“His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him [Jesus] to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22, Scriptures from the Revised Version Improved and Corrected).
“Cancel Culture: a way of behaving in a society or group, especially on social media, in which it is common to completely reject and stop supporting someone because they have said or done something that offends you” (Cambridge Dictionary).
“Cancel Culture: A modern internet phenomenon where a person is ejected from influence or fame by questionable actions. It is caused by a critical mass of people who are quick to judge and slow to question. It is commonly caused by an accusation, whether that accusation has merit or not. It is a direct result of the ignorance of people — caused by communication technologies outpacing the growth in available knowledge of a person” (Urban Dictionary).
In 1991, before there was Twitter and Facebook, Chinese programmers developed a computer search process which, translated into English, was known as “human flesh search.” Through it, many China Internet users shared research about individuals of common interest. Eventually, it grew into targeting public individuals such as low-level government officials who appeared to be living beyond their means. The group would expose them publicly through online forums with the purpose of forcing them to resign. U.S. computer hackers began a similar practice known as “doxing.” Information both true and false was posted on discussion boards. Eventually, it spread to information about anyone deemed to be outside the group’s accepted norms of behavior and rhetoric.
Cancel culture is generally performed on social media in the form of group shaming. This new form of mob rule has dominated virtually every sector of American life for the last several years: politics, journalism, music and entertainment, sports, business, and higher education.
Recently, the term became more mainstream as prominent figures and brands became targets. Meredith Clark, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia, told CBS News that getting and remaining canceled “depends on who you are.” “Too often, I do think that cancel culture gets into its own obsession with the purity of someone or an idea, that if an idea or a person doesn’t completely align with a set of
values, then they are essentially disposable.”
Cancel culture has tarnished reputations of public figures who have made controversial statements, no matter if they are recent or happened years ago. Celebrities have published apologies in response to their old, offensive content, in an effort to defer public shaming. Apologies for bad behavior, which always had been the acceptable first step in reconciliation, have become insufficient for forgiveness.
Efforts Not New
In the presidential election of 1800, surrogates of John Adams tried to cancel Thomas Jefferson’s candidacy by issuing claims against him that make many of today’s tweets pale by comparison. Thomas Jefferson’s supporters did the same to Adams. In 1865, scathing newspaper editorials about President Abraham Lincoln calling for his removal were widespread throughout the Union prior to his assassination.
What makes today different is the presence of the Internet as a medium for action, right or wrong, and the increasing power of special interest groups proclaiming moral norms as justification for cancellation.
In our theme text, those Jews who accepted Jesus or benefitted from his healing ministry were threatened with ostracism from the synagogue. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day conspired to eliminate his words and works by threatening excommunication to those who believed Jesus to be the Messiah.
“Nevertheless, even of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue” (John 12:42).
Jesus had developed a following among some godly religious leaders such as Nicodemus (John 3:2, 7:50-52) and Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50, 51). Also, in Luke 13:31, “certain Pharisees [came], saying to him [Jesus], Get thee out, and go hence: for Herod wisheth to kill thee.” Later, in Acts 5:34-39, Gamaliel cautioned others on the Sanhedrin against acting hastily against Jesus’ disciples. Believing Pharisees were among those gathered at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:5).
Most Pharisees, however, hated Jesus because of his condemnation of their interpretation of the Torah, calling them “blind guides “and “whited sepulchers” (Matthew 23:24-27). Their concern was a selfish one. They feared that the popularity of his movement might lead to Roman intervention and their removal from leadership (John 11:48). They wanted Jesus to conform to their way of teaching the people (Matthew 21:23). Thus, they pressured those who were sympathetic to Jesus to abandon him or suffer loss of ability to worship in the Temple. Whether they had this power is questionable, but it was enough to cause fear of ostracism, as indicated in the theme text.
On his final night, Jesus warned his disciples: “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yes, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he offereth service unto God” (John 16:1, 2). Later Paul, who had fulfilled this scripture in his prior position as a Pharisee, would write: “all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Whether we who hold Biblically-based principles might be targeted in the future by those who disagree with us remains to be seen.
Within the Church
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus established a process for removing an offender from the church community. “And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican.” The dismissal of an unrepentant, defiant offender from the community of believers is not, however, about public shaming. It is about caring enough to do what is best for the one concerned with an eye to bringing him or her back into acceptability. Scripture never instructs individual Christians to determine on their own, or in a small group, to condemn a fellow believer. The goal is recognition of error and restoration of the errant one. The process is gradual, deliberate, and cautious. If at any point in the process the offender recognizes their error and repents, then Jesus said you have “gained thy brother” (Matthew 18:15).
Today’s cancel culture leverages social media to mandate conformity to certain ideas, or else. The objective is not to correct action, but to create a public arena in which those who comply with certain thoughts will be permitted to continue under the watchful eyes of self-appointed judges. This is not the course Jesus laid down for his followers.
He told his disciples, “Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). Belief in God’s word and adherence to it is in contrast to the practices of fallen humanity. The leaders of Jesus’ day tried to erase evidence of Jesus’ work by threatening to ostracize those like the parents of the blind man in our theme text. Today’s cancel culture does the same for those who stand contrary to the special interests of today. We must not allow such practices to influence our thinking nor to invade our dealings with those with whom we might disagree.
We are to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In dealing with our brethren, love for God, His word, and those that are His, takes precedence over our own interests. “The New Creation — the church — has strict instructions from their Lord and Head … His spirit of love is to fill them … They [are] not to make him [or her] ashamed of his conduct, nor to berate him or otherwise punish, but to secure a cessation of the wrong and, if possible, some recompense for injury already received. Telling others of the wrong, first or afterward, is unkind, unloving — contrary to the Word and Spirit of our Head” (The New Creation, pages 291-292).