-Rev Melissa Fain-
Last week I explained how the congregants’s ignorance is a symptom of being a Zombie Church. For the victims, there are multiple ways a Zombie church can spiritually kill a congregant; and two big ones: canceling and ghosting. Both of them happen in the church and both are toxic. This week I’m going to discuss canceling.
These posts are important together, so please consider reading the previous ones before you continue:
Zombie Jesus: God is not Undead
Zombie Church Apocalypse
Canceling: Taking away power by shunning the support
Cancel Culture is a dangerous phenomenon. To “cancel” someone is to openly call them out on an indiscretion, remove support from the products they endorse or own, and shun the people who still remain behind. Logan Paul was famously cancelled when he thought it would be appropriate to make a film in Japan’s Suicide Forest. What Paul did was stupid. He discovered how stupid it was, and his stupidity completely destroyed his social media profile. He became a social pariah. Saying you supported him said you supported what he did in Japan. No one wanted to touch that.
Here’s where we get to the rub. People get canceled all the time online, and many of those cancelations are not because of obvious and immediate actions. In 2018 James Gunn was cancelled when someone decided to search through years of his Tweets to find an old viewpoint. Now, to be clear, the tweet they found was sexist, but it was sexist in an age where society endorsed that kind of language, and laughed at it. It wasn’t like there was a trail to present actions or behaviors. While Disney first behaved reactionary and took away Guardians of the Galaxy 3 from Gunn, the counter cancel was strong, and he ultimately got it back.
Power has that perk. So many cancelled are mid-tier YouTubers squeaking by with an okay paycheck. When they get cancelled they end up with nothing. Some commit suicide. The problem with cancelling is simple: It’s the modern day scapegoat. The system is what’s broken, and the people are reacting within that system. Socially destroying specific people who get out of line doesn’t fix anything. All it is, is a nice little dumpster fire that further separates and ultimately makes things worse.
How does it make things worse? When someone has been marked #cancelled the discussion has been closed. That’s a problem. Cutting off discussion, and halting differing points of views, creates a negative version of conflict that keeps healthy conflict from taking hold. You don’t change people’s minds by telling them you don’t want to hear their opinion. I completely and totally believe we can’t have a Mr. Rogers in this day in age. He loved everyone, and it would have led to him being cancelled. That’s not healthy.
Canceling: The only thing the church did before it was a social norm
The church does not use the language, but they do cancel. They’ve done it for decades, and it comes in two flavors:
Canceling entire groups:
Harry Potter is low hanging fruit. We all know the evangelical church canceled it, and I want to go to something a little more current.
50 Shades of Grey: When this book series was first released the only thing I knew about it was that gray tie on the cover of the first book. I had no desire or want to read it. Then the Facebook posts and Tweets started rolling in, “Boycott 50 Shades of Grey.” At that time, I was actually writing on the stupidity of boycotting Harry Potter and how we should boycott Wizard of Oz and Narnia books if we’re going to boycott something that contains sorcery. (Sarcastically, of course. Anyone who knows me, knows I love my Wizard of Oz.) This ancient version of canceling (I say ancient because we all know anything older than a year seems to turn into the long-long-ago in internet years) lit a fire under me, and I began counter-protesting. You can’t understand why something is bad if you don’t give people the chance to find out for themselves. I will forever be grateful to Dominic Noble who reviewed all three books. He talks about healthy sexual ethics, and explains how the books are unhealthy. I also discovered these books started out as Twilight fanfiction. That alone is enough to turn me off. I listened to Dominic because his point was reasoned, and researched. I’m not going to proclaim him #canceled because he took the time to talk about something others were telling me to avoid.
Being Gay: This issue, on both sides, canceled people. Just writing the word is enough for some readers to get ready to cancel me. What am I going to say? I better say something! I better not say that specific something! Here me out.
I want you to imagine with me there was a Bible verse that read, “It is a sin to wake up in the morning and immediately stretch.” Don’t think about context. That’s all we’re working with here. Maybe stretching is involuntary for you. You can’t help it. Your body naturally wants to flex and move those muscles the very moment your eyes open. At first, you decide not to share this fact. As others proudly pronounce they can wake and lie still, the omission is getting to you. Finally, you blurt in Sunday class, “I have to stretch! It’s part of my morning. I can’t help it.” People are taken aback. Of course you can keep from stretching! Why would it be in the Bible if it was something you couldn’t help. Hearing their counter protests, you take it back. You say you’ll try harder not to stretch. People begin comparing your stretching to other things like smoking and alcoholism. Meanwhile, let’s pretend there’s this other Bible verse that reads, “It’s an abomination to wear pink.” While you’re struggling just to stay still in the mornings, you notice this pink rule is being completely disregarded. To you, it appears haphazard that this “pink rule” is being glossed over while the stretching rule gets all the focus.
You speak out again. You’re no longer sleeping well, and you’re weary during the day. This time some others speak out with you. Some are like you, and some are just supportive.
This time the punishment is extreme. They kick you, and everyone who stood with you, out of the church. Your family disowns you, and your friends ghost you. You’ve been canceled by the church.
It’s not to say stretching or sexual preference doesn’t have a context beyond its proof text. It does. That no longer matters, because the conversation is anathema, or in secular lingo- canceled.
This is all wrong. If the action in question, be it stretching, sexual practice, or something else, is something that separates a person from God, canceling them would only further that separation, and therefore be wrong. If that action does no damage to their relationship to God, canceling is a negative action towards a benign behavior, and therefore the canceling is wrong. Either way, Church canceling is wrong, and outside of God.
Here’s the worst part about this subject: Discussing it in either fashion is like announcing you have joined a “side.” You become despised and canceled by one side, while you are further loved by the other. Yes, there are people who boldly announce their feelings for this because they don’t want unification. They would rather remain divided. Nothing is solved with this type of canceling. No one really wins.
I realize those words are putting some on edge, so I will say one more thing before I move on. I will never look at a person and tell them they are going to hell for their personal choices. More than that, I will never have that conversation in private with others. You do not have to fear a hidden trap here. May God destroy everything that has been built if one exists.
Canceling ideas or groups are bad enough, but sometimes individuals are selected and sent to die in the wilderness. “It’s God who will go out and find them again,” they say. “If they’re meant to be part of the community of Christ, God will bring them back.”
In 2016 I briefly went into the history of the scapegoat. The term is rooted in Israelite Wilderness history. They would pick two goats. One of those goats would be sacrificed to God. The other would go through a ceremony where all of the people would symbolically put all of their sin on this one goat. Then they would send the goat out into the wilderness for Azazel to devour their sin. Azazel is an interesting character. Tradition says he’s a fallen angel. This specific character is where we get most of our imagery for what we collectively call the “devil.” I bring up the scapegoat because it’s once again the church creating something to take away their blame. Churches put their communal sin on one person, send them out to be devoured by the devil, and then lament that the devil made them do it. God asks for the sacrifice, not the scapegoat. We only feed evil by scapegoating.
Canceling individuals carries a heavy burden. Those who were canceled, or scapegoated at first believe they're carrying the sins of the entire community. It’s when they find no Azazel out in the wilderness, that they can begin realizing they’re carrying nothing. Meanwhile, just as the Zombie Church makes up the fourth friend to avoid God, they've ignored sin and pretended it walked out with the scapegoat. The sin remained because it wasn’t sacrificed to God.
At this point, anyone within these churches should be horrified, but they can’t see or hear, or even comprehend what they are reading. They are the zombie church. They don’t know I’m talking about them. But the ghosts, the victims of these churches do. To be a ghost of the church is so much better than being turned. You're the lucky ones. You have a path to new life. Next week, I’ll tell you why.
Many of my reading partners were online sources this time:
New York Times: Everyone is Canceled
The Bottom Line: "Cancel Culture" Should Be Cancelled
Society 19: What is Cancel Culture and Why Should We Stop It
the odyssey: Is 'Cancel Culture' Really Necessary