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.