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Canceling is public shaming and shunning
It is human nature to assume that a person’s poor actions are entirely defined by his characteristics while our poor actions are caused by situational or external factors. In other words, we tend to cut ourself a break while holding others 100 percent accountable for their actions.
Recall a time when someone cut you off in traffic. What did you think of the driver? “He is a selfish jerk who has no ethics. I’m sure that’s how he drives all the time,” you assumed. You have never met the person before nor knew his characteristics. Yet, you formed an instant impression.
Now, recall a situation when you cut someone off while driving. If I asked you why did you do that, you’d have a reason. Perhaps you had an urgent meeting to attend or you were late for a football game. You believe what you did was justified.
Notice that you had two opposite opinions of the same event. The only difference was who committed the mistake. This should sound familiar. We often attribute goodness and permissible behavior to ourselves, while we often attribute badness and poor behavior to others. This double standard is at the heart of my question “What’s going on with Cancel Culture.” As a Christian, seeking to imitate the mercy of Jesus, cancel culture concerns me since it is most often based on snap judgments..
The term “cancel culture” is most often associated with the removal of support for public figures in response to their objectionable behavior or opinions. This can include boycotts or refusal to promote their work. We cancel them.
Things get canceled all the time. A meeting may get canceled because people couldn’t agree on a time to meet. A postage stamp gets canceled by the post office to show that it has been used and shouldn’t be used again. I cancel an order after changing my mind about whatever I ordered. A TV show gets canceled because of low ratings. When a thing is canceled, it goes away.
But cancel culture is about canceling people—in particular, celebrities, politicians, or anyone in the public eye. To cancel a person means we stop giving support to that person. Canceling is a public shaming and shunning. This is the essence of cancel culture which was created by movements like #MeToo that demand greater accountability from public figures. As troubling accusations regarding popular celebrities, such as Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson, Roseanne Barr, and Louis C.K., come to light they are followed by calls to cancel them. Meaning we cancel our social contract as fans, in effect we sever the relationship that once linked a person to their fans.
Cancel culture works as a short-term means to hold people accountable, the problem is that its long-term effects are almost irreversible. While cancel culture has succeeded in holding people accountable, the means by which it holds them accountable is wrong. Public shaming may work but it can have unintended consequences not only on the individual “canceled” but on future generations. It ultimately does more harm than good.
Cancel culture has the potential to halt our curiosity, to increase our unwillingness to question, and to make us fearful of asking a “stupid” or “problematic” question lest we be canceled.
At first, I believed that cancel culture only existed in the worlds of pop culture, social media, movie stars, and among celebrities. Now I understand that the scope of cancel culture has seeped much further into our lives and society. Cancel culture is rampant on our campuses and our classrooms, and as much as it helps hold people accountable in the short-term, it is really terrifying in the long term.
In our desire to foster accountability we have chosen the easiest rather than the best means of getting someone to be accountable for their actions. We have opted for public shaming and shunning rather than intervention. So what? “They deserve it and at least they are being held accountable.” But what does it take to effectively employ cancel culture tactics? We must set ourselves up as judge and jury – we must become vigilantes. We must decide who genuinely wants to know the truth and thus asks impertinent questions to get at it or who is just being impertinent. Most often we decide based on how pleasing or abrasive we find the questioner.
That is one way we know that cancel culture is not the best way to foster accountability - what we become when we cancel another. Another reason is because of the societal trickle down effect of it has of making everyone wary of asking questions or expressing a difference of opinion. Cancel culture is ultimately ineffective and does not even produce real accountability.
What implications does the cancel culture have for Christians? As followers of Jesus we are called to live like Him, regardless of the shape of the culture around us. So, what does it mean to live like Jesus in a cancel culture? How does He tell us to live? What example did He give us?
Jesus was compassionate to those whom society “canceled”. But He also denounced those who abused their authority.
He turned over the tables of the dishonest moneychangers. (Matthew 21:12)
He called the ruling Pharisees a “brood of vipers.” (Matthew 12:34)
He cautioned people that not all their leaders were on the up and up. (Matthew 23:3)
To live like Jesus in a cancel culture, then, means both boldly calling out people in positions of power, and offering compassion to those no one else is willing to love, regardless of what they’ve done wrong.
Each generation of Christians are Christ’s ambassadors to the culture in which they live. As ambassadors, we shouldn’t look for opportunities to condemn those who make mistakes, instead we should look for opportunities to call people into reconciliation through Jesus. We should be agents of Jesus’ grace offering to all, whether powerful and influential or powerless and invisible.
Because of living in a cancel culture, we may be tempted to cut friends and relatives out of our lives.
Before we take drastic actions, we should pause and ask ourselves “What is causing me to consider “canceling” friends or family?”
Is it emotional or physical harm? If so, draw the boundaries needed to protect yourself.
Is it simply that their worldview conflicts with yours or you conflict on values and opinions? If so, take Paul’s words to heart, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) Notice Paul doesn’t say to live at peace only with people who agree with you, or people who vote like you, or even people who define sin the way you do. He says, “live at peace with everyone.”
· What if you try to keep the peace, but every stance they take sets them up as your enemy and not your friend?
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 you surely didn’t think that living like Christ in a cancel culture was going to be easy. When you pray for your enemies, don’t just pray that God will change their mind. Ask God to help you love them like He loves them.
Cancel culture is complicated. As Christians who are trying to love God and love our neighbors, we will likely have different reactions to it, depending on our circumstances and relationships. I know Christians who believe cancel culture is necessary for societal accountability. I know Christians who lament that cancel culture doesn’t offer the compassion they see modeled in the life of Jesus. I don’t know who is right and who is wrong. Perhaps they both have a little truth. But I do know this: if we refuse to divide over our difference of opinions, we can learn from each other what it means to live like Jesus in a cancel culture.