Denouncing “cancel culture” has become a rallying cry for those on the Right, but conservatives have a long and illustrious history of their own cancel culture. Within conservative evangelical communities, cancelling has taken a variety of forms.
Yet even before we address cancelling, it is worth taking a step back to reflect on who has the authority to lead, to begin with. In many evangelical spaces, that authority is reserved for white evangelical men. It might be helpful to consider this “preemptive cancelling.”
In terms of more conventional cancelling, many evangelicals are afraid to speak their conscience on hot-button political and theological issues because they have seen what happens to those who do. “Farewell, Rob Bell,” and all that. They have watched what happened to Rachel Held Evans and Jen Hatmaker when they questioned the party line on questions of gender and sexuality. They have watched what happens in their own churches and in their own families.
Austin Channing Brown, “Dear Nice White People”
You are afraid to speak up because you know there will be repercussions for doing so. How do you know this? Because you have been watching it happen. You are not afraid of a ghost in the closet or a monster under your bed. You are not a child afraid of some intangible, imaginary outcome. You are afraid of being on the receiving end of the oppression you have witnessed.
You are afraid they will talk about you, the way they currently talk about your Black, female co-worker. …
If you are afraid, then you know there is danger in speaking out. And if you its dangerous, you have either been complicit or you have been a willing participant in allowing others to face that danger alone.
Rick Perlstein, Edward H. Miller, “The John Birch Society Never Left”
In Orange County, California, for example, parents were livid about sex education in the schools. Before the issue became part of any politician’s platform, the John Birch Society fanned the flames in 1969 with a front group called the Movement to Restore Decency, or MOTOREDE, whose activists argued that the sex-ed advocates of the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States, or SIECUS, were in cahoots with the Communist-infiltrated National Council of Churches to “destroy the moral character of a generation,” in order to soften them up for the Red takeover. MOTOREDE then produced another extraordinary political innovation, which has remained with us ever since: A Birch activist named John F. McManus announced, “MOTOREDE believes that abortion is murder.” The society soon began organizing around the issue with a film called License to Kill, alongside fundamentalist radio preacher Billy James Hargis.
John Oliver, “Unemployment”
Some people would argue that the Seuss Enterprise canceling these books is the free market at work. The market doesn’t like racism anymore, so the Seuss family has decided it’s no longer worth publishing these six books. “Racism is bad for the Seuss brand,” they say. But if capitalism can’t protect racism at all costs, then I’m simply not interested. I’ll go full-on socialist if it means protecting what really matters — that my six-year-old can still find illustrations mocking Chinese people in their local Barnes & Noble.
Roxane Gay, “Cancel Culture Does Not Exist”
Cancel culture is this boogeyman that people have come up with to explain away bad behavior and when their faves experience consequences. I like to think of it as consequence culture, where when you make a mistake — and we all do, by the way — there should be consequences. The problem is that we haven’t figured out what consequences should be. So it’s all or nothing. Either there are no consequences, or people lose their jobs, or other sort of sweeping grand gestures that don’t actually solve the problem at hand.