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How should Christians view cancel culture?

"Cancel culture" is relatively new phrase, but the idea is very natural to humanity. When an unpopular statement or opinion results in drastic efforts to silence, banish, or punish the offending party, that's an example of "cancel culture." This "cancelling" goes beyond condemning offending behavior, or choosing not to support the person. It frequently extends to demands they be fired from their job, dissociated from their peers, silenced or banished from public view, and so forth. At times, modern cancel culture includes deliberately opening the offender up to stalking or physical violence, by highlighting or distributing personal information.

Rather than being a new development, cancel culture is a natural outworking of a post-Christian culture that no longer affirms the values that spread when Christianity spread. In essence, it has reverted to pre-Christian or non-Christian ideals, void of a Christian worldview. Non-Christian cultures almost always operate using an honor-shame dynamic. In this scheme, a person is judged entirely on whether society—meaning other people—approve or disapprove of them. What matters most is one's adherence to the collective view; all other issues are secondary. Those considered "shamed" are punished by others through exclusion, ostracizing, persecution, bullying, and even violence. Under the honor-shame system, these consequences are exactly what the "guilty" party deserves. In short, cancel culture is a social-media driven form of vigilantism.

It's especially important to recognize three aspects of the honor-shame system and modern cancel culture. First, these attitudes leave little to no room for redemption. The dishonorable label is effectively permanent. That applies even if the offense was committed long ago, and the person's life since then reflects a changed perspective. Only acts of self-destruction, self-debasement, or kowtowing can restore some of the shamed party's status. Second, shame extends to anyone associated with the "guilty" party, including family, friends, employers, coworkers—unless, perhaps, they act to prove they agree with the cancellation. Third is inconsistent or hypocritical application; those more cooperative to popular opinion are less vulnerable to being cancelled.

These closely-related aspects share a common intent: obliterating all dissent from popular opinion. Cancel culture does more than intimidate individuals into silence, or compliance. It encourages gestures whose primary intent is to prove one is on the popular side; this is often referred to as "virtue signaling." Cancel culture embraces the idea that alternative views are not merely wrong, or even dangerous. Rather, simply holding such opinions is considered a criminal act—even treated as a form of violence. Over time, compliance with "correct" views is driven more by fear than by sincere agreement.

Cancel culture is directly contradictory to principles commanded in Scripture. It should go without saying that a Christian response to cancel culture ought not violate Christian principles. And yet, it's possible for believers to take the otherwise legitimate concepts of reputation, respect, and community and revert to an unbiblically extremehonor-shame approach (Colossians 2:8; Romans 12:2). It's also possible for Christians to succumb to the opposite extreme, where distinctions between right and wrong are hardly defended, at all (Ephesians 4:14–15; 2 Timothy 4:2–5).

There are three primary ways in which believers ought to resist cancel culture: having the humility to accept differences of opinion, approaching disagreements with reason and caution, and allowing for the possibility of redemption. These are principles taken directly from the Bible.

Cooperating with popular opinion is not automatically the same as honoring God (Acts 5:29). Each individual person is ultimately judged by God, not by other people (Romans 12:9; 14:4; 1 Corinthians 10:29). Right and wrong still exist, but we cannot claim infallible judgment (John 7:24; 1 Samuel 16:7). Each of us is prone to error (Proverbs 14:29; 18:13) and should approach disagreements with caution (Romans 12:3). Difference of opinion is possible (Romans 14:1) without the other person being labelled wicked. Ephesians 4:15 counsels us to "speak the truth in love." First Peter 3:15–17 tells us, "in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil." It is good and appropriate to stand for truth. But we need not "cancel" those who don't.

Some might think that "cancel culture" is the same thing as biblical separation from worldly systems. But these are two separate ideas. It is true that we are told, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15–17). First Corinthians 15:33 says, "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals.'" But the Bible nowhere encourages us to utterly shame or "cancel" anyone. Rather, we should share the gospel with unbelievers while also keeping ourselves separate from sin.

Others might think that "cancel culture" is the same thing as church discipline. But that is not true. Any exclusion from fellowship or public rebuke is done only after personal confrontation and multiple opportunities to repent and for the purpose of restoration (Matthew 18:15–20; 1 Corinthians 5:9–13; 1 Timothy 5:19–20). It is in no way about "cancellation" of the person. The consistent exhortation in Scripture is for restoration (2 Corinthians 2:5–11; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4;2; James 5:16, 19–20). Scripture also warns us against judging one another in ways that only God can judge: "Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?" (see also Matthew 7:1–5). The Bible does not support current cancel culture in any context.

The growing problem of cancel culture is tied to western civilization's drift away from a Judeo-Christian ethic. As society becomes more and more post-Christian, it will naturally adopt attitudes less compatible with a biblical approach. One consequence of this slide is an expansion of cancel culture into more aspects of daily life.


Related Truth:

What does the Bible say about social justice?

Does the Bible say anything about multiculturalism?

Individualism vs. collectivism—what does the Bible say?

What is a biblical view on freedom of speech?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?


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