Throughout 2020 and into 2021, I had a few conversations with fellow authors that really struck me. We were discussing life as writers and one subject in particular kept coming up: the fear of saying something either on our business platforms or in our books that would get us “canceled”.
This was not a concern that came without merit—not after seeing many, many other authors lose book contracts, support bases, and countless opportunities over things they said, did, or wrote that were deemed too controversial in the current climate. And while it is perfectly acceptable for people to vote with their attention and their wallets—choosing to support what they believe in, or not—the fear of having one’s voice silenced forever and having no more place to speak due to public opinion is a very real concern nowadays.
This isn’t just true for writers or other creatives; it’s the case for people in countless circumstances all over the globe and across society—Christians included.
We live in difficult, often polarizing times. Opinions and ideas are never farther away than the press of a button to open an app, which is fantastic for things like sharing the gospel, spreading good news, connecting with family and friends, passing around great content, and more! But it also means that people can put their opinions on blast in the time it takes to type between 280 and 2,200 characters – and as fast as one can reply to that opinion, controversy can blow up. Sometimes an innocently-intentioned post can change a person’s life forever.
This was the concept my fellow authors and I discussed, and what they felt held them back in both their writing and marketing: the sense that everything they say can and will be used against them in a court of public opinion. You almost can’t tread softly enough to avoid the risk of getting “canceled” these days, regardless of what arena you’re stepping into.
Christianity, sadly, is no different. And far too often lately it seems like we’re treading too softly to make any impact at all.
What Motivates Us?
I’d like to invite you to ask yourself the following questions. It’s okay; just keep it between you and God. But please genuinely consider these things:
- How often have I declined to confront or speak out about something, not out of love, but out of fear?
- How many of my opinions are formed on the basis of public outcry or popular thought rather than on what I really believe God says about a subject?
- Is my motivating factor in picking my battles the wellbeing of others, or myself?
- Am I liable to tolerate or even embrace something because I don’t want to rock the boat?
- Do my actions express real love and concern for someone’s eternal welfare, or am I more concerned with keeping them and myself as comfortable in this life as possible?
- How likely am I to share truth over tolerance, even if it makes things uncomfortable?
Not necessarily easy questions to answer, huh? Sometimes when we examine ourselves, we realize what we thought was loving, broadminded behavior is actually us safeguarding our own interests—going along to get along, promoting what’s popular or keeping silent on what we truly believe so we don’t stir up trouble, get into debates, or wind up persecuted, mocked, or “canceled”.
But is this how we are called to act as Jesus-followers?
When Love is the Motivation
Certainly, we aren’t called to ride roughshod over everyone with whom we disagree. The opposite of being a peacekeeper who lets things slide is a troublemaker who stirs up strife just because their voice needs to be heard, and any collateral in other hearts and lives is excusable to that end. Neither position acts from a place of love, but rather with self-interest, self-surety, and ultimately for personal gain. This is not how Jesus behaved, nor how we’re called to imitate him. But also, we certainly are not called to silence—to completely censor ourselves in order to avoid speaking a truth that might offend.
Ask yourself this: if you were the only person in the world who believed in the truths you know, would you stand up for them? Or would you let them die with you just to keep the peace? It can be so easy to say we’ll let someone else stand up for what we know is right, but what if God is calling us to stand? What if everyone is waiting on everyone else to take up the cause? Would you be willing to do it then, if you were the only one who ever would? That might push you to stand, to say or teach or preach or write about the things that are tough!
But how do you do it effectively? That’s a whole other question, for sure! And it’ll come as no surprise to most, I’m sure, that to stand for truth the way Jesus did, we must do it from a place of love.
First and foremost, let’s address something about love: while it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, it doesn’t let all things slide. Love is not passive, weak, or cowering. In fact, some of the most pertinent confrontations, powerful conversations, and life-changing acts of risk and courage are bound up in the cause of love. It is also not self-seeking, which among other things means that being loving does not equate with avoiding necessary, difficult matters for the sake of either party’s safety and comfort.
For example: One who acts in love doesn’t ignore self-destructive behavior; they speak to it, even if it might earn them a tongue-lashing from the one behaving that way. Why? Because they love the individual enough to lovingly bring to light the deleterious effect their actions have on themselves and often those around them. In contrast, one who acts selfishly will ignore—or refuse to help create—the moment where godly confrontation becomes necessary, because they don’t want to deal with the pain of conflict.
See how that works? Love does not always keep silent, tolerate, allow, or abide. Real love doesn’t necessarily pay in dividends for the one who acts on it, either. I think of John the Baptist, who acted with godly conviction and ultimately the love of his Creator when he confronted Herod’s misconduct with his brother’s wife. That loving act—which might’ve been Herod’s redemption had he repented and turned from his ways like King David did when caught in adultery with Bathsheba—led to John’s imprisonment and ultimately, his execution. But this outcome did not place John in the wrong; rather it stands as proof that righteous action, godly deeds, and even love sometimes have difficult outcomes. Yet that makes them no less our requirement before God.
This holds true throughout the records of history; many strong believers, acting in love and the will of God, brought difficult things to light in their day, age, and culture, and in return faced persecution that makes getting “canceled” look positively welcoming by comparison. Yet they were no less called than we are to confront those things in their time. And as God’s people, we need to be no less willing than they to lay aside our comfort to do the loving and right thing.
Taking a Stand – Why it Matters for Everyone
Why does all this matter, we may wonder? Why don’t we just let things be and watch everything shake down at the Judgement Seat? Let people deal with God so we don’t have to deal with them?
While it’s true that God will ultimately judge and repay everything, that includes our stuff, too. The things we stood for and what we let slide.
What if you go your whole life never sharing the gospel with one person because you’re afraid it will offend someone? What if you let sin slide because you don’t want to seem intolerant or outdated? What if you compromise what you let into your circle because you don’t want to say “No” to things you know God says are wrong, but others say are just fine? What if you support what’s against God’s Word or reject what He approves because that’s the popular thing that won’t get you canceled? What if by making peace with man, you make war on your Creator?
I have heard—and often repeated (in paraphrase)—the quote “It’s easier to offend the God we can’t see than the people we can”. Yet when we think of the acclaimed heroes of the faith, few were known for how well they kept the boat from rocking. In fact, many lived and died standing for what they believed in, though it went against the very fabric of culture and society at the time; and they were “canceled” in what seemed to be the most ultimate way of the time, often by brutal, horrific execution.
Death is a lot more permanent than a prematurely-ended career. Yet if God can restore the wellbeing of someone like Paul, stoned by his detractors, can’t He also restore your dreams? Many who are silenced by public forum go on to reach hearts and minds through alternate means. Consider our brother and sister Christians in persecuted countries and how they adapt to the silencing actions of their governments and oppressors, finding new, inventive ways to ensure the gospel message is heard!
Truth finds a way. That much is certain. What we must be willing to do is stand as the ones who speak out for truth with love and wisdom, regardless of whether our dividends, relationships, careers, lifestyles or reputations are on the line. When we count the cost honestly, the balance always weighs out that being right with God is better than being right with man; and while we seek to live peaceably no matter what, it’s not at the cost of our conscience or calling to be catalysts of truth, righteousness, and the truth’s spread in this world.
Remember: people tried to cancel Jesus, too. And look how that turned out!
So if you believe, friends, then also stand. Stand for truth, stand for God, and speak with love—and without faltering. What man can cancel, God can make flourish if it’s true to His Word and abides in His will. And no matter what people do to us, God can do exceedingly more to bring about His plans and purposes.
And those will never, ever be canceled.