What Is ‘Cancel Culture’ and How Should Christians Respond?



The news stories are so predictable they’re starting to read like a game of mad libs. __(Name of celebrity/leader)___  was fired from __(name of business/organization)__ yesterday after fans expressed outrage over a tweet that said, __(quote from reprehensible tweet)___.

Cancel Culture Can Be Viewed Two Different Ways

One could argue that cancel culture is a "gotcha" system of looking for any reason to pull people off pedestals, without offering them a second chance. We’re all human. We all sin. We all need grace. It would be hard to lose everything you’d worked for over one mistake. I can see the logic here.

However, one could argue just as convincingly that cancel culture only feels shocking because, for the first time in recent history, people in positions of power and influence are being held accountable for the mistakes they’ve made. In the past, money and power have covered up the sins of the influential, and fear kept everyone silent who felt victimized or belittled.

Influence is a privilege that’s earned, and as we root out people whose character crumbles under pressure, we’ll make more room for people who could improve culture through their examples. This view also makes sense.

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Cancel Culture Is Nuanced and Complicated

But however you look at it, there’s no denying it’s beginning to trickle down into our individual relationships. Every day, I see another social media post that starts with the disclaimer, “If you disagree, just unfriend me now.” Ouch. We’re "canceling" each other over differences of opinion.

Have we lost our ability to maintain relationships with anyone who doesn’t see the world exactly like us? There’s no question that we live in a divided world. People have always separated ourselves from others according to our political beliefs, worldviews, and even theology. Lately, however, it feels like there are a thousand other delineations we sub-divide over—until we find ourselves in a suffocating echo chamber of people who think just like us.

We’ve forgotten how to listen to other people because we’re so used to hearing voices that sound just like ours.

As Christians, we’re called to live like Christ, no matter what the culture around us looks like. So, what does it mean to live like Jesus in the middle of a cancel culture? Who did Jesus cancel, and who did he care for? How did He tell us to live?

Where do we find the balance between compassion and accountability?

Cancel Culture Is Nothing New

Plenty of people were being "canceled" when Jesus walked the earth:

- Samaritans as a whole

- the vast majority of women, especially those caught up in any type of sexual sin

- anyone with a disability

...the list is extensive. In Jesus’ time, the people who lost their voice and were stripped from their place in society were people who had been labeled as “less than,” “too different," or "somehow inappropriate." Rich and powerful people were never afraid of becoming an outcast. Their positions protected them from having to go to the well in the heat of the day no matter how well-known their sins might be. Even if they committed adultery, they wouldn’t be the ones dragged out onto the street to be stoned.

It takes two to tango, but somehow, caught in the act, only one person in that pair faced any ramifications.

In Jewish culture, unrighteous actions had rigid consequences for some and almost no consequences for others. Even when the law was equal, the execution of the law was not. Jesus sat with the woman at the well and discussed her sin without condemning her. (John 4)

Jesus crouched between the sinner and the stones, preventing the "cancellation" that the law required. (John 8)

Jesus offered compassion when society offered none. But He also called out people in positions of authority, turning over tables, (Matthew 21:12) hurling insults like “brood of vipers,” (Matthew 12:34) and cautioning people not to allow themselves to be influenced by the wrong types of leaders. (Matthew 23:3)

So what does it mean to live like Jesus in a cancel culture? Sometimes it means boldly calling out people in positions of power, and other times it means offering compassion to someone no one else is willing to love, regardless of what they’ve done wrong.

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Shake the Dust from Your Feet

Jesus offered all of us grace and forgiveness from our sins if we would accept it. His life shows us a new way. Certainly, the disciples understood that living for Jesus meant offering other people the same forgiveness they had received. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

So, we should think of ourselves as Christ’s ambassadors, also.  As Christ’s ambassador’s, we call people into reconciliation, we don’t look for opportunities to condemn anyone who makes a mistake. However, even Jesus put limits on the grace He encouraged His followers to show. When he sent his disciples out in pairs to expand His ministry, He told them, “If anyone won’t welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust from your feet.” (Matthew 10:14.)

We should invite everyone into the grace Jesus offers, yes, even the powerful and influential. The mistakes they make in public are an opportunity for them to humble themselves and see their need for a savior. However, we don’t have to continue to offer grace upon grace to someone who exhibits a pattern of abuse and won’t recognize their need to be reconciled to God.

We are allowed to shake the dust off our feet as a society when people in power won’t listen.

Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

As cancel culture becomes the norm, we may find ourselves cutting friends and relatives out of our lives prematurely. Before you end a relationship with someone who has been in your life for a long time, ask yourself what is causing the rift. Is the person harming you emotionally or physically? If so, by all means, draw the boundaries needed to protect yourself. Do they simply have a different way of looking at the world that conflicts with your values and stances? In this case, take Paul’s words to heart, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

Read that one more time and notice it doesn’t say to live at peace only with the people who agree with you, or the people who vote like you vote, or even the people who define sin the way you define sin. It says, “live at peace with everyone.” If that is a challenge for you, remember Peter’s encouragement, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

But what do we do when someone’s view of the world is so different from our own that we don’t know how to maintain a relationship with them? What if we try to keep the peace, but every stance they take on current events sets them up as our enemy and not our friend? Well, then we get to take on the challenge that Jesus issued to each of us when He spoke these words, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

That’s a hard standard to meet. But I’m sure you didn’t think that living like Christ in a cancel culture was going to be easy.

Instead of unfriending someone you disagree with, let their posts in your feed remind you to pray for them. And I’m going to make it just a little harder. When you pray for them, don’t just pray that God will change their mind. Ask God how He sees them. Ask God to help you love them like He loves them. Ask God to cancel your anger so you don’t need to cancel a relationship.

Cancel culture is tricky. And as Christians who are trying to love God and love our neighbors, we may find ourselves split in our reactions to it. Maybe you see cancel culture as necessary societal accountability that can usher in new leadership with greater strength of character. Maybe your friend laments that cancel culture doesn’t offer the compassion they see in the life of Jesus. Maybe each of you is carrying a piece of God’s heart in this issue...and if you don’t divide over your difference of opinion, you can learn from each other what it means to live like Jesus.

Recommended for You:

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How Should Christians Treat People of Other Faiths?

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headshot of author Amy GreenAmy Noel Green shares her faith on TikTok, so if you decide to join in, she’d love to be TikTok friends. She is a TED speaker, author, and award-winning video game designer. She received international press attention for her work on the video game That Dragon, Cancer. The video game tells the story of her wrestle with faith as her five-year-old son, Joel, battled with cancer. Amy writes about faith, disappointment, and renewed hope at her blog. You can find Amy’s five-minute chapter a day Bible study videos on her YouTube channel. Amy would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok.

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