Cancel Culture and the Gospel

Cancel Culture and the Gospel

by: Aubrey Coleman

A recent movement has presented itself in the social media realm and is referred to as "cancel culture." You may or may not be familiar with this phrase, but essentially cancel culture is a demand for someone to be reprimanded after saying or doing something that seems to be inappropriate or wrong. Ultimately, the goal is to ostracize the person from social circles, whether online or in person. Multiple condemning comments and arguments intended to cancel the legitimacy of someone's voice tend to follow this "cancellation" of him or her. You may have witnessed celebrities or influencers deleting their social media platforms as a result of being cancelled. You may notice a certain brand or product being avoided. You may have even seen this on a more personal scale when a friend or coworker was excluded from events or activities because of something said or done. Cancel culture happens on both large and small scales. It happens to others, and it can happen to us. Some responses may seem just and others unfair, but with such relevance, Christians should consider how they engage in such a movement.

Some might argue that cancel culture is a way of holding others accountable for their words and actions and leading them to true change. In some ways, this may prove true. It may highlight the obvious flaws in one's understanding, leading them to learn and grow from their mistakes. But in most ways, it doesn't touch the surface of true accountability, and it will certainly not provide lasting change. Cancel culture calls you out but doesn't call you to anything–like a personal nutritionist naming all of the horrible things in your diet but not helping you replace those things with healthier meals; or a coach critiquing every player in a game without ever holding a practice. The problem with cancel culture is that it is quick to offer critique without redirection. For the those who are cancelled, they are left accused, shamed, and cast out with no real hope for how to redeem themselves.

But for the Christian, we can engage in this social movement differently. When Jesus Christ came to die for our sins, we were the worthiest of being cancelled. We had said and done and thought things that exuded rebellion and sin and distanced us from God. But while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Instead of rejecting us completely because of our disobedience, God made a way to invite us in through the redemption offered by His Son's life, death, and resurrection.

The gospel changes everything about the way we respond to ourselves, God, and others. Our hearts are changed from the inside out through the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. We are given new hearts–hearts that desire righteousness and obedience, and we are filled with the Holy Spirit to help us sustain those desires. And not only that, but we are encouraged to help our brothers and sisters to desire and walk in obedience too. That means there is a necessary time to call out others in their wrongdoings but do so in a gospel-centric way.

Colossians 3 tell us to put to death what is earthly in us. This requires a calling out, or a cancelling, of the old self and its desires, but where the gospel differentiates from cancel culture is that it not only calls others out but calls them to something. The remainder of the chapter points Christians to put on as those who have received salvation in Jesus, "compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Colossian 3:12-14 ESV).

When addressing the wrongdoings of another, we can reflect the image of Jesus Christ by offering truth while also offering grace. We can call someone out of disobedience and call them to righteousness. Instead of holding one another to unattainable standards that we cannot even meet for ourselves, we can humbly acknowledge the redemptive power of the gospel in our lives and learn and grow in grace and understanding together. This does not happen best in the comments sections of a post or the signing of petitions. Nor does it happen best by gossiping or leading an attack on someone. Though it may feel liberating for us at the time, it rarely leads someone to true and genuine change, and it certainly does not honor the Lord. This kind of calling out happens best in everyday relationships where we can more clearly see the life of another. It happens best when those we address can trust us and understand the true intention behind our words.

For Christians, we can oppose the message of cancel culture and instead offer the redemptive message of the gospel. Cancel culture says, "You're finished," but the Gospel says, "Jesus finished it for us." We are not left to filthy rags, but instead, we are invited to clothe ourselves in robes of righteousness through Salvation in Jesus Christ. We win people to the message of Christ not by condemning or cancelling but by pointing them to the one who sets them free from condemnation and cancellation. Let's be different than those who are quick to shut someone out or silence someone's voice. Instead, let's offer an extension of the grace we have received ourselves and encourage one another in the truth of the gospel that is much more capable of changing us.

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