Opinion: No, evangelicals did not "perfect cancel culture"

by Peter Heck · Jul 14th, 2020 3:42 pm

Last Updated Jul 15th, 2020 at 2:10 pm

A few weeks ago, religion columnist Jonathan Merritt published his most recent judgmental finger-poke to the eye of evangelical Christianity. Commenting on the "canceling" of Alabama's Church of the Highlands after its minister, Chris Hodges, liked a tweet of pro-Trump activist Charlie Kirk, Merritt posited his theory that it was evangelicals who "perfected cancel culture," and "now it's coming for them."

I suppose once you've abandoned biblical fidelity on matters of sexuality, as Merritt has proudly done, jumping with two feet into Buddhist meanderings about karma is the next logical step. After citing evangelical "canceling" of former mega-minister Rob Bell, who as documented in the New Yorker, willfully chose to abandon biblical Christianity "in search of a more forgiving faith," Merritt wrote,

Since then, other Christian writers, including Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans, found their books no longer welcome in Christian bookstores due to their support for same-sex marriage.

Now the tables have turned.

Something shifted in 2016 after the election of Donald Trump. The rapidly proliferating groups evangelicals had been marginalizing and attacking — women, people of color, feminists, immigrants, LGBTQ people — recognized that they had their own pulpits on social media. They began to sermonize back.

That's lovely prose, but a magnificent distortion of reality. Many privately-owned Christian bookstores did choose to distance themselves from Hatmaker and Evans because of those authors' rejection of Christian orthodoxy. But the supposition that evangelicals as a monolith had been attacking "women, people of color, feminists, immigrants, LGBTQ people" is a shameful generalization that intentionally lacks nuance and honesty. It is the hallmark of political rhetoric, a demonstration of Merritt's continued devotion to ideologically weaponized doublespeak, rather than serious theological debate.

Taking the Apostle Paul's words on women in the ministry at face value, rejecting the nihilism of Critical Race Theory, supporting legal immigration, and holding to biblical sexual ethics is not "attacking" anyone. Are there many evangelicals who have done those things without a Christlike grace evident in their approach? Certainly. But based on that flagrant mischaracterization of those with whom he disagrees, Merritt is the last one that should be condemning others for a lack of grace.

And to suggest that feminists, LGBTQ people, and other left-wing groups lacked a "pulpit" from which to sermonize before 2016 is embarrassing. Merritt and his allies have owned all of academia, the mainstream press, Hollywood, the entertainment industry, sports media and more for well over two generations.

But with as silly as his case might have been, the "cancel culture was invented by Christians" canard caught on and quickly made its way through the intellectual drainage pit of social media.

Evangelicals cancelled Tony Campolo, Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell, and Jen Hatmaker for their inclusive theology, but now they're saying "cancel culture" is unChristlike? Lmao

Now, I'm unfamiliar with "Mel" who identifies online as a "dyke, social worker, Christian," so unlike Merritt, who I know is capable of better thought than he regularly exhibits in order to pander to an audience, I can't speak to her logical capacity. But let's establish precisely what their emerging conclusion tells us.

First, what are cited as examples of evangelical "canceling" are actually a demonstration of doctrinal conviction. The Church of Jesus Christ is one entity operating in sea of others in American society, each with their own institutional standards of fidelity. My inability to peddle my Christian worldview in humanist bookstores is not me being canceled, nor is Hatmaker's inability to peddle her humanist worldview in Christian ones.

So-called "cancel culture," on the other hand, is an entirely different animal. It is a blinkered and inflexible nationwide standard being wielded to prohibit cultural pluralism. That is, it is a fascist mentality waging war on diverse thoughts and opinions.

For Mel or Merritt to equate the two is actually quite an alarming admission on their part. By doing so, they acquiesce to the dangerous notion that cultural gatekeepers should be allowed to determine a national dogma – call it the spirit of the age – that everyone must submit to in order to do business. In other words, a nationally imposed, culturally enforced "religion." That is fundamentally un-American and profoundly fascist.

Creedal orthodoxy exists in the church as it does in other private or religious organizations, and those who reject it don't belong there. Advocating a similar approach to all civil-social society isn't just the playbook of Merritt and Mel, it's also the one of Mussolini and Mao.

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