#cancel. #boycott. #block. #mute. These days, it’s hard to scroll through social media sites without some form of these hashtags showing up in your trending topics. With an estimated 3.6 billion social media users worldwide, it’s no surprise that platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram have become the perfect breeding ground for the phenomenon we now refer to as “cancel culture.”
Cancel culture, as defined by dictionary.com, is “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (or canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.”
With just a few keystrokes, a simple social media tag can have the power to tank careers, shatter relationships and damage reputations beyond repair. Unlike the age-old tactic of corporate boycotts, the cancel culture often goes to new lows, “doxxing” people by making personal information public and seemingly seeking to destroy people—sometimes even threatening physical violence.
In the past decade, countless celebrities, organizations and even ordinary people, have found themselves in the crosshairs of cancel culture, showing it doesn’t take much to draw the ire of the “woke” crowd.
And while cancel culture has sometimes rightly noted egregious evil, it has more often attempted to vilify those who dare to hold opinions that fall outside of today’s cultural norms.
Just take Goya Foods.
On July 9, the company’s chief executive, Robert Unanue, met with President Trump at the White House for the signing of the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, an executive order meant to improve Hispanic Americans’ access to educational and economic opportunities.
During a speech in the Rose Garden, Unanue praised Trump, saying, “We are all truly blessed … to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder. We have an incredible builder, and we pray. We pray for our leadership, our president.”
It wasn’t long before #BoycottGoya and #Goyaway began trending on social media, spurred on by prominent politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Julián Castro.
In the current politically volatile climate, cancel culture has found the perfect environment to thrive. But it hasn’t just lodged itself in American pop culture, it’s infiltrated societies around the globe, leaving pain and destruction in its wake.
“Cancel culture has only been a serious problem in Australia for about five years, but it is getting rapidly worse,” says Martyn Iles, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby.
“Speech was once fought mainly with contradictory speech and debate, but cancel culture seeks to fight speech with far more severe weapons,” he explains. “It fights opinions by seeking to ruin people’s livelihood, prosperity and reputation. Cancel culture is a move away from free debate toward totalitarian control.”
The cancellation of famous Australian rugby player Israel Folau is a prime example.
On April 10, 2019, Folau shared a post to Instagram that paraphrased 1 Corinthians 6:9, saying, “Warning— drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters. Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves.”
“Those that are living in sin will end up in Hell unless you repent,” he added in the caption. “Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to Him.”
The country’s LGBTQ community was quick to label the post as “hate speech,” and Folau was subsequently condemned in the national media for making “homophobic” comments.
Rugby Australia also denounced the post, and, in May 2019, canceled Folau’s contract, leading to a six-month legal battle for wrongful termination.
Although an out-of-court settlement was eventually agreed upon, Folau was banned from the Australian National Rugby League.
He now plays for the France-based Catalan Dragons, with the stipulation that he will no longer share his Christian beliefs publicly.
The United Kingdom has also become a hotbed for cancel culture.
“Cancel culture is a natural extension of political correctness,” says Tim Dieppe, head of public policy at Christian Concern. “For some years now, the culture has accepted that some things are ‘politically incorrect,’ and therefore risk causing offense. This includes any criticism of LGBTQ ideology or statements that there is only one way to get right with God.”
When Kristie Higgs, a pastoral assistant at Farmor’s School, in Fairford, Gloucestershire, England, learned her child’s elementary school was planning to integrate LGBTQ-centric lessons into a new relationships and sex education program, she became concerned.
The Christian mother shared her objections on her private Facebook page and invited her friends to sign a petition against compulsory sex education in primary schools.
An anonymous Facebook follower sent an email complaint to Farmor’s School, accusing Higgs of “posting homophobic and prejudiced views.”
Higgs was fired from the school after a disciplinary panel ruled that she was guilty of gross misconduct because there was “potential” for the school’s reputation to be harmed, though the panel admitted “there was no actual evidence” that this had happened.
Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre are working with Higgs to pursue legal action against the school.
Cancel culture has certainly taken the world by storm and proven time and time again that it has the power to silence any and all views that fall outside the prevailing orthodoxy.
Franklin Graham has also faced the wrath of cancel culture, with seven venues canceling bookings for the Graham Tour UK after LGBTQ activists convinced venue managers and local officials that Franklin’s support of Biblical marriage is akin to “hate speech.”
But who is really the ultimate authority on right and wrong, good and evil? And who gets to decide who is worthy of grace and mercy and forgiveness?
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
The liberal-progressives have found ways to use cancel culture to their benefit, but as Christians, we must be careful not to respond in kind.
“In a broken society marred by sin, we are all naturally drawn to power, especially the power of ‘canceling’ someone because it makes us feel as though we are in control,” says Jason Thacker, chair of research in technology ethics and creative director at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
But cancel culture teaches us a lesson, Iles says. “Where there is no truth, only power remains.”
Thacker adds, “Instead of seeking power, we are called to live under the reign and rule of God alone, recognizing that each of us falls short of God’s glory. Our pursuit should be one of laying down our pride, power and person. We are each corrupted and broken (see Romans 3:23) and are called to submit to God alone.”
This is why, Dieppe says, “only the Gospel can effectively cancel the cancel culture.”
It may be easy to hide behind a computer and call out those we disagree with on social media, but we must remember that real people, God’s image-bearers, are on the receiving end of those posts.
For far too long, cancel culture has deprived society of real, honest dialogue. But what would it look like if we modeled Christ by truly and respectfully engaging those with ideas dissimilar to our own? What if we loved our neighbors and spoke the truth in love (see Mark 12:31 and Galatians 4:15)?
After all, God could have easily “canceled” you or me, but instead, He made us His sons and daughters.
The Scripture quotation is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.