One of the only certain things we can say about these very uncertain times is that there is an oppressive air of incivility within the public square which is nowhere better evidenced than by the cancel culture. As far as social justice goes, the cancel culture is the lowest common denominator of public debate. Often it is little more than merciless mob intimidation, a virtual form of the medieval storming of an abode with pitchforks and torches. Almost always, this is done with little regard for the circumstances of the individual being targeted, or interest in why they said what they did or the context it was said in.
The goal of the virtual mob is to utterly ruin their target. They do so with little reflection or pangs of conscience, not caring if their successful efforts may lead to a person not being able to feed their family, pay their mortgage, or purchase medication or treatment for an ailing loved one. The cancel culture dehumanises its target. Their efforts are at best negligent and at worst hateful. This type of mob mentality is the antithesis of tolerance, and by this I mean genuine tolerance, not the kind social justice warriors often beat us over the head with.
In February 2020, Franklin Graham, the son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, had all 7 of his planned UK speaking engagements cancelled by the venues with whom the organisers had contracted. Graham faced mounting backlash from protestors in the UK because of his views on such issues as same-sex marriage and Islam. Even though Graham had publicly stated that he did not intend to discuss either issue during his scheduled talks, and even though his views are held by millions of Christians around the world, the events were nonetheless cancelled.
The backlash Mr Graham faced is a watershed moment for anti-Christian bias in the UK, when a speaker can be so vilified simply for being a famous evangelist identified for Christian views that some segments of the population disagree with. The precedent set by the cancellations speaks very poorly to the state of both religious freedom and religious expression in the UK. The fact that a small number of protestors, greatly disproportionate to the number of people who wanted to attend the events, could cancel speaking engagements across the country is alarming and should be addressed by policy makers.
Christian businesses have also not been immune to the cancel culture. In October 2019, the Oracle shopping and leisure mall in Reading announced that it would not renew the lease of the UK's first ever Chick-fil-A location following small but vocal protests from LGBT campaigners.
Oracle's management had publicly announced that the reason it would not renew the initial 6-month lease for the Reading franchise was that it felt "the brand [was] not the right fit for the Oracle and the broader offer at the destination." Even a cursory review of the Oracle's food offerings, however, makes obvious that a chicken restaurant clearly complemented and added value to the broader offer of restaurants and cafes in the shopping centre. Furthermore, it had performed extremely well in relation to customer volume and sales.
The proximity between the protests and The Oracle's announcement makes clear that the actual reason for opting not to renew the lease is the Christian ethos of the corporation, more specifically the corporate beliefs of its ownership regarding marriage. Precisely stated, Chick-fil-A was being maligned solely on the grounds that it believes that marriage is the exclusive and permanent relationship of one man and one woman and is family centred. The refusal to renew the lease provides a stark warning to Christian business owners and the backlash they might face in the UK if they dare be vocal about their Christian beliefs.
Christian Beliefs Targeted
Ordinary Christians have also not been spared. Regular people, not campaigners or public figures, but people who have simply expressed their Christian beliefs on social media in a manner which others disagreed with, have suffered the same vitriol and shared the same fates as Franklin Graham and Chick-fil-A.
Kristie Higgs, a pastoral assistant in Gloucestershire, is first and foremost a Christian and a mother. When she learned that her child's primary school was planning to integrate the controversial LGBT-centric No Outsiders program, she was concerned. On her private Facebook page, which was only visible to her Facebook friends, she re-shared two posts about some of the more controversial elements about RSE that made her worried as a Christian parent. Considering much of the material people post these days online, Kristie's posts were relatively benign. Nonetheless, one of the people on her friend list took offence and anonymously complained about her to her school. She was not only fired as a result, but also suffered through a 6 hour long interrogation by school officials who labelled her as a threat to vulnerable children for holding the views she did.
Seyi Omooba has always dreamed of being an actress. She finally got her big break when she was cast in the lead role of Celie in the production of 'The Color Purple'. The play was in rehearsal from the end of May 2019 with the performance commencing early July 2019.
Several years earlier, Seyi had posted her thoughts on Facebook about same-sex marriage in the context of her Biblical beliefs. Little did she know that her posts would raise the ire of the cancel culture years later.
On 15 March 2019 another actor, unconnected with the production and not known to Seyi, posted a screenshot of her Facebook post on his Twitter page, accompanied by a verbal attack on her character and her beliefs. In the subsequent days, Seyi was subjected to further criticism on social media because of her Christian beliefs expressed in the Facebook Post.
On 21 March 2019, four and a half years after posting her views in support of Biblical marriage, Seyi was informed that she could no longer be involved in the production because of the Facebook post. Her case is now before an Employment Tribunal.
Keith Waters is a pastor of a small church in Ely, Cambridgeshire. He also took on work as a caretaker for a local school, additionally helping the school draft several policies which they otherwise would have had to outsource. It was always understood by the school that Keith's main job and passion was as a pastor. In connection to his role as a pastor, Keith tweeted out his concerns about Christians taking part in Pride parades and the effect that some of the more salacious visuals might have on children.
A councillor in his area picked up the tweet and began the process of stoking moral indignation among like-minded people, which led to numerous anonymous complaints being filed with the school. Keith was, as a result, pushed out of his job. He has also been the subject of death threats, had various take-aways delivered to his home that he had not ordered, and even had a visit from a local undertaker who had been told by a caller that he had died.
Felix Ngole was completing a social work course at the University of Sheffield. During that time, he expressed his Christian beliefs in an MSNBC Facebook debate about Kentucky marriage registrar Kim Davis, quoting Scripture in relation to homosexual behaviour. He did so in his private time and the debate had nothing to do with the University or his coursework. His comments were neither hostile nor unartfully written. Nonetheless, he was the subject of an anonymous complaint which led to him being removed from his course under fitness to practice concerns. It took Felix 4 years of battling in court, hundreds of hours of legal work, and ultimately a Court of Appeal victory for him to finally get the vindication he deserved.
Beware of the crocodile
The cancel culture has nothing to do with the so-called morality it cloaks itself in. It is not about equality, tolerance, diversity, pluralism or any of the other mantras woke culture defines its ethos by. It is about mob rule, censorship and punishing those who they disagree with. And more times than not, employers, landlords, promoters and sponsors are more than happy to oblige the angry mob. As Winston Churchill famously said, they feed the crocodile with the hope that it will eat them last.
The cure to the cancel culture is reclaiming the public square for Christ. The church needs to be awake much more than it needs to be woke. Grace is what can and will ultimately cancel the cancel culture.
This article first appeared on the website of Christian Concern and is printed here with permission.