The gluttonous hunger of cancel culture is never fully satisfied. Like the allure of the guillotine during the bloody French Revolution, our current society is ever on the lookout for more heads to roll. A week rarely goes by without a #Boycott________ hashtag trending on social media (fill in the blank with the flavor of the week).
The #MeToo movement that began by exposing some of society’s most abusive men eventually deteriorated into a witch hunt where evidence and believable testimony were cast aside in favor of clickbait headlines and a “who’s next?” mentality. Unbelievers boycotted Chick Fil-A for selling homophobic chicken and Christians later boycotted the fast food chain for seemingly caving to outside pressure and changing the recipients of its charitable giving. Disney has been boycotted so often it’s hard to believe the company continues to do record-setting business. Boycotts have almost become the default posture for Christians living in an increasingly secular world. But is this approach fruitful? Or is there a better way?
The reality is that most art is preachy, and people are only bothered by it when they disagree with the message. Movies are powerful forces to spread and normalize worldviews; to think “they’re just movies” is naïve. Art influences society as much or more than anything else does. Thus, Christians should be aware of what distorted secular and humanistic truths mainstream culture is spreading. One response is to “vote with your wallet.” The reasoning is simple. If enough people boycott a movie (or anything else) that contains troubling messages, the movie will fail, and Hollywood will realize that such messages are unprofitable (and nothing speaks louder or clearer to Hollywood than $$$$). There is a time and place for Christians to gather together, pitchforks and torches in hand, and push back with force.
Not to Boycott…?
The problem is that boycotts are almost never effective. Unbelievers “canceled” Chick-fil-A and Christians “canceled” Disney, but both companies are doing better business today than they ever have. Why? One factor is that boycotts typically galvanize the “other side.” When unbelievers boycotted Chick-fil-A, countless Christians took a religious pilgrimage to chicken sandwich Mecca. When Christians boycott a movie for pushing a LGBTQ agenda, the “love is love” crowd flocks to see it with increased numbers.
Another factor is that when everything is an outrage, nothing is an outrage. Most Christians are simply unwilling to withdraw from all aspects of today’s culture. When every day brings a new petition to sign, movie to avoid, or celebrity to deride, many Christians simply shrug and wonder, “what’s the point?” Calling for boycotts of every small and insignificant thing has diminished the Church’s ability to unite in opposition against what’s truly dangerous.
Christian Culture Vs. Christians in Culture
Boycotts are all good fun until we’re the one being boycotted. On the one hand, Christians are up in arms when secular moviemakers and storytellers push secular worldviews. On the other hand, Christians bemoan that unbelieving movie critics don’t give fair treatment or attention to preachy faith-based films. Christians will sign an online petition to boycott a TV show for pushing secular worldview beliefs and then participate in door-to-door evangelism or volunteer at a kid’s sports camp that teaches more biblical truth than athletic technique. In short, Christians feel that it is our noble and urgent responsibility to expose the world to our beliefs and worldview but are upset when others attempt to do the same.
If Christians believe we are only able to participate in areas of culture that fully align with our religious beliefs, we better start looking for a secluded mountaintop monastery! Christians are not called to force a secular world to look and act Christian; we are sent to be Christians in a secular world. When Christians spend so much time and energy futilely hammering a circular cultural peg into the square hole of the Christian faith, we miss out on other doorways to be salt and light in culture.
When the apostle Paul addressed the Athenians at the Areopagus, he began by quoting from two Greek poems: “In him we live and move and have our being” and “For we are indeed his offspring.” In both cases, the “him” in the quotation referenced Zeus. The pagan poems encapsulated a pagan worldview that fundamentally differed from Paul’s own beliefs. Rather than boycotting or “canceling” these false and “dangerous” cultural artifacts, Paul used them as a platform to engage in the cultural conversation of his day.
To be clear, Christians are free to abstain from any aspects of culture we see fit. We are not obligated to sit through a raunchy or highly violent movie for the sake of “cultural engagement” if doing so infringes on our call to holiness or our commitment to our spouse. Christians should have higher standards toward entertainment than anyone else does. We should feel disappointed and frustrated by the ungodly and anti-biblical messages being forced into seemingly every movie or TV show.
The point is simply that Christians will not fix this disturbing trend by isolating ourselves from culture or by trying to force a godless culture to act godly. Rather, we will impact the culture by being present in it, using the messages in today’s entertainment as an opportunity to join in the cultural conversations and to talk with our children about the important issues that they will inevitably face (whether they watch a Disney movie or not). The goal is not to change the culture but to change the hearts of the people creating the culture and to stand without compromise for the Gospel regardless of how violent and tempestuous the cultural flood grows all around us.