January 29, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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It’s become more common in our society to hear of someone getting “canceled.” Cancel culture or call out culture refers to the act of ostracizing, banning, or shunning someone from social settings or social media due to the individual making a claim said to be offensive or harmful. From celebrities and public figures to students and coworkers, it can seem appropriate to “cancel” someone whose beliefs don’t align with mainstream thinking. It’s easier to disengage entirely from that person than to have a meaningful conversation to reach understanding. As Christians, we’re called to love one another and to love our enemies as ourselves.
So, how should we respond to the problems cancel culture raises? Here are five ways we should be intentional about doing:
Cancel culture shames an individual for something they’ve said or a belief they hold and claims that person no longer has a part in a social context. But, instead of shaming and casting someone out, we offer grace. Grace is undeserved favor that is not earned. As we’ve received unmerited favor from God, we should also extend that grace to others. We were once God’s enemies and, through the blood of Jesus, we’re now called His friends. Understanding the grace we’ve received (Ephesians 2:8–10) grants us the ability to offer it to someone else. If we’re the ones being “canceled” for our beliefs, the same grace should be extended to those who mock us. Jesus said it this way, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28 NIV). Let’s be known for extending grace to those who need it most so they can see Christ in us.
In the cancel culture economy, there’s clearly someone who is “right” and someone who is “wrong.” Those seen as “right” do the condemning, and those seen as wrong are condemned and shamed. Yet, Jesus calls us not to judge one another, but to “first take the plank out of [our] own eye, and then [we] will see clearly to remove the speck from [our] brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3–5 NIV). We ought to examine ourselves, our actions, and beliefs and align them with God’s Word before judging someone else’s point of view—and it takes humility to do that. A heart of humility allows us to listen to others and avoid getting involved in arguments. Proverbs tells us, “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3 NIV). So, if we judge someone, view ourselves as “right,” and out of pride shun the other claiming they’re “wrong,” then we’ve missed what it is to have a humble heart. If on the contrary, we’re being judged and seen as “wrong” without any opportunity to explain the reason for our beliefs, then we have the opportunity to act humbly and avoid an argument.
Cancel culture promotes division, an “us vs. them” mentality, but as Christians we’re called to live in unity with other believers and “as far as it depends on you . . . at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NIV). In Christ, the cultural divisions that once separated us have been erased. So, when we as believers “cancel” another Christian, we’re banishing another member of Christ’s family, our fellow brother or sister, and prioritizing our beliefs over what brings us believers together. Scripture is clear on the type of relationship we ought to have with other Christians. 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NIV) says, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Here Paul is saying we should hold at highest priority that which unites us (the essentials of our faith) and that we don’t allow controversies over less important beliefs to create schisms among God’s people.
Call out culture cancels individuals as a way to hold them accountable for what they’ve done wrong, but as Christians we know that ostracizing isn’t the way to keep someone accountable because that system operates out of fear and shame. As members of one body (Romans 12:5), we have a responsibility to hold one another accountable to the truth we proclaim, but we have a greater responsibility to love our neighbor. As a community, we should speak truth in love and sharpen one another into maturity and growth—and that means confronting someone’s wrong actions. So yes, we teach and admonish one another as we dwell richly on the Word of Christ (Colossians 3:16); yet, we do so by putting on love (Colossians 3:14). We need to surround ourselves with godly people who will correct us when we speak or act wrongly (Proverbs 17:17; Proverbs 27:6), but we also need to be filled with compassion to correct instead of using fear and shame to cancel.
Whereas cancel culture preaches holding a grudge and excluding someone from your life for what they’ve done or said, the gospel calls us to offer forgiveness. Whether someone in the Church has canceled us, or someone in the world, we should be ready to respond with forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32). As we have been forgiven, we should also forgive one another and offer the opportunity for someone to be redeemed from their mistake. The gospel implies that we were undeserving, yet we received another chance. Likewise, we should offer the same forgiveness and, as far as possible, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
In a culture that’s growing more and more divisive, the ways of Jesus seem more and more otherworldly. Cancel culture may pose exclusion and banishing individuals as a way to stand for what’s right, but as believers we know that offering grace, practicing humility, remaining united, living in accountability, and extending forgiveness are truly the right things to do. Finally, if you’ve been rejected by your beliefs or you’ve rejected someone else for theirs, remember that ultimately Christ took on the greatest shame and rejection so we could be accepted by God. May we call on the Holy Spirit to help us live the same.
Gabriella Bemis serves as a volunteer for Calvary’s communications and worship teams. She holds an M.A. in psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about integrating her knowledge of human behavior with the truth of God’s word. When she is not writing resources or singing at church, Gabi loves to paint, cook, and enjoy time outdoors with her family and friends.