The church of Christ invented cancel culture

Of all the wonderful things the internet has given us, there have been a few that make me wonder if it’s all worth it. One of those negatives is what has come to be known as “cancel culture.” Cancel culture is that thing you hear of in the news where the internet mob gets a hold of some wrong action or social media post and does everything in their power to ruin that person’s life.

When they find one such person, they want blood. They work to get people fired from their jobs. They try to get the person’s friends and family to shun them. They want their target buried to the point where they can never come back. No amount of apologizing can ever save a person once they’ve been canceled.

The first instance I can remember involved a woman named Justine Sacco. She posted a couple of admittedly offensive, racist tweets while getting on a plane to Africa. By the time the plane landed, hundreds of thousands of people had banded together to get Sacco fired from her job. This all occurred in 2015, and since that time canceling has entered our vernacular and become a regular part of internet life.

Unfortunately, the church had a cancel culture long before the Twitter rage mob ever got a hold of Sacco.

For decades faithful Christians have been canceled over all kinds of things. The online mob stands ready to leap to action any time someone takes the wrong side on the Holy Spirit, heaven vs. renewed creation, whether drinking alcohol is a sin, or what holidays a person celebrates, or any other number of issues. Ironically, I’ll probably have some people canceling me over this article.

I’ve had people try to contact my congregation and demand I be fired over an article I wrote. I’ve had people pay for Facebook advertising to warn people that I’m a false teacher. My experiences pale in comparison to what others have dealt with, though. Some have been fired from ministry jobs, losing their ability to provide for their family over a slight difference of opinion. Some have had longtime friends turn on them seemingly overnight. Some have had it made clear to them that they are no longer welcome in buildings and events they use to frequent.

How can this be so when unity is one of the most emphasized attributes of the New Testament church? How is it remotely Christlike to cancel people without discussing your differences and giving them a chance to explain themselves? Where is grace when the slightest misstep is enough to instantly cut ties with each other?

Two considerations should be made:

First, when the time comes to take a firm, unwavering stand, it must still be done in love. And, despite what some claim, just because you’ve told the truth it doesn’t make you inherently loving (as 1 Corinthians 13:1 teaches us). Canceling someone is anything but loving.

Second, we have to be careful where we draw the line. Every Christian makes a distinction between non-negotiables and secondary matters. If we make everything (or 99.9% of everything) a non-negotiable, our standard is that there is no room to be wrong about anything. Matthew 7:2 must be kept in mind – our standard is the standard that will be used against us. If you’ve ever changed your mind on even the slightest thing, that “holding a single wrong belief makes one a false teacher” standard should be a chilling thought. We must always have the humility to be able to say “I could be wrong.”

Yes, there is such a thing as a false teacher, but we should use the term with extreme caution. Someone who disagrees with me is not automatically a false teacher. Someone who is wrong about something is not automatically a false teacher (see Apollos in Acts 18). The New Testament saves the term for those who teach foundational errors like works based salvation or denial of Christ’s deity. Additionally, we’re told that a false teacher will be known by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). Their character will show that they are not obedient, Spirit-led people.

That distinction in Matthew 7 is key. Jesus starts by teaching us to be very careful in our judging. However, He then tells us how to judge. So, if you’re reading this and asking, “how do we distinguish between a brother who is sincere but wrong and someone who is actually a false teacher?” just read Matthew 7. The first section teaches us to give grace to those who are mistaken. The later section teaches us to beware of those who are clearly false teachers by their fruits. The problem with cancel culture is there is never room for the grace that gives us time to determine the difference.

So, the next time somebody writes or says something that seems wrong to you, hit the brakes before throwing out the “false teacher” term. Before you cut someone out of your life, ask if they are truly in the wrong, or if you simply have a difference of opinion. If you’re one of those people who actively tries to harm those who disagree with you in any way, repent of your pride and spirit of division. Leave the canceling to our corrupt, graceless, Godless culture.

Racism is real, and it isn’t what you think it is

What most people think when they hear the term racism is someone saying “I hate you for your skin color” or “I’m inherently better than you based on the race I was born into.” Charlottesville showed us that that attitude does exist in America, but as many (correctly) pointed out, the percentage of people who truly think and talk that way is very small.

So, they insist that the racial problem in America is overblown. They post things like the following on Twitter and Facebook – an image that has been shared thousands of times

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That’s great, it makes a perfectly fine point, but it completely misunderstands the issue. It’s an oversimplification. Those types of posts are held up by many, many people as if to say, “SEE, racism isn’t a widespread issue.”

Ask minorities if they agree. Ask them if they think those pictures signal an end to racism. You’ll often get a different answer. When minorities in America talk about racism, they use a much broader definition, one that means the kind of racial division that leads people to openly hate others but also includes a deeper, less directly obvious racial injustice.

I wasn’t sure how to explain this deeper racism until a Utah police officer recently provided the perfect example of what the REAL problem with racism is in this country.

What the video depicts is a police officer who grew frustrated with a nurse for enforcing hospital policy to the point that he literally dragged her out of the hospital and illegally arrested her. After watching this, I had a hunch what the response would be if the racial problem exists as I think it does, and a scan of people’s comments on various news sites confirmed exactly what I expected to see: the majority of people were calling for the officer to be disciplined.

They responded with comments like “I back police officers as much as anybody, but this guy needs to lose his badge,” and “There aren’t many bad cops, but this is one of them.” And they’re absolutely right.

You probably see where I’m going with this, but let’s talk about where race comes into this discussion. You and I know for a fact that every time a black person is shot by a police officer, regardless of the circumstances, and without variation, those exact same comment boards are filled with the exact same people insisting that if the person just obeyed the officer it wouldn’t have happened and that if the officer felt the use of force to be necessary than it must have been and that the person probably deserved it. Not only do they immediately decide the police officer was in the right, they start finding reasons to justify the killing. “Well, the suspect had been busted for marijuana possession 3 years before.” So he deserved to die? “Footage shows that he ran from the police.” So fleeing is now a crime worthy of the death penalty?

The policeman in Utah was clearly in the wrong, but so was the policeman in Cleveland who pulled into a park, jumped out, and shot 12 year old Tamir Rice, who was carrying a toy gun… and then neglected to give Rice medical attention… and then lied about the shooting in his statement.

If you find yourself drawn to criticize the police officer for mishandling the situation with the nurse but have never once seen a police shooting video and felt compelled to question the officer, ask yourself – why do I do that? 

Minorities want to know the same thing. For them, the only answer they can think of is racism. Not an active hatred of a person, not the kind of racism that would keep you from helping someone of another race, but a mistrust for other races, denying them the benefit of the doubt and ultimately treating them with a warped sense of justice. Racism isn’t hatred – it’s unfairness. It’s treating somebody differently than you would treat a person of a different race. You can say “I’m not racist” because you don’t hate people of other races, but you can still be guilty of racism if you don’t afford them the same trust and rights (such as innocent until proven guilty) as you do people of your own race.

But most people don’t take the time to listen to the nuances of the discussion. Most want the comfortable, easily-packaged answer to racism they see in the Facebook post above. Do you care enough about your fellow man to ask the hard questions about deeper, underlying racism, or will you be content with the superficial, easy to digest answer? Your choice will go a long way toward either fixing the problem or furthering it.