Christians and the cancel culture

Resisting the allure of power and seeking the good of our neighbor

January 27, 2020

In June 2019, there was a Twitter backlash against the Black Hat security conference and its decision to confirm Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tx.) as a keynote speaker. Black Hat is a technology event series founded in 1997. Many within the national security and cybersecurity fields, along with many long-time attendees, voiced their disgust that Black Hat would choose to highlight Hurd given his pro-life convictions and voting record. Black Hat decided to rescind the invitation, bowing to public pressure.

While the issues of abortion and cybersecurity seem to be separate, the canceling of Hurd’s keynote is a prime example of a phenomenon in our society called “cancel culture.” This happens when a group seeks to cancel someone or something often based on a single disqualifying factor. These factors can be as simple as a past tweet or article, or as large as a deeply held religious or social belief. Those who seek to cancel someone will use anything to silence any dissenting opinion or thought, which leads to a breakdown of civil discourse and a weakening of our social fabric.

Unfortunately, cancel culture is the norm now. In our society, one’s position on an unrelated issue can lead to a fallout. Even one tweet or offhand comment has the potential to ruin one’s career or family, especially in the hands of those who are seeking to discredit someone. 

What is cancel culture?

Simply put, cancel culture is the boycotting or silencing of someone or something with the threat of financial or popularity loss. The case of Black Hat reveals that many believe hosting someone with differing ideas affirms everything that a person has ever said. In these cases, shaming in order to enact change is a tactic used to silence opposition rather than engage in a conversation or debate over the things most important to us. This reveals that the public is not able to maintain a pluralistic understanding any longer.

Cancel culture became prominent after the rise of social media in the mid-2000s, which gave those without a public megaphone the ability to share their thoughts and ideas with anyone across the world. In the last few years, social media has increasingly been abused to shame those some disagree with on fundamental issues. We have to acknowledge that technology, like every tool, will be misused, abused, and manipulated.

This cultural phenomenon reveals the deep longing for power and control that each of us have, as well as the lack of honest dialogue in our society that can strengthen our own understanding in the face of dissenting views. We would rather lord our perceived superiority and intellect over our neighbor rather than love him by giving him the respect he deserves as an image-bearer of God (Matt. 22:37-39). 

As Christians, we are called to push back against this culture and to stand up for the dignity and rights of our neighbors, especially those with whom we disagree, as we seek to persuade them of the truth of God’s Word.

But Scripture speaks of the Christian, not as a proud person who exploits power for his own gain, but rather as one who imitates Christ, who willingly laid down his life on the cross for his enemies (1 John 3:16). The Bible teaches us that humility and the ability to be “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19) should be the foundational characteristics of a redeemed individual (Col. 3:12).

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. But 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 (Rom. 3:23) and are called to submit to God alone.

Thicker skin and intellectually honest dialogue

In addition, defining someone’s worth based on the issues we disagree with does immense damage to our credibility in the long run because it shows we are unable to engage one another’s ideas as presented nor have a rich debate about what is true. We show that our ideas only have longevity if we continue to force them on people rather than withstanding the refining nature of deep and thoughtful engagement. We would rather cancel someone or something than take part in honest dialogue.

Engaging ideas dissimilar to our own means listening to someone’s views with respect, especially if we disagree. Just as Christ doesn’t define our dignity based on one sin or one particular issue, neither are we to condemn another based on one thing. We are more than our ideas, beliefs, and failures. Christians of all people should understand this because we were bought with a price by the blood of Christ—blood that is powerful enough to completely wash us clean, not just clean up an isolated stain.

As we engage one another, we must champion the dignity of every individual, which will often mean having the courage and moral fortitude to withstand criticism and hard questions. In order for each of us to grow and mature, we must be able to defend our beliefs rather than run from the opposing position. Christians should take this challenge to rise to the occasion and give a reason for the hope within us, with confidence in the God of all wisdom (1 Pet. 3:15). 

Engaging the cancel culture with respect 

Just as we are called to give a reason for the hope within us, we are also called to do it with gentleness and respect because those we engage with are not simply ideas but human beings made in God’s image. As our society increasingly becomes more divisive, we must take important steps to love our neighbors in our online dialogue. One practical way of doing this is by seeking to understand one another’s ideas or positions rather than caricaturing them. This will mean that we read widely and listen intently to those with whom we disagree. We must attempt to represent their ideas for what they really are rather than being intellectually dishonest about what our neighbor believes. Representing their views in a way that they would agree with goes a long way in showing your credibility and love. This is the beginning of convictional kindness. We engage others in truth but also in love.

Cancel culture will only lead to a segmented society and to a breakdown of civility and public discourse. Ultimately this can lead to a weak trust in one another as well as the erosion of our democracy. But, as Christians, we are called to push back against this culture and to stand up for the dignity and rights of our neighbors, especially those with whom we disagree, as we seek to persuade them of the truth of God’s Word. We must care more about loving God and our neighbor than we do about being right or popular. Instead of seeking power in vain, we should submit to the One who has already won the victory, as we represent him to those in need of the grace that will cancel their sin.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24