Christian Cancel Culture and The Consequences
What do Mother Teresa, Ellen DeGeneres, King David, and [insert anyone who has ever messed up publicly here] have in common? They have all been affected in some way by the modern force known as "cancel culture."
"Cancel culture" is the act of refusing to give one's support to a public figure or business after the public has deemed an act committed by that party to be unforgivable: "canceling could entail boycotting an actor’s movies or no longer reading or promoting a writer’s works. The reason for cancellation can vary, but it usually is due to the person in question having expressed an objectionable opinion, or having conducted themselves in a way that is unacceptable, so that continuing to patronize that person’s work leaves a bitter taste."
I first learned about cancel culture while living in South Korea when a good friend of mine was neglecting to call his mother during our first month in the country. After I encouraged him to finally do so, he sarcastically replied to me, "Nah man, she's cancelled." His words made me laugh because I had never heard anyone make such a statement before. As I asked my friend more questions about what it means to actually cancel someone, I found myself somewhat enticed and perplexed by the concept. If someone had wronged you, they were cancelled—you cut them off like a network cuts a TV show. It was so simple.
In this current season of life, however, as I have started seeing the major repercussions of cancel culture in our world, I now realize that cancel culture is most certainly not a simple concept—it is a plague that will destroy us all if we are not careful.
This change in my thinking began earlier this past summer when a video surfaced of a white woman calling the police on a black man in Central Park after the man had asked her to simply put a leash on her dog because it was required in the area of the park where he had been bird watching. After watching the video myself, I was definitely team "she's cancelled," and I was not the only one. In response to this video going viral, the woman lost both her job and her dog. She later released a public apology, stating she had made a big mistake, but that was not what had changed my mindset. It was the man's response to the situation that really got me thinking when he stated, "It's a little bit of a frenzy, and I am uncomfortable with that. If our goal is to change the underlying factors, I am not sure that this young woman having her life completely torn apart serves that goal."
"If our goal is to change the underlying factors, I am not sure that this young woman having her life completely torn apart serves that goal." - Christian Cooper
After reading this empathetic statement from Christian Cooper, the man involved in the incident, one thought ran through my mind: What goal does cancel culture serve?
What does anyone gain from trying to cancel another person? Yes, there is darkness in this world, but, if anything, the act of cancelling another person just brings more darkness. Cancelling someone brings no solutions to the problems many face each day—it only creates more problems and disqualifies the possibility for redemption. Mother Teresa, who passed away in 1997, was even recently "cancelled" in 2018 when she was accused of being involved in a baby-trafficking scandal before a full investigation had even been completed. "Cancel culture" has become such a norm in society that many are quick to cancel before even taking the time to know the whole story—and stories are always developing.
Scripture is filled with people who made many mistakes. God did not "cancel" any of them, though, but instead found ways to redeem their mistakes for good. Abraham was a liar, Moses was a murderer, David raped his friend's wife and later had him killed, and Paul was a persecutor—and that is only naming a few. They all experienced consequences for their actions in one way or another, but they also all learned from their mistakes. Just as Bob Goff writes, "God finds us in the holes we dig for ourselves. Where we see failures, God sees foundations." We are all developing characters in God's story. Grace is for the journey.
"God finds us in the holes we dig for ourselves. Where we see failures, God sees foundations." - Bob Goff
As I have further processed "cancel culture" and the role it has played in today's world, I have found myself considering the role it has played in the Church as well. Many have experienced the deep pain of Christian cancel culture. "Church hurt" and "messy ministry" have become such regular occurrences in the American Church today that it is rare to find anyone, believer or nonbeliever, who has not been affected by them. The Church tends to cancel what the Church does not understand, which has led to an abundance of hate and a whole lot of hurt where there should be an outpouring of empathy and an abundance of love.
It is important that we, as the Church, emphasize that we all mess up—pastors mess up, university presidents mess up, Christian comedians mess up, Conservatives and Liberals mess up, even saints mess up—but that the mess up does not define us or cancel us from the love of Jesus. People will fail us; Jesus will not. The bigger someone is, the harder they will fall, but, with Jesus, and a whole lot of humility, they can get back up. It is up to to us, however, whether we will choose Jesus and humility or our own pride and reputation in the process. Many have walked away from Jesus out of fear of losing what they have built in this world. When all of that comes crumbling down, that should be the time for us to step in from a place of love—not the time to distance out of hate.
The goal of cancel culture is to destroy—the same goal as "the thief" in this life—but Jesus came so that we may "have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). I hope for that kind of life for anyone who has ever had to face the sharp knife, the tough stone that is "cancel culture." The next time any of us go to click like, retweet, or repost, I hope we all stop to think about the person on the other side of the screen, the person who we are about to throw a rock at before hearing Jesus say “Let any of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone" (John 8:7). We have all made mistakes; we have all messed up at one time or another in this life—but God still offers His unmerited grace to each and every one of us each day. As I recently heard in a powerful sermon, the devil knows your name but calls you by your sin. God knows your sin but calls you by your name.
We must remember this world tried to cancel Jesus too—but He has proven quite difficult to cancel time and time again. Jesus' life and teachings were categorized by nothing but love, and love must be our top priority. Just as one of the most cancelled and least liked characters in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Rose Tico, states in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, "That's how we're gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love." That's how we all win. Not cancelling what we hate, but holding accountable those we love.
Our world doesn't need "cancel culture." What we need is a better accountability culture. Injustices are happening around us all of the time, and it is up to us to decide whether or not we are going to say or do anything about them. If we keep choosing "cancel culture" as our means of handling injustice, though, we are no better than those committing the injustice in the first place. History is filled with countless tyrants who rose to power in the wake of injustice only to create more of it. We have to put an end to this toxic cycle, and the best way of doing this is by holding the people around us accountable for their actions from a place of love rather than hate and fear. We can always choose to take the higher road.
Once a better system of accountability is put in place, people can be caught before they fall. Regardless of whether they know what they are saying or doing is wrong or not, love should still be our ultimate priority when holding people accountable. It is up to us to put in the work and research so that we may better love the people around us no matter what they have done. We all have the opportunity to either love or hate more every single day, and, as the Gen Z Version of 1 Corinthians 13 states below, "love does not cancel others," but "rejoices with the woke." Let us all work to better love the people around us in our world—because, truly, our world so desperately needs to be loved.
With Hope and Love,
James Davisson is just a small man with a big heart, serving a much bigger God.