Reflections on Cancel Culture
(Originally in the March 3, 2021, Coconut Wireless)
A fairly new term has entered the U.S. political conversation: cancel culture. The term has been around on university and college campuses for some time where it is part of the call-out culture. Call-out culture is the practice of calling out people for objectionable behavior as opposed to ignoring the behavior or even rewarding the behavior. Think here of the white college athlete of a number of years ago, convicted of rape, yet given only a six-month jail sentence by the judge. Call-out culture demanded that the young man involved be held responsible for his actions in a way the judge failed to do.
"Canceling" arose from the practice of people removing or canceling their social media support of those who display objectional behavior. The use of the term in political dialogue tends to paint the actions of calling out and canceling in a negative light, as often the withdrawal of support leads to the loss of elections.
From a faith perspective, it is correct to call out people for their objectionable behavior. Indeed, the Bible itself calls us out as sinners involved in questionable, if not objectionable, behavior in the eyes of God. However, the Bible does not stop there. It also offers the chance of reconciliation with God through repentance and forgiveness. It is right that we should name objectionable behavior and it is also right that we should hold people responsible for acknowledging that behavior as part of sincere repentance.
Ultimately cancel culture is a contemporary form of ostracism. Christianity has had a questionable relationship with ostracism over the years; New England Congregational abuse of ostracism remains an embarrassing blot on our own denominational history. As people of faith, we need to handle cancel culture gently when we engage these conversations. Yes, let us call out objectionable behavior. Let us also extend the opportunity for repentance, and in doing so remain faithful to God's gracious movement toward creation.
Rev. Dr. David K. Popham