The Cancer of Cancel Culture

13 June 2020

3.5 MINS

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Seminary in the U.S, is the latest victim of ‘cancel culture’. Religion News Service (RNS) is reporting that over 10,000 people have signed a petition to have Dr. Mohler fired because of a supposed “racist” and “homophobic” podcast on June 3. (A full transcript of what was said can be found here.)

So, what precisely was Dr. Mohler’s thoughtcrime? It was that he failed to unequivocally affirm the violent riots around Black Lives Matter protests, and instead “… equated evangelical anger over the Episcopal Church’s embrace of LBTQ rights with the national outrage against unjust police murders of Black Americans.” RNS then went on to report:

While commenting on Donald Trump’s use of the Bible as a photo-op prop following the teargassing of peaceful protesters, Mohler pivoted away from Black Lives Matter and said, “What is done to the Bible inside the St. John’s Episcopal Church… just adds to the pain and the consternation of this unique moment.”

But as the prominent black intellectual, Larry Elder, commented in response to the following video on Twitter, “This is not #CancelCulture”. This is #RevengeCulture in which those who were never slaveowners are expected to pay reparations to those who were never slaves.”

This is a significant historical moment not just for Western Civilisation, but also conservative Christianity. Dr. Mohler has himself been outspoken in his denunciation of racism and slavery for decades, as can been seen here. The vitriolic reaction against him is an indication though, that nothing but full compliance will be allowed. As Brendan O’Neill wrote in a brilliant piece for The Weekend Australian:

The West is in the grip of a cultural revolution. Modern-day Red Guards have declared war on the past. The Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in response to the police killing of George Floyd have morphed with staggering speed into a frenzied assault on history, liberty and reason.

Dr. Mohler’s podcast was an articulate and insightful analysis of American politics and the “…particular temptation in American life to reduce politics to theatre and statesmanship to showmanship.” And as Dr. Mohler rightly argued:

Some of those who condemn the president said that holding up the Bible before the church and its sign was a neo-fascist symbolic act of civil religion. Now, let’s just clarify there can be no doubt that it was an act of civil religion. That is religion, not of a specific religious message, but rather the kind of civic religion that is so much a part of American political life. That is why presidents tend to put their hands on the Bible when they take the oath of office, why they tend to do such things as attend inaugural services at, here’s the irony of course, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, why they do so many of the things that presidents do, and this is a bipartisan practice.

But the spectacle on Monday night was a uniquely Trumpian turn. It is way too much to call it neo-fascist, that’s the kind of language that is profoundly unhelpful, but at the same time, it was a demonstration of civil religion, but of a type of civil religion that conveyed very little message at all.

While the entire fifteen-minute segment where Dr. Mohler addresses this is worth listening to in full note, in particular, his closing comments:

Finally, as we’re thinking about this spectacle, there were ironies abounding. One of them is the theological character of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. It is a very liberal church in a very liberal denomination. The Episcopal church in the United States has increasingly moved itself to the far left of American theology and American public life. It has been openly affirming LGBTQ, and you could just go through the list of the issues of liberal activism for a matter of decades.

… There were many in the media and American Christian life, and in particular in the Episcopal church who said that they did not like the picture of the president holding the Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal church. But those who know the Bible as the inerrant and infallible, verbally inspired Word of God will profoundly also not like what is done to the Bible inside the St. John’s Episcopal Church. And furthermore, you could extend that through the Episcopal church in the United States, generalized as a denomination. It just adds to the pain and the consternation of this unique moment in American public life.

Sadly, even some theologically conservative Presbyterians and Anglicans in Australia have been more preoccupied with apologising for their “white privilege” and being “offended” by President Trump holding a Bible, than they have of how the sacred Christian text is handled within the American Episcopal church.

What’s more, their outrage was noticeably absent when the Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, later performed the same political stunt. This is all the more significant when one realises that not only does Pelosi — who describes herself as a practicing and respectful Catholic — not only consistently misquotes the Bible, but is also a well-known advocate for abortion.

Whether or not this petition against Dr. Mohler will ultimately be successful remains to be seen. But as the following clip from Seinfeld demonstrates, it’s not enough to simply avoid saying the wrong thing. What’s happening now is that if you don’t wear or post the right sentiment, then the social justice warriors will be going to be coming for you too.

[Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash]

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