Commentary: Cancel Culture
Given 27-Mar-21; 10 minutes
By now, I'm confident that most of us have heard the phrase, "cancel culture," and many are probably tired of hearing about it at this point. So, apologies in advance if you are one of those people. Dictionary.com defines "cancel culture" as "the phenomenon or practice of publicly rejecting, boycotting, or ending support for particular people or groups because of their socially or morally unacceptable views or actions." It goes on to say, "Cancel culture can ruin careers, but it can also make a public figure think twice about posting controversial comments." It wraps up by saying, "In a cancel culture, we appoint ourselves the arbiters of right and wrong."
Council culture is not exactly new. Some say that since it's loosely tied to social media platforms and being cancelled or having a voice on them, that it is a newer term originating, say, somewhere around 2015. However, the research that I did showed that this action of "canceling" someone because you do not like them, what they say, what they do, or maybe what they do not do, can apply to many different time periods throughout history. I'm not going to mention any specific modern day examples of people, groups, or companies that have summarily been canceled because my point today is neither to defend or condemn any modern day example. Rather, I would like to take a look at this cancel culture mentality from a specific historical perspective, which we will get to in just a bit.
Modern day cancel culture has done an interesting job at peering into the digital past of people, organizations, companies—you name it—to find bits and bytes, usually things that were said or done 10, 20, 30-some years ago, for which they should now be cancelled. Being human, how many of us can look back 5, 10, 15, 20—you name the time interval—and think, "Wow, I really messed up. I lament, even hate, that I did this or that"? Or, maybe that I did not do something. Most humans with carnal human nature have proverbial skeletons in the closet because we have all sinned and we have all fallen short in our lives. This is why when we are called by God and He opens our eyes to the plumb line—that is, Jesus Christ—and we see how far below we are, it usually crushes us, but then hopefully motivates us to change because we see how important this perfect sacrifice means to each of us personally as those sins are summarily wiped away.
The Parable of the Two Debtors that we read of in Luke 7:40 always comes to mind when I think of this principle. One of the problems with cancel culture that I've previously alluded to is that it doesn't provide much space for repentance or forgiveness and the fact that, as the days turned into years, hopefully a person has grown, matured, and is overcoming the previous life of sin. For Christians, God has commissioned us to be growing and overcoming to put on the New Man or the New Person, and so throughout the conversion process, we should be able to truthfully say, "I'm not the person I used to be."
I'm going to go over to John 8. This shows an example of someone whose sin was discovered, not in some post or tweet or pic from 20 years ago, but almost immediately. It's actually what got me thinking about this topic:
John 8:2-11 Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
I am extremely curious as to what our Savior wrote on the ground. Whatever it was, He silenced them with a single sentence and the stroke of Hi finger. This woman’s sin was fresh. It wasn’t something that happened 20 years ago, but something that happened within the previous day or night or 24 hours.
Here we begin to see a historical example of cancel culture. You see, the Pharisees wanted to condemn the woman and kill her. No second chances for her; no opportunities to repent and grow. They were looking at things very legalistically. She had to pay now, and pay with her life. Jesus’ judgement was quite the opposite.
Now, we do see another element that is highlighted in this account. The Pharisees' ultimate goal was to test Jesus, and try to trap Him and get Him to say or do something wrong that they might have something they could use to “cancel” or silence Him. This wasn’t the first or the last time that they tried to dig up some proverbial dirt on Jesus that they could use against Him and we’ll see why.
What the Pharisees didn’t understand is that Jesus didn’t come to cancel people. He had an entirely different purpose, but that purpose caused them great discomfort:
Matthew 4:23-25 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Great multitudes followed Him—from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.
Jesus came to teach, to preach the gospel of the Kingdom,to heal all kinds of sickness and disease, to take away our sins through His perfect sacrifice, as we see throughout the gospels. He came to help, not cancel. But as we see in verse 24, the real problem the Pharisees had with Jesus was that His “fame” was spreading through all the land. News of the miracles that Jesus had performed swept from city to city. When He spoke in the synagogues, He spoke with authority and people marveled. As we saw there in verse 25, great multitudes began to follow Him.
Right after Jesus resurrected Lazarus, we see the disruption that Jesus’ miracles were causing the Pharisees:
John 11:45-48 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”
The Pharisees, seeing that their status quo was being threatened, were motivated to take action. They thought that Jesus might garner an even larger following, perhaps causing a revolution, and maybe bring the Romans crashing down on their heads, so to speak. And so, the cancel campaign on Jesus intensified.
This campaign wasn’t as easy as banning Jesus from some type of digital platform since obviously that didn’t exist, and because literally everywhere Jesus went, He preached, He healed, and He taught. This cancel campaign therefore sought to kill Him because that was the only way they could permanently silence Him.
Cancel culture is not new. It has taken many forms throughout time and I am sure it will continue and intensify in the years to come. For now, it seeks to silence those who have deviated from social and “moral” norms, but it will eventually come for the truth and for God’s word:
Matthew 24:9-10 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.
We are truly blessed that as God calls us, and when we repent and are baptized into the body of Christ, and receive the Holy Spirit, that God in a way says to us, “Go and sin no more.”
I’m thankful, as Richard said last night, that God is on His throne and He has given us His spirit, that we might have sound minds and stability, knowing that both God and Christ are even now working to move Their plan of salvation forward.
Cancel culture might indeed knock on our metaphorical door someday, but knowing that God is with us, He is merciful and forgiving, helps us as we watch, pray, and overcome as the time of our Savior and King’s return draws near.