Kristi Hamrick: Casting ‘cancel culture’ stones – how real-life grace can counter virtual cruelty

The year 2019 brought us the phenomenon of “cancel culture” in which mob-like behavior is often rallied against public figures who have sinned – maybe today, maybe decades ago, maybe even accidentally – for violating rules that may not even have been obvious at the time.

Some behavior – sexual assault for example – has no gray areas. But the cultural relativism of our current life makes it almost impossible for even those who want to be politically correct to practice what they preach.

Which leads to a New Year’s resolution that could be good for all of us. It comes from Jesus’ example in John 8, when he was goaded by a crowd of cultural leaders to condemn a woman caught in adultery.

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Rather than giving in to a mob mentality, the Apostle John reports that “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.’”

Imagine what the New Year could be like if everyone offered more grace to others, knowing that someday they might want that for themselves. Imagine a year in which fewer stones were thrown.

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Former President Barack Obama raised the issue earlier this year at an Obama Foundation youth activism event.

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised, and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff,” Obama said, “you should get over that quickly.”

“The world is messy; there are ambiguities,” he continued. “People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and share certain things with you.”

Forgiveness and kindness open the door for relationships. And it might take more than one act of grace to make it past the kinds of things that separate us, especially in the kind of culture in which differences over policy are often described with the language of sin, which raises every opinion to a new commandment.

Peter asks how often he should forgive someone who sins against him. “Seven times?” he asks. “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but 70 times seven!” That kind of standard is hard to live up to, and lately people seem less inclined to give that kind of do-over a try.

Sin has been described as an old-fashioned word without relevance to modern secularists or non-believers. But that seems to be changing. In his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” theologian Jonathan Edwards notes that all people are inclined to make mistakes, separated as we are from our own ideals and from the God who made us, the God who has high standards for those he loves.

Edwards noted that in Deuteronomy 32:35, while we will all make missteps on our journey, it is God’s place to judge … not Twitter’s.

In Matthew 18, Peter asks how often he should forgive someone who sins against him. “Seven times?” he asks. “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but 70 times seven!”

That kind of standard is hard to live up to, and lately people seem less inclined to give that kind of do-over a try.

Actor and comedian Kevin Hart has a new docuseries out detailing his fall from grace and ongoing comeback efforts. He follows a wildly successful Netflix special “Sticks & Stones” performed by Dave Chappelle, in which he mocks the fact that one of the things he’s irritated about is audience members sitting there ready to judge him. The death of comedy is headline news today with performers saying it’s too complicated, in part because it’s not possible to know how every word will be perceived.

Strange to think how much conservatives and comedians might have in common as people use the internet and social media to paint individuals in the public eye in ways that are unrecognizable to what they really are. It’s a bit ironic that performers who lampoon others are today often feeling the impact of cultural disdain, a burden many others in public life have had to endure.

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Still, that doesn’t make it right. A lot has been written about the depression, grief and agony caused by the use of our amplified media against people caught in the crosshairs of a keyboard. The constant drip of criticism of those around us erodes the landscape of our culture and teaches the next generation that everyone is fair game.

Rather than preaching “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” we are modeling “Go after others, so they cannot come after you.”

In Matthew 12:36, Jesus urges us to be cautious with our words, saying, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”

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Careless words and a critical attitude drive a wedge between people. This year, when given the opportunity to throw that first stone, perhaps all of us should consider walking away, and offer a second chance at hope and a future.

The grace we offer today, we might need tomorrow.

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