Cancel culture is a modern form of ostracism (shunning) in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to have been “cancelled.”
Cancel culture is a non-biblical response to the perceived faults and failures of others. It is the opposite of the heart of Galatians 6:1. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” We are called to have a heart of restoration, not a heart to cancel.
Jesus told the Scribes and Pharisees, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). Everyone has something in their life that they would not want written about on the front page of a newspaper. Even many of our favorite Bible characters did things that were embarrassing, scandalous, or just plain wrong. Consider Peter:
“Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, ‘You are not also one of His disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not!’One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with Him?’ Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed” (John 18:26-27).
The Bible is not afraid of letting us see the faults of the men and women God used (i.e. David’s adultery and murder, Jacob’s dishonesty, Jonah’s running from God and negative attitude, etc.). Part of the reason for this is so we won’t deify people. If we do this, we will believe we are too shameful to be used by God, and we will actually cancel ourselves (which is the beginning step to canceling others).
How we respond to the failures of others is a big indicator of how spiritual we are. “You who are spiritual restore such a one (the one overtaken in a trespass) in a spirit of gentleness.” We know we are spiritual and have a heart of restoration if:
We hurt for and pray for major ministry leaders who have a moral or other failure.
We realize we too could do something very stupid if not for the grace of God in our lives.
We first give the benefit of doubt that people think they are doing the right thing.
We first seek to understand before we seek to be understood.
We first try to take the telephone pole out of our eye before trying to take the speck out of someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5).
In Luke 15, the prodigal son was not canceled by his father. “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The father blessed his son and threw a party for him. In contrast to this, the older brother of the prodigal canceled him. “But he was angry and would not go in (to celebrate with his brother)” (vs 28).
God’s plan for our lives is to move us from an elder brother mindset to a father mindset. The default of an elder brother mindset is to first see what is wrong with a person or place, but the default of a father mindset is to first see what is right with a person or place. Yes, we do not want to be gullible concerning people, but if we are going to err on any side, it would be better to believe in people too much.
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass . . . “ When people fail around us, it is a great opportunity to bring healing and deepen our heart connection. There have been seasons in my ministry where sins were being exposed and lives were seemingly falling apart. I asked the Lord, “Does this mean I am not a good leader?” In response, I heard this, “Steve, these things have been in their lives for a long time, but I have hidden them because they were not in a place where they could be restored in a spirit of gentleness. These problems manifesting is actually a sign you are a good leader.”
So, let’s cancel the cancel culture concerning ourselves and others. Let’s truly be spiritual and embrace our assignment to be one who has a heart to restore and not cut off and shame those who have done wrong.
Please note: Accepting people does not necessarily mean we are accepting their behavior.
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Steve Backlund was a senior pastor for seventeen years before joining the team at Bethel Church in Redding, CA in 2008. Steve is a leader developer, joy activist, a revivalist teacher, and as Senior Associate Director, is a key part of the Global Legacy (a ministry of Bethel Church) leadership team. He travels extensively throughout the world encouraging churches and leaders and has authored a number of books.