Is "Cancel Culture" Christian?
In 325 A.D. St. Nicholas of Myra (yes, that Saint Nick) was at the Council of Nicaea. The council met to discuss the deity of Christ. While the fact that Jesus is God is clear in Scripture and a clear doctrine of the Church prior to this meeting, a group of individuals in the early 300's began to promote that Our Lord was created.
Being a devout Christian and Biblical scholar, Nicholas was a staunch defender of the deity of Christ. At one point a prominent heretic began to sing a hymn about the creation of Jesus and Saint Nick punched him in the face.
Now, as modern day Christians there is a part of most of us that loves this story. Some heretic was actively blaspheming and BOOM, a great defender of the faith put a sudden end to it... but how did the Church at the time feel? The reality is that at the time, this grievous action led to the removal of Nicholas from the council and his temporary defrocking.
Why would the early Church have reacted this way? Well, it's because we as Christians live by 2 great commandments- the love of God and the love of others. While you could definitely say that Nicholas was motivated in his actions by his love for God, the reality is that he did so at the expense of his love of others. The council was convening to debate this topic. Rather than resort to physical violence, something a Christian is never permitted to turn to for persuasion, Nicholas would have fared far better had he engaged the individual in rational dialogue and Scripture.
In recent weeks, there have been numerous conversations around "cancel culture." Before we examine this phenomenon from a Christian worldview, lets first define it. Cancel culture is the aggressive punishment of individuals based upon thoughts, words or actions that are deemed to be out of step with current societal trends. There are numerous examples- from the woman that lost her job because of a racist phone call, to a coffee shop owner being forced to shut down because of liking a supposedly sexist Tweet to a data analyst loosing his job for sharing the results of a data analysis (literally).
The phenomenon is not new and has impacted numerous public figures for decades. However, it is increasingly moving more and more to impact individuals that are not in any way considered to be public figures.
There are two sides to the cancel culture debate. One side says that individuals should be held responsible for what they say/think/do and that society is simply reacting to these things because many of these things are objectively wrong. They would argue that cancel culture gives a voice to a group that is previously voiceless. The other side of the debate looks at cancel culture as troublesome because it actually silences individuals and makes them fearful to speak their minds.
So, what of the Christian worldview? Nicholas was wrong to punch the heretic. Silencing opinions never leads to an increase in diverse opinions.
Let's say the coffee shop owner was sexist... is losing his/her business going to make them less of a bigot? What about the racist lady in the park? Is she likely to be less racist now that her life has been ruined? Oppression and terror are poor persuaders.
Just like all in Christ, I look forward to a day when racism, sexism and bigotry are gone forever. In the meantime, history and Scripture tells us that minds are won by the winning of the heart. Love is how our message spreads (John 13:35).
When the racist whites in the 1950's and 60's turned fire-hoses and dogs on the peaceful Civil Rights protesters, the world saw it on television and could not remain silent. It made it very clear who was right and who was wrong. No one with a conscience could watch those images and think that things were ok to remain the same.
If you truly care about equality as a cause, then do not resort to seeking the destruction of opposing views. We are the Church. Truth is on OUR side. I do not fear a heretic because I know he/she will loose when their falsehood is exposed to the sunshine of Scripture and logic. Also, even more importantly, my desire is never for the destruction of the heretic, but rather for the destruction of the heresy. If we care about others, even those that we disagree with- then we will seek to help them see the Truth.
If instead of discussion, love and respect, we treat our opposition with hatred and attempted destruction, then we can rest assured that we have done nothing for our viewpoint and we have created martyrs for the enemy.
As Our Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:44, NASB), "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."