Cancel Culture: Walking the Line Between Mercy and Justice

I’m living in the time of cancel culture. Although the idea of a cancel culture is more associated with contemporary U.S. culture, I believe that it’s the freedom of speech and social media that brought it to the mainstream. Living with the cancel culture, I find it very difficult to keep my inner balance between mercy and justice.

I notice the news about cancel culture often triggers my temper because of how outrageous it can be, and I immediately want to react with everything I have. I want to ostracise the thing that causes harm to me and society. Those things do not deserve to exist, and, by wiping them out, society will be better, at least that’s what I think. 

There seems to be a tiny voice in me that tries to get my attention, inviting me to pray when I get so worked up and angry and righteous. So I do my best to sit down, to quiet myself, and begin to pray. 

I see the scene from John 8:1-11, where a woman is caught in adultery and taken out to be stoned according to the Mosaic law. When scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus to “seal the death sentence,” Jesus simply invites whoever doesn’t sin to throw the first stone, and they all depart the scene. Then, Jesus tells the woman he does not condemn her and to “go and sin no more.”

Reflecting on Jesus’s words and cancel culture, I am reminded of another story. 

In a classroom for high school seniors, a math teacher enters the room. Without saying anything, he writes the multiplication table of seven on the board. As he scribes the math problem, he puts down the answer for seven times two as thirteen instead of fourteen. The whole class points and laughs at the mistake. He doesn’t respond to the ruckus. He simply finishes the multiplication table. He then turns towards them, “You laughed because of one mistake that I made, and yet you did not appreciate the other correct answers. That’s how life is. No matter how many good things you do, people will only look at the mistakes you make.”

For me, these stories are the other side of cancel culture. I can be like the high school students who found pleasure in seeing their teacher making mistakes. I can be like the scribes and Pharisees, who found satisfaction judging and condemning whoever did not follow their way. In doing so, I feel more righteous about myself. Still, Jesus’ words remind me of who I am and the reality of my sins.

We all make mistakes, deliberate or not. Every person sins, serious or not. We all commit sins in our lives. Like the students and the Pharisees, I often focus on others’ sins but forget my own. Jesus reminds me that, as a sinner, I can throw the stone of condemnation at my fellow sinners, or find myself in them and learn to forgive. 

Jesus’ message of mercy reminds me of where I am and who I am. It is easy for me to get dragged into the emotions and reactions of others. It is easy for me to throw rocks at those who have done wrong to others and wipe them out of my mind. Yet, it is difficult for me to step in their shoes and understand what they experience from their perspective.

Life is not simple, every human being has both “lightness” and “darkness” within themselves. I often prefer “light” and ignore or avoid the “dark” hidden deep within me. To look at a person wholly is to look at both the light and dark, beginning with my own various shades.

Whenever we recognize cancel culture beckoning at our doors we should ask ourselves this question: Do I cancel others to feel more righteous about myself and to hide away my own sinfulness? 

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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