Updated: Sep 12, 2020
I recently stumbled upon something on the internet that I couldn't get out of my mind. A young woman and her husband with three (and later four) children of their own had adopted a baby from China with severe autism. The couple very publicly shared videos of their adoption journey and home life on the internet, which attracted great popularity and profit. Then, to the internet community's shock, the young couple dissolved the adoption and "rehomed" the child. Before long, I found myself watching videos of other people responding to this situation with disappointment and anger. Those who analysed the young woman's speech and behaviour wondered aloud if her motivations had stemmed from seeking popularity and profit. They criticised her idealised notions towards severe autism. Many commented on how she treated the adopted child unequally to her biological children and expressed alarm at the additional trauma that this adoption dissolution would cause the child. I too found myself agreeing with the sense of wrong that had been committed by this couple.
But then I stumbled on a response video that very aggressively promoted a "cancel culture" punishment. Many commercial sponsors had already withdrawn their support of the couple. However, the man in this video would not be satisfied until he saw the couple officially banned by all video websites. He encouraged viewers to petition the websites, and even to note specific advertisers and contact them to withdraw support. Suddenly, I felt some sympathy for the couple. Wasn't it enough that hundreds of videos and comments criticising their character flaws were inundating the internet? Weren't the other losses they had suffered enough? Who gets to decide what is enough? It seemed like these cancel culture advocates wanted to punish them to the point of utter misery and then still wouldn't be satisfied.
How should Christians respond? This cancel culture video profoundly reminded me that only God knows the right amount of judgement this couple deserves. Cancel culture often incorrectly punishes mere opinion as a moral wrong. And even in a situation like this where moral wrong indeed was committed, it acts to punish as though there's no righteous God out there who will. Cancel culture punishment is simultaneously too harsh and too shallow. In a vain attempt to masquerade as a holy "God", it demands to take out two eyes for every one eye injured and leaves no room for repentance. At the same time, this extravagant fury falls miles short of the true depth of offence committed against an infinite God when we disregard his holy standards of living. Such offence deserves much more than merely being "cancelled". It deserves eternal judgement in hell (Revelation 20:11-15).
Another reason that Christians cannot join the cancel culture is because when we turn to Jesus for forgiveness, we are confessing that we are sinners deserving God's judgement. Jesus 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" (Matthew 7:1-2). If I need mercy in the face of judgement, then so do other sinners. As a Christian, I must be deeply aware that I deserve God's judgement as much as anyone I might fume against. The only reason I don't get the eternal punishment I deserve because Jesus took this punishment in my place. Those that I am angry at need Jesus for the same reason!
All this having passed through my mind, the only appropriate Christian response left was to pray:
Lord, I pray for the young woman and her husband who have caused hurt and trauma, which only You truly know the depth. Lord, I pray that you would lead them to stop trying to cover up their shame with fig leaves anymore, but to turn to you in confession and repentance. Lord, I pray that, through faith, the judgement they deserve would fall on Christ instead, in the same way, that you have forgiven my sins.
Lord, I pray for those involved in the cancel culture response to this situation. Lead them to the point of humility, to see that your holy standard is so high that their sins are no lighter than those that they attempt to cancel. May they too be led to a place of confession and repentance. May the judgement they deserve to fall on Christ as they put their faith in Him. And having received forgiveness for their sins may a spirit of mercy replace their spirit of self-righteous judgement.
In the name of Christ, amen.