Cancel culture started as an stupid social media thing. Someone would say something that fans of someone else didn’t like, and they would be canceled: they were ignored and no longer relevant on Twitter. What a crushing blow…
But then something terrible and stupid happened: it moved to real life. Lake Calhoun is now Bde Maka Ska (I think my daughter sneezed that once…), because John C. Calhoun, former Vice President of the United States, once had slaves, like the large portion of successful men of his time. Woodrow Wilson’s name is being removed from a Princeton school because of “racist thinking and policies”. The Minnesota Twins removed the statue of long-time owner Calvin Griffith for a statement he made in Waseca in 1978. There’s even a movement to completely remove the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC.
Cancel culture has led to the attack on statues across the nation by BLM, Antifa and others over the last few weeks. These statues have included numerous Confederate and Christopher Columbus statues; a statue of Jesus Christ in Florida and a statue to the Virgin Mary in Chattanooga; police officer memorials in Richmond VA and Dover DE; several statues related to the founders of our nation, including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Francis Scott Key, Ulysses S. Grant; and a statue of Frederick Douglass, an African-American abolitionist and statesman (they may have lost the plot on that one).
First off (and I don’t believe I have to say this, but…), slavery is bad. It always has been. Jefferson shouldn’t have had slaves. It was wrong.
Are we all on the same page there?
Despite that fact, history is history, and there are few people as significant to the history of the United States, and of the world over the last 300 years, than Thomas Jefferson. He can’t be cancelled—his work is long done, and he did it extraordinarily well and should be honored for it. Could we have conversations about how he is remembered based on the bad aspects to his life? Sure. But, we can’t change history in the process. Slavery was a thing in his day, and it was widespread. That doesn’t make it ok in the least, but we can’t simply judge men and women from that era based on modern-day thinking and perspectives. If that is the standard we will use, then we will have to eliminate every president before Lincoln, and Lincoln was a Republican, so…
This is the hugely dangerous and insidious nature of cancel culture today. There are some that mean well and legitimately want to call out wrongs; I may not agree with all of their methods, but I can appreciate their goals. But, there are others that are clearly trying to change history, and that is exceedingly dangerous.
History is important, because it tells us what happened in the past, why it happened, and thereby gives us an opportunity to learn from the best of the past and avoid repeating the worst of it. But, history is also exceedingly dangerous when it is manipulated. Winston Churchill highlights this idea when he said:
History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.
Churchill was an exceptional leader that played a pivotal part in saving the world from Hitler and Nazi Germany. In other areas of life and leadership, he was a failure, but when the world needed him, he was extraordinary. However, he also knew that those failures were there and, to use some modern parlance, he wanted to “shape the narrative” so that those failures would be minimized or eliminated from the record.
It’s one thing for a man like Churchill to do that, but its another for others to do that with the express purpose of manipulating future generations, as dictators and oppressive regimes have done throughout history. It’s happening in America, now, to our public school kids. I’ve seen it, and it needs to be pointed out and stopped.
Historical figures need to be viewed with consideration to their time period, and we need to remember that they were human and made mistakes that, while those mistakes shouldn’t be written off, also shouldn’t define them as historical figures. Martin Luther, at the end of his life, wrote some pretty terrible things about Jews, possibly as a result of dementia. Ulysses S. Grant worked on the farm of his slave-owning in-laws and owned a slave named William Jones for a time before emancipating him pre-Civil War.
There was also some guy named Paul, who was once a horrible persecutor of Christians. There was a guy named Abraham, who gave away his wife another man twice. David was God’s king and committed adultery and murder. Peter was a Christian leader that distanced himself from certain people that God had called him to serve because of their ethnicity.
The Bible teaches right and wrong, good and evil. But it also shows us that we are all deeply flawed sinners in need of a Savior, and in need of grace from God and from others. That doesn’t negate the evils of racism, slavery, oppression, sexism, violence, or any other sin that so often invades humanity. We can respect and honor the powerful achievements of those who came before us without changing history or in any way condoning their moral failures. Maybe that means we need to remove statues, maybe it means we need more comprehensive education. It doesn’t mean that violence, vigilantism, or editing history is the answer.
It is my hope that, in the future, I will be looked on in the same way—as a sinner trying to serve God. If not, I’m sure to be canceled some time soon.
Maybe I’ll throw a party.