Don’t be gaslit. There is such a thing as cancel culture and it is pernicious and toxic.
Sure, there are those who invoke “cancel culture” as a complaint when what they are really upset about is a legitimate consequence. But the fact that some people exaggerate the problem of cancel culture does not mean that it isn’t a problem.
And, yes, it is a problem on both ends of the political spectrum and everywhere in between. It is a problem in the evangelical community. It’s a problem everywhere. There are so many ways to run afoul of the prevailing orthodoxy of whatever community you belong to and all of us are clamming up and editing our thought and speech out of self-preservation.
And when that’s the case you get lots of instances of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” In Hans Christian Andersen’s folktale, published in 1837, a pompous emperor is flattered by unscrupulous tailors into believing that he is donning a robe of such marvelous material and of such exquisite workmanship that only the truly astute and enlightened could even perceive it. Because no one wanted to be thought uncouth, the fiction was reinforced by general participation with everyone eager to obtain their bona fides by gushing their admiration for the beautiful robe.
In our culture today there are lots of instances of the Emperor’s new clothes, with the difference being that if we refuse to participate in the fiction we risk more than contempt from those who are invested in it. There is the possibility of real censure.
And lies are not more strong, but they do possess a different strength than truths. The strength of a lie is in its appeal to those who would like to believe it and in the dogmas that spring up to buttress them. Truth comes armed with the sharpest of all swords, but the lie shows up with an army, even if it’s only armed with butter knives.
But here’s some good news for you. Those who possess the truth are also equipped with two related qualities: stubborn courage on the one hand, and mirth on the other. Those who perpetuate cancel culture are fearful and humorless. But when the church is more invested in the truth than in its place in the culture, it finds the courage to tell even unpopular truths and the mirth to chuckle at the preposterous lies. And nothing breaks the spell of a lie quite like honest laughter.
When there is a sense that telling the truth could get you in trouble and there are people who are poised to pounce and punish you for your candor there are twin temptations. On the one hand we might want to shrink back, and on the other we might want to get shrill.
But the church’s mandate is to be salt and light, to speak clarity and to add savor to the discourse. And we are not immune to the pressures of cancel culture. Even when the church owns its own building and belongs to a network of churches and enjoys constitutional protections, there are a lot of ways in which spiteful people could seek to punish the church for having the temerity to point out the emperor’s nakedness.
But, nevertheless, the church is more insulated from cancel culture than many individuals and institutions and if you can’t get the truth from the church where will you hear it?
So we don’t articulate these truths to pick a fight or wave a flag, and we don’t utter them through clenched teeth. The business of truth telling is not a grim endeavor but a cheerful project and we undertake it with impish freedom as though we were God’s own, good-natured provocateurs.
So what truths do we have to tell? It is worth saying, for instance, that . . .
We could go on, but that gives you the idea. Some of these statements are things that people of good faith could legitimately dispute. Any of these statements might, from the right platform, incite a vindictive mob. But all of these statements are worth making as winsomely and lovingly as possible by the only ones who can be counted on to do so.
If cancel culture is a poison, it is no remedy to purse your lips having inhaled the toxic fumes. The only antidote is the truth and its successful administration relies on open minds and open mouths.
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