Every day I see Christians lamenting the “Cancel Culture;” claiming whenever they face accountability for their words or their conduct, or for the policies or politicians they support—that they are being systematically silenced.
This is irony of biblical proportions.
The Evangelical Church in America doesn’t hate cancel culture, it invented it.
Ask LGBTQ human beings, who have been continually bullied into silence by pastors and youth leaders: who are berated and marginalized and excluded from spiritual community if they speak their truest truth or desire to marry the person they love or want to serve in ministry. Ask them how welcome or heard they feel in the Evangelical Church and how much of a presence they have if they want to be both out and included.
Ask women, who in most Conservative denominations are still not allowed to become pastors or to lead Bible Studies in mixed gender classes; who are still theologically treated as less-than and expected to be silent and submissive, relegated to the kitchen and the bedroom. Ask them how their claims of sexual abuse or domestic violence have been received and how much of a voice they have if they question authority or seek opportunity.
Ask people of color, whose most passionate opposition to equality still comes from white Evangelicals; people who daily face discrimination from a religious entity that is steeped in white supremacy and whose cries for justice in the face of unspeakable brutality by law enforcement are greeted with sustained resistance.
Ask Colin Kaepernick. Ask kneeling NFL players and outspoken NBA stars, who silently and gently asked America to see the racial disparities and systemic injustices still at work here and to demand the equity and empathy that Jesus preached. Ask them how the Evangelical church has conflated America and Christianity and told them to “shut up and play.”
Ask any actor in Hollywood who speaks out against homophobia or anti-Asian hatred or white supremacy, whose name begins to trend almost immediately as professed Christians rush to eliminate them wholesale because they cannot abide entertainers to also be fully formed human beings.
Ask Muslims, whose religious tradition is so often made synonymous with evil; who are continually used as a catch-all boogeyman for mass shootings and terrorism, whose presence is rarely included in Evangelical demands for “religious liberty.”
Ask transgender athletes and abused children and black activists and bisexual teenagers, and Harry Potter fans and Starbucks holiday cup users and progressive Christian pastors. They’ll tell you that nobody boycotts and silences and removes difference quite like Christians. They’ve built an empire on it.
The Religious Right and Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham are the original cancellers of culture: of black culture and LGBTQ culture and Jewish culture and Muslim culture and non-American culture. It is their daily bread and butter messaging.
I’ve been a pastor in Christian churches for twenty-five years, and I’ve heard staff meeting discourses and witnessed the church lobby conversations and I’ve had a front row seat to organized social media campaigns designed to shut down criticism and remove diversity when it became too loud or too diverse to feel comfortable.
I can’t tell someone what their theology should bear or how they should express their moral convictions or what is compatible with their faith tradition—but I do think it’s hypocritical for Evangelicals in America to clutch their pearls and play the victim, and to condemn a perceived oppression that they invented, perfected, and continue to traffic in.
Jesus’ message was one of invitation and inclusion; of a table being expanded, of the least receiving love, of the foreigner being welcomed, of the lepers being touched, of the Samaritan being good, of the starving being fed, of the entire world being loved with ferocity. It was also a message that pushed back against cruelty in the name of God.
More and more, what I realize as I place the teachings of this Jesus next to the conduct of so many churches that bear his name, is that the compassionate, generous, open-hearted rabbi who preached the beauty of diversity, shunned political power, and condemned manipulative religious people—would be immediately cancelled by Christians.
John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. A 25-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. When not actively working for a more compassionate planet, John enjoys spending time with his family, exercising, cooking, and having time in nature. He is the author of A Bigger Table, Hope and Other Superpowers, Low, and Stuff That Needs to Be Said.