“Cancel culture” is hotly debated at the moment. Currently, political conservatives are making the most noise about it, saying those with conservative positions on issues are most likely to be cancelled. In other words, they are submitted to a broad social media outrage, preventing from speaking on certain campuses, and possibly losing their jobs. Yet, to be fair and honest, Christians have done some canceling of their own. Those old enough will remember the call for boycotts of the movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ” in the late 80’s, or the uproar over the art exhibit by Andrew Serrano displaying a crucifix submerged in urine, which led to protests and boycotts. It wasn’t referred to then as “being canceled,” but the intent was the same—shut down whatever offends us and our beliefs.
“Cancel culture” also has a long memory and is very short on grace and forgiveness. People are held to account over things they said or did decades ago, often as teenagers. Political operatives have long been astute at digging up “dirt” on their political opponents, much of which is hidden because of the reaction they could reasonably expect if it became publicly known. Imagine, going forward, when this Generation Z comes of age to run for political office, what is likely to be revealed through uncovered pictures, posts, and tweets? There are likely to be few left that are not vulnerable to canceling if these attitudes remain.
I think what bothers me is how we as Christians often attempt to use our power, when we have it politically, to silence those with whom we disagree. I remember coming of age spiritually in the late 70’s and early 80’s and witnessing the constant urging of letter-writing and calling congressional officials to use political leverage to get them to do their bidding. And most of these were not about persuading through strong arguments, but rather through threats of withholding votes for these congresspersons. In other words, we will cancel you politically if you do not vote as we tell you. This was done on issues around abortion, same-sex marriage, gun laws, pornography, etc. Whatever issue concerned many of the famous pastors and Christian radio and TV personalities, that was the go-to option.
The cancel culture led by many progressives (liberals) today is really, at its root, not much different than what the Christian “leaders” were doing in the 80’s during the Reagan years. It is about executing power. In the 1980’s, it was the evangelical conservatives that held the power; now, the progressives have more influence and they are attempting to use it to their advantage.
Cancelling people is all about power, so let’s talk about it. There is one Power who could literally cancel all of us. The Lord of the Universe could have chosen to cancel us because of our rebellion against him. He has the power, yet he chose not to use it. Instead of using his power to cancel us, he used it to cancel our debt of sin. Here is how the Apostle Paul describes it:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you[ alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)
Time and time again, Jesus was encouraged to cancel people—the adulterous woman, tax collectors and sinners, the Samaritan villagers who refused to welcome him, and the arresting mob in Gethsemane. Yet, each time he refused to use his power to do so. So what does that imply for us as believers in dealing with others we deem wrong or very different from us?
When Jesus proclaimed that the meek are blessed, he wasn’t referring to those who are weak; rather he has in mind those who are in positions of power but use it in a controlled and loving manner. He indeed was the living example of meekness. He had the power to call down “twelve legions of angels” in Gethsemane, but he chose not to because he had a higher calling than being rescued from a mob. As the Risen Lord, he could have used his remaining time upon the earth to wipe (cancel) out his enemies. He did not. Rather, he commanded his disciples to continue his mission of persuading more and more men and women to become his disciples—many of which down through history were originally his enemies until they were convinced through love and conviction that they were wrong.
We continually have to examine ourselves to see if we are living according to the ways of Jesus or the ways of the world. For too long, over the course of church history, the cancel culture approach has been far too prevalent. “Convert or die;” “repent or die.” We don’t do that anymore, but we still are tempted to use whatever power we have to get what we want. This is the way of the world, not of Jesus.
As believers, let’s support a different sort of cancel culture and promote it far and wide—with our neighbors, families, friends, co-workers, and those who disagree with us on the “hot” issues of the day. Let’s promote the culture of the Kingdom, the ultimate cancel culture—the culture that understands at the deepest level that the Lord of the Universe uses his power to cancel the debt of our individual sins if we will only surrender to him. If we truly desire change in our culture, it will only happen through love, not power—exactly how the Lord approached it as well.
© Jim Musser 2021 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.