How Should Christians Respond to Cancel Culture?
You know who J.K. Rowling is. J.K. Rowling is the fabulously successful, fabulously popular, fabulously wealthy author of the Harry Potter series. In 2019, she got herself in some trouble. It happened with a tweet, as so many of our problems today often began. She was tweeting in support of a woman who had lost her job because she was seen to be transphobic. Whether the woman actually was transphobic or not is another matter. What we think of being transphobic is still yet another matter. But J.K. Rowling gave a tweet that was in support of this woman, and J.K. Rowling’s world got really small, real quick. The LGBTQ+ world started circling around her and calling for all sorts of consequences for her. And it wound up in 2019 being a very great example of what has come to be called cancel culture.
Cancel culture is what happens when somebody out there in the world who has influence and reputation when they say something that is objectionable to the elites. They try to get them canceled. They try to eliminate their influence; they try to eliminate their job; they try to eliminate their popularity; they try to eliminate people. It is increasingly the way our culture just seems to work. I want to be very clear that there are real consequences for sin. When you sin publicly, the Bible understands that there should be real and public consequences for that sin. But cancel culture is different from that. Cancel culture is a desire to actually eliminate people in their influence in their comforts and their income. Cancel culture is actually the result of a culture that is selfish and vindictive. That’s where cancel culture comes from. You must agree with me, you must agree with us, or we will finish you. Hear the selfishness and the vindictiveness in that. The selfishness is we are right, and you are wrong. We have the opinions that are true and to be respected, and you have the ones that are true and to be disagreed with. And if you don’t agree with us, we’re going to come after you, and we are going to end you.
Cancel culture has everything to do with a Christian understanding of life. It’s actually an alternative to that Christian understanding of life. Cancel culture is based on a wrong view of what sin is. Sin is what God says it is. When you sin, you transgress the law of God. But in cancel culture, you sin to use a word when you transgress popular opinion and popular thinking. But sin isn’t based on a popular vote. Sin is based on what God says. And so cancel culture is based on a wrong view of what sin is. But cancel culture is also based on a wrong view of how to deal with sin.
Biblical View of Cancel Culture
In the Bible, sin is dealt with through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for the sins of every person who would believe in Him. That’s the way God deals with sin. Cancel culture says, we are going to deal with your sin by taking away your livelihood by, taking away your reputation by taking away the respect that people have for you. And so, it’s a particularly ruthless way to deal with sin. And here’s the reality. We’re not going to be able to live this way very long. A culture that lives this way that just punishes everybody for everything is a culture that can’t make it very long. It’s an absolutely graceless way to live. It’s a merciless, ruthless way to live. And when we see a culture doing this, we really are seeing a culture that is collapsing on itself. We don’t have to eliminate people, we don’t have to eliminate ideas, and we can trust God to separate the wheat from the chaff. And we can behave Christianly out there in public and in the public discourse on social media and on the Internet and other places. Here are three better alternatives.
Three Better Ways for Christians to Respond
First of all, if someone says something that you disagree with, you could actually disagree back. You could use an argument; you could use coherent logic and phrases to communicate that what you said was wrong. And here is a better way to think about it. The reality is just because somebody has a Twitter handle, just because somebody has a blog, and just because somebody has a podcast, it doesn’t mean their opinions are right. People will write and speak and tweet things that are objectionable and that should be disagreed with. And what we can do is we can take those arguments seriously and disagree with people. We don’t have to immediately call for people’s jobs and call for people’s heads. Of course, there are times when people will say things that are so sinful and so dangerous that there are going to be natural consequences, but we don’t have to participate in the cancel culture idea. We could speak and argue and try to persuade, according to our position, without having to defeat somebody else altogether. So, you could disagree.
Here’s another alternative to cancel culture is you could forbear. This is a wonderful word in the Bible. We read about it in Ephesians 4:1-2, “I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” There’s that idea of forbearing bearing with one another in love. Honestly, a good word here is tolerate. I will tolerate you. I don’t have to defeat every person I disagree with; quite frankly, I get on social media sometimes, and I’m watching people bite and devour each other. I’m watching people chew one another up and spit them out of their mouths. And I’m wondering, why do we have to weigh in on everything? Why do I have to be upset at a level 10 out of 10 about everything?
Honestly, we’ve lost our ability to coexist with kindness. And just to forbear. There are all sorts of things that are said on Twitter. Every day, there are all sorts of things on the news that I just hate. But I don’t have to get myself worked up into a kerfuffle about everything. I could say, hey, look, you’ve got your opinion, I’ve got mine, you’ve got your take, I’ve got mine, then I’m going to forbear with you. I’m going to tolerate this opinion. And notice the text that I read in Ephesians 4:2. It’s not talking about bearing with one another while you grit your teeth. It’s talking about bearing with one another in love. I could actually have care and concern for you and wish well for you even as I disagree with an opinion that I tolerate. And so instead of canceling each other, we could disagree. Instead of canceling each other, we could forbear we don’t have to have a knockdown, drag-out about everything.
And here’s a final one. Instead of canceling one another, we could forgive. I want to be really honest. People do say things out there in the world, on their blogs, on their podcasts, people send emails, and get on the news. And they say terrible, horrible things that are hurtful and that are wrong. But when we are wronged as Christians, we don’t have to respond with the hateful, selfish, vindictive spirit of the age. We could respond as Christians. And in Ephesians 4:32 it says, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” There is nobody on Twitter who has ever offended me as much as I have offended the living God with my sin. And the amazing thing is that all of us will spend an eternity trying unsuccessfully to get over that God doesn’t cancel us. But he sent his Son to die for us and to forgive us, and in that same spirit, it says we’re to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.
A Christian response to cancel culture means we take all of the offense, we take all the injury, and we take all of the hurt, and we cover that in an attitude and in a spirit of forgiveness, in the same way that God forgives us of our sin. A forgiving culture, a merciful culture, a gracious culture. That’s a culture that can last. That’s a culture that’s worth living in, and it’s definitely different than cancel culture.