“Resurfaced tweets” is a phrase that’s becoming more and more common. And when you hear those two words, you can assume that the person who authored those tweets is “cancelled,” regardless of how old the tweets are.
And cancel culture is on the rise. Unless you say the right things on social media (and you say them in the right way), you run the risk of being cancelled.
And while holding prominent figures accountable for their words is a good thing, cancel culture has the potential of being quite counterproductive. This is especially true when people are attacked for a phrasing misstep, even when their heart was apparently in the right place (as was the case with Ellen).
What’s more is that whether we like it or not, cancel culture also affects the Church. Chris Hodges, who is the pastor of Church of the Highlands in Alabama, recently came under fire for “liking” the social media posts of a political commentator who denies the reality of white privilege.
It’s unclear whether the posts were even related to that topic. But the fact that Hodges even followed him on social media was enough for the local school district to disallow the church to continue renting its facilities. The housing authority also cut ties with the church and will not accept any contributions from them. Church of the Highlands had been heavily involved in serving the underprivileged in Alabama.
While Christians ought to speak truth to power, particularly when people with powerful platforms use those platforms to support problematic systems of thought, cancel culture is not the best course of action.
Here are 3 things every Christian should know about cancel culture.
1. You can’t drive out evil with hate.
Righteous anger can be a great motivator that brings about justice and healing. But when it turns to hate, very little good can come of it. And cancel culture is often motivated by righteous anger that has soured and turned into hate.
By roundly condemning a person and failing to afford them any benefit of the doubt, we seek to use evil to overcome evil. But we’ll never be able to succeed in doing so. Here’s what Paul says in his letter to the churches in Rome.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
We cannot be overcome by evil, or return it in kind. The only way to overcome evil is with good. That’s why Jesus teaches us not to hate our enemies. In fact, we’re called to do the opposite.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
When you love someone, that means that you’re for their good–even if you feel at a profound level that they are in the wrong. Pray for them. Pray that God would change their heart. Engage them in conversation, if you have a relationship with them.
Refuse to write a person off, even if they have said or posted something heinous. Be empathetic enough to recognize that they’re a complex individual with both virtues and shortcomings. Don’t hate them. If you give into hate, you become no better than what you believe them to be.
2. Jesus came to save both the oppressed and the oppressor.
When Jesus came, he promised to set the captives free. And the captivity that he spoke of was the spiritual enslavement we have with regard to sin. We are afflicted and oppressed by sin–both by our own sins and the sins of others.
And here’s an uncomfortable truth. Jesus came to liberate both the oppressed and the oppressor. He came to set free both the predator and the victim. And that’s because they are equally enslaved to the decaying nature of sin.
This isn’t to say that we don’t respond with swift and stern justice against oppressors. We must do that. We must never overlook any form of oppression or make any allowances for it.
But it is to say that the situation is a bit more complex than we often make it out to be. The world isn’t full of good guys and bad guys. It’s full of the spiritually enslaved who are in need of a Savior to set them free.
Jesus displayed this kind of duality during his own ministry. When we see him engaging with a woman by the well in a Samaritan city, we like that–because we see that Jesus has a heart for those who are socially marginalized. But when we see Jesus in the home of Zacchaeus, a man who used his political power to extort money from his own countrymen, we might feel a little less comfortable–because we see that Jesus also has a heart for those who marginalize others.
As we seek to bring about justice on anyone who is complicit (or even apathetic) to the injustices of our time, may we also hold out hope that even the oppressors may be set free from their spiritual bondage.
3. Redemption is a better goal than condemnation.
At the heart of this discussion is a desire for something the world can never fully achieve apart from Jesus–redemption.
We all want to see justice. But we also want to see repentance, forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation. To be sure, if we can’t have those things, we’ll settle for harsh justice–or even just swift vengeance.
But if we set our sights on those lesser goals, then we fail to tap into the true power of Jesus. So my encouragement to you today is to set loftier goals. Set the kind of goals that are only possible with the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Seek to see hearts transformed and perspectives shifted.
Redemption is a better goal than condemnation. So don’t get swept up in the mob mentality of cancel culture.
Let’s write a better story.
I don’t say any of this as an excuse to be less passionate about the good and just things we wish to see in the world. I’m not suggesting that we disengage from the problems of our day, or even the problems we see within the church. I’m not interested in simply keeping to nice sounding platitudes as an excuse not to get our hands dirty.
That’s certainly not what Jesus would do if he were in our situation. No one hated sin more than Jesus. He spoke boldly and prophetically whenever he encountered it. But he always brought with him a spirit of invitation. He never sought to cancel anybody. He invited them to see the transformation only he was able to bring about in their lives–the salvation that he came to give his life that they might have.
May we build the same culture into our own lives. Never shy away from the truth. But don’t shy away from love either.