The Trouble with Cancel Culture
“ … grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”
II Peter 3:18
If you are a fan of classic movies, my hunch is you have watched, The Philadelphia Story. The 1940 film starred Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. One of the great bits of wisdom that comes out of the film, is spoken by Hepburn’s character, Tracy Lord who says, “The time to make up your mind about people is never …”

In other words, most people change — sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, but people should not judge others by a particular moment, or season of life. Really, people should not judge at all, as the Good Book tells us! (Matthew 7:1-2)

“Cancel Culture,” as it has come to be known in these last few years, is in the high-octane judgment business. It happens in politics, entertainment and business. And it happens in the Church. There is a longer description, of course, but the short version is this: someone or some group, has taken on the mantle of the eternal judge, and if someone for whom they have a particular distaste rises say in the office, or in the public eye, they scour the past, the internet, college records, high school yearbooks and more until they find something offensive or objectionable to modern day standards.

The “offended one” calls out the offender, and without mercy, holds the offender accountable for something said or done in the past. There is no room for forgiveness, no allowance for redemption, no understanding that — well — people can change.

And, we have all seen it in recent years: careers ruined, employees fired, relationships destroyed, reputations obliterated.

There are a number of problems with the “Cancel Culture.” For instance, to hold the place of “Judge,” that same person has to believe he or she is flawless and has such a spotless record that they have the right to judge. Do you know anyone with that kind of record? I know of no one, with one exception, our Lord Jesus, for, “... in Him there is no sin.” (I John 3:5)

I honestly think one of the reasons for the rise of the Cancel Culture in this present generation, is that many people have either no relationship with the Sinless One, or they don’t understand what He’s about.

Now you might immediately say, “Now you are judging!” I will take that hit, but my logic is simple. There is a lot, and I mean a lot, wrong with our world right now, and we all hunger for things to be put right — for violence to end, the drug trade to evaporate, the sex trafficking to disappear. We want a safe world for our children to grow up in, political leaders of whom we can be proud; we desire an end to division, discrimination, racism and war. We want all of those things, but we have forgotten to turn to the Only One Who can really land that plane — the Sinless One.

So instead of turning to Him, we take it upon ourselves to play judge, to play God and blame others. And you only have to go back to Eden to see how badly that turns out. The unqualified judges of our day can feel smug for a while, until something from their own past leaks out, and they find out the painful cost of buying into the Cancel Culture.

I think our faith offers a deeper truth and a more profound hope. As President Barak Obama pointed out in October of this year, “Sometimes people just want to not feel as if they are walking on eggshells, and they want some acknowledgment that life is messy and that all of us, at any given moment, can say things the wrong way, make mistakes.” Can I get an “Amen?”

Just to jump ahead to an assumption my reader may be making at this moment who may be asking “Are we to judge nothing as wrong … no one as wrong?” The answer there is a solid, “no.” There are lots of things that we humans do that are wrong. Do a quick review of the Ten Commandments for starters. “Do not judge” does not mean we turn a blind eye to any behavior that is harmful, hurtful or just downright nasty. If someone has cheated on their spouse: it is right to say that person has committed adultery. It is correct to call someone’s shoplifting stealing, because that’s what it is. It is right to condemn discrimination, violence, and sexual abuse, because they are wrong, and they hurt God’s children.

But what we are not at liberty to do is “freeze” a person in time for something they have done or said in the past, or even the present, because we never really know what God might be up to in that person’s life. To make what they’ve done who they are.

For that reason, and many more, I am drawn again and again to the little opening passage in which Peter tells his early Christian audience that part of the Christian journey is to “grow.” Growth naturally means change. And the kind of growth Peter is writing about is change for the better. A big theological word for that is “sanctification.” And those two soul sisters — growth and change — whisper a message to Cancel Culture:

The time to make up your mind about people is never …”

I have met and encountered active church folk who have some of the meanest of temperaments, (not at St. Martin’s of course!). For a number of years, I was a volunteer in prison ministry, and on the “inside” I met many a convicted criminal, who, by the grace of God, exhibited some of the gentlest and kind behavior I have ever witnessed.

Jesus is not in the “canceling” business. He is in the “transformation” business.

C.S. Lewis put it this way: “If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness....”1

But what does this have to do with all that “stuff” going on in the world around us? Well, to quote the good old modern prophet, Billy Graham, “The world does need changing, society needs changing, the nation needs changing, but we never will change it until we ourselves are changed.” And Who is in the “changing business?” The Changeless One.

“Cancel Culture,” full tilt, leaves no room for change. Thank God (really) that the Christian Faith does, for as one of its adherents once penned, “Change is the nursery of music, joy, life and eternity.” (John Donne)

So, the President is right. Life is messy, but do not look to we messed-up ones to set it straight; look to the One who can.

In the meantime, Miss Tracy Lord had it right.
The time to make up your mind about people is never …”

There is some breathing room there — I think we also call that grace. Thanks be to God.

A Prayer for Change
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Francis of Assisi (d. 1226).

1 Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (pp. 205-206). Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition.
The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.
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