David Jeremiah - A Political Prophecy: Cancel Culture
Except for 1968 and its riots and assassinations, I cannot remember a more challenging year in my lifetime for America than 2020. Between the pandemic, the flaring of racial tensions after the death of George Floyd, floundering economy, skyrocketing murder rates, the impeachment of Donald Trump, people had a lot to argue about, and argue they did. Of course, the US presidential elections added fuel to those fires. In the midst of that tension and animosity, Pastor Chris Hodges of Birmingham, Alabama logged on to his Instagram account one day and clicked "like" on a small number of posts from a conservative author and speaker.
Can you imagine something so innocuous causing trouble? Well, it did. A high school English teacher living in Birmingham saw what Pastor Hodges had done and felt uncomfortable. She created a Facebook post to address that discomfort, including an image of Hodges's name next to the notorious likes. She later, ironically, told reporters, "I would be upset if it comes off as me judging him. I'm not saying he's a racist. I'm saying he likes someone who post things that do not seem culturally sensitive to me".
In less than two weeks, the Birmingham housing authority voted to cut ties with Pastor Hodges and the Church of the Highlands, no longer allowing the church to rent space for one of its campuses. The housing authority also cut ties with Christ Health Center, a separate ministry founded by the Church of the Highlands to provide free health services for residents of public housing. Now, stop and think about that. A local government shuts down a free clinic for the poor in the middle of a public health crisis. In their words, "Pastor Hodges's views do not reflect those of the health board and its residents". That wasn't the end. The Birmingham Board of Education also voted to cut ties with the Church of the Highlands after the so-called scandal. For several years, the church had rented two high school auditoriums to serve as additional campuses on Sunday mornings, paying more than $800,000 for that privilege. No more. The leases were terminated immediately.
Ed Stetzer, who often writes for the Southern Baptist Convention, was quick to point out the sad irony of these decisions, given all the ways Hodges and his church have contributed to the Birmingham community and beyond; he wrote, "Chris Hodges has led his church to be the largest diverse church in Alabama, to engage the poor and the marginalized, to minister widely and well in his community. He and the church he leads has served the poor, engaged the sick, volunteered in the schools, and more. During the pandemic, Church of the Highlands has served thousands of meals, made masks, hosted blood drives, helped other churches with online services. He also liked some social media posts. Get the pitchforks"? The long and short of it was that Pastor Hodges had been canceled because he liked a few posts from a popular conservative pundit.
Now, let me not stop the story there. I do not know Chris Hodges personally, but I know a lot about him. I have incredible respect for him and his leadership and his church, and I promise you he'll be back and this won't take him down. Nobody gets to where he was by letting something like this get in their way, so just give him time and he'll be back with greater effectiveness and doing all the things he was doing before, but a lot more. The long and short of it is, the word "cancel" once described what we did to magazine or newspaper subscriptions. We canceled them. Or what happened to a faltering television program. We canceled it.
Now it's what people do to people. In our society, canceling someone is a punishment for doing something, saying something, even thinking something that violates a set of unwritten rules currently in play throughout much of the liberal world. These punishments are typically carried out in three stages. First of all, there's an attempt to publicly humiliate the person by flagrantly exposing the supposed wrong he or she committed. And then, once the person has been exposed, he or she is pushed mercilessly to confess and apologize. Whether that person has actually done anything that requires regret is irrelevant. Simply to be accused means a retraction and an apology is expected. And thirdly, regardless of whether the accused apologizes or not, attempts are made to remove that person from public life and from all public conversation once and for all. As a result, people are fired, mocked, threatened, deplatformed, and delegitimized in every way.
Professor Evan Gerstmann says, "There is no single accepted definition of cancel culture, but at its worst, it's about unaccountable groups successfully applying pressure to punish someone for perceived wrong opinions. The victim ends up losing their job or is significantly harmed in some way well beyond the discomfort of merely being disagreed with". So, what does it take for a person to be canceled? We'd like to know, because most of us would rather not have that experience. But no one knows what it takes to be canceled, at least, not specifically. And, as I said, the boundaries that govern this new way of life, what many are calling "cancel culture," are very unclear. The rules are unwritten, and it reminds me of a car driven by an inebriated person swerving from lane to lane. Best stay out of the way if possible. One of the more frightening aspects of cancel culture is that its tendrils extend to regular members of society, to people like you and me.
For example, Mary Purdie is an artist who was accused of plagiarism when a piece she designed went public. The accusations were not true, but that didn't matter to the hundreds of people who posted hateful comments on their Instagram and found other ways to harass her. She even attempted to apologize for a possible misunderstanding, but, in her words, the apology was torn to shreds. And then, she wrote this: "I have survived five miscarriages and breast cancer, and this was the worst thing that's ever happened to me". In this culture, if it sounds unreasonable to you, even unbiblical, you're absolutely right. Jesus was asked to identify the most important commandment in the Bible, and He replied with a two-for-one special. Do you remember that? He said, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. But the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"
And I can think of few things less loving than publicly excoriating random people, even trying to get them fired or shamed or silenced, all for the sin of daring to disagree with you. Yet that's what cancel culture demands. It bears noticing that Jesus spent a lot of time with people in His day who had been canceled, so to speak. Remember the woman at the well? Women were considered second-class citizens in the ancient world, and Samaritans were scorned. Furthermore, this Samaritan woman lived in a state of sexual immorality. Even her own people shunned her, which is why she came alone to draw water from the community well at the heart of the day, yet Jesus approached her. He spoke kindly to her. He even offered her the water of life, saying, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life".
Jesus touched lepers, who were untouchable according to the law. He welcomed sinners who were despised. He blessed children when others were trying to push them away because they were a nuisance. He expressed compassion for a woman taken in adultery. He accepted the worship of a woman who was criticized because she poured perfume all over His feet. He touched the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. He cast demons out of people who were violent. And during His final hours, He comforted a murderer who was nailed to a cross next to Him, and after His resurrection, He reassured a doubting disciple and reestablished the disciple who had denied Him. Jesus had no place in His heart for the cancel culture. He was wonderful at demonstrating God's love and grace to everyone, and, ladies and gentlemen, He still is. So, what does this mean? It would be nice to think cancel culture is a temporary phase our world is going through.
I hear people say that. "Oh, we'll get through this". But society is becoming more intolerant and polarized by the day. And I'm not so sure we'll see a reversal of all of these trends. The more insidious elements of cancel culture are a malignant form of spitefulness common to all human nature. What we're seeing today reminds me of what Jesus described in Matthew 24. Here is the prophecy which is foreshadowing what's happening today. This was our Lord's sermon about the last days and the Great Tribulation. Leading up to this Great Tribulation, Jesus predicted a series of signs that would foreshadow the end of the world.
In Matthew, He spoke of wars and rumors of wars and famines and earthquakes and pestilences. And then, He said this. This is what, usually, we read right over, but don't read over it. Here's what He said: "These are the beginning of sorrows. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold". Read that again, because there are several terms in these verses that represent the ethos of cancel culture. First of all, it's a culture of disdain. Jesus talked about how easily people would be offended in the days leading up to the tribulation. Boy, is that ever true.
Recently, NFL star Aaron Rodgers got attention when he appeared in a black t-shirt bearing the words "I'm offended". The sports world wondered if it meant something or if it meant nothing, but I know a lot of people that walk around with that on their soul. How easy it is for people to get offended. You don't have to do much to offend some people. Lots of people seem to be going around with "I'm an offended" attitude if they don't have it on their shirt. I mean, how many groups or products have had to change their names, their symbols, their mascots out of fear they might cause offense? None of us want to be offensive, but doesn't it seem like people everywhere are too easily offended? How long before someone sees you reading a Bible on an airplane and feels uncomfortable? When will someone take offense when you wear a t-shirt with the slogan "John 3:16" on it? What about the cross around your neck? They might come for that.
Jesus linked being easily offended with hating one another and betraying one another. The Greek word that is translated "betray" is important. It doesn't mean betrayal like saying negative things about coworkers so that you can get promoted, and it doesn't mean betrayal in terms of deceiving others or turning on someone who used to be your friend and stabbing them in the back. No, instead, the text is talking about betrayal in the sense of intentionally revealing or exposing something that is hidden. It's the same idea as betraying a secret, or people betraying the Jewish identities of their neighbors to the Secret Police in the run up to the Second World War. In other words, Jesus said society, leading up to the end times, would be marked by people who actively root up, expose, and betray those around them.
Wouldn't you say that kind of betrayal is commonplace in our world today? It is. Wouldn't you say that kind of betrayal makes up an essential part of cancel culture? It does. In many ways, cancel culture is dependent on betrayal. We all have mistakes from our past we'd like to forget. Can I get a witness? All of us have made choices we regret and decisions we would correct if we could get a redo, but in a world fueled by cancel culture, those mistakes are not allowed to remain in the past. People intentionally dig through the histories and biographies and social media posts of others, even those they consider to be friends, in order to drag those mistakes into the present.
Back in 2010, Diana Graber's daughter attended Journey School in California. Students and staff there were attempting to confront a major cyberbullying incident, which was the first in that school. Everyone did their best to understand the situation and figure out a way to respond, but there was much uncertainty. This was totally new ground. Diana had just finished her master's degree in a new field called Media Psychology and Social Change. She had academic experience helping people adjust to the new world of the internet and social media, and she was eager to put that experience into practice. Together with Journey School, Diana created a new course called Cyber Civics, and the goal was to teach middle schoolers what she calls "digital citizenship," a way to help them make sense of the challenges posed by a digital world, to gain a better understanding of ethics and morality, to think critically instead of superficially, and to build their digital reputation, reject all forms of cyberbullying, shaming, and intimidation.
In His great sermon on the end times, Jesus warned of the rise of many false prophets who would deceive multitudes. That's never been easier than today. Today, we are living in a culture not only of disdain but of deception. And most of the people who are at risk in this day of deception are senior citizens, senior people. I was shocked to find out that in 2020, senior citizens lost over a billion dollars in cyber scams. A total of 105,301 people over the age of 65 were taken to the cleaners. The average person lost more than $9,000. Almost 2,000 senior citizens lost more than $100,000. Fake news. Fake people. Fake products. Fake friends. All of this has come to us via the world of big tech, and all of this is contributing to a growing culture of deception.
And then, finally, there's this culture of disdain and deception. It's a culture of disconnection. The next logical step in cancel culture is disconnection. In a culture marked by disdain and deception, people want to withdraw from society. They don't always get pushed out of society. But when you find out people are after you and they're trying to hurt you, what do you do? You go into the castle and you shut it down and don't let anybody near you. You don't talk to anybody. Listen to what Jesus said. In Matthew 24:12, He says, "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold". In other words, relationships will go south.
Apologist Abdu Murray had this to say about the relationally frightening nature of today's society: "In cancel culture, a single mistake is perpetually unforgivable because it's not simply a guilty act. Rather, the mistake is led to define the individual's identity, turning them into a shameful person, someone who can be canceled". The culture that leads up to the Tribulation and the end of history will be characterized by coldness in our feelings for one another and in our dealings with one another.
Shockingly, a recent study revealed that nearly half of Americans have not made a new friend in the last five years. As hatred and deception have increased, love in our world has decreased, and our relationships have grown cold. Once again, a little parentheses. During this day and this time when I have been studying all these issues, one of the things I have been overwhelmingly impressed with is the absolute necessity of small groups. In almost all the literature that I have read, people are saying, even non-religious people, that small groups are going to be the way in which cultures like ours survive the onslaught of all of this socialism and stuff that's coming at us. Small groups are not just for you to have affinity with others, to be friendly with others, to have fellowship with others, even to study the Bible, but small groups will be the whole defense against what is happening. I mean, there could be a time when they say we can't meet in our church anymore, but they can't keep us from meeting in our homes.
There's too many of us and there's too many homes. And there's a way in which what is happening now with this friendless society that we, as Christians, need to run right into the face of that and say, "Not us. We're in a small group with eight other couples, and we know a bunch of people. And we pray for one another, and we serve one another, and we rejoice with one another, and we mourn with one another. We have friends. We're a part of the body of Christ. We come to church, but we have small groups".
What we need is to be in a really strong small group. Well, coming to the end of this talk, let me ask this important question. Where do we go from here? Now that we understand more about cancel culture and the dangers that it poses, where do we go from here? What does it take to live in a world like the world we live in? Well, I'll tell you, it takes a lot. What does it take to create a different kind of culture in your home, at work, at church? The short answer is, it's not easy to live as members of God's kingdom in a world that is increasingly hostile to the values of that kingdom. This is the shared experience of every generation of Christians since the very first one, so we've had 2,000 years to prepare for these days. One thing we know for sure: following Jesus is worth it, so let's explore four uncancelable concepts as we close.
Number one: to live in a world like we live in today, it takes wisdom. Jesus told us, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves". "Wisdom" is a word that confuses people today. Many think wisdom is the cute things that you say in a retort to someone, or maybe it's kinda the stuff you see in a fortune cookie. Others believe wisdom means speaking and acting in accordance with larger groups, like "the wisdom of the crowd". On a practical and biblical level, wisdom looks much different than either one of these things. True wisdom is the ability to discern what is right, what is good, what is just, and what is proper, and I've written down in my notebook a little definition of wisdom that's the best one I've ever seen. It's not mine. I found it somewhere. Here's what it is: wisdom is doing the right thing without a precedent.
In other words, doing the right thing when you can't look back over your shoulder and see, "Oh, this happened to so-and-so, and it's written about in this book, and they did this and this, so I will do that". No, wisdom today is so imperative because we live in an unprecedented time. Most of the stuff that's happening to us now, men and women, it's never happened to us before, so what do we do? We ask God for wisdom. And he's promised to give it to us, and He will give us wisdom to do the right thing, even though there are no precedents for that in anything that we know about or have experienced. We need to ask God for wisdom, because in this day and age, we need wisdom. The Bible says we're to have a certain combination of characteristics in this day.
I don't know about you; when I see all the stuff that's happening and things like happened to my fellow pastor, Chris Hodges, it makes me angry. I wanna respond. I play games in my mind about how I would get even with somebody who would do something like that. Don't look at me like you don't know what I'm talking about. You all know what I'm talking about. And I think to myself, "Boy, if that ever came to me, I'd"... No, wait a minute. Listen to what the Bible says. Colossians 4:6 says, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one". That's a really important verse. Some Christians have reversed it. Their speech is always with salt, seasoned with a little grace. No, no, no, that's not the way it's supposed to be. The Bible says we're to be gracious people, but we're to have a little saltiness to us. What does that mean? Don't let people run over you. Don't give up your convictions, but whatever you do, be gracious.
You know, one of my bucket-list things is I wanna be a gracious old man. I don't wanna be a grouchy old man. I know some grouchy old men. Do you? I don't wanna be that. I wanna be a gracious old man. I don't really wanna be an old man, but whenever I get there, I wanna be gracious. So, the Bible says when we're in the midst of this culture when people are just killing each other with their words, there should be something different about us. We stand aside from that. We're gracious people. We don't respond with tit for tat. They don't say something mean to us and we come up with something meaner to say to them. We don't pick fights with those who disagree with us. On the other hand, we don't need to stay silent when our faith is being challenged. There are moments when wisdom would suggest we listen and learn rather than speak and stumble. Somebody once said it's better off to keep your mouth shut and let people think you're stupid than open it and remove all doubt.
Proverbs 17:28 says it this way: "Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive". There are also moments when followers of Jesus need to stand firmly for the truth. This includes you and me, and when those moments come, I hope we will speak and write and teach and create with the same boldness that Stephen demonstrated before his accusers in the Sanhedrin. May it be said of us, as it was of him, that those who hear our words will be cut to the heart. When we're gracious and we speak the right words, that's a combination people don't know what to do with. So, knowing what to say, when to say it, how to say it, that's wisdom. Then it takes courage to live in this day and age, in the cancel culture. The Bible says, "Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. And He will not leave you nor forsake you".
You and I need to heed those commands as we live meaningfully as followers of Jesus in a world influenced by cancel culture. In the book of Acts, there's a word that occurs often. It's the word "bold". Acts 4:31 is a great verse. Here's what it says: "And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the Word of God with boldness". Oh, how I pray that I will always be able to speak the Word of God with boldness, never to be ashamed of my Lord or what He has done for me or for you or for this church. Courage is a God-given personality trait that is crucial in critical times. This quality is seen in the life of an Old Testament man who had the wonderful name of Jeremiah. He remained committed to God and to his prophetic work even when he was under extreme criticism.
Do you know that the book of Jeremiah is followed with a book called Lamentations? Those are the laments of Jeremiah, his crying out, his tears, his sadness. He's called the weeping prophet, and he had a lot to weep about because he lived a terrible existence for much of his life. He was faithful to his ministry even when those attacks came at him from his own people. He declared the words of the Lord during a particularly difficult period in Israel's history, and he didn't falter as new things came at him and as things grew worse around him. His hearers tried to cancel him. Believe it or not, in the Old Testament, there was this bit of cancel culture. Jeremiah 18:18. These are supposedly Jeremiah's friends. "Come and let us devise plans against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come and let us attack him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words". But Jeremiah persisted in his ministry. He continued to speak the truth as a representative of Almighty God.
You and I need a streak of Jeremiah's sanctified stubbornness in troubled times. The mob will mock and malign us, society will shame and slander us, and there are all kinds of associations out there that want to assault and attack us. The crowds may even wanna kill us. I can't imagine it, but it could happen. Through it all, we must have courage. We must choose to be courageous. Thankfully, that is a choice we do not have to make alone. Psalm 27:14 says, "Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart". Hallelujah. It takes wisdom and courage. It takes forgiveness. In a world where the mistakes of the past are fair game for the present, there's no room for forgiveness on the part of the cancel culturists, but the Bible offers us a different way. Listen to the Bible, the Bible says, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you". "And therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do".
When we forgive someone who has wronged us, we set them free. But that isn't even the best news. We set ourselves free, 'cause if you walk around with bitterness towards someone, you're not hurting them. They probably don't even know you're doing it. But you're doing it to yourself. So, you forgive somebody. Two great things happen: they get forgiven, and you get released from your bitterness. Paul Meyer was a millionaire in his 20s because he was a great entrepreneur, but Paul Meyer grew up in an interesting home. You see, his father never forgave anybody, not a single soul. If he was ever crossed or offended, he carried the offense all of his life, all the way to the grave. He simply didn't forgive anyone, not even family members. His life was full of broken relationships, but Paul said his mother, on the other hand, forgave everybody. Absolutely everybody.
Paul said she based her forgiving spirit on God's Word, for "She preferred to live with forgiveness than to live with unforgiveness. As a result, she had peace and joy, and it bubbled out of her life". He said, "There I was, a young man stuck between two polar opposites. I love both of my parents and I'm still indebted to them for what they taught me, but in this area, I knew I had to choose forgiveness or reject it. Which was the better offer? So, when I was 16 years old, I made a conscious decision to start forgiving people and to live a life of forgiveness. I had watched my parents, and I knew which of the two had more peace and joy. The difference was not hard to see". I suggest to you that in this area, in this day, in this culture when forgiveness is not in existence with cancel-culture people, we become even more men and women of forgiveness. We forgive one another. We look for ways to resolve conflict, not extend it. It takes wisdom and courage and forgiveness, and, finally, it takes love.
