Friendly Fire: Canceling the Cancel Culture in the Church

The cancel culture is a recent movement set on destroying a person’s character and their calling in life. It involves the mass withdrawal of support through public disapproval or shaming to exert social pressure and remove (“cancel”) an individual’s influence and significance.

Granted, we reap what we sow, and God often reveals sin so that deep repentance can occur. But the cancel culture doesn’t offer hope, forgiveness, and redemption; its goal is for you to carry shame and guilt for the rest of your life. In short, to cancel you.

Guns Blazing

Sadly, this judgmental and arrogant view has penetrated the walls of the church — instead of asking how we can help others and offer hope, we come in with guns blazing. Nothing hurts more than friendly fire.

Social media has provided a continuous flow of armchair quarterbacks who pretend they know everything now that they have followers and likes. Be careful: The devil also “follows” and “likes” hate.

Confessions of a Modern-day Pharisee

In 2005, I was reading three different books on systematic theology, Spurgeon’s works, and many of the works of the Puritans. I could quote Calvin and Knox, but God was about ready to knock my block off because of my arrogance.

My mom finally came to me and said: “Son, you have lots of head knowledge but no heart … no one wants to be around you!” I shot back like any good Pharisee would, “They’re just convicted!!!” But deep down in my heart, I knew that she was right: “Knowledge had puffed me up” (cf.1 Cor. 8:1). Then, through a series of events, God broke me.

Angry Because the Truth Hurts

One such event was when I stumbled across a journal entry from my wife nearly two decades ago that broke my heart, but at first, I felt betrayed and angry. She wrote, “I married a man who doesn’t care about my dreams and goals. I’ve learned to live with this since separation isn’t an option, but I will not allow him to do this to our kids.”

I was very angry because the truth hurts. But I began to realize that she was correct. I was prideful, controlling, unteachable, and very eager to argue. In my world, I was always right because I was well-studied. But it took a very straightforward rebuke to wake me up.

How about you? What’s it going to take to break you? (More on brokenness here.)

Take the Pharisee Test

Are you quick to post something without removing the plank from your eye first, like I was (and still can be)? Are you excited about the prospects of generating “click-bait” and fueling hate? Are you unteachable and only listening to one side? Do you use half-truths to build your argument against a person?

Does your heart break for them, or do you smirk at them? If your heart doesn’t break for them, then you too may be sick with the disease of phariseeism. Ironically, Jesus would tell the broken and the hurting “to go and sin no more,” but He reserved His harshest words for the self-righteous.

Hard to See, but Crystal Clear

Spiritual pride is hard to spot because it seems right. Pride is the only disease known to man that makes everybody sick except the person who has it. I hope you would search your heart: Is the fruit of the Spirit truly present? BTW: There is no “gift” of criticism.

Are you truly loving, patient, and kind? Is there true brokenness and humility?

To be clear, I’m NOT talking about sweeping sin under the rug and looking the other way — many of the recent scandals in the church need to be fully addressed and fully repented of — I’m addressing the rush to punish and the excitement to cancel. I’m addressing individuals who are more focused on clickbait than the individual’s fate. (For more on church discipline, click here and here.)

“Likes” and “Shares” Often Reinforce Tirades

Whether it’s a solid pastor saying something we don’t agree with on the non-essentials, a believer directing a Christian movie series that may not be perfect, or a church playing a worship song by a so-called “controversial” group, there is never a lack of fuel for the fires of criticism. The Pharisee in us does not die easily, and “likes” and “retweets” often reinforce arrogant tirades.

When we lack humility, our attitude is “go-get-them” rather than “go-help-them.” For example, when you hear of a leader’s mistakes, are you quick to load your gun and fire, or do you pray, hope for the best, and wait for more information? Our social media slogan may be catchy, but the damage may surpass the good if our heart is critical.

“Speak the Truth” is Half Right

Granted, we are called to speak the truth. Scriptures such as: “Iron sharpens iron” (Pr. 27:17) and the command to “season our words with grace” (Col. 4:6) both demonstrate that we are to speak the truth in love, but many of us miss that last part … in love.

An unloving attitude is a manifestation of pride: Are you mean and unkind because you’re arrogant? Loving others is a fruit of the Spirit. Have you so grieved the Spirit that the flame of compassion has nearly burned out? If so, you may be spiritually blind and spiritually bankrupt.

Pride Must Die in You

What did I do many years ago following the rebuke from my mother and wife? I owned it and repented — something that is extremely hard for prideful people. I felt terrible and asked my family for forgiveness. I realized that I was breaking their spirit, controlling and manipulating them because of pride.

If you lack the love of Christ, you will quench His Spirit and hurt more than help. Just because you have “likes” and “followers” doesn’t mean God approves. Ask Him and others for forgiveness today and return to your first love.

Excuses must die in you, or humility will never live in you. The only way to truly remove the cancel culture from the church is to remove it from our hearts first.

Shane Idleman

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Leona Valley, Ca. His sermons, books, articles, and radio program have sparked change in the lives of many.

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