Hi and welcome back! I’ve been watching our current cultural conversation about cancel culture with great interest. Of particular interest to me was what evangelical Christians had to say about it. Man alive, they do not like cancel culture! But they should. After all, they all but originated it. Today, let me show you what evangelicals say about cancel culture — and why their position on the topic amounts to nothing more than their usual hypocrisy.
What Is Cancel Culture?
“If you don’t have the ability to stop something through political means, what you can do is refuse to participate. [. . .] ‘I may have no power, but the power I have is to [ignore] you.’”
— Anne Charity Hudley, quoted in Vox
Canceling is the practice of boycotting, calling out, shaming, and avoiding a person (or group) who’s said or done something reprehensible. The practice includes, as well, revoking and closing that person’s social media and online e-commerce payment system accounts on privately-owned sites. Once canceled, the person in question will find it very difficult to reach an audience or sell their products.
As Vox tells us, the phrase might come from a 1991 movie, then referenced in a 2010 song by Lil Wayne. In 2014, a cast member on a VH1 hip-hop reality show tells his love interest that she’s canceled. From there, the phrase gained traction in the social media circles of African-Americans. In fact, Vox links the phrase with the Civil Rights Movement as a whole.
Around 2018, the phrase began seeing limited use outside of that milieu. Last fall, it began getting a lot more attention. Then, in the past couple of months its use began to skyrocket. Now it feels like the phrase cancel culture is everywhere!
Thus, cancel culture involves a widespread acceptance of the practice of canceling reprehensible people — like Alex Jones a while ago.
And until recently, y’all, it seriously did not even occur to me that evangelicals might have any negative opinions about anything involved in cancel culture.
I can be a real sweet summer child sometimes, I guess.
But But But MUH REDEMPTION.
Boy oh boy, evangelicals do not like it.
At UnHerd (it’s called that cuz they actually think they’ve latched onto some startlingly-new and weird way to do Christianity — we’ll talk about that notion later on), their Church of England writer begins by invoking the slaver who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” then sniffs at cancel culture thusly:
The new, highly secular ‘cancel culture’ represents an extreme form of righteousness that has all the moral power of a certain kind of protestant Christianity, but none of the basic scaffolding of redemption on which such Christianity is built.
Yes, because Christianity as practiced by the vast majority of Christians totally and really super-duper involves redemption and morality, yep yep, while the evil secular people employing cancel culture (most of whom are actually Christians) totally don’t understand those ideas.
The Only Moral Cancellation Is My Cancellation.
On Christian Today, we learn that one Christian’s objection to cancel culture appears to involve his own affection for the people and ideas being cancelled. He happens to like them and thinks they’re important. Therefore, they must not be canceled. The language he uses is beyond hilariously-overblown and loaded, too:
Where will this all end? [. . .]
Once the cultural elites tell you what their new approved doctrine is – if you don’t bow the knee or if there is even the possibility that you might not agree – then the cancel mobs will hunt you down. [. . .] The world has been turned upside down. The revolution is eating itself.
However, it’s not cancel culture itself he dislikes. It’s that he — an older fundagelical white dude — can’t be in charge of deciding who and what gets canceled:
Instead of the Church signing up to the cancel culture, perhaps it’s time for us to cancel the cancel culture. However there is a biblical cancel culture.
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43;25).
Perhaps our cancel culture society, with its inability to forgive and forget, could learn from this.
Cancelers Are Doing It All Wrong.
At Christian Post, their writer takes it upon himself to lecture all the plebes who don’t understand anything like he does:
“Cancel culture,” as this is now famously referred to, is a dangerous road to travel down — not simply because we live in a free country, but because it doesn’t accomplish what “canceling” sets out to achieve.
Our time would be better spent engaging with one another and persuading one another to join our cause.
How lucky we all are that this evangelical leader has taken it upon himself to show us how to do things correctly! He even totally misunderstands what “freedom” means in relation to cancellation! And what might this lovely engagement look like, one asks?
I, like the vast majority of Americans, believe we can build a more inclusive and less prejudiced society. But if we don’t make any room for repentance, forgiveness, and a fresh start for anyone, we’re bound to find everyone canceled for one reason or another. None of us are without blemish.
