Cancel culture is a hot topic right now. It seems like a celebrity is being “canceled” each day for many things: actions, words said, pictures posted. The following is a post in dialogue with a section on cancel culture in Redeeming Technology: A Christian Approach to Healthy Digital Habits.
How Christians view cancel culture is different from how the world views it. Should Christians “cancel” people? How can we rightly respond to cancel culture?
The Christian perspective on repentance and forgiveness can help us navigate cancel culture in a way that recognizes wrongdoing while leaving room for repentance.
Hold People Accountable
Cancel culture aims to shut someone down as a way to punish an individual publicly for saying or doing something that is allegedly distasteful, hateful, or obtuse.
In a way, this part of cancel culture aligns with the Christian view of repentance in that it holds people accountable for their actions. But Christian repentance doesn’t involve harshness or meanness, which the public shaming of cancel culture inherently espouses. Paul highlights this in his letter to the Galatians: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). Righteous anger is justified in some cases, but that doesn’t mean we should be malicious. You can still hold people accountable while being gentle. Gentleness does not mean you approve of their actions.
Repent of Your Actions
When people get called out or canceled, they often type up an apology in a notes app on their smartphone and share it on social media. These infamous apologies have become tired. People don’t want to hear celebrities or athletes say “I made a mistake when I was young.” They want proof that the person apologizing has changed, grown, and learned from his or her mistake.
But perhaps the bigger problem with these so-called apologies is that they’re not apologies at all. So often, these apologies never contain the phrase “I’m sorry.” They often say things like “I regret” or “I made a mistake” instead.
There’s power in saying “I’m sorry.” Repentance involves confession of sin: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Receive or Give Forgiveness
A paramount part of the repentance process is receiving forgiveness from the people you have wronged and from God.
Hearing the phrase “I forgive you” is incredibly powerful—but it’s also heartbreaking because forgiveness implies that you have done something wrong. “I forgive you” acknowledges your wrongdoing; it doesn’t brush it off with a “No worries” or “It’s okay.”
Forgiveness brings you back to God. “For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away His face from you, if you return to Him” (2 Chronicles 30:9).
We, too, are called to forgive our fellow brothers and sisters. Cancel culture implies that people can never recover from their wrongdoings—they’re indefinitely canceled. But the Christian view is that as long as there is genuine repentance, we must forgive.
Turn from Your Sin
One of the criticisms of cancel culture is that it doesn’t allow for growth—people are canceled indefinitely with no hope of redemption. Things that people said in their ignorant youth are held against them decades later. And while people should be held accountable for those words, it is possible to grow from them.
The Bible does not talk only about calling out sins. God’s word has much to say about calling out one another with encouragement.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” is the exhortation of Hebrews 10:24. As Jesus said to the adulterous woman, “Go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). The Greek word repentance connotes a turning away from your sin and turning toward God.
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus” (Acts 3:19).
Block quotes are from Redeeming Technology: A Christian Approach to Healthy Digital Habits, pp. 133–134.
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Learn more tips for responding to cancel culture and navigating this digital age in Redeeming Technology.