Proverbs 18:17 (ESV)
17 The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
I think we’ve forgotten the wisdom found in the book of Proverbs. Actually, I think we’ve forgotten wisdom altogether. Although we’re told in the book of James to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (as my 11-year old son will say he’s heard too many times!), we quite literally do the exact opposite—we refuse to listen, we share our thoughts immediately (thanks to social media), and our anger goes zero-to-sixty in less than a second, so we vilify and then cancel.
In my most hopeful moments, I wonder if those who have so quickly made up their minds and cancelled everybody who disagrees with them stop and think, maybe that wasn’t fair of me? Probably not.
The “cancel culture” is very dangerous and it is infecting the world, including the Christian community, so it is important to engage with right now. I will leave it to others to analyze the origin of this cancel culture (though I have to say, fallen humans have not changed all that much since being kicked out of the garden), instead I’d like to briefly consider a few key problems that I see here:
- The cancel culture reveals the absolute (but godless) morality of the mainstream. Or, cancel culture is a religion.
So much for the non-establishment clause. Today’s cancel culture is, without a doubt, a morality that is being imposed on the rest of us. If you express even a nuance that distinguishes your support of the “issue of the day,” you’re out. This morality requires celebration and is not satisfied with tolerance. Tolerance means that you disagree but find a way to live with it. That’s not nearly good enough in this cancel culture; in fact, saying you disagree is the unpardonable sin. You’re cancelled!
The cancel culture advocates are so insistent on making sure that you celebrate their morality, they go back into your past, find anything that smacks of “non-celebration” and call you out (ask comedian Kevin Hart). Even apologies aren’t enough. You have to be rehabilitated, seek counseling, and promise never to say or believe such things again. Of course, to be rehabilitated means that they believe that their morality is absolute, the right thing for everyone…that is, subjectively absolute. What “they” say is right, is right. Until they change their minds.
When restaurants are forced to change the charitable organizations they support because the mainstream is offended by the historic and biblical position on marriage, there is a significant and dangerous issue. The level of immaturity, the level of childishness in this way of living and thinking is profound. And the moral system being embraced is both unsafe and unsustainable.
“I’m offended” cannot be the standard for right and wrong. Often, “I’m offended” says more about me than the person who has “offended” me. And we Christians fall into this trap often as well. As a matter of fact, “I’m offended” has become the standard as of late, but it is not quite that simple. It also takes into consideration who the “I” is in “I’m offended.” Not all “I’s” are created equal in this system.
When our kids act like the cancel culture (“don’t talk to her, she said she likes chocolate more than vanilla”), we correct them. We make them apologize. We challenge them to think more maturely and thoughtfully. Is anyone calling on people today to grow up?
- The cancel culture ignores the motivations of the heart. Or, they want your obedience not your conviction.
I recently read an article in which the author insisted that white people are racist whether they mean to be or not. Motivation and intention don’t matter. That got me thinking, how do we understand personhood if our hearts and intentions don’t matter? Maybe the accusation was one of “negligent racism,” but even in that there’s a problem. How are we defining racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.? The mainstream defines these terms in ways that are foreign to their original meanings and then holds you and me accountable to their definitions.
But as long as you conform publicly, it doesn’t matter what’s going on inside. This mentality coerces external conformity and leads to very shallow convictions. You can see how shallow the convictions of the mainstream are by how narrow the scope of their activism is. Defund the police seems far less effective than defunding Planned Parenthood if black lives are the issue. Kneeling for the national anthem may draw attention to an important cause but rebuilding the nuclear family within the African-American community would go a lot further (Marcellus Wiley and others have made this point too). If people cared about mental health, they would stop promoting the pleasure-seeking, antinomian lifestyle of “do-whatever-makes-you-happy (for the moment)” and “you do you.” Leaving people to their own self-destructive ways is not caring about them, it is rejecting them (see Romans 1).
Anytime you promote conformity rather than transformation of heart, this is the kind of shallow thinking that you get.
- The cancel culture closes doors for dialogue and legitimate exchange of ideas. Or, their emotional response can’t be wrong, so no need to talk about it.
Why would anyone want to speak up in dissent when they could lose their job, friendships, or livelihood? Although they are people who claim to want to be heard, those in the cancel culture never want to listen.
Here’s an important example that came out of recent news. Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, made comments in an interview regarding standing vs. kneeling during the singing of the national anthem. He argued that standing was a matter of respect for military, etc. Lebron James, Lakers basketball star, called him out on his comments, as did many others. There were calls for Brees to be immediately “cancelled.” Brees in response ended up apologizing (as so many do) in a variety of different ways and said that his comments “completely missed the mark.”
I appreciate Brees’ desire to apologize and make amends. What I don’t appreciate is the missed opportunity. Instead of apologizing for his comments, it would have served the entire nation well if he had invited Lebron (a respected athlete and spokesperson for a variety of causes) to have an open and honest conversation. They could have shown the younger generation how to sit like grown-ups and talk through disagreements rather than succumb to the dialogue-killing cancel culture.
Brees probably did have something to learn from understanding in a deeper way why the black community and others distinguish between disrespecting the flag and taking a knee. That’s a good conversation to have. Lebron may have seen a different perspective if he had allowed Brees and others to share why they have found the kneeling less than respectful.
Suddenly, adult conversations could have led to mutual understanding, even (potentially) agreement on the issue and ways to move forward. Instead, the cancel culture says, “bow now or buh-bye.” It is sad. It is unwise. It is harmful. It is dangerous.
Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” This proverb warns us against hasty decisions and taking sides quickly. It urges us to take the time to explore, listen carefully, weigh the evidence. I see it as one of the solutions to the cancel culture mentality. Instead of, agree with me or you’re out, it presses pause and says, “wait, take a deep breath, and listen.” Your first impression was probably wrong. Now let’s really talk. Image-bearer to image-bearer. Yes, fallen image-bearer to fallen image-bearer.
We as Christians need to learn this now more than ever. We can’t jump on the newest bandwagon, we can’t quickly vilify sisters and brothers who have different approaches to the current climate, we can’t keep drawing lines to divide ourselves. Instead, we need to see more conversations, more dialogues, and do the hard work of listening well and trying to understand the heart behind people’s positions.
And we need to do the sometimes long, difficult, but rewarding work of going before God’s Word to guide our thinking, inform our passions, and direct our actions.