In “Cancel Culture,” the tenth episode of Shift Talk with Kev the Rev, Jess, Tim and Kev establish that at the heart of cancel culture is a movement to hold entities in power accountable to a standard of justice, and that the Church “should be the one that is really setting the standard because… we do know what the true standard should be.” Standing on the Rock, we are to emulate a Godly way to “cancel,” to hold our neighbors accountable and keep our own righteousness pure.
This assertion brings with it some age-old questions: How can we as Christians love all people like the Father does (John 3.16), yet dissociate from immoral people (1 Cor. 5.11)? How are we to excel in grace (2 Cor. 8.7), yet beware the leaven that destroys the dough (1 Cor. 5.8; Matt. 16.6)? Where is the fine line between holiness and love?
I have news for you: there is no fine line, or even a vague line. In fact, there is no line at all, because holiness and love are not opposing concepts, but complementary. It is impossible to have one without the other; we are called to live in holiness through loving God and loving our neighbor (Matt. 22.36-40). In this sense, could it be that sometimes the best way to love some people is to “cancel” them?
This makes sense when we consider that we fight a spiritual battle, not one against flesh and blood (Eph. 6.12). The Spirit directs us to love both the oppressed and the oppressors in different, holy ways. To the oppressed and underprivileged, Jesus calls for us to heal, nurture and defend them, for “as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to Me.” (Matt. 25.40) Yet, to the unrepentant oppressors, we are called to actively “cancel” them this way: by publicly dissociating from them (1 Cor. 5.9-10), repaying their ensuing acts of evil with goodness (Rom. 12.17-21), and interceding for the Father to forgive them (Luke 23.34) in hopes that His kindness would lead them to repentance (Rom. 2.4). Standing up for the oppressed and canceling the oppressor is how we love and serve the both of them, and how God’s righteousness prevails.
Christians would mostly agree with and preach what I have written so far, but often end up at aggravating odds when determining which actions are oppressive and, therefore, which people to rebuke and eventually cancel. My method of discerning what is oppressive starts with considering my place on the scale of privilege, since the Kingdom of God is a hierarchy where the first are to be last (Matt. 20.16), in which more is required from those who are given more (Luke 12.48). A Kingdom-centered cancel culture should hold those in privilege accountable for upholding the cause of the poor and oppressed (Ps. 82.2-4), and keep them from living in the ignorance of their sins of omission (Matt. 25.42-43).
Privilege is a measure of power, and while simply having more of it does not make me oppressive, willfully choosing to ignore it blinds me to the moments I can be, robs me of the joy of giving out of my lack (Mark 12.42-44), and denies me the honor of using my power to serve (John 13.3-4). As an affluent, straight, Asian male, I recognize that the Hong Kong I know after dark is vastly safer than the one experienced by my female friends; my voice is not diminished because of this fact, but the need for me to be quick to listen and be slow to speak is vastly increased (James 1.19). If I should ever deny the difficult experiences of my underprivileged peers, and then refuse to repent after being rebuked, then I indeed should be cancelled, first by my brothers and sisters in Christ. However, if I ever become the victim of a hate crime targeting Asians, I hope to be heard by my church, not “irrationalized” away.
“… And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector…” – Matthew 18.17
Jesus’ words about expelling a fellow Christian seem quite harsh, until one considers that they were recorded by a tax collector. Hidden in this remarkable paradox lies the Gospel for the oppressors, from Matthew to Caesar: that they are being pursued by a Kingdom that cancels them with love and mourns them with hope (1 Thess. 4.13), and that there is forgiveness for them when they surrender their power to God, for they know not what they do.