Christians and Cancel Culture

Let’s begin with a definition. This one is from Wikipedia:

Cancel culture“a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to have been “cancelled”. The expression “cancel culture” has mostly negative connotations and is commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship.

“The notion of cancel culture is a variant on the term call-out culture and constitutes a form of boycotting involving an individual (usually a celebrity) who is deemed to have acted or spoken in a questionable or controversial manner.”

In the present moment, it seems to be those on the right who are decrying “cancel culture” as practiced by those on the left. My reading of history leads me to say it has been (and is today) practiced by those on both sides. I can recall seeing it in the form of boycotts, book-burning, print censorship, and album-burning during my lifetime. The issues raised by this subject are many, but for the Christian there are special considerations we should note.

Thus, another definition is required. I’ll use my own:

Christian – a person who believes in redemption and spiritual salvation granted by God through Jesus of Nazareth (Jesus Christ), and who seeks to live according to his teachings.

And that’s it. Yes, baptism is often part of the deal, as are church involvement or membership, and many other beliefs and practices. But these tend to differ among denominations or are varied due to biblical interpretation. The essential matter is the “redemption and spiritual salvation granted by God through Jesus” part and seeking “to live according to his teachings”.

Which, in my opinion should influence our understanding of and reaction to “cancel culture”. Unfortunately, Christians have sometimes “cancelled” members of their own tribe. Just ask Jennifer Knapp, Robb Bell, Jen Hatmaker, Carlton Pearson, or more recently Beth Moore.

Jesus didn’t cancel people. He may have rejected what they did or believed, but his life and attitude make me believe that he (and by extension, the God we see in him) will welcome anyone who forsakes their errors and turns to him in humble faith. Call-out culture? I can live with that, and in fact think it is a responsibility for people of faith. But cancel culture? I can’t buy into that one.

There’s another thing going on these days that Christians should consider: the way that someone might be “cancelled” because of something they did, said, or believed years ago. People are rejected for jobs because someone recalls something they did or said years ago, without regard to the question, “are they (still) that way now?” I realize that some past sins and errors are so significant that they may be disqualifying in some situations. But let’s recall a few things Jesus had to say: things like, “judge not, lest you be judged”, “let the one without sin cast the first stone”, and “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” The book of 2 Corinthians says, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” That’s the promise and hope; unfortunately, we sometimes don’t treat others as if it’s an actual possibility.

Let’s hold people accountable. And of course, it’s inevitable that there will be disagreement among people of faith, and evaluative opinions regarding those we believe are wrong. Some of what we see others doing, saying, or believing we may find obnoxious. But what if those other people we have decided to cancel change? What if they repent? How can we engage them or encourage dialogue that may lead to their redemption (or ours!) if we’ve cancelled them, and written them off in some more-or-less permanent fashion?

The Bible is full of stories of those who may have deserved cancellation, but that’s not God’s way. Jacob the cheater, Moses the murderer, David the adulterer, an adulterous woman, a prodigal son, the list could go on and on, and would include me, as well. I’ve got plenty in my past that might cause some to want me cancelled. Thankfully, I don’t believe Jesus is one of them.

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Dr. Kevin Tully is pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Waxahachie, Texas.

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