Cancel culture is the modern social attitude that controversial speech or behavior must be punished through public shaming, silencing, boycotting, firing, bankrupting, deplatforming, etc. The result is that the offender’s influence, presence, and/or reputation is “cancelled out.”
It’s proper for whistle-blowers to reveal corruption and illegality or for abused women to come forward, confront their abuser, and make sure he is held accountable. But cancel culture goes far beyond that, setting out new rules to retaliate against speech, behavior, or even thought that has been pre-judged as “offensive” or even simply controversial. In cancel culture, people can be ostracized, their reputations smeared, and their careers ruined although they have broken no laws or engaged in any malicious behavior.
Cancel culture is the outgrowth of two other, equally dangerous things: political correctness and postmodernism. Political correctness is the attempt to minimize social and institutional offense through policing speech (and therefore thought), forcing the use of certain words and banning other words. Postmodernism asserts that all truth claims are subjective. Truth becomes a matter of preference, and “tolerance” is promoted as a supreme value. However, the more “tolerant” a culture becomes, the more intolerant it is of anyone it perceives as intolerant. People deemed “intolerant” or potentially giving offense must be silenced—and cancel culture is the result.
Cancel culture is associated with several problems that can be addressed biblically:
1) Cancel culture is rash. There is little concern for due process, and in its place are immediate outrage and snap judgments. Fueling the controversy is partial, often biased information. The Bible commands, “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet” (Proverbs 4:26), and we are to “live sensibly” (Titus 2:12, NASB). Irrational thinking and the mob mentality have no place in the Christian’s life.
2) Cancel culture is spiteful. The vitriolic contempt coming from the cancel crowd is often shockingly ugly. Selecting a person for “cancellation” seems to be tantamount to declaring that person worthy of hate, and with that comes permission to slander him or her. In contrast to promoting the malice of the cancel culture, Jesus commands us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27–28). Our speech should “be gracious and attractive” (Colossians 4:6, NLT). Vicious, obscene, or hate-filled speech has no place in the Christian’s life.
3) Cancel culture is judgmental. The self-appointed enforcers of “acceptable” speech have gone to great lengths to dig up material over which to cancel others. People have lost their jobs over articles written three decades ago, jokes told in one’s youth, classic literature read aloud, and opposite editorials published. There is no room for nonconformity—or free speech. If the language police were judged by their own severe standard, how many of them would remain un-cancelled? Scripture warns against hypocritical, self-righteous judging (Matthew 7:1). Hypocrisy or a faultfinding, hypercritical spirit has no place in the Christian’s life.
4) Cancel culture is unforgiving. Past instances of inappropriate or hurtful speech or actions, no matter how long ago, are not to be forgiven in cancel culture. Once a person is cancelled, there is no way to restore that person to the good graces of society—there is no grace. There is no chance for redemption. Rehabilitation and restoration are not the goal, and neither is learning from one’s mistakes. The goal is to smear, defame, and malign. The Bible points to repentance and commands us to forgive one another: “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13, NLT). An unforgiving, loveless attitude has no place in the Christian’s life.
In the midst of cancel culture, we must use our words wisely. Believers are to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). We are to “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, NLT). And we must continue to reject hatred and love others, even our enemies (1 John 4:7; Matthew 5:43–48).
Cancel culture views people with whom a plurality of people disagree as unredeemable and worthy of spite. Christian culture sees no one as unredeemable. Repentance and change are always possible, and forgiveness is available. Christian culture sees no one as an object of spite. God’s love is always available. There are no lost causes. We cannot allow mob rule mentality.
Freedom of speech is essential.