Cancelling The Stones
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
JOHN 8:1-11 (NIV)
This past week, a social media personality known as Brother Nature got into some controversy. Brother Nature (real name: Kelvin Peña) is a 20-year-old man who interacts with animals and nature from a fun perspective as a person of colour. However, some tweets he posted as a 12-year-old surfaced. These tweets from eight years ago were filled with racist and anti-semitic language. They all seemed to speak to a need for attention by a young, impressionable mind on this newfound, raw, platform. Realizing the error of his younger ways, he subsequently apologized.
I was truly disappointed to read those tweets, but was even more disappointed by what happened online in the wake of these sudden revelations. Within hours people were tweeting and writing short articles on the racism of Brother Nature. Here’s the thing. I’m not caping for Peña because he’s a young man of colour of Caribbean descent. I’m not caping for him because he’s a “celebrity” I happen to follow. I’m not caping for him at all. This is actually a critique of social media and how it subconsciously affects us.
On social media, whenever a celebrity or popular figure does something “problematic” or controversial, we’re quick to “cancel” them. “Cancelling” someone is basically the idea that a person should be immediately stripped of their platform because something they said or did was too egregious for continued support. They are reduced to an instantly irrelevant ignoramus never to be redeemed. These people may even forfeit an online following and cultural influence. There are certainly consequences for our words and actions and how they affect people (particularly the marginalized). We cannot simply expect to not be held accountable. Nevertheless, what I think is disturbing in this social media era is the propensity to throw people away without any opportunity for true repentance.
Now, you may be saying, “Brother Nature [or whomever else] and I don’t have a relationship so his repentance doesn’t mean much to me. He’s still trash.”
That’s an interesting take, but I’m really concerned that this attitude may seep into our everyday relationships. In our everyday interactions. Relationally, do we make room for reconciliation? Or do we throw the whole baby out with the bath water?
The Bible passage above is often titled, “The Woman Caught In Adultery.” I think it’s a terrible title for describing what happens in the story. The story isn't really about the woman. It's about some grown men caught throwing rocks. I feel that too often on social media we are like the men in the story. We throw stones, secretly in hopes they don’t boomerang. We want to cancel people, but not communicate with them. We crave malice, but not mercy. We desecrate the lives of people in search for the skeletons of who they once were. At the same time, we try to bury our own bones before people see them.
This story is a lesson at looking at our own shortcomings before coming for someone else’s. We are all in need of grace and mercy from God and others. The fruit is found in our repentance (which is not just saying sorry, but living differently in word and deed). Jesus is intolerant of cancel culture. Jesus models not condemnation when we fall, but a challenge to a seek better way forward.
Please understand. Our words have power as do our actions. If someone has a public platform, they signed up for extra scrutiny. They signed up for being held accountable for the power they wield. To be further clear, I’m not sympathizing with abusers of any form. I’m not defending those who are unjust and oppress others. I’m not asking that we absolve people of responsibility. Instead, I’m asking that we check our hearts. It may be easy to have Twitter fingers about celebrities—people from whom we have some considerable distance. But what happens when we actually live real life with people that grind our gears or hurt us? What happens when we grind the gears of others?
I pray that our thirst for blood is quenched by the living water Jesus offers. I can recount vividly the times when mercy was extended to me when I needed it the most. Someday, I may tell you these stories. I hope that before you decide to cancel me that you would hear my journey through repentance and how far God has brought me. Jesus showed me the way.
The way is love. The way is grace. The way is mercy.
So, as we seek to live in love, grace, and mercy through repentance, we experience just how beloved we are by God. And the beautiful thing is that nothing and no one can cancel God’s beloved pronouncement over us—that we are “very good.”