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You can hardly go a week without hearing in the news about someone who has been caught in a lie or some facts about his or her past have been revealed, and they’ve been ‘cancelled’…

In the last decade or so, there’s been story after story of celebrities and influential people, along with regular everyday folks, who have been ‘cancelled’.   You can hardly go a week without hearing in the news about someone who, no matter what their life was before - what good they may have done in the long or short life they’ve lived so far - has been caught in a lie, or some facts about his or her past have been revealed, and all that they’ve done or been is suddenly null and void, replaced it seems by an unforgivable sin or story that now becomes the sum total of their life.

As I’ve watched this happen again and again and seen the damage it does, not only to the people who have often made a mistake or struggled with something that they couldn’t get a grip on, but also to people who have may not have done anything wrong at all, or the facts haven’t been checked before the story is spread. Either way, they are judged guilty by the media, mostly by quick viral-spreading of social media, until proven innocent. And if and when that happens and they’ve made reparations or the truth has been revealed, the news has often moved on to the next attention-grabbing headline and the real story never gets through.

I can’t help but wonder what if we, instead of being a ‘cancel culture’, where we’re so quick to condemn and forget any good thing anyone has ever done, were a ‘redemption culture’, where our first thought was of their pain, of their struggle, and were quick to forgive and believe in the hope of their tomorrow.

What would happen if the most virally spread news stories, the things that caught and kept our attention, were stories of people who have made mistakes in the past, and are working hard to become new.  If our concentration was on the good that people are doing, in spite of the mis-steps or bad choices they’ve made in the past. What if our focus was on tagging someone ‘redeemed’, and worthy rather than cancelled and unworthy?

I’m not saying there aren’t some horrendous things that have been discovered about people or that damage hasn’t been done that should be accounted for.  I just think as a culture, especially for us as Christians, we should remember that Jesus was all about repentance and redemption. It’s why He came and why He died. To take away the stains of our sin and make our hearts pure and white as the snow. When I became a Christian, every single mistake, bad choice, or wrong turn I ever made was forgiven, in an instant.  And I was no longer defined by what I did, or who I was, but instead by who I am now, and who He’s going to make me into in the future.  Ironically, God’s message is exactly the opposite of the message our cancel culture sends.

Another concern, especially in this digital age where information and misinformation spreads like wildfire with the push of a smartphone button, it creates fear in all of us.  Fear that we won’t live up. That we’ll make some mistake, big or small, and be found out and humiliated and ultimately cancelled.  Unfollowed. Deleted. And that is a tragedy.

First off, it’s incredibly sad that so many of our young people seem to find so much of their personal validation in the number of followers they have on Instagram or how many views a photo or video they’ve shared has received, but also that they now have to live in fear of something that honestly most of the time, isn’t even real.  I’ve been taking a sabbatical from the web for nearly a year now, and if somewhere during that time I was ‘cancelled’, I’m not sure I would even know about it.  I’m sure my friends or family would let me know and be worried for me, but since my day-to-day life - my ‘real life’ - isn’t about clicks or metrics or followers, I doubt it would change much.

Because I have a considerable online presence and am human, I completely expect to be cancelled sooner or later.  I don’t think it’s possible to be someone who has a positive story and following to not, at one time or another, fall from digital grace.  It’s bound to happen.  Whether what they say or report is true or not, doesn’t really matter online.  But in the actual world, it does.  And luckily, I’ve been forgiven for my shortcomings and I will be forgiven again.  When I make mistakes in the future, and I will… I hope I’m quick to apologize and repent, and start over with a clean slate.  And though I know God will forgive me, I hope those around me, who know me and love me, will also forgive me and stand beside me as I begin again new, redeemed.

And when those around me fall, as I know they will.  I want to be the kind of friend who’ll stand beside them.  Who’ll brush them off, and walk with them til they get their footing again.  Not judge them, turn away, and leave them, in their greatest time of need.

I have always loved the word redemption and the power that it has in all our lives.  It reminds me that it doesn’t matter what our yesterday was… our tomorrow can be different.  That each and every day we have the opportunity to turn from our mistakes and walk a new, better path.  And I’m always watching for stories of redemption, whether in movies like Hoosiers, where coach Norman Dale overcomes his stormy past or my nephew Mikel who, after years of struggling with alcohol, gets sober and begins building a life he never dreamed was possible.  But both of those, and all, redemption stories have to have a moment where a person hits their absolute rock bottom. And it’s only there, in that moment, that they can rise from the ashes to become what they were always born to be.

The truth is when I hear a story about a celebrity or someone who has fallen from grace online, that the world has cancelled, my heart breaks for them.  My first thought is, of the opportunity and blessing of this low moment, because I know what an incredible story can follow it.

The next time you hear a story about someone being cancelled. Try to remember that we are all human and we’re bound to fall short while we’re here on earth.  That chances are they are like you and me, and they’ve done some good things in their lifetime, maybe even some incredible things, but we are all going to make mistakes.  This is the moment when their humanity can be turned into hope. The question isn’t if they’ve, or we’ve, walked a sin-free path. It’s how quickly we get back on track when we wander off.

Let’s not be quick to cancel.  Instead, let us be quick to forgive. For this is how redemption stories are born.

*this article was originally written for and part of the May 2023 issue of Plain Values magazine.

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