“Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times.”St. Augustine
We hear a lot about “cancel culture” from the left, but does it exist in all of its profound ugliness in Christian communities that classify themselves as orthodox or devout? First off, for those of you not familiar with the term “cancel culture,” good for you! You do not let media and technology rule your life, although you may be interested to know Amazon is not just a South American river and rainforest anymore. They carry toilet paper too. Cancel culture is not canceling your streaming service over illicit content. It’s the canceling of human beings, shutting people down because they take a differing opinion than the majority of others, or at least take an opposite stand from the most vocal of the bunch. Often it is not even a stand, but the proffering of a mere question. We see a lot of this from the BLM movement and Hollywood. If some celebrity in their past made a mistake or said something that went against approved ideology—canceled. This is happening to Ellen Degeneres. It seems very strange that the moment she defended being friends with George W. Bush, suddenly she’s a mean capitalist racist—buh-bye! Liberals are heartless, ruthless, and cold. We on the other side of the political divide, we faithful Christians just don’t do that. We hear people out, and look at each human being with the eyes of Christ, with compassion and a desire for relationship, right? FALSE. Before you go on an anti-Late For Church-social media campaign, hear me out.
No doubt I’m going to ruffle some feathers with this essay, but what I’m seeing in many devout communities is a pronounced pull to extremism, which sadly is not of our faith. This theme has made its way into much of my blog over the years. (For more check out my post on “Anatomy of a Catholic Snob” here, “I’m More Catholic Than You Are!” here, and, “Popping the Catholic Bubble,” here.) I am not saying we start making up the rules and jettison the doctrine that the Church has handed down over the centuries. (Ahem, Fr. James Martin, you’ve got a call on line one. It’s the BIG GUY.)
However, in devout Catholic communities, Fr. Martin’s influence is just not a concern. Well, it’s a concern, but in looking outside the bubble of the faithful community to the terrible, scary, upside-down world. What about the influence of say, Taylor Marshall? For those unfamiliar with Marshall, he’s the author of a popular book about the infiltration of the church. His devotees in the “trad” movement have become outspoken in fomenting disunity. I find him to be just as polarizing as Fr. Martin in dismissing more measured voices like Bishop Barron and Father Michael Gaitley. His mode of communication seems to be fear, mocking, and belittling. This social media voice, combined with the overly-charged political season, and the angst and isolation from COVID, we’ve got ourselves an ugly strain of Catholic cancel culture. I’ve seen it play out especially with church safety measures adopted during COVID, specifically masking, limiting the number of participants, and enforcement of receiving the Blessed Sacrament on the hand rather than on the tongue. Some clergy are openly calling for disobedience of the Bishops regarding these matters. Still not convinced? Take a run through these three pointed questions that may ferret out your own propensity for cancel culture.
1. Are all the problems in the Church due to others, especially those in the world?
If you answered a resounding true, consider that you may be missing a very important mission field that needs transformation, your own heart. St. Faustina spoke to this in her prayer, “Jesus, make my heart like unto yours, or rather transform it into your own heart that I may sense the needs of other hearts.” God does not dismiss, reject, or cancel when we are trying. We must not dismiss those who disagree. God wants us in communion with one another. Now, are there destructive worldly influences in the church? Yep, but before you go fixing everyone else, transform who you are and how you relate to others. This strange 2020 is an opportunity for Christians to speak with one voice of unity and charity. When we sow dissent, we are not working for God’s Kingdom.
2. Receiving Communion in the hand during a pandemic, at the Bishop’s directive, should be ignored or openly protested?
If you think true here, is your heart properly disposed to receive in the first place? Properly receiving the Eucharist requires humility and obedience. I know people that equate taking Jesus in the hand as the moral equivalent of an abortion. This is… troubling. God can work with our hearts. If we are unable to receive on the tongue, he knows us to the core. We will all get back to a place where we can receive in the most reverent, receptive way. But at the moment, the successors to the Apostles are asking to receive a different way to protect the vulnerable in our community. God can work with us when our hearts are properly disposed. What a sacrificial spirit to to receive in a manner against one’s preferred preference!
3. Your faith and political party are equally important. I mean, God is a conservative/ republican, right?
Oh my… Every faithful Catholic should answer a big fat FALSE here. We must use our conscience, formed by the teachings of Catholic church, to make political choices. But our faith comes first. Those on the other side of the aisle are not Satan. We can’t demonize the opponent. They may do that to us, but Christ calls us to a higher standard. Again, perfectly good to disagree, but we cannot cancel people because they think differently. I’m a huge pro-lifer. I marched in Washington, helped lead my campus in the fight for life, and have prayed outside the abortion clinics. But the minute we demonize the other, the chance for relationship is done. One of my friends in my pro-life group used to shout, “Baby Killers!” when we met opposition. While a sliver of me appreciated his candor, I knew it wasn’t the answer. Hate begets hate. Only light banishes darkness. We must see people beyond their political affiliation and through the eyes of our faith. Christ is compassionate to the woman who is about to be stoned. True, he tells her to sin no more. But, first he warns the rest of the high and mighty to be careful about the judgment of other’s souls. We can judge actions, but not souls!
St. Augustine aptly points out, “We are the times.” We orthodox/ faithful/ devout/ holy Christians are the times. If there is pride, hate, ugliness, canceling, bitterness, disobedience, we are the times. If there is charity, mercy, goodness, relationship, compassion, we are the times. Dear Jesus, give all of us Christians the strength and wisdom to choose to live well in these 2020 times! Unify Your Holy Church.