What Is Cancel Culture and How Should Christians Respond to It?

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We’re living in extremely polarizing times. One where everyone has opposing opinions about everything—from the validity of COVID-19, to the effectiveness of mandated quarantines and mask-wearing, to politics, to the future of law enforcement, and so much more. It’s rare to find individuals who disagree civilly or even compromise on these hot-button issues.

A mere glance at social media and you’ll quickly find language that pins a supposed “us” verses an assumed “them.” And this adds another palpable, complex layer of conflict and disharmony to already tense times—one that’s capable of dividing staff, churches, industries, political parties, and even families.

One form of protest known as “Cancel Culture” is being widely adopted as common practice. This form of boycotting typically occurs and rapidly spreads online. Presumably, the more people that join in canceling a person, product, company, or organization—the more successful the campaign.

How are we to respond to this growing trend? Let’s analyze some key elements of Cancel Culture against Scripture to help prepare you for responding as Christ would to this movement:

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  • justice weights and gavel sitting on desk, what is cancel culture

    1. Cancel Culture Replaces God as Judge

    People intend Cancel Culture to be a form of activism. But it begins with determining who and what is “bad.” The Apostle James warns us about this in James 4:11-12, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, He who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

    James reiterates that there is one judge and one alone. When Cancel Culture elevates men and women to the position of judge, it becomes flawed because people are flawed. Every single one.

    Several of the most influential world leaders have highly criticized this progressive strategy for its ability to elevate some people by not allowing room for their faults. And it discounts the good people have done because they also contain flaws.

    We’re reminded of this in Scripture when Paul described righteousness in Romans 3:21-25. Paul states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). He calls us to turn to Jesus to receive God’s free gift of pardon and redemption through Christ. But Cancel Culture does not take into account humanity’s flaws. Not one of us is perfect. So the logic is faulty. And if we cancel everyone who was ever wrong, we’d have no one left.

    This adds to the precious value of grace we have in Jesus. Thank God, He hasn’t canceled any of us. So before engaging in Cancel Culture, remember, none of us are without blemish.

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    2. It Keeps an Account of Wrongs

    Scripture establishes that we’ve all done wrong. And this is nothing new. Most major world religions reach a similar conclusion. The difference is that all but Christianity are performance-based and focus on what people can do to make themselves better. Conversely Christianity states that we are all sinners and are in need of a Savior. We find that in the gift of Jesus Christ. And once we have it, we’re granted an eternity with Him.

    Cancel Culture fixates on everything someone does wrong and overlooks nothing.

    Paul penned a letter to the church of Corinth widely referred to as Scripture’s “Love Chapter.” In it, he gave a long list of seemingly “good” things but states that if they are done without love, then we are just making noise (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). He went on to state, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Believers are called to bear and endure. Not to keep an account of wrongs—which is a critical component of Cancel Culture.

    Above all, we are called to love. Christ said so Himself. Matthew, Mark and Luke detail this. “And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28–34; Luke 10:25-27).

    In responding to Cancel Culture, remember that to love as God calls us to love is to love without keeping a mental checklist of wrongs. Christ’s work on the cross illustrates the level of compassion we should model. And that is to love everyone regardless of their transgressions.

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    3. It Seeks to Expose, Expand, and Explode

    Cancel Culture is rooted in exposure. This goes beyond seeing something you don’t like and deciding not to frequent that business any more, or having a bad experience with someone and choosing to end the friendship. It baits people and organizations for quotes and soundbites. It encourages activists to take screenshots, create blackball lists, and share hashtags.

    Once someone or something is to be canceled, the goal is to create an uproar and a giant following. To grow the movement to the max. It is not as simple as signing a petition, personally boycotting, marching or protesting. It's an extremely polarizing approach that typically leaves people saying “You’re either with me or against me.” A common cancel response on social media reads, “If you support, buy, follow ‘xyz,’ unfriend me now.” Because with Cancel Culture, there is no middle ground.

