Have you noticed how difficult it is to talk about anything truly meaningful or important, lately? As a teenager in the ’90s, I was disgusted by the “Politically Correct” culture that was emerging. In order to be accepted in society, there was growing pressure to be “PC” (“Politically Correct”) about what we were saying and how we were saying it. As we embark on the 2020 decade, the ‘political correctness’ annoyance has grown into a giant thought-police monster. It’s as if no one can talk about anything that matters anymore without being vilified, silenced, canceled, outcast, exiled from any conversation. It doesn’t matter which side of a topic you may argue for, there is an opposing side that is vehemently poised to “cancel” you, to call you names, to make you a social pariah, to paint you as a monster, all toward the end of shutting all ears to your perspective and “cancel” your voice. It doesn’t stop at merely canceling a voice, though. The fear and loathing that cancels the voice, truly aims at canceling the entire person behind the voice. A canceled person, like a canceled show, is silenced, and the ideas they represent are not only ignored, but everything else that person could contribute is cast away. One wrong idea, one misspoken word, and we all face the potential ideological and social guillotine of our surrounding “cancel culture!”
As Christians, however, we cannot be silent. We can’t avoid the hot topics. We are called to teach and defend the Truth of God’s Word. We can’t circle the wagons, either, and simply retreat into a Christian clique where we talk only with the people with whom we happen to agree on controversial topics. While it’s so much easier and safer to turn inward to our ideological clique, God has commissioned us to take serious truth to the world. Christians are a people of commissioned conversations. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…, teaching them… (Matt 28:19-20).” In this culture of canceling people and conversations, though, it’s easy to become fearful or simply discouraged to such a way we retreat back into our bubble. We think, “They won’t listen anyway, so there’s no reason to risk saying something.” We may also think, “I have to be more than prepared to go into an ideological battle with these scary people! What if I’m wrong? What if I can’t remember the right facts? What if I’m unprepared for this discussion/debate/shouting match? What if I look silly, they call me names, and then cancel me. What good would that be for the cause of Christ?”
Christians can’t be scared into silence. Our job as the people of God, the church, is to be the primary caretakers and custodians of truth and the conversations that bring important truths to light. Consider what Paul the apostle calls the church:
“…God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NIV, emphasis added).
As people who are called to be the world’s only pillar and foundation for God’s truth, we Bible-believing Christians must work to promote a conversation of healthy truth conversations. We are called to bring civil discussions back into our culture, a culture that increasingly ‘cancels’ conversations and the people behind the viewpoints they oppose. We, as God’s Truth Foundation, must bravely find a way to bring up truth talk, while demonstrating a loving and respectful mode of speaking, as well as listening. Let’s see what we can learn from some high profile case studies that have been swirling around us.
Case 1: Jesus
First, let’s go to the source of grace and truth and the example of the One Who commissioned us to come out of hiding and bring truth conversations to the world. Of course, the Son of God is the most highly credentialed authority on this subject, so observing His example is of utmost importance! In the myriad examples of Jesus bringing truth and confronting error, we can discern two primary moods.
First, and more rarely, Jesus was rather harsh. Let’s remember the cleansing of the temple, for instance. Also, we have some examples of Jesus dealing harshly with the self-righteous pharisees, who are attacking Him and plotting against Him. He calls them a “brood of vipers” and “hypocrites” (Matthew 3:7; 12:34; 22:18; 23:33). In Matthew 23, Jesus dedicates a whole speech of “Woes” to this group of self-righteous religious leaders.
There is also a second mood that’s more often expressed by Jesus. We can call this mood, truth in love. In speaking to most people, Jesus deals gently and tactfully with those who are questioning or who are simply broken and in need. His objective is to change hearts and minds of people who demonstrate any willingness whatsoever to listen. Consider the Samaritan woman at the well, with whom Jesus has a long conversation full of questions and back-and-forths (John 4:4-42), or the rich young ruler. Jesus responds to the rich young ruler’s half-hearted questions with questions and answers that reveal where his heart truly is and delivers a gentle but incredibly difficult invitation to him at the end of the conversation to sell all the rich man has, give it to the poor, then come follow Jesus. In Jesus’ conversations we see a pattern. Jesus is more pointed and harsh with those who are prideful leaders like the pharisees. Jesus is harsh with bad leaders, that is, who are leading many astray in the name of God, and who are hardhearted, self-righteous, arrogant, and whose ears are shut to truth. Still, he receives them, answers their questions, and never refuses to talk to them. When Jesus does talk to them he matches the hardness of their hearts with hardness of language. We need to learn to be gentle with the broken and truly questioning and perhaps a bit more pointed toward those who are pridefully setting themselves against Christ, and perhaps even more pointed, even harsh, with bad leaders who are leading others away from God and toward destruction. It is rare for the average Christian to have public conversations with malicious religious leaders. Also, we don’t have Jesus’ infallible ability to see the relative hardness of heart of others. So, I’m going to err on the side of gentleness in my conversation, as I believe is a Biblical principle, in and of itself. I only remember one time in my life that I thought it necessary to have a ‘den of vipers’ conversation. and that was after the guy loudly and publicly blasphemed God with vitriol, multiple times. For us everyday 21st Century Christians, in practice, we need to demonstrate grace in our speech, season our words with salt, and meet people where they are. Our objective should always be, not simply to win an argument, but to build others up. We should strive to be empty of self and full of grace and truth, seeking to meet both the needs of our fellow-struggler’s mind and heart. Jesus and the Bible, His Word, is the authority that leads us to meet people where they are, out of love and for their benefit. We’re also supposed to be careful to be gentle and respectful whenever possible.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6 ESV)
“…but 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.” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)
Now that the foundation is set, in the next segment we’ll look at three other case studies that have been in the news lately. My prayer is that by examining these stories, we won’t simply write anyone off, but we’ll learn from each person in a way that helps us do some self-examination that will build us up as the church to better take on the challenge of transforming our cancel culture into a culture where truth talks are more widely accepted. These three case studies will be:
- The positive and negative conversations surrounding Kanye West and his recent profession of faith
- The controversy stirred up recently between John MacArthur and Beth Moore
- The talk surrounding the fact that Ellen Degeneres recently sat and watched sports with George W. Bush.
Pastor Kevin Rutledge is the Lead Teaching Pastor at First. He has a Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies, an MA in Theology, and nearly twenty years of ministry experience.