Ah, okay. Anybody but me suddenly wondering what this guy’s secret porn folder contains? Because we’re not talking about “blemishes.” We’re talking about racial slurs, threats against others, and other really awful things. I’ve never knowingly used a racial slur myself, but the people whining about “blemishes” sure come off like they’re just scared cancel culture will be coming for them one day — and justifiably so.
And then we arrive at his real objection:
Actually, at the heart of “cancel culture” is a kind of self-righteousness. If your day is spent exclusively shaming those who do wrong, your goal is not restoration — it’s for cementing division.
I love it when Christian leaders whine about “division.” It’s their favorite way to refuse to engage with criticism.
Over at the Family Research Council (FRC), meanwhile, Tony Perkins clutches his pearls in his post “Like a Tweet, Lose a Lease.” Y’all, he’s just astonished that “a handful of ‘likes’ were all it took to make the biggest church in Alabama homeless.”
In this case, the story concerns a megapastor who clicked “like” on some racist conspiracy-theory posts about the pandemic. They were really racist. And as Jonathan Merritt reveals, they came at a time when the pastor in question was already under fire for taking deliberate advantage of systemic racism.
Tony Perkins minimizes all of that, however. He refers to the efforts to deplatform this pastor as “smear tactics” and “mob tactics.” Then he whines about how saaaaaaaaaaad it is that this church has closed because now it can’t do its charity stuff. Because yes, you know, churches do so much charity that it’s not just a mere fraction of their budgets.
We even get the early Christmas present of an absolutely-intolerant bigot whining about others’ intolerance of his own intolerance. And he ends with this:
Imagine if we held everyone by that standard. If we combed through these public servants’ accounts, what would we find? Political objectivity or the raging hatred and bitterness that’s led to these baseless attacks?
It’s hard to imagine someone missing the point harder than Perkins has here, but I’m noticing a trend in these Christian leaders’ objections to cancel culture. Are you?
As Danielle Butler reveals, in Reality-Land “canceled” people rarely suffer long-term repercussions from cancellation. As she puts it:
Cancel culture is paradoxical in that its opponents manage to claim it’s both harmfully punitive and performative virtue signaling.
Nobody illustrates the doublethink and willful misunderstanding she describes better than evangelicals do. On The Gospel Coalition (TGC), we have a writer who apparently hasn’t gotten that memo:
In cancel culture, we are defined by our latest mistake. Social recovery is rare.
Seriously, who? When? And since when do evangelicals not define themselves by “[their] latest mistake”?
He doesn’t appear to have an accurate view of his own tribe’s behavior and history, either:
It was once the case that differing opinions—including ones that challenge culturally approved mores—were debated with facts and sound argumentation. [. . .] Be warned: we won’t engage your ideas; we will engage you and shame you out of existence. You will be canceled.
Really? When was this wonderful golden age? Because I’m 50 years old and an ex-evangelical myself, and I seriously don’t remember any time when evangelicals engaged like that.
Evangelicals’ Objections, Summarized.
In summary, it seems to me that evangelicals’ objections to cancel culture run thusly:
- It can strike almost anybody, it seems — even the person complaining about it.
- Any small offense can spark a cancellation. Worse still, the offenses tend to be things that evangelicals themselves both do and enjoy doing.
- The penalties invoked seem enormous and life-altering.
- They see few options for “redemption” after cancellation.
- Nobody consulted them about who and what should be canceled.
- They’d do it way better than those evil secular people. But those evil secular people aren’t listening to them.
One gets the distinct impression, reading their own words on the topic, that they’d be fine with cancellation if it was them deciding who gets cancelled, how, for how long, and for what reasons.
In a real sense, then, in their objections to cancel culture evangelicals convey their huge fear and dread about their own future as a dominant force in American culture.
They object to cancellation as a concept only because they do not completely control it anymore.
The Reality of Evangelicals and Cancel Culture.
And I said “anymore” up there because cancellation has always been a thing in evangelicalism. Always. They’ve always made use of it to destroy their enemies and enforce compliance with their demands. That’s why I got caught by surprise by their sheer hatred of it.
