Hurricane Ian has come and gone from my hometown of Naples, Florida. Yet, cancel culture isn’t going anywhere soon. Like a hurricane, cancel culture is fueled by heat. As temperatures rise, cancel culture gets bigger, stronger, and more destructive. No one escapes its fury. I recently talked to a tearful mother whose daughter had insisted she affirm her LGBTQ choices or she could no longer be part of her life. If you haven’t been canceled yet, you probably will be—especially if you express a biblical view on some hot button issue.
How you react says a whole lot about who you are.
Jesus followers are called to love those whose choices are unbiblical. But we should never jettison biblical views to placate those opposed to truth. Jesus warned that taking up his cross means those closest to us may become our bitterest enemies. Being canceled goes with the territory. To compromise truth doesn’t.
On the other hand, we should be careful how we confront. Beware of fighting culture battles with carnal weapons. Evangelicals who love the smell of blood in the arena are becoming a stench in the nostrils of a watching world.
Above all we shouldn’t complain. If we are bold enough to declare what we believe to be truth, we have to be brave enough to be rejected for it. Jesus knew something about being cancelled. His crucifixion was infinitely worse than our social media post being criticized or someone defriending us. So, instead of compromising, confronting, or complaining, try these responses:
1. Don’t make it about you.
Do you remember that First Century Jewish rabbi, Saul of Tarsus? Acts chapter seven records him inciting a mob in Jerusalem to stone to death Stephen, a church deacon. Later, he set off for Damascus to round up Jesus followers. On the way, a blinding light knocked him off his horse and the resurrected Jesus confronted him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” [Acts 9:4] He didn’t say, “Why did you persecute Stephen? Why are you hellbent on persecuting others?”
Jesus couldn’t be clearer: when people abuse his followers, they are really abusing him. If the goal of our salvation is to be conformed to the image of Christ, we should rejoice in suffering that connects us to him. After Saul the Rabbi became Paul the Apostle, he wrote, “I want to…participate in his suffering, becoming like him in his death…” [Phil. 3:10] Compromising to be accepted by others, going on the attack to score points, or whining about what it costs to follow him, makes it about us instead of him. Others will only mock us for such self-centered faith.
2. Make sure it is about Jesus.
He said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness…” [Matthew 5:10] If we are canceled for what God defines as right, we are blessed. Sadly, too many Christians are canceled for judgmentalism, hypocrisy, insensitivity, and even spreading falsehoods. Some evangelical YouTube shows should be taken off the air. Some evangelicals’ tweets are toxic. Some Facebook posts by Christians churn out falsehoods. Let’s make sure that being canceled is about Jesus, and not our sinfulness or stupidity.
3. Avoid the word
Christians often equate being canceled with persecution. In most cases, they misuse the term. In the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust, world courts were careful to define persecution as experiencing bodily harm or the loss of freedom. That definition conforms to the biblical concept of persecution. Certainly, Dr. Martin Luther King and others have faced persecution in the U.S. We might endure it in the future, yet few American Christians are experiencing it now.
To be canceled falls under something else Jesus said: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you…” [Mt. 5:11] Jesus makes a distinction between being persecuted and reviled. Maybe you remember that childhood ditty, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Words have to do with being reviled. Sticks and stones have to do with persecution. Words can hurt, but they aren’t the same as being beaten, thrown in prison, or murdered. U.S. Christians should be glad we still have the right to say what we want, and others have the freedom to cancel us for saying it. This freedom of speech may not last forever, but we should make use of its privileges and dangers while we still can.
4. Don’t become part of cancel culture.
Too many Christians are quick to cancel those who disagree with them. In these polarizing times, we need to build bridges rather than walls. Those who opt out of relationships or bail out of churches because others disagree may be revealing their own insecurity. If our viewpoint on any issue is solidly biblical, we don’t need others to validate it. Even if the whole world disagrees, we should still stand confident and unwavering in our beliefs. We should welcome those who oppose our views. They provide a counterpoint; a chance for us to fact check our opinions; and a golden opportunity to gain another perspective. If they are open to dialogue, we have gained an opportunity to present a biblical way of thinking and an opening to point to Jesus who gave us our viewpoints. We should do so without feeling pressure to convert them. Our job is to share our faith and its values, and then get out of the way of the Holy Spirit who alone can change hearts.
So, let’s sit back and take a deep breath. Cancel culture is as old as Cain cancelling out Abel. It will be with us until the greatest victim of cancel culture, Jesus Christ, returns to put an end to it once and for all. In the meantime, let’s stand courageously and compassionately for biblical truth, paying the cost even to the point of being canceled, so Jesus can be glorified in our lives as we introduce others to him.
About Dr. Robert “Bob” Petterson
Dr. Robert “Bob” Petterson is an author, speaker, former pastor and founder of The Legacy Imperative, a ministry devoted to inspiring, mobilizing and equipping grandparents, parents and other advocates for Millennials and Generation Z to evangelize and disciple their loved ones who are far from the Christian faith.