I increasingly hear about “cancel culture” these days. (This phrase has nothing to do with the cancellation of events for the coronavirus.)
The phrase means different things to different people. Here’s how a teenager described it to the New York Times: “When it comes to cancel culture, it’s a way to take away someone’s power and call out the individual for being problematic in a situation. I don’t think it’s being sensitive. I think it’s just having a sense of being observant and aware of what’s going on around you” (fmchr.ch/cancelc).
Social media users often post that celebrities, politicians, theologians or entire institutions are “canceled” for saying, doing or promoting something offensive. According to CNN (a target of people tweeting #cancelcnn), this attempt to “cancel” controversial people is meant “to diminish their significance, whether it’s a personal boycott or a public shaming” (fmchr.ch/cnncancel).
Cancel culture seems to have positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, it can discourage offensive or even sinful behavior. On the other, cancel culture can stifle discussion and marginalize people created in God’s image.
The act of cancellation can also be counterproductive. As an article on the Merriam-Webster website notes, “There is a performative aspect to canceling, one that (it could be argued) paradoxically amplifies that which it seeks to squelch, if only for the moment. To cancel someone publicly often requires broadcasting that act, which then makes the target of one’s canceling a subject of attention” (fmchr.ch/mwcancel).”
This month’s issue focuses on unstoppable grace. I was going to type that no one’s tweeting #cancelgrace. Then I checked Twitter and saw people actually are (sorry, legal commentator Nancy Grace and a fictional TV character named Grace). Thankfully, no one can cancel God’s amazing grace “that saved a wretch like me” in the words of hymn writer John Newton, who transformed from slave trader to abolitionist.
Twenty years ago, U2 lead singer Bono sang, “Grace, it’s the name for a girl. It’s also a thought that changed the world.” In this month’s issue, Brett Heintzman offers a better description of grace as “a holy, powerful force that beckons.”
In a line reportedly inspired by the writings of Philip Yancey (who is referenced further in this month’s Focal Point article by Chet Martin), Bono also sings that grace “travels outside of karma.” Catholic Bishop Robert Barron similarly contrasts grace (a key concept in Christianity) and karma (a key idea in Hinduism and Buddhism): “In terms of a karmic religion, wretches deserve a wretched fate, and it would be unfair for wicked people to be given a great gift. But devotees of a religion of grace exult in this generosity. Think in this context of the parable of the workers hired at different times of the day or the story of the Prodigal Son. Those make sense only in a religion-of-grace context” (fmchr.ch/barron).
Barron’s brother, John, served as the publisher of the newspaper company that previously employed me. He showed grace by not canceling the journalism career of this ink-stained wretch when a local politician’s supporters bombarded the publisher’s office with complaints about my editorials. Voters didn’t show as much grace the following year when they canceled that politician’s career in a recall election. (Maybe it’s not gracious of me to mention that.)
I’m thankful I serve a God who is gracious as in Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word as “merciful, compassionate.” According to the Free Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, “Through prevenient grace He seeks to bring every individual to Himself but grants to each the responsibility of accepting or rejecting that salvation.”
You can read more excerpts from the Book of Discipline in the debut article of our new Leading Edge section where Bishop Linda Adams discusses the “fever pitch” of revival. According to the Mayo Clinic, fever can play a key role in helping the human body fight infections. The Holy Spirit may use this fever of revival for combating infections like dissension and spiritual lethargy in the body of Christ (the church).
Rather than canceling people whose faith and devotion fade, let us encourage and pray for revival that leads to God’s sanctifying and glorifying grace in their lives. We may need to cancel a person serving in a particular role or ministry because of their behavior or struggles, but we don’t cancel our commitment “to respect the worth of all persons as created in the image of God” (another phrase from the Book of Discipline). Keep reading for more about God’s prevenient, saving, sanctifying and glorifying grace.
Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He also serves as a delegate for John Wesley Free Methodist Church in Indianapolis. He joined LIGHT + LIFE in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media.2