The Problem With Cancel Culture
Cancel culture is frustrating to many Christians. But what exactly are we frustrated with? Understanding the problem and contributing to the solution requires precision of thought. That’s why I appreciate a recent article by Russell Moore. Moore spotlights the fundamental problem and danger of the cancel culture we experience today.
Let’s start by clarifying what we mean by cancel. Cancelling is when a person or organization has their platform of influence removed or diminished as punishment for saying or doing something wrong. A culture that frequently engages in and threatens canceling people for even minor infractions is a cancel culture.
Moore notes cancelling isn’t an unbiblical concept. The Apostle Paul lays out expectations of pastors in his first letter to Timothy, telling him that pastors must be “above reproach” and “thought well of by outsiders.” The church removes (or cancels to use the modern term) pastors who fail these standards. Over the last several decades the church has attempted to cancel companies like Disney, JC Penney, Target and a long list of others.
But Moore points to two ways that cancelling becomes dangerous. First, when inconsistent standards are used to judge people. Second, cancelling people without giving them an opportunity to defend themselves or change their mind. And that is where we find ourselves today. He quotes Jonah Goldberg describing what contributes to this version of cancel culture; social media convincing people “their side is indisputably right”, not right rationally or factually, but absolutely and dogmatically. Opponents consider even slight disagreements as not just wrong but “sacrilegious” or an “outrageous desecration”.
This form of cancel culture is destructive because it silences dissention through force and destroys any opportunity for repentance or even dialogue about differing ideas. It doesn’t create reformed people, but pretend reformed people. Cynicism fuels this mindset. A negative disposition and belief that your opponent can never change is antithetical to grace.
So, what should we do about cancel culture? We can’t control others' behavior, but we can understand the problem and seek to do better ourselves.
We can focus our energy on presenting viewpoints rather than seeking to crush opposing voices. This means calmly offering reasons for dissenting or disagreeing with the ‘other side’. It also means being willing to listen to the opposing position, crediting valid points and not misrepresenting or oversimplifying their arguments. It means assuming other have good intentions until we are proven otherwise and believing that people who are in the wrong can change.
Not everyone is interested or capable of interacting this way, but some are. Jesus called his followers to be salt and light and to show the way through love. Right now we have an incredible opportunity. In this highly divisive and contentious environment, we can lead by example and influence our culture for the better.