Professor Zoe Georgiadou of the University of West Attica, Athens, Greece, reports on a popular practice in ancient Rome. Individuals convicted of being a tyrant, traitors, or declared enemies of the state for whatever reasons, their image had to be destroyed, their names erased from all the records, and they purged every element concerning their public presence. Their homes would be destroyed, and if the person was already dead, his grave was ruined, and his last will nullified. Coins bearing the image of emperors or political leaders who had their memories damned would be recalled or cancelled. This Roman practice was known as “damnatio memoriae,” a Latin term that means “condemned the memory.”
God declares in Ecclesiastes 1:9 there is nothing new under the sun. What has been will be again; what has been done will be done again. Damnatio memoriae has evolved to become what we now call the “cancel culture,” but of course, with some minor alterations here and there due to technological advancements. Cancel culture is defined as “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (cancelling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.”
Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming. Cancel culture is more pronounced in the West than in Africa, and few of us may not be familiar with it. In Africa, and particularly Kenya, we have the concept of “cutting people off.” The notion of “cutting people off” has been endorsed by our culture. Even finding its way into the pews. Joel Kurz, the pastor at The Garden Church in Baltimore, in the USA, says that to cut toxic people off is the belief that society has created some people toxic, and others pure. It is embraced by those who believe themselves to be among the pure. According to this belief, the fall happens when the pure allow toxic individuals to influence them negatively. It happens as poisonous people surround you. Redemption is found in cutting off toxic people and declaring them cancelled from your life. Ultimate restoration in this belief system is living a peaceful life away from “toxic people.” Is this biblical? Is this something that we should embrace “cutting people off” as a Christian, in the church, in life?
Making friends for a lot of us is a no-brainer; it is deeply ingrained in us. Retaining friends is where most of us fail. When one of the parties involved fails to keep their side of the bargain, the friendship naturally is put to an end. Endless feuds and betrayal can stain our relationship with relatives, friends, church members, and colleagues. Your sweet talking business associates or friend may flatter you on your face then slander you by spreading the false claims to anyone who would listen in hopes of ruining your reputation, also known as canceling you.
Any relationship requires a significant amount of investment of time, emotions and even finances. Going by what we see on our social platforms, cutting people off has become a long-standing practice. We have to face facts here, and as Christians, we can’t just bury our head in the sand and ignore the fact that we sadly also cut off people who are deemed toxic by society, even fellow Christians.
The Bible contains numerous examples of people cancelling relationships or cutting off those who are perceived as toxic. David killed one of his upstanding and fiercest warriors, Uriah the Hittite (1 Chronicles 11:41) and took his wife. All of Jesus’ disciples deserted him and fled when a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, accompanied by Judas came to arrest him (Matthew 26:47, 56). David laments, even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread has turned against me (Psalm41:9). Again in Psalm 55:12-14, David says, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.”
WE ARE ALL “TOXIC” AND NEED FORGIVENESS
A pastor that I know encourages everyone, to keep a grave in which to bury the faults of their friends, given that majority won’t live up to our expectations and will betray or hurt us. How we respond when they don’t live up to our expectations, betray, and hurt us is what will distinguish true followers of Jesus Christ from those who don’t. Those who don’t know Jesus Christ without any care and a big dose of pride will loudly boast of their purity and publicly cut someone off because of they didn’t meet expectations, hurt someone, or betrayed someone in some manner. Bitterness sadly rules their lives coupled with mistrust. Our generation unfortunately has adopted this “Christless mentality” and called it “cutting toxic people off.” My question to you is do you know Jesus Christ? Are you cutting toxic people off from your life or do you look at others with grace as Jesus Christ did?
It is easy to tell people off, and name them “toxic”, forgetting that we are all toxic with sin (Romans 3:23). If God kept a record of sin, who could stand (Psalm 130:1)? How many sins do you commit against God, yet he has not chosen to cut you off? What’s the fitting way to respond when our nearest and dearest wound us? Paul instructs us in Colossians 3:13 to make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends us by remembering how the Lord forgave us. Also consider how God handled us as toxic sinful people in Romans 5:8. The Bible tells us that he loved us even when we were toxic with sin to the point that he sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for toxic people. Praise God that he did not cut us off. As a follower of Jesus Christ it is difficult to embrace cancel culture and cutting off someone because they’re “toxic.” We instead must reach out in love as God did to us in Romans 5:8.
PATCH THINGS UP WITH YOUR FOE
The second most appropriate course of action for a believer to take is to seek reconciliation with those friends, co-workers or relatives who wronged us instead of choosing to cut them. While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son (Romans 5:10). We grasp in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 that God reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. God was reconciling the World to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. You’ve got to pick up the pieces and start rebuilding the relationship by any means necessary.
Scripture tells us “how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1.) One commentator said that Moses poured oil over Aaron’s head, anointing him as Israel’s first high priest (Leviticus 8:12). Oil flowed over his head, beard, down onto the robe and breastplate that bore the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. As the consecrating oil covered everything, so unity among believers makes them acceptable to God as a kingdom of priests. What will you do today to bring reconciliation between you and the person that is making your life hard?
LET THEM LOOSE
You will certainly find those who would fail to respond to our call to reconcile. Some will continue to cause us anguish. It would be unwise for a rape survivor to immediately continue associating with the molester or being friends with someone who actively trying to murder you.
Alexander, the coppersmith, caused much anguish for Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:14) and Paul handed them over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:20). Paul let them loose but still was concerned about them, hoping and praying that they will repent. God will cut off forever those who do not turn away from sins. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the LORD will perish (Isaiah 1:28). God himself will completely cut off toxic sinful people one day, but remember that he is God and is perfect (Matthew 5:48) and judges with equity (Psalm 67:4). Until that day when he finally cuts off toxic people his love and mercy is available for them to receive (Romans 1:19-20). Pray that they will receive it.
While cutting toxic people off may be an easy fix for a little while, eventually, we will find ourselves living a life that is contrary to our Lord Jesus Christ. Estrangement from family or friends may look trendy and desirable, yet it is one of the causes of the ever-increasing cases of depression and suicide. More than that it is separating yourself from the very heart of God which leads to an estranged relationship with Him. Nothing is greater and more enjoyable than knowing the very heart of God and nothing is greater than knowing the Lord himself (Psalm 16:11) therefore I urge you love and be reconciled with toxic people. Remember Romans 12:18 which says “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Are you obeying Romans 12:18 or cutting off that “toxic” person? Trust in the Holy Spirit to pour love into your heart even for the most toxic of people (Romans 5:5).