According to statistics from a recent Pew Research survey, Americans are becoming more familiar with the concept of cancel culture. Despite the growing awareness, there’s a lot of disagreement about what it is – some people believe cancel culture punishes people who don’t deserve it, while others believe it upholds much-needed accountability.
It’s hard to deny that somewhere down the line, things have gone too far. Cancel culture has made enemies of friends and torn families apart. It limits our ability to think and reason about our own beliefs, as well as the beliefs of others. As a follower of Jesus, is there a way to engage with cancel culture, or is it best to stay out of it altogether?
What is cancel culture?
There are two components of cancel culture, and it’s important to differentiate between the two. One component of cancel culture is the private withdrawal of support. This can include choosing not to watch specific TV shows or movies, listen to music from certain artists, or pay for products offered by a specific brand. The other component is a public demonstration of opposition. This is where that private withdrawal goes on full display, often in places where there’s a lot of room for misunderstanding (like social media).
At its core, cancel culture is about accountability. It’s quick to respond to actions that are harmful or hurtful. The Bible tells us that we are all accountable for our actions: “each of us will give a personal account to God” (Romans 14:12). But is there a way we can call for accountability and stay in alignment with how God wants us to live?
But shouldn’t we speak out about the truth?
We’re talking about cancel culture in the way it relates to personal beliefs and preferences about things like government, economics, education, etc. These things – no matter how important they may feel to us – aren't going to make or break someone else’s relationship with God.
What about the things that are absolute truth, then? Ephesians 4 has some valuable wisdom in how we should remind others of the truth and live it out in our daily lives:
- Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor (verse 25).
- Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice (verse 31).
- Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (verse 32).
Yes, it’s important to advocate for God’s truth with others. But Ephesians 4 makes it clear that we must be careful with our approach. We aren’t called to be aggressive defenders – rather, we’re commanded to set a gentle, loving example. Ultimately, this applies to the way we navigate cancel culture as a whole.
What does the Bible say about cancel culture?
With the way cancel culture operates, accountability and mercy seem to go together like oil and water – we can all agree that actions have consequences, but we have different ideas on how much punishment is too much. Cancel culture has a reputation for being harsh and merciless – something the Bible gives clear warnings against. Matthew 6:15 cautions us about being unforgiving toward others: “If you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Consider this: our sins have offended God. Psalm 5:4 says that God “cannot tolerate the sins of the wicked.” God has every right to cancel us for the ways we offend him, but he doesn’t. Instead, he chose to offer us salvation through Jesus “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). Instead of canceling us and condemning us forever, God encourages us to walk away from our old lifestyle and embrace our new identity as his children (Colossians 3:10-11). As we do this, he transforms the way we think and gives us the wisdom to understand how he wants us to live (Romans 12:2).
How should Christians handle cancel culture?
God gives us wisdom in the Bible and loves it when we apply it to our lives, but he cautions us against wielding that wisdom like a weapon against others. Here are some tips for handling cancel culture without jeopardizing your relationships or representing Jesus poorly:
Take a gut check
When a company or celebrity gets canceled, it usually means you can’t use their products, watch their shows, or listen to their music anymore...right? Not necessarily.
If you’re thinking about privately withdrawing support from a public figure, take a moment to evaluate your own feelings – if you continue consuming materials or art produced by someone who’s been canceled by others, how does it sit with you? If it leaves you with a sense of darkness or heaviness, that’s a good indicator to take a step back. On the other hand, if it encourages your spirit, you may not have to cut all ties.
Pray about it
James 1:5 tells us that “if you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.” If you’re deciding whether or not to stop consuming someone’s content or using their products, don’t skip on consulting the ultimate source of wisdom – God is ready to offer you discernment when you ask!
You don’t need to make choices like this in isolation. If there are people in your circle who have a relationship with Jesus and are an encouraging presence in your life, invite them to pray with you and help you process. James 5:16 encourages us in this way, reminding us that “the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”
Don’t let your convictions outpace your compassion
Making a personal decision to stop supporting a public figure isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but we step into dangerous territory when we make it about judging a person instead of a behavior. This applies for the way we talk about celebrities as well as the way we talk to our friends and family.
When it comes to relationships of any kind, it’s crucial to value the other person more than your personal opinions. Just because you are deeply impacted by something doesn’t mean they should be, too. Your relationships will always be more valuable than your opinions.
We know this because that’s how Jesus operated, too. He met all kinds of people who made choices he wouldn’t have agreed with – violent religious nationalists, tax collectors with a corrupt background, and people he knew would betray him and lead to his own death sentence. Yet, he made space for them in his life and offered them a seat at his table. That’s the example Jesus set for us, which means we have a responsibility to treat others with the same level of compassion.
Remember it’s personal
No matter how strong our convictions may be, we can only choose for ourselves when to withdraw support and from whom. We can’t prescribe for anyone else what TV shows they should watch or what brands they should buy, even if they’re a Christian. Romans 2:2-3 reminds us that God is just and will punish others how he sees fit – when we try to take over that role, we subject ourselves to God’s judgment, too.
We step into dangerous territory when we begin to judge the prayers and conversations that have gone into someone else’s decisions. The best thing we can do is pray for them to keep seeking wisdom!
Figuring out the balance between accountability and mercy may seem hard to do – but remember that God has already shown us how. He “showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). Keep this at the front of your mind as you prayerfully consider how to engage with Cancel Culture. Check out this episode of the Live Changed podcast, where our hosts have an honest conversation about cancel culture through a Christian lens. Here are some other resources to guide you in these choices and conversations:
Watch: Speaking Truth With Grace
Watch: Putting Aside Conviction for Connection
Read: What Does Kindness Like Jesus Really Look Like?
Read: How Can We Show Compassion Like Jesus Did?
The Live Changed Podcast is produced by LCBC Church. LCBC stands for Lives Changed By Christ. We are one church in multiple locations across Pennsylvania. Subscribe to the Live Changed Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts!