Cancel. It used to be when we canceled things, it was postage stamps, or reservations, or subscriptions, or appointments, or TV shows. But now we can cancel…people. Who knew?
I’m not sure when the “cancel culture” mania began, but it stood up, front and center, during the confirmation hearings for then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Adversarial members of the Senate committee kept bringing up allegations from Kavanaugh’s past, hoping those could “cancel” his appointment to the nation’s highest court. But since then, canceling people has turned into a virtual national pastime.
Seems like almost every day we’re hearing about notables becoming discredited for things they have done or said, whether recently or in the past, sometimes distant past.
Entertainers, politicians, business leaders, pro athletes and folks from many other walks of life can suddenly be “canceled” because of some seemingly offensive behaviors in their past.
I find this troublesome on several levels, but I’ll look at only two. First of all, the unvarnished truth is that everyone of us deserves to be “canceled.” As Romans 3:10-12 unequivocally declares, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God…there is no one who does good, not even one.” And just verses later the writer, the apostle Paul, perhaps for emphasis, asserts, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
We might not be guilty of the same sins as another person, but each one of us – if we’re honest enough to admit it – has done enough wrong to disqualify us from assessing what others have done or said. In reformed theology, it’s called “total depravity,” meaning even our best efforts are tainted by sin.
In his little devotional book, Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen, Charles Ringma observes, “We all have blind spots…we often see quite clearly what others are doing wrong, but fail to acknowledge our own struggles or our own complicity. We talk about ‘them’ failing to do this or wrongly doing ‘that’…. But we fail to acknowledge what lurks in our own hearts and fail to see how we often contribute to the problem…. So much of what is wrong with our world, church, and workplace is what is also wrong with us.”
It's like looking in a mirror and accusing others of the flaws we see in ourselves. In fact, the Scriptures offer a similar description: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his fact in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he sees” (James 1:22-24).
Would you be willing, as Israel’s King David was, to invite God to “Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High” (Psalm 7:8)? How do you think you’d measure up?
Apparently throughout history, humankind has demonstrated a proclivity for passing judgment on others, “canceling” them, we might say. Because many times the Bible warns against appointing ourselves as judge and jury over others. In James 4:12, for instance, we’re told, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, he one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?”
During His “sermon on the mount,” Jesus Christ gave perhaps the clearest reason for avoiding our tendency to quickly pass judgment on others. He said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?... You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).
The other day, a college football coach made a derogatory comment about his team in jest, but many who heard it took immediate offense. If it were up to them, this well-known coach would already be “canceled.” But if we’re honest, we can all look back over the course of our lives and remember things we did and things we said that, if they were to come to light today, would make us “cancel culture” targets.
One time, recounted in John 8:3-9, self-righteous Jewish leaders – “teachers of the law and Pharisees” – brought to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. (Curiously, they did not also bring the man.) They demanded that He tell them what should be done with her, since the Old Testament law called for stoning. Jesus’ response was to bend down and write something on the ground with His finger. No one knows what it was. Perhaps He was jotting down some of the sins the leaders had committed.
But when He was done, Jesus stood up and said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Their reaction was priceless – one by one they went away, without saying another word.
Perhaps there’s an important lesson here for all of us. While we’re not told to overlook, ignore – or even condone – the wrongdoing of others, neither are we authorized to “cancel” others, especially when we’re probably guilty of similar misdeeds, or even worse. As the adage goes, “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.