A Priest on the Catholic Response to Cancel Culture

“You do not need to do anything wrong…but you are essentially shut down. You no longer have a voice, a job, or what you had before. You are cancelled.”

Father Mike Schmitz is a Catholic priest who serves as the director of youth and young adult ministries for the diocese of Duluth and spends most of his time ministering to the students on the campus of the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is also the host of one of the most popular podcasts in the country entitled The Bible in a Year. He recently spoke at Ignited by Truth Catholic Conference on the topic of Jesus Christ and Cancel Culture

“Cancel culture attacks people who have not broken the law in any fashion. They have simply broken the rules of what the mob believes to be acceptable,” Fr. Mike noted. His detailed description mentioned that there are occasions when the legal system and the cancel culture combine. For example, Bill Cosby broke the law but we are also told that now we cannot watch his shows from the past. 

Cancel culture also goes after the past and attempts to erase it. There are no time stamps on what cancel culture can go after. “The mob is the judge, jury and executioner.” The American legal process says we have to accuse someone of a specific crime that breaks the law. The mob, on the other hand, can simply make a vague accusation. Then the mob can carry out the verdict and sentencing. Fr. Mike says this is simply another example of the Salem Witch Trials and McCarthyism. There does not need to be evidence, I can just accuse you.

You did not have to have evidence that someone was a witch. Perhaps you merely thought that she was a witch. “You had a feeling…so they must be a witch.” McCarthyism concerned accusing someone of being a communist because of the real desire to abolish its power. “We think he is, so you get placed on the blacklist.” Being convicted of these “crimes” is solely a matter of subjective feeling. 

The internet takes this to a radical and ugly degree. There is no specific standard that is being broken like there is in the criminal justice system. The mob decides that someone’s words or actions are unacceptable and they attack them for it. 

Fr. Mike uses J.K. Rowling as a perfect example of what is wrong with cancel culture. At one point she posted on Twitter that she viewed the rise of equating males and females as biological equivalents, and allowing the intersection of sexes to compete against one another in sports as something that could have negative implications for women. Rowling dared to ask the question, “what does this mean for women?” People called for her cancellation because of her words. She is transphobic, we are told. So we must avoid Harry Potter and never read her books. 

Society is told that we have to accept this fully, and without question. If you question cancellations in any fashion, you are done. “Regardless of whether the claim is true or if there is room in the world for your belief.” However, “Catholic Christians believe that every human person is worth loving, dignity and respect. Full stop,” says Fr. Mike. At the same time, there is such a thing as biological men and biological women. 

Fr, Mike notes that there is a clear “militarizing of language and weaponizing of compassion.” Human beings have an inclination to help those in need or who appear to be weaker or in need of help. What we feel for any underdog or apparent outcast is transformed from a feeling into a mob mentality. We become a mob and dispel this person forever. Therefore, we feel justified in someone being hurt because we want to correct some wrong. The language is militarized and the compassion is weaponsized. 

“Desiring to stop the pain of injustice is a good thing,” Fr. Mike continues, “but does it really cause pain to simply ask a question about a stance?”  The obvious answer is no, but the mob says yes. 

The Christian response should be threefold, according to Fr. Schmitz. First, stand in the truth and don’t be offended. This is not a cop out answer because, plainly put, being offended is not the answer. Being offended means it hurts our feelings and we internalize our emotions in such a way that it absolutely controls us. “However, if the accusation is false we don’t have anything to be concerned about.”

Second, in this life “we are not owed anything. The culture is not on our side.” It shouldn’t be a shock that our society rejects the Christian faith and virtue ethics. Simply look at what our world did to Jesus – from his very birth he was rejected, a ransom was put on his head as a baby, people hated his teachings, doubted his miracles, and he was ultimately executed for who he was. 

We live in an apostolic age – people don’t know the story of Jesus. They don’t care about him, God or faith.  We often say to ourselves, the culture is not getting it, and Fr. Mike says “we can’t assume that they do. Our framework must shift, we do not have any special rights in this culture.” Therefore, we must act as if people know nothing about Jesus Christ, and their lack of knowledge must feed our mission to spread his truth and love.

Third, and because of the two previous points – “no whining…Christians don’t need life to be fair…Jesus was unjustly condemned and killed, and the apostles were martyred. Life for the Christian has never been fair,” and it never will be. 

Finally, we must “be uncancellable by not looking for acceptance in this world.” Do not be a bull in a china shop, but simply stand for the truth and allow that to win the day. Important and inspiring advice from a Catholic priest who is grounded in the gaze of Christ, and is willing to place himself in the breach – between the crisis of culture and the Lord of the world. 

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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Thomas Griffin teaches in the Religion Department at a Catholic high school, and lives on Long Island with his wife and son. He has a master’s degree in theology and is currently a masters candidate in philosophy. Follow his latest content at EmptyTombProject.org 

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