Forgiveness is a difficult thing, especially when someone has hurt you in the past. People often preach a forgive-and-forget mentality, but when it’s their turn to do the same, it suddenly becomes much more difficult. Sometimes this leads people to become unforgiving in the name of accountability. But accountability and forgiveness shouldn’t be antonyms.
Cancel culture is not forgiving. It does not give people second chances. For someone who does not value forgiveness, cancel culture might even seem like a good way to hold people accountable for their actions.Cancel culture is boycotting an individual, usually someone in the public eye, who has done or said something controversial or harmful.
From a Christian perspective, cancel culture contradicts teachings from the Bible, and it does not pass on the mercy Christians say they will pass on in the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Patrick Fertitta, pastor at University Lutheran Church, said he thinks “[cancel culture] jumps over accountability and immediately issues punishment.”
Cancel culture does not allow much room for apologies and forgiveness. Even if a popular figure issues an apology, some will dismiss their statements as insincere. While not everyone is always completely sorry, some people truly want to learn to be better. Christians should be willing to give people second, third and even fourth chances just as God continuously forgives them.
“To never give anybody a second chance [as a Christian] is hypocritical,” said Marc Burnette, Reverend at Canterbury Chapel Episcopal Church.
Christians themselves need infinite forgiveness from God. If they truly want to portray the characteristics of God, they should be willing to forgive abundantly.
Fertitta believes Christians must be constantly forgiving.
“I think of the passage in scripture where the Apostles come to Jesus and say, ‘How many times should we forgive our brother in one day, seven times?’” Fertitta said. “Jesus says to them, ‘Not seven times, but I say to you 70 times seven.’ … What Jesus means there is not the number of times, but that it is something that should be perpetually done.”
Jesus actually gives Christians a set of steps for dealing with conflict that will probably work much better than cancelling someone.
“Jesus gives us an illustration of how accountability and punishment are to work,” Fertitta said. “In Matthew 18:15–17, Jesus says, ‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector… Jesus gives us a formula, actually that cancel culture jumps over.”
Even though Christianity preaches forgiveness, Christians cannot allow people to walk all over them and treat them poorly. There is a delicate balance between forgiveness and accountability.
“Forgiveness does not mean letting anybody do anything to you at any time just because they said they were sorry or something. Forgiveness is not about letting people be selfish or cruel at all because forgiveness is a way of manifesting love,” Burnette said.
Allowing a person to continuously hurt you is not the same as forgiveness. If someone you look up to in the public eye continues to say things that are hurtful toward you and the communities you belong to, feel free to block them. You personally took issue with their viewpoints, and you have every right to eliminate their beliefs from your life. However, attempting to start a cancel movement against them and not leaving the door open for a sincere apology does not follow a key Christian value.
“You never kick people out permanently, forever and ever, amen,” Burnette said. “That’s just not the way it works, that’s not the way love works. Love always is clear about boundaries, but also waits in hope that we can become friends again.”
We can argue all day long about whether or not cancel culture works. Many people who have been cancelled are still extremely famous and successful. What we cannot argue about is whether cancel culture displays the forgiveness preached by many churches and taught in the Bible. It does not.
So please, Christians: forgive others as God has forgiven you.