What should cancel culture cancel?

What should cancel culture cancel?

John 8:1-11. “Let the one among you without sin throw the first stone…”

Why did cancel culture come to be?

The sad reality is that no justice system is perfect. Perhaps the democratization of social media made it easier to be hyperaware of another’s wrongdoing, and there seems to be a kind of exhilaration or catharsis even to put justice into our hands by cancelling a wrongdoer.

In a sense, cancel culture or mobbing someone has been around since human society began, and this is perhaps what Jesus invites us to think about. When we “cancel” someone, what do we really mean?

In the gospel, the adulterous woman was caught red-handed, and she seemed to have accepted her fate already. She knew what she did was wrong. The mob also had clear guidance from the law: the punishment for an adulterous woman was stoning her to death.

What did the words of Jesus mean when He said that whoever has no sin be the first to throw a stone?

I look at this both from a pessimistic and optimistic perspective. The former highlights the fallibility of humans. In a sense, since we are flawed and our judgements are imperfect, do we really have the capacity and entitlement to judge another? Maybe the reason why no justice system is perfect is precisely because no human insight and judgement is perfect too! To put a life into the hands of a judging people is a grave responsibility, and our biases may directly lead to unnecessary and unnatural losses of lives.

On the other hand, a more optimistic view of His words may highlight humanity’s infinite potential to repent, do better, and ultimately flourish. Robbing another of one’s life strips away this potential.

It is important to make wrongdoers accountable. However, perhaps the message of the gospel for today’s context is similar to how Jesus views sin and sinners:

Condemn the sinful act but preserve the dignity of the sinner.

In this sense, maybe the invitation for us as a society is to direct cancel culture not to people, but actions.

In short, cancel the sin, not the sinner.


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