(Disclaimer: As with ALL discussions, there is nuance and exceptions to particular statements in this post. Don’t assume my position, just because there was something I didn’t address. I try to keep posts short for the sake of time. This is to be a conversation starter, not the fullness of the conversation. If you want to discuss further or have questions, please reach out through social media or email. Thanks!)
I had never heard the term “cancel culture” until a year ago, but I knew exactly what it was the moment my friend described it. I had seen it on social media, in the political space, in the celebrity sphere, and even in my own heart. I knew that it was invasive in our modern world. I knew that it, in some ways, was the cool thing to partake in, depending on one’s personal sub-cultures.
I also knew that is wasn’t something Christians should endorse, because I knew that the Gospel story doesn’t line up with this train of thought– the thought of “cancelling” someone for a past sin, no matter how grievous the sin, if they showed remorse and repentance. God wouldn’t desire His people to “cancel” others. God’s desire is redemption.
So what is the train of thought of cancel culture?
This is it: someone did something either I don’t like or that is inherently morally wrong, so they will be “canceled” from my life from now on.
No longer will I engage with them or even acknowledge them. I will not respond to them on social media, and I will boycott any event, movie, show, etc. that is associated with them from now on, and I will act as if what they did is absolutely unforgivable, for forever and always.
Exiled. Mocked. Called disgusting names. Treated worse than an animal. Described as a hopeless case. Labeled as a beast or villain– all of this in the name of “accountability.”
And anyone that speaks out against the cancelers? Well, then you will be cancelled too.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with accountability and consequences; don’t get me wrong! The Bible would attest to the same. Go check out Old Testament laws for that. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth was God’s idea, not man’s (all of Exodus 21, specifically verse 24).
However, exiling someone from society indefinitely because they have had have a minor sin, and it happened to be in the public eye? Might be a little extreme, depending on the case.
Punishment in Scripture is used for many reasons, but one of the reasons is to bring that person back into right living, and remind them of the real consequences of sin. Discipline is for the purpose of bringing someone back into right-living, and inviting them back to live in the truth; not to create a world where that person doesn’t exist just because we don’t want to deal with their mess-ups. Biblical discipline is mandated because God wants more for humanity, AND we (the Church) should want more for that person.
Biblical punishment considered the victimized, and those who victimize.
Biblical discipline sees both parties as in danger:
1. One is in danger of being the victim of someone’s else’s sin.
2. The other is in danger of their own sin destroying their own life & soul.
In both cases, sin is the enemy. Satan is the enemy, not the person, unless he or she decides to partner with Satan and be unrepentant.
Here are the opposing messages of cancel culture and of Gospel culture:
Cancel culture: WE SHOULD CANCEL EVERYONE WHO DOES SOMETHING VERY WRONG, TO SHOW HOW WRONG IT IS AND HOW IT ISN’T ACCEPTABLE.
GOSPEL CULTURE: I, TOO, HAVE BEEN THE ADULTERER, THE THEIF, THE unacceptable person, AND I HAVE been shown mercy from God. THEREFORE, as his REPRESENTATIVE, I WILL INVITE THEM INTO REPENTANCE & RESTORATION TO SHOWCASE GOD’S mercy.
Those who have been shown mercy are to be the stewards of mercy, the proclaimers of redemption to sinful people. This will look different in each context, particularly depending on whether that person is a Christian, but either way, a desire to show mercy and to see redemption should be the desire of the Christian.
Cancel culture can be the easy route, because convinces us that we are on the higher moral ground. If we are so focused on so-and-so’s sin, we don’t have to face my own short-comings.
However, as Christians, we are called to a story of redemption, not shame-heaping others. We are those who have received endless mercy, and we are called to be those who extend mercy (and do it with joy!).
If we aren’t extending the invitation to forgiveness… maybe we’ve forgotten just how much we’ve been forgiven.
"When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” - Luke 7:36-50