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Canceling folks from social media, television, and even employment is another form of the ancient process of social ostracism. All communities function with written and unwritten mores and codes of ethics. Those who violate them are punished through legal or social means. One of the most severe forms of social punishment is ostracism, or social isolation.
Through banishment, the community forces separation between itself and any individual whom it perceives to be a threat to the welfare of the citizens of the community. If you are viewed as dangerous to the larger group in school, then you suffer being treated as an outsider. No one sits with you at lunch or includes you in recess activities, which offers a great insight into how communities work at enforcing social norms and rules. The ostracism is intended to create compliance in the offending party or at the minimum to prevent their influence from spreading. Because we are considering social punishment through ostracism, the notion of canceling could not even be considered without social media.
While high schools have always had tiers of groups: the cool group, the nerds, the athletes, the emos, etc., the extent of the reach of ostracism was limited to a specific high school itself, since each school represented a separate community. Not so with social media, which extends one’s social context to unlimited levels.
God was the first one to practice canceling. Since he created community and fellowship, he is also the author of what holds community together and what breaks it apart (sin, lawlessness). God canceled Adam and Eve the day they sinned, by casting them out of the Garden of Eden and away from his presence. Cain killed Abel and God canceled him from, well, the earth: And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you; you shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth (Gen 4: 11-12).
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul instructed the church there to “remove from their midst” one who was living with his father’s wife in an unrepentant manner. Paul instructed them to not even so much as eat with him. The church apparently did so because in his next epistle to them, Paul, had to entreat them to let him return now that he had repented.
They had forgotten the purpose of cancelation. So have many modern churches that practiced “church discipline” by dis-fellowshipping a rebelliously sinful member. Often, those on both sides had a “good riddance” disposition because of the attitudes demonstrated throughout the process. God canceled Adam and Eve (and mankind vicariously) from the Garden of Eden toward a greater goal: reconciliation.
With God, there are two cancelations: the cancelation from his presence that occurs as a result of our sin, and a cancelation from his presence for eternity that comes from a cancelation of our sinfulness at the judgment. God’s primary cancelation, or ostracism, is part of his intent to discipline us, to bring us to want to eradicate our sin, so that we can once again enjoy fellowship (salvation) with him.
The purpose of that initial cancelation is to prevent us from experiencing the second cancelation, which is being ostracized from his presence forever. That forever begins when Jesus returns to the earth to judge the living and the dead. Those who remain ostracized from God in Christ because of continued sin will be canceled for all eternity. The first cancelation then serves as a wakeup call to save us from the second one. Unfortunately, many modern folks who seek to cancel others misunderstand the intent of the process that was invented and first institutionalized by the Creator himself: reconciliation.
Stephen Parker has more than 25 years of experience as a minister and as a Marriage and Family Therapist.
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