Over the last month or so, I’ve seen everyone from local residents all the way up to celebrities get “exposed” for something bad they’ve said/done. The reasons have ranged from “racial insensitivity” to “borderline pedophilia,” though we’ll focus on the former in this post (more info at bottom)*. The person may go on to lose their job, have their reputation tarnished, etc. Since I support accountability and want prejudice stigmatized, I should feel vindicated. As a follower of Jesus first and foremost, I’m feeling conflicted.
Owning up to past mistakes
Last night (6/28/20), I learned that OG YouTuber Jenna Marbles, who has been on the site forever and has ten million followers, “cancelled herself.” She’s been called out for less-than-tasteful jokes she made in the early 2010’s. A few days ago, she published an apology video that ended with her stating she is taking an indefinite break from YT. I think it’s sad that she feels the need to punish herself for long-past mistakes. Her genuine apology video, in which she takes total accountability for ever hurting anyone with her words/actions, speaks volumes to me. I feel that full acknowledgement of and remorse for her wrongs is enough to “atone” for her past “sins.” She deserves mercy. Most people I’ve seen discussing the situation feel the same way and applaud her graciousness.
Not owning up to recent mistakes
Contrast that situation with this one: a local racetrack owner made national headlines with similarly tasteless social media posts. Also, when the dust of the Bubba Wallace FBI case had barely settled, he listed “Bubba Rope” for sale on his Facebook page. I read an article in which he shared about the backlash he’s incurred. All but two sponsors have pulled their advertising from his racetrack, the FB page has been bombarded with bad reviews, and his loved ones and him have received death threats. He would’ve at least started to build back some good will had he owned up to his wrongs. Instead of taking a more humble approach, he insisted in the interview, “They took a joke and made it racial. I’m not racist.” Considering his complete lack of “repentance,” he seems less deserving of mercy. [To be fair, I found another article in which he said, “I’m responsible. I’m responsible for trying to make jokes.”]
But, just after saying that, he breaks down and sobs for 19 seconds. Imagine being the interviewer–how long and uncomfortable does 19 whole seconds of watching a stranger weep feel? After composing himself, he says that he “wants no violence,” following up with a recent story about a rat on the track he had put off killing because he doesn’t like to hurt anyone/anything.
Contemplating mercy and accountability
The comments on that interview were mostly vengeful, cheering for this man’s demise. Meanwhile, I felt a mixture of emotions brewing in my heart. Maybe I’m too sympathetic…then again, Jesus never said, “Don’t be too forgiving. Don’t love your neighbor too much.” As I read the post, I thought to myself, This is just a man. Yes, he said insensitive, even cruel things. Is he ignorant and likely close-minded on the topic of racial inequity? Evidently. But he is just a man–a man created in the image of God and beloved. It’s one thing for someone to face consequences for their actions, but it feels wrong to wish anguish on someone.
On the other hand, we cannot underestimate how attitudes/jokes like this man’s have contributed to an inestimable amount of suffering in the black community. I don’t want to forget or minimize that. I recently heard the quote that personal racism justifies and perpetuates systemic racism–great point. When people hold racist attitudes in a general or even subconscious way, it’s easier to rationalize injustices. For instance, if we have a mindset that black people are more violent, we can ignore that 33% of the prison population is black, though blacks make up 12% of the population. Here’s a source for that; this article also points to a general decline in crime and incarceration, which gave me hope and propelled me down a rabbit trail of research. [Obligatory sidenote: There is more violence in black communities, but we need to have conversations about how poverty leads to crime and the complex factors that have led to high poverty rates among blacks.]
This post is not meant to provide answers, just provoke thought. I know some but not all of the answers…
Should people be held accountable for their words and actions in the present? Absolutely.
What about words and actions from ten years ago? Yes and no–acknowledge, apologize, move on.
In my first question, does “being held accountable” include getting fired from one’s job and/or having one’s college acceptance revoked (I’ve seen several examples of both)? ????? Where do we draw the line between people who do or don’t deserve mercy? ??????
Thankful God didn’t cancel me
I used to be close-minded and even hateful at times (as in, calling anyone who cared a “social justice warrior” or “virtue signaller”…I was fully on board the “young, edgy right-winger” train). God miraculously changed my heart through His Living Word. One could dig up incredibly ignorant things I’ve said in the past, and if that happened, I would do as I said above–acknowledge, apologize, move on. I’m just so thankful for the grace of God. Not only did He NOT “cancel” me, but He deemed me worthy to transform and use for His glory, in spite of all the flaws I had at the time (and I’m still not perfect). Did my cynical, arrogant, ignorant self deserve a chance to know Jesus for real–not just in my head but in my heart? I don’t know. As Relient K once sang… The beauty of grace is it makes life not fair.
This post doesn’t have a tidy moral, but here are a few take-aways:
- Being humble usually ends better than doubling down (bonus: God also condones humility).
- Try to look through a lens of compassion at each person, even those who don’t seem to deserve it.
- Listen to and believe people who tell us they’ve felt the unjust sting of prejudice (WWJD?) .
- Thank God for His steadfast love and mercy.
Thanks for reading! What do you think of this “cancel culture” era? Would God have cancelled you already if not for unconditional love? Let me know in the comments.
*The day AFTER I wrote this rough draft, the whole scandal with Shane Dawson (another huge YouTuber) making inappropriate jokes involving minors came to light. Now, people want or predict he’ll be “cancelled.” We’ll see where the chips fall!
P.S. I’m going to the beach next week and may or may not make my weekly post. 🙂