Sarah Silverman Ponders Redemption for Those Who’ve Been ‘Canceled’

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When prominent people in the public eye get “canceled” for something they’ve said or done that’s landed them in hot water, is there a possibility for redemption?

Comedian Sarah Silverman doesn’t think that there is. And she’s concerned about that.

In a recent episode her new podcast, she discussed society’s current penchant for essentially excommunicating public figures when they do something that society deems is wrong—sometimes called by critics as “cancel culture.” She draws a distinction between being “cancelled” for committing a crime (such as, say, Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby), and saying or doing something that falls afoul of the current culture’s ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable. She said:

In this cancel culture, and we all know what I’m talking about, whether you think there is one or there isn’t one or where you stand on it, and there’s a lot of gray matter there, but without a path to redemption, when you take someone, you found a tweet they wrote seven years ago or a thing that they said, and you expose it and you say, this person should be no more, banish them forever. They’re going to find someplace where they are accepted and it’s not going to be with progressives, which ironically means to be changed, progress.

She then added, “If we don’t give these people a path to redemption, then they’re going to go where they are accepted. … I think there should be some kind of path. Do we want people to be changed? Or do we want them to stay the same to freeze in a moment we found on internet from 12 years ago?”

Now, I suspect that Sarah Silverman use of the word redemption isn’t exactly the way Christians would use it. Still, I also think we find philosophical common ground here. She’s rightly wondering what the mechanism is to offer grace to someone. To give them another shot when they’ve supposedly fallen short.

The question she’s asking is an important one: Is there a possibility of forgiveness?

That’s actually a question we all ask, one way or another, when we know we’ve blown it. And when there’s no possibility for forgiveness, it’s easy to retreat into shame and self-destructive choices.

The hope of forgiveness and redemption, of course, is absolutely core to the Christian Gospel. The Bible is clear about our fundamental problem: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Thankfully, Jesus came to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves, dying for our sins to bring us into right relationship with God: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7-8). As a result, we are released from a life of shame, guilt and internal (and eternal!) condemnation: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

I’m reasonably sure that Sarah Silverman isn’t thinking about Jesus when she talks about redemption. But she recognizes this core problem: If someone has fallen short, if they’ve “sinned” by not embracing cultural morality fully enough, is there hope for them? And from where she sits, it seems as if the answer may be “No.”  

As Christians, we can offer a balm—genuinely Good News—in the midst of our rage-filled, polarized moment: There is forgiveness. There is hope. There is redemption. It’s found in Jesus Christ.

But to offer that balm requires a kind of discipline, I think, to resist the inherent anger of our age. The temptation to categorize everyone we know—whether in the office, on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, on the TV—as being either one of “them” or one of “us.” To mentally “condemn” them for somehow being on “the other side.”

Certainly, there are huge issues in our cultural moment, issues of deep societal impact about which we may disagree fiercely. And that’s unlikely to change any time soon. But without grace, without the hope of forgiveness and possibility of redemption, what do we have? As believers in the One who came to wipe the slate clean, perhaps it’s a moment to offer grace to those with whom we disagree,

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.