This past week has been pretty rough for Paula Deen. After being accused of using racial slurs in the past, Dean came forward and confessed that it was true. She claimed she had used those words in the past, but no longer used them.
The media criticized her harshly, she lost her job and some important endorsements, and plenty of people have declared her a horrible person.
Now, I don’t actually know Paula Dean. I’ve never eaten at her restaurant in my home state of Georgia, and I haven’t even watched her show before. While I’m sure she has certainly made mistakes in the past and I won’t defend or condone what she said or did, I am somewhat alarmed at the way she is being treated.
Two Cultural Responses to “Mistakes”
Our culture seems to have two responses to public figures who make mistakes. The first is to shrug it off and, sometimes, even laugh about it. How many Bill Clinton jokes have you heard or told in the past 15 years? How many times do we hear popular musicians degrade women, but never protest? Miley Cyrus, who used to be considered a role model for a lot of young girls, just told Jimmy Kimmel she’s “high all the time and can’t remember her name.” People on the internet have called Miley’s statement hilarious (or weird), but not many people are upset.
The second response our culture gives when public figures make mistakes is to turn them into a sacrificial lamb or scapegoat. People criticize, throw stones, force them to lose jobs, and generally just try and ruin the person who made the mistake’s life.
Neither of these two popular responses above will help advance our society. We need to call sin a sin and stop laughing about it. Adultery, degrading words, and drugs ruin lives. So does racism. The list could go on and on, and frankly we are all guilty of many types of sin. Turning people into a scapegoat only ruins their lives even faster, and doesn’t give people the chance to repent and grow.
Can’t we find a middle ground?
There must be an alternative. We must be able to properly recognize sin, but at the same time we must learn to work with people who have messed up and help them find healing and forgiveness.
Has our culture forgotten grace so much that we cannot forgive people? Does throwing stones and blaming others help us forget and ignore our own guilt?
When someone openly and honestly admits to making a mistake and expresses a desire to change, shouldn’t we come alongside that person and help him or her? Throwing stones is easy, but change takes a lot of time and patience. But we must remember that Jesus did not take the easy way out for us.
The beauty of grace
Christ came and took the punishment and the pain of our sin on himself. Even in the moment when people called him names and mocked him on the cross, his response was to say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Now we as believers have received forgiveness of sins, but we are not perfect. We still reject God and choose to sin. But He remains patient with us, His spirit and grace working in us to sanctify us and make us more like Him.
When we refuse to forgive someone like Paula Deen, we do so because we have forgotten how much God has forgiven us.
I think one reason people want to turn Deen into a sacrificial lamb is this: They think that if we hate and criticize haters enough we will stop their hatred. Unfortunately, this method does not stop hatred – if anything it only multiplies it. As Martin Luther said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I don’t always agree with Rev. Jesse Jackson, but I am actually thrilled to read his stance on the Paula Deen story. My favorite line was this: “she should be reclaimed rather than destroyed.”
That is exactly what Jesus did for us. We lived in the Kingdom of darkness, but through his love he has reclaimed us for His Kingdom of light.
Shouldn’t we work to do the same for those around us?