Do you remember the passage in the gospel where Jesus canceled a young woman? He had been teaching in the temple courts when a group of Pharisees forcibly dragged a girl in front of Him. They had caught her in the act of adultery. "Stone her," Jesus said. "That is the punishment prescribed by law. She's guilty of sin and she must be permanently removed, she is canceled". "Wait a minute," you say, "Pastor, that's not in the Bible". And it isn't. Jesus never said any such thing, and neither do I. Instead of canceling that young woman, Jesus told His accusers, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first". If you're gonna stone this woman, let the person in this group who doesn't have any sin be the first person to throw a stone at her. And the Scripture says that when that happened, they walked away one by one and left Jesus alone with the woman.
Wouldn't you love to have been there during that experience? "Where you going, son"? One by one, they walk away. And Jesus spoke to that young girl when they had all left and said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more". As we've seen, cancel culture is laser-focused on judgment and accusation and punishment. The goal of those who cancel others is to broadcast their sins from pillar to post and never allow them to be removed or forgotten, but Christ's goal, on the other hand, is love and mercy and grace. In the words of Scripture, "Above all things have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins.'"
I used to think that verse meant that if you loved somebody it would cover your sins, but that's not what it means. It means when you love somebody, you cover their sins. You don't expose their sins. You try to cover them. Now, you don't deceitfully do it, but you don't get on a campaign to reveal their sins. If you love somebody, you don't want other people saying bad things about them. Isn't that true? But in our culture today, that's not the way it works. If a person is in a relationship and they find out something evil, it'll be on the internet, and it'll be all over the world within just a matter of minutes. The Bible says as Christians, when we love someone, someone makes a mistake, you go and you pray with them. You put your arm around them. You forgive them. You help them get on, but you don't broadcast their sin. That's the world's way. That's the devil's way. That's not God's way.
The Bible says that when we love someone, we cover their sins. I don't know about you, sometimes I'd just like to cancel culture itself, cancel the whole thing. Let's just cancel culture. I mean, I'd like to cancel all the hatred and division, all the crimes and the lawlessness, the smugness and the snobbery of the pundits and the pencil pushers, the so-called journalists who aren't really journalists. I'd like to cancel the violence and the vitriol. And I can't do that, but do you know that one day Jesus is gonna do that? For now, there's one cancel culture I wanna recommend, and it's the only one I'm gonna recommend today. Here's the cancel culture you need to take seriously.
The Bible says in Colossians 2:13-14, "When you were dead in your sins, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; and has taken it away, nailing it to the cross". Jesus has canceled our sin. He canceled it. Now, that's the cancel culture I can get into. One day, I asked Jesus Christ to forgive me of my sin, and I found out that when He had gone to the cross, He had paid the penalty for my sin, and He canceled it all, He forgave it all. My past sin, my present sin, my future sin, all forgiven by God.
"No, no, no, Pastor Jeremiah. He forgives your past sin, but you gotta deal"... Wait a minute. When Jesus died on the cross, all my sin was in the future. He canceled it all. Canceled all my sin. He canceled it. He forgave it. And what He did for me He'll do for you, if you'll ask Him. When we come to Jesus Christ, He cancels our sins, and He welcomes us into His family. And instead of disdain and deception, disconnection, He gives us love and truth and a place by His side. He fills us with wisdom and courage and compassion, and He commissions us to counter the cancel culture with the power of the cross, which can never be canceled, revoked, or annulled either in time or all of eternity. We can go to bed tonight knowing with all of our hearts that nothing or no one can ever cancel the One who has canceled our sins. He will always be there for us.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the midst of all that's going on around us, we must never forget the triumph of the gospel. The gospel is what changes everything. You wanna get involved in the cancel culture? Get involved in the Christian cancel culture where Jesus Christ cancels our sin, and then go out and live like a Christian in this crazy, mixed-up world, and you will discover that people will be drawn to you because of your graciousness, because of your forgiveness, because of your willingness to put your arm around those who have made a mistake and help them get better. Let's don't let what is happening in the world make us bitter and cynical. Easy for that to happen. Let's become even more men and women of love and grace.