    This explosive attitude typically leaves a lot of collateral damage, but, ironically in itself, does not always do much to further its cause. During a youth conference among emerging leaders, Cancel Culture, often referred to as “woke” culture, was judged as ineffective. After describing a hypothetical scenario where someone feels better about themselves by tearing a person down for not using proper terminology or doing what is right in their eyes, then plastering it all over social media, it was determined that those activities don’t get very far or promote change.

    Scripture encourages us to resolve conflicts and seek peace. James instructed, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Furthermore, Matthew 5:9 says, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). And Biblical peace doesn’t emerge in docile times absent of conflict. Peacemakers help establish unity during troublesome times.

    Living in a social war zone is physically, emotionally and spiritually daunting. Those who want to bring about change want to do so effectively. So before engaging in Cancel Culture, be quick to listen and pray for the direction God would have you go in (James 1:19). Particularly when it involves matters of justice. May the Lord grant us wisdom to settle conflicts in a way that works so that we may all live in peace.

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  • woman plotting revenge with squinty eyes, cancel culture

    4. Cancel Culture Centers around Vengeance

    Cancel Culture calls for revenge. Historically, protests and boycotts demanded apologies followed by action steps to initiate or create change. However, many of those apologies appeared insincere and unacceptable. In response, Cancel Culture propels much further. The motive centers around the most possible damage to a person, business, or organization that steps out of our personal bounds.

    It surpasses the Old Testament’s eye-for-an-eye approach, which states, “If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him” (Leviticus 24:19-20). Common calls to action are to: “burn their products, fire that employee, evict them from your building and more.” It is more of a “You offended me, so I will demolish you,” posture.

    And it abolishes New Testament instructions. Paul addresses this in Romans 12:18-19, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

    This does not mean that we live without boundaries, accept abuse, and don’t hold people accountable. But there is a biblical way to resolve conflict, and it is not biblical to seek revenge the way Cancel Culture calls you to.

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    5. It Leaves No Room for Mercy

    The act of canceling ultimately calls for cutting a person, business, or organization off completely. In most cases, public apologies are no longer accepted. There is no corrective course of action. And anyone who continues to support something that’s been canceled is also publicly outed and canceled.

    Cancel Culture is unforgiving. Living in a constant brood of unforgiveness can lead to bitterness. This can harm our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. The Mayo Clinic cites that, “Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to: healthier relationships, improved mental health, less anxiety, stress and hostility, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, a stronger immune system, improved heart health and an improved self-esteem.”

    Scripture states, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15).

    Additionally, Paul writes, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

    Everyone does wrong. Eventually we all hurt people, whether we intend to or not. But thankfully, we find grace in Jesus. In turn, we are called to forgive others. Cancel culture is merciless. It shames and shuns. Christians are called to forgive. The next time you’re approached about Cancel Culture, remind others that people change, they grow, mature. While you may have to create space between yourself and someone or something for a period of time, believe that God can bring about reconciliation.

    Cancel culture is an aggressive form of online shaming. In extreme cases “activists” harass people, business and organizations until vengeance is achieved. They punish someone for an offense without mercy. And this movement is ever changing. One social media group dedicated to this very cause asks the daily question, “What are we looking to cancel today?” Every day that list gets longer and longer.

    So how should Christians respond to Cancel Culture? Scripture states, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Continue to extend the grace that Christ gives us.

    As Christians we are called to live like Christ, and Cancel Culture is not Jesus Culture.

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    Victoria Mejias is an international speaker and blogger. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska – Omaha and holds a Certificate in Urban Ministries from the Dallas Theological Seminary’s Urban Ministry Institute. She is a contributing member of Wholly Loved Ministries and former Pastor who has spoken on leadership, diversity, spirituality and faith. Victoria is the recipient of two U.S. Congressional awards for her exemplary service to the community, has two children, loves the Lord and reaching the lost. To learn more, visit her online at www.victoriaelizabeth.com.