Have you ever seen or heard a Christian in the public sphere do something you didn’t agree with? Sometimes our first instinct is to completely unfollow that person and never consume anything they’re putting out in the world again.
It can be hard to know when to unfollow a leader completely, or when to just take a step back from their voice and work. If you’ve ever struggled with discerning if and when to unfollow a leader, this episode will bring you clarity as you work to decide your next best step.
This episode came out of a conversation that Holly and I were having recently. We were talking about the moral failures of Christian leaders and Holly posed the question, ‘How do we know when it is time to stop following someone or stop consuming their content based on either their moral failure or even controversial things they have said?’
We don’t claim to have any sage wisdom here for you, but we want to navigate this with you and open a conversation about this topic.
What might cause you to unfollow someone?
So first we need to define what we are talking about, and that can be a bit difficult because there seems to be a bit of a spectrum. On one side you have one line of a message or one tweet that may be questionable or not exactly in line with scripture. On the other side, you have the other extreme of complete moral failure or theological false teaching. We have seen Christian leaders be called out all along this spectrum and essentially canceled based on these things.
How it’s Responded to:
Again, there is a huge spectrum here on how people respond to the moral failure of leaders. You have one side of quietly unfollowing someone all the way to true cancel culture (an attack on the person or organization you disagree with).
Wikipedia says that “Cancel culture is a contemporary phrase used to refer to a form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. It is often said to take the form of boycotting or shunning an individual (often a celebrity) who is deemed to have acted or spoken in an unacceptable manner”.
Cancel culture is not new to the church. It goes back as far as the Old Testament. But in light of the grace and mercy that Christ has shown us, how far do we let someone go before deeming their teachings or leadership to be untruthful or harmful?
How do we Discern?
The final piece of this discussion that is important is our own discernment. This is our ability to chew and spit, or even to be what some have called ‘fruit inspectors’ (where we judge someone based on the fruit of their life). On one hand, if we accept just anything we are setting ourselves up to be misled or fooled or to believe lies. But if we take the opposite extreme, we miss out on some wonderful Christian leadership, speaking, and teaching simply because those who are doing it are human and have some level of sin in their lives.
So once you blend all these together it turns into one big gray mess. The black and white seem to drain out of it and we are left confused and mystified. This is exactly the place lots of us who aren’t prone to extremes get a little lost.
One way we can address this is by quietly unfollowing someone if we feel personally convicted to do so. Maybe you realize that this person is no longer a healthy person for you to learn from or to glean wisdom from so you quietly unfollow them. When you do this, you don’t need to make a lot of noise and defame the person all over the internet.
Discernment is the key here. And it is a skill that needs to be developed as a follower of Christ.
When you’re a young Christian, you might be looking for that black and white viewpoint, but so much falls in that gray area that you have to learn how to discern yourself as you become a mature believer in Christ.
There is a problem with responding to things in a reactive way or in a canceled culture way. A lot of times people are not using discernment, but they are going along with a mob mentality where they are out to get the leader they are speaking out against.
You may have to wrestle with this question on your own as you work through your own discernment: “Where’s the line between when it’s moral failure and sin?” Is it when we see repentance of the sin vs. no repentance? Is it when there’s exposure on some level of the sin? Is there a move towards reconciliation? We must exercise such holy discernment when we work through and consider these questions for ourselves in relation to leaders we look up to, trust, and follow both in real life and on the online sphere.
Another aspect of this to consider is estimating said leader’s proximity to you. Is this your actual real-life pastor, or is it someone you may occasionally read a book they’ve written or listen to an episode of their podcast? Is this person speaking into your heart and into your life?
Consider Hebrews 13:7. It says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” The word ‘consider’ here is not reactionary, it’s actually a slow process of considering the outcome of their way of life. You can watch someone do something, but it takes a while to see the outcome of their way of life. This is not a quick reactionary thing. So ask yourself, “Is this a life I can imitate?” If it’s not a life I can imitate, then it needs to be a more peripheral person in my life. If this is a life I can imitate, then it’s probably a lot better to be able to pull that in closer in proximity to what I’m consuming.
Sometimes fear can be a motivation behind the quick responses we see to moral failure, but really exercise patience and wisdom in making decisions as it relates to who you follow and who you don’t.
This entire topic and content is so gray. It can look one way for one person, and a totally different way for another. The biggest hope here is that you would stay close to God and allow Him to guide your steps as you practice discernment in whose voices you are consuming when it comes to Christian leaders. Continue in your sanctification process and allow God to give you insight and wisdom into whose words and ideas you should be consuming. Be slow to act, and don’t be reactionary in your actions. If you do decide to unfollow someone, do it quietly without bashing that person in a public way.
Quotes to Note:
“Discernment is the key here, and it’s a skill that needs to be developed as a follower of Christ.” [28:00]
“You can listen to someone or follow someone and identify whether or not things are truthful or not truthful and still get value out of something even if you disagree with them on certain topics.” [30:50]
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