WHY THE CHURCH MUST CANCEL “CANCEL CULTURE”
by Trevor DeVage
If you’ve written off someone because of one mistake or dumb remark, you’re participating in what has become a growing problem, “cancel culture.”
“There is no single accepted definition of cancel culture,” according to Forbes, “but at its worst, it is about unaccountable groups successfully applying pressure to punish someone for perceived wrong opinions.”
In other words, you wrong me or offend me, and you’re dead to me. And you should be dead to all my social media contacts, too. I’ll tell anyone who will listen why you’re dead to me and explain why they should cancel you as I have.
The Forbes article gives several recent examples, some of them describing celebrities with careers ruined (although some eventually saw a boost in their following after an initial outcry over their remarks). More concerning were instances of everyday people whose lives were upended:
• A black school security guard was fired after using the “N” word to tell a student not to apply that word to him.
• A Chinese professor taught a Chinese word that sounds like the “N” word and was placed on leave.
• A Boeing executive lost his job because of a 1987 article he wrote—and has long since recanted—with his opinion opposing women as fighter pilots.
• A college professor saw his classes boycotted and is now under investigation because he attended a pro-police rally simply to hear what speakers were saying. He didn’t chant, he didn’t carry a sign, he didn’t protest in any way. He only listened in an effort to understand another point-of-view. But now he’s cancelled.
CANCEL CULTURE AND THE CHURCH
As much as this problem concerns me, my biggest issue is with Christians who bring cancel culture into the church. I had a college professor serving as a local minister when he had an affair. Of course, this was wrong, and consequences were appropriate. But after fifteen years of repentance and restoration, he still struggles to get a church-related job. He’s been cancelled, and I don’t think this is right.
Sometimes this happens after hearsay not connected to the facts. Like the college professor at the pro-police rally, I’ve been “cancelled” by folks who only heard I did something that offended.
“Someone told me you did such-and-such.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re coming to me about this, because what you heard is totally false.”
If we’re going to cancel someone, at least we can make sure we have the facts first.
More than that, we can consider what Jesus meant when he said forgiving someone once isn’t enough. “Forgive them seventy-seven times,” he taught. In other words, forgiveness should never end,
Obviously, we can’t ignore sin. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to demand accountability, but that’s not the same as cancelling someone.
CANCEL CULTURE AND THE MINISTRY
I wonder if this problem isn’t part of the reason so many leave ministry. Some pastors wear out and go find other ways to make a living. More than a few have taken the drastic exit of suicide. Even senior ministers who stay on the job can grow weary of coping with the common rush to condemn. I’ve told our church staff, “All it takes today is an accusation. Even if you’re proven innocent, many won’t believe you.” The threat of “cancel” is real, and it creates a weight that exhausts even the strongest Christian leader.
More subtle is the tendency to write-off a Christian leader because he can’t meet my need the way I want. His marriage advice didn’t work. He couldn’t save my teenager. He ignored my opinion. I’m moving on.
CANCEL CULTURE AND MYSELF
The best way to combat “cancel” is an attitude that says, “Jesus died for me in spite of my mistakes. Even if I’m among the grossest of offenders, Jesus loves me. He loved me in my sin and after my sin. I’ll repent and relax in his grace and seek his strength and help others to do the same. They deserve all the patience, all the second chances, all the grace I want for myself.”
Sometimes we attack others to make ourselves look good. Sometimes we criticize another’s failings trying to hide or forget about our own profound shortcomings. Sometimes cancel culture is little more than a veiled effort to keep from being cancelled ourselves.
And sometimes “cancel” is a power play to get our own way. I’ll protest or gossip or complain in an effort to force the change. And if none of that works, I’ll turn my back and walk away—from a friend, from a group, from a volunteer opportunity, from a whole congregation. It’s pitifully little power, really. But it seems large as I desert someone to assert my will.
But if we insist on continuing to cancel one another, we won’t reach the world with the gospel. As I’ve advocated again and again, “Let’s be hope dealers, not hope stealers.” Let’s cancel “cancel,” and take a giant step toward seeing more people come to Christ.