Usain Bolt demonstrated his other-worldly speed once again in Rio, as he became the first person to win gold in the 100-meter dash three in three consecutive Olympics, sparking a slew of memes about his domination. While most of those jokes fell by the wayside rather quickly, the picture posted by Ellen DeGeneres quickly drew cries of racism and bigotry from the all-too-easily incensed masses. The comedian photoshopped a picture of herself riding Bolt with the caption, “This is how I’m running errands from now on,” and apparently that crossed the line for many.
As Time‘s John McWhorter noted, however, it’s difficult to believe that she wouldn’t have created the exact same picture if the winning runner happened to be white rather than black. Is the most logical conclusion from that picture really that she believes, as McWhorter satirized, “that a black person’s proper place is as some kind of pack animal?” Any reasonable person would admit that such a characterization is flawed, even if DeGeneres’s post opened her up to such accusations.
Rather, McWhorter sees it as evidence of a culture in which there is “a certain joy in this ritual, stylized witch hunting” and where people’s responses in these situations are more “a kind of ritual piety designed to demonstrate our goodness to the PC gods” than genuine disdain. It seems hard to look around us and not agree with that assessment. But why is that? Why is it that so many people take enjoyment from demonizing others for a careless word or shortsighted remark?
One of the primary reasons is that latching onto another person’s mistake and building it up to be worse than it actually is makes us feel better about our own shortcomings. When Jesus spoke about the dangers of addressing the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the plank of your own, I think it was this tendency that he had in mind (Matthew 7:1–5).
From the very start, our first reaction to sin is often to compare ours with that of someone else and search for ways to cope with our mistakes instead of owning them (Genesis 3:11–13). That response only serves to further engrain the sin in our lives, making it increasingly difficult to remove the logs each of us carry.
To be sure, there is a place for accountability and discipline within the body of Christ. That’s why Scripture warns that we will be judged by the same measure we use for other people rather than unequivocally forbidding us to condemn the sin we see in others. However, such judgment must always be done with the grace and humility of Christ.
When we do recognize and address the sins of our fellow fallen people, we should do so knowing that a time will come when we need the same accountability and in recognition of the fact that it will likely be returned to us in the same way we give it to others. If we use condemnation, anger, and belittling in helping others see the nature of their sin and repent, then we have no room to complain when that is how others help us see our mistakes as well.
However, if our first thought before confronting someone about their sin is to first ask how we would want to be addressed were the roles reversed, we’ll be far more likely to act in a way that will not only please God, but also get through to the other person. After all, such reform is really the only reason we would venture into these potentially dangerous waters in the first place.
So the next time you get the urge to condemn the sins, or even the careless mistakes, of another person, begin by examining your own motivations. Chances are that those urges are coming from a place that will not honor God or his beloved son or daughter to whom you are about to speak. What you do next in that situation will reveal quite a bit about your relationship with the Father. Choose wisely.