They’ve always been about the lowest common denominator and lowering the bar. They don’t engage — they attack. Nor do they persuade — they coerce and dominate. Whatever they can’t destroy, they seek to silence or negate. They fight to the last breath to maintain their own dominance. Whatever’s left over from that fight, they try to ignore.
Ex-Christians have lost their jobs, their marriages, their friends, and even their property as a result of TRUE CHRISTIAN™ cancellation. So have general dissenters against them and their overreach.
Evangelicals constantly reach for cancellation. It represents one of their favorite forms of social control.
Cancellation in Action.
When Eugene Peterson expressed sympathy for LGBT people, the evangelical world howled for his blood. They wrote impassioned blog posts agonizing over whether or not they should even keep any of his books in their libraries or toss them — even though they were, in fact, all in complete lockstep with their own ideas.
In 2014, evangelicals (rightly) canceled Mark Driscoll. At that time, LifeWay yanked all his books from their stores. Tons of Christians spoke up at that point in criticizing him; his congregation shrank dramatically.
When Russell Moore criticized Donald Trump, his tribe nearly cancelled him.
When World Vision said they’d start being nicer to gay people, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ treated them like they’d died. They withdrew their support for the charity and attacked them nonstop.
None of the people named in this subsection faced permanent repercussions. Once they groveled to the tribe’s satisfaction, evangelicals embraced them again. Even Mark Driscoll still pastors somewhere.
The difference, of course, between evangelical cancel culture and secular culture stands out like a sore thumb:
Evangelicals tend to cancel people who aren’t exceptionally powerful or face a drastic decline in their power base — and who voice dissent that runs counter to their beloved culture wars.
In effect, they punch down. In utilizing cancellations, evangelicals seek to preserve and protect their broken system, not to challenge it (much less to dismantle it).
Not Their Call Anymore.
So when I observe evangelicals’ reaction to cancel culture, I perceive a tribe of control freaks deeply distressed that cancellation is no longer under their complete control.
The people they hate most now participate in the process they once owned. The very people they once marginalized and mistreated without fear of repercussions now actively decide things about their futures. Evangelicals no longer humbly serve as the lords of the universe.
And most of all, evangelicals’ own outbursts and cruelties can be revealed years after being made — thanks to the internet’s memory. Controlling people like them can’t handle the fact that their narratives can be easily contradicted, even wrecked by their own words and deeds. They must spin-doctor and manage every aspect of their stories.
But then someone finds their Facebook post from 2015 or something. Their own post reveals that actually, they don’t love everybody. They aren’t good people. And whoosh! Their narrative spins completely out of their hands.
Worst of all, oh worst of all, evangelicals like the powerful people who are being canceled. They emulate them and revere them. They want to be them one day. Indeed, their entire broken system exists to protect their Dear Leaders from any repercussions from the harm they do.
Good Changes, This Time.
So evangelicals face a dramatically different culture today than the one they all but owned ten or fifteen years ago. The powerful people their institutions and groups protected for generations no matter what have started to lose their shielding.
The louder evangelicals howl about cancel culture and how much they hates it, HATES IT FOREVER, the more opportunity presents itself for us to remind them that they love it and everything about it — as long as they’re the ones doing it and controlling it. We can remind them of all the people they themselves have cancelled — and why, and if and how those people regained their favor again.
Most of all, we can remind them of all the people they needed to cancel but didn’t for years — not until they absolutely had to, and even then they proceeded by dragging their feet and whining and complaining the entire time. Evangelical leadership has always been a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and evangelicals themselves do everything they possibly can to ensure that it stays that way.
But change has a nasty habit of shaking up everything in this world, doesn’t it? Oh, evangelicals might not like it at all, but the time has already passed when anybody cared much what they like or don’t like.
Change has already seeped into their group’s underpinnings. Change has already come for them. It already calls out to those among them who still possess a shred of decency and compassion. It’s lighting the lamps in their darkness, revealing evangelicals’ condemned house for what it truly is.
Status-quo evangelicals ignore that light at their own risk.
NEXT UP: Speaking of fear of change, we’ll check out a Christian leader’s hopes for evangelicals’ “new normal” after the pandemic. Ouch. See you tomorrow!
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