Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Is Cancel Culture All Bad? I’m Not So Sure

Written by: on February 5, 2024

In The Canceling of the American Mind: How Cancel Culture Undermines Trust, Destroys Institutions, and Threatens Us All, Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott focus on what has become known as “cancel culture,”: how it began, its destructive effects, and how to push back against it.


How did Cancel Culture come about and what is it?


Using case studies to describe specific situations of cancel culture and to prove their point, Lukianoff and Schlott claim, “over the last several decades many of the institutions tasked with teaching us how to argue productively have failed in their duties – most notably, American higher education…And just as higher education began to fail in that mission an epochal technological shift took place that shook the foundations of society – and made everything worse.”[1] Of course that “epochal technological shift” was the rise of social media where “the rules of arguing that bring society closer to the truth are pushed to the wayside in favor of techniques that let you off the hook from actually engaging with your opponents.”[2]


In other words: we’d rather each other out, publicly shame, and walk away, than listen, push-back, argue well, and maybe, just maybe, even learn from the one with whom we disagree. The fuel for cancel culture is the power of winning. The canceler wins because she/he takes her ball and the entire team, and goes home, leaving the opponent out on the field with nobody against whom to play. As Lukianoff and Schlott say, “Cancel Culture was born out of a sort of evolutionary process. Cancel Culture survives because it wins – and things that win get repeated.”[3]


In a February 2, 2024 article from the Religious News Service, we hear of Fuller Seminary firing a salaried employee because she “she had balked at signing a statement that says “sexual union must be reserved for marriage, which is the covenant union between one man and one woman.”[4] The article continues, “A spokesperson from Fuller declined to discuss individual employees, but confirmed that all members of its community are required to adhere to its standards.[5] This is disappointing as I understand Fuller Seminary to be training theological students to serve in many different denominations rather than one in particular, meaning, students are going to come from and be going to institutions/churches that have varying beliefs about issues. The employee who was fired was not a professor, so I am not sure this firing counts as “cancel culture” but it seems to fall into that category. The employee posed a legal ryder that would allow her to respect but not personally affirm the standards regarding gay marriage. However, “the seminary declined her proposal. The employee was terminated in a Zoom call on Jan. 2, and while she said human resources handled her situation with kindness, she also believes Fuller should not market itself as a multidenominational school while excluding people from LGBTQ-affirming denominations.”[6]


Is Accountability such a bad thing?


This book makes it sound like cancel culture is rampant, bringing down America, making us dumber (because we refuse to argue), and doing away with free-speech. However, a poll taken in 2020 by the Pew Research Center found that when asked to describe what cancel culture is, “the most common responses by far centered around accountability. Some 49% of those familiar with the term said it describes actions people take to hold others accountable,” which I’m not entirely sure is a bad thing.


In sharing the history of Cancel Culture, Lukianoff and Schlott tell us about a professor named Marcuse who wrote an influential essay in 1965 called “Repressive Tolerance” in which he argued that “tolerance for speech is only useful in a totally equal society – and that getting to that point paradoxically requires intolerance and suppression of certain viewpoints.”[7] For far too long only a small segment of our world has had a voice, mostly, the white, straight, male. And I feel like I have to say this again and again in these blogs; I am raising three of them and married to one of them. I like white, straight, males. I even love some of them. But I do think that cancel culture is *sometimes* helpful to those who traditionally have less power in holding accountable those in power who have used their platform to hurt or wrong or be blatantly racist or sexist or homophobic or… Lukianoff and Schlott even admit, “There are some institutions, ideas, and even people who need to be torn down – from Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt to odious sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein.”[8]




In therapy I had to learn about boundaries. What will my boundaries be? Will they be permeable or fixed? Why do I have boundaries? Are my boundaries serving me? Sometimes I wonder if cancel culture has emerged out of our growing awareness of boundaries. (This is just a theory I am wondering about – I have no evidence to say it is true and as far as I read Lukianoff and Schlott did not examine it.) For example, I have a relative who I have had to effectively “cancel,” meaning I had to draw a boundary saying, “If you continue to act in this way, I will not be in relationship with you.” This was to protect my heart, my peace AND to protect my kids from thinking the kind of behavior this relative often engaged in was okay. Many times, I tried to talk with this relative, but it was like this relative could not or would not hear me. It has broken my heart to not be in relationship with this relative AND it has made our family life so much healthier and peaceful. What is the right answer here? Should I have “canceled” (and continue to cancel) this relative or should I have continued to engage with him? I honestly do not know.


There is a phrase I read this week – something like, “It’s easier to walk away than to build relationship,” and I have to disagree. It has been horrible having to walk away, to cancel.


Jesus called all kinds of people to follow him. You had Simon the Zealot who was part of a band of Jews trying to incite rebellion against the Roman Empire and then you had Matthew, a tax collector, who literally collected money for the Empire. Somehow these two guys made it work. And yet, when Jesus sends out his twelve disciples he tells them, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”[9] While shaking the dust off one’s feet is not exactly canceling another and getting others to jump on the bandwagon, the idea is still mostly the same.


What I appreciated about this book was that just when I thought I had figured out what side of the political coin Lukianoff and Schlott were writing from, they would flip it, and write from the other. They were not arguing that the left or the right was correct. In fact, just the opposite. In their words: “It’s clear by now that both the left and the right can perpetuate cancel culture. And the only way out of this sticky situation is for both sides to adopt an attitude that allows for people in our society to have radically different points of view on any number of issues.”[10]

My question remains though: what happens when you’ve tried to argue well, when you’ve pushed back, when you’ve tried to deal with the argument and not the person – when you’ve done it all peacefully, and still, that person or that identity group, cannot or will not hear you? How long do you continue to try before you walk away, before you cancel?

Seven times? Seventy-seven times?

I honestly don’t know.



[1] Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott, The Canceling of the American Mind: How Cancel Culture Undermines Trust, Destroys Institutions, and Threatens Us All, Simon and Schuster, October 2023, Introduction. (Note, I read this book on Nook E-Reader and listened to it on Scribd. I do not have page numbers but only chapters because of the formatting on Nook.)

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid, chapter 1.

[4] https://religionnews.com/2024/02/02/fuller-seminary-senior-director-fired-for-refusal-to-sign-non-lgbtq-affirming statement/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Fuller%20seminary%20senior%20director%20fired%20for%20refusal%20to%20sign%20non-LGBTQ%20affirming%20statement&utm_campaign=ni_newsletter

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, chapter 2.

[8] Ibid

[9] Matthew 10:14 NRSVUE

[10] Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott, The Canceling of the American Mind: How Cancel Culture Undermines Trust, Destroys Institutions, and Threatens Us All, Simon and Schuster, October 2023, Chapter 7.

About the Author

Kally Elliott

Mom of four. Wanna-be Broadway star. PC(USA) pastor. Wife. Friend. Sometimes a hot mess. Sometimes somewhat together. Is this supposed to be a professional bio?

10 responses to “Is Cancel Culture All Bad? I’m Not So Sure”

  1. Travis Vaughn says:

    Kally, this really is a great post. Part of the reason it hits home is because I can think of a couple of people right now that I and others are trying to figure out what to do with, or at least how to engage with going forward. I don’t think we would use the word cancel, but it has become clear that things are not currently going to change. The image you called to mind was Jesus telling his disciples to shake the dust from their feet and move on. Thankfully the banter in this case is not going back and forth on social media channels. In fact, I think there is a corrective thing going on in that vein, generally speaking, but that is probably more anecdotal than quantitatively verifiable. At any rate, I do know at least one thing that has shifted during the past few years in the church world — I think there are more emerging leaders that are more cautious than ever before when contemplating entering pastoral ministry. I would attribute SOME of that to the podcast that my good friend launched a couple of years ago called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill (I’ll reference this in a future blog post). Definitely some built in “accountability” with that endeavor.

    • Kally Elliott says:

      I agree that emerging leaders are more cautious when contemplating entering pastoral ministry! Ministry is weird. You work for the people of your congregation and yet you also lead them. You’re supposed to take them where they don’t necessarily want to go and they also pay you to do so.

      You mention that you wouldn’t use the word “cancel” with the person with whom you are having trouble. I wouldn’t use that word either for my relative – but the concept is kind of the same – not entirely, but kind of. Thank you for sharing a little about your situation.

  2. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Kally- Thanks for writing this post and sharing your “working out” of these concepts. I, like you, was surprised to discover that the authors seem to truly be agnostic as to the opinions being voiced… that the true motive was defending free speech. I also was surprised when, on a podcast, I heard Lukianoff refer to himself as a “liberal atheist.”

    I especially liked your call out that those that are marginalized in society may also be marginalized by my right to free speech. I will be thinking about that for a while.

    Your comment on boundaries also caught my attention. Do you think there is value in clearly delineating where we draw boundaries in interpersonal relationships as opposed to boundaries in the public sector? Is a different calculous needed for 1) deciding when I will no longer listen to person x and 2) deciding when I should declare that society should no longer listen to them?

    • Kally Elliott says:

      Jen, I definitely think that boundaries will be different in interpersonal relationships as opposed to in the public sector. To take it a step further, I think one’s boundaries will be different with each individual relationship. As I think through your question about a different calculous for deciding when to no longer listen to a person vs. declaring that society should no longer listen to them – my thought is, yes, for sure. However, someone who is not marginalized, it is safer/easier for me to just stop listening to someone. I can stop listening and their comments don’t really affect my life. However, I don’t know that marginalized people have the same ease or safety when deciding to basically ignore hurtful comments made by someone with a platform.

  3. Scott Dickie says:

    Thanks Kally…at least part of your blog is asking a question that I referenced in my own post, from a slightly different perspective (I am, after all, a white, straight male!). Perhaps it could be labelled more a critique than question: I felt the book didn’t do a deep enough dive on the issue, to help us think deeply and precisely on when ‘cancelling’ or ‘censorship’ is justifiable or not. I referenced Petrusek’s