aspect of the cancel culture is that they sometimes find something that an individual has done in the past that they have already apologized for or have disavowed, yet they are reminded of their past mistake or wrongdoing, and it is attached to the present, whether it is justifiable or not. There are many examples of this, but I will use one or two that have been in the news over the past years to emphasize. I will also draw from some biblical examples as a reference. There was a story in the Bible where a woman was caught in the act of adultery. The cancel culture at the time had branded her worthy of death and one to be banished because of her “deed”. Jesus happened to be on the scene and quietly confronted them with a powerful question. He did not say the woman was right and was not guilty of an offense according to the law and culture of the day, instead he asked a pointed statement to the cancel culture of the day: “Whoever is without sin can cast the first stone.” The story goes on to say that all the accusers walked away because they all had issues in their lives.
The danger in cancelling someone who has done something wrong in the past is that we make no allowance for redemption and for the person to be restored. There are instances where some individual’s crimes or deeds have been so grievous that they need to be called out, confronted, punished or not given future opportunities because they are unrepentant. There are some instances where others can be forgiven but not trusted to hold their previous position of authority. As the old saying goes – if you have done the crime you should do the time. I do not want to go to the other end of the spectrum and forgive and restore where it is not deserved, so I believe we must strike a balance. The other issue is that in some cases, the person accused may have been accused wrongly and has never been proven guilty, but an assumption of guilt ends up haunting them for the rest of their lives.
The Kobe Bryant issue surfaced recently and caused vociferous reactions. Bryant was obviously involved in an incident that left question marks about his character. He was never found guilty in a court of law but admitted to a misunderstanding and settled out of court. At the time of the incident, he was still young and immature and in the power arena of sports where it is easy to lose perspective and be subject to youthful indiscretion. From that point, he had no further accusations and seemed to have turned his life around, yet the cancel culture followed him for years, demanding that anything he achieved after the point be discounted because he was perceived to be guilty. He apparently became a dedicated father and even won an Academy Award for film work – yet at the award ceremony, cancel culture protesters demanded that he not be honored because of what had happened in the past.
Another example was Michael Vick, who pleaded guilty, spent time in prison for his crime of abusing dogs, repented, disavowed his previous actions and became a spokesperson to warn others of the dangers of his previous practice of dog fighting; yet when it was time for him to get a chance to play football again, the cancel culture did not want him to have another opportunity and they followed him around and hounded him. I wonder how many in that group were without sin. If someone pays the price for their sin or crime and changes course and becomes an ally of the cause, should we continue to hound them and try to ensure that they never receive another chance to make it right or to earn a living in their profession?
I am by no means giving a pass to wrongdoers. What I am saying is that we must be careful when judging others and should look at the total picture. If you did something as a teenager 50 years ago or you have paid the price for your indiscretion, there should be the option of forgiveness and another chance to live, rather than a lifetime sentence that provides no option for redemption. Sometimes the cancel culture may be right to hold an unrepentant or guilty person accountable to ensure that their misdeed is brought to public attention. At other times it can be counterproductive. Like many who are alive today, I would hate to be judged by my past as a teenager. If I was, I would be permanently cancelled and never given an opportunity to impact the lives of many who would have also been cancelled. Fortunately, I, like many others, was given a second chance and make the most of it.
My point is that sometimes we need to look at the cancel culture and determine if it itself needs to be cancelled to preserve the future of others. Sometimes the cancel culture conveniently forgets the recent past of persons they have put up to be heroes.
In 2012, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama opposed same sex marriage based upon their convictions at the time. They later changed their minds but in some corners of the cancel culture, if one does not subscribe to the current posture or has legitimate questions about an issue like this, people are harassed and hounded because they have a different opinion based upon their present convictions. The cancel culture must show understanding for others who are different and not act like God and determine what is right or wrong and then discard anyone who does not meet their definition.
Two powerful examples of this involved former president George W. Bush. He sat next to Michelle Obama and they exchanged pleasantries and he gave her candy. The cancel culture immediately pounced on Michelle Obama for the crime of interacting with another human being who hailed from a different political perspective. She set the record straight by saying people can be different and yet civil toward one another. Later in the same year, there was an encounter where Ellen DeGeneres was seen sitting next to and talking to George W. Bush. She was harassed and hounded because she spoke to someone who had an opposing view and whom the cancel culture deemed unworthy of human interaction. When asked about it she stated that it was possible to be civil with and interact with someone who had an opposing view. This was an important lesson for the hounds of the cancel culture. We still live in a world where none of us can speak or act as God because Jesus may be sitting on the sidelines and asking the question, “Which one of you is without sin? You can cast the first stone.” Be careful before cancelling persons who, unlike you, may have done something in the past or made a mistake that they have overcome. You may need the same grace in your future.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.