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Was Will Smith Wrong?

On Sunday, March 27, the 94th annual Academy Awards were held, and everybody is talking about it. As long as I’ve been alive, everybody has been talking about the Academy Awards the week after they were held, but usually, we’re talking about the dresses the actresses were wearing, who won what awards, and all of those kinds of things. But this week, this year, we are talking about an act of violence that happened at the Academy Awards. By now, you know the story. Will Smith took to the stage and smacked Chris Rock right in the face after Chris Rock had made a joke about Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, for having her hair cut short to her scalp, which is apparently a decision that Mrs. Smith made after struggling with alopecia. Apparently, Chris Rock didn’t know about that. But in any event, he made the joke. The joke did not go over well, and Will Smith struck him, and there has been all the fallout that everybody has been talking about everywhere since then. Now we need to be honest and say there are actually two sides to this. There is the side of the joke. And whether we’re going to speak that way and how we’re going to handle those kinds of things. If we’re thinking about saying stuff like that, if we’re thinking about teasing someone, that is a valid conversation for another time. What I want to focus on is what everybody else is mainly focusing on, which is Will Smith’s response to that joke and the smack across the face of Chris Rock. How are we going to think about what happened? I think there are several things that, as Christians, we need to be aware of.

How Should Christians Respond?

First of all, if we’re just going to focus in on how Will Smith responded by smacking another man because of what he said in a joke about his wife, I think we do have to be honest that if you are going to be a famous person who is so famous and has such an elite status, you are going to get an invitation to come to the Academy Awards and be a contender for one of the main awards, you have to know you’re signing up to be teased, you have to know your family is being signed up to be teased. This is the way it works. Nobody goes to the Academy Awards without the expectation that they’re going to be teased, that there are going to be jokes. This is the way it works. I’ll be honest. I haven’t sat down and watched the Academy Awards, probably since I was in high school. I don’t know if I did it in high school. But it has been a long time since I’ve ever sat down and watched the Oscars. I know that those hosts when they take the stage, those presenters, when they take to the stage, they are going to make fun of you. This is nothing new. This goes back to Bob Hope half a century ago. This is the way it works. And by the way, that is on purpose. There is an agreement between the people who speak at the Oscars and the people who sit at the Oscars. I’m going to make fun of you to get attention for myself. And I’m going to make fun of you to get attention for you. Everybody’s happy when that camera zooms in on them. Everybody is happy to be talked about. This is the way it works. But the system broke down on Sunday night of the Oscars on March 27. Because Will Smith heard a joke that he didn’t like, I bet he’s not the first person to hear a joke that he didn’t like, but he heard a joke that he didn’t like, and actually, it’s interesting because if you watch the replay of the event as I have several times, it’s interesting because you see Will Smith. The first picture of Will Smith after Chris Rock makes the joke about Mrs. Smith’s appearance. Will Smith is laughing. He is grinning from ear to ear. His eyes are bright. He at least appeared to believe it was humorous. The next time you see Will Smith after that laughter, he is taking to the stage to physically assault Chris Rock. So somewhere between Will Smith’s laughter and the smack of Chris Rock, Will Smith got some kind of memo from his wife, who did appear in the same video where Will Smith was laughing. She appeared to find nothing funny about it. So, Will Smith got dialed in by his wife somewhere, that, hey, this is not funny, and I don’t like it. And he figured out that he better find another way to respond, and respond, he did. It was a strong response.

Let’s talk about this use of force. That’s what this is. It’s a use of force in response to what Chris Rock said. Now, most Christians are going to find a time to use force in response to some bad thing. There is a time to use force. And this is actually where with some Christians, there is some controversy here because there are some Christians who like this exercise of manliness. There are some Christians who like this display of protection for someone’s wife. And it is true that there is a time and a place to use force. As Christians, though, we’re going to say that the better part of wisdom is that most of the time, we are going to respond in kind to things. That is to say that when someone mistreats us with words, we usually are going to respond to them with words. When someone mistreats us with force, we are going to use force. It is generally unwise and sinful to respond to words with force. And it’s generally not helpful to respond to force with words. Usually, we want to respond in kind. Now, the people who love the exercise of manliness, who love the display of protection, want good things. And I want those things, too I want to live in a world where everyone says nice things about me. I want to live in a world where everyone says nice things about my wife. By the way, I live in that in that second world. Most people say really nice things about my wife. If they don’t, I haven’t heard otherwise. But I want to live in a world where everyone says nice things. I think we’re all going to find out that when we discover that we live in a world where everyone does not say nice things, we’re not going to fix it by walking around smacking people across the face.

So, what do we do? How should we think about this? It is not my job on this podcast to do cultural commentary. Nobody wants to hear me do cultural commentary. It’s not my job to do a review of the Oscars. I honestly don’t care about the Oscars. What I want to do, is I want us to think about how we, as Christians, how we as the people of God, should think about this. How should we respond when something like this happens? Well, I think in this event, if you take away the glitter, if you take away the glitz, if you take away the national television in the famous movie stars and all the money. I think what we’re left with is someone who heard something they didn’t like and were offended. And in his offense, he responded in an aggressive and illegal matter. And I think one controlling text in the Bible is a text in Proverbs 19:11, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory, to overlook an offense.” It’s your glory; the Bible says to overlook an offense. Will Smith was offended. He may have been rightly offended again. There’s a time and a place to evaluate what Chris Rock said. That’s not what I’m doing today. He may have been right to feel offended. But what he did not do was he violated this wisdom principle from the text of Scripture, and he did not overlook an offense. But he acted out of his offense. He took offense, and he took action. And here’s what happened when he did not follow this text of Scripture. By the way, I don’t know the first thing about Will Smith. But I know that we do not expect lost people to act like saved people. So, I don’t expect everybody in Hollywood to be studying the Proverbs and trying to figure out how to follow them. Our job is to follow the text of Scripture. And that’s what I’m talking about here.

Overlooking an Offense

He should have known that it was his glory to overlook an offense. And when he didn’t, he did a lot of things. First of all, he committed a crime. It is illegal to do what Will Smith did. The legal term for this is assault and battery. If Chris Rock had not overlooked this situation and had wanted to press charges, Will Smith would have been arrested and would at this moment be facing criminal penalties for his illegal act. So, the first thing he did when he decided to take an offense instead of overlooking an offense was committed a crime; then, he sullied his reputation. The only reason people are talking about the award that Will Smith won is to connect it to the crime he committed. Well, he won an award right after he smacked Chris Rock. This is going to damage his career. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced that they’re engaging in a formal review. He may be booted from that organization, and some people have talked about taking away his Oscar. I don’t know how any of that works. But the reality is his career is under review. And here’s the fact this also is going to control his legacy. In 20 years, in 30 years, when this whole thing is remembered, Will Smith is not first going to be remembered for probably any movie that he made or even the award that he won. He’s going to be remembered for this smack. This is the way it happens when you do this kind of thing; it starts to have consequences that you can’t even imagine. This sort of reaction, this sort of taking of an offense, this sort of aggressive act, winds up controlling your reputation in a way that you never intended. Will Smith didn’t want when he walked into the Academy Awards to define his career by a smack. But that’s probably what he did, all things being equal.

The lesson is it’s not your glory to take an offense. It’s your glory to overlook an offense. Most of us are never going to be at the Oscars. Most of us are never going to have Will Smith’s fame and power, and money. But we’re going to be in these kinds of situations all the time. It’s good for us to remember that it is, to your glory, to overlook an offense. Words, as painful as they can be, as offensive as they can be, they don’t require force. They require more words. You can overlook the offense. You can go up to your friend and put your arm around them. You can look them in the eye and say I did not appreciate that. Can we talk about this? But to meet words with force is the worst kind of taking an offense. It is a way to live that we’re not going to be able to tolerate. You can’t keep going like this. And so, we need to learn the lesson that it’s to your glory to overlook an offense. And if you ever find yourself being offended by a host at the Academy Awards, it’s probably best not to go smack them. It’s probably best to pursue your glory, and that is by overlooking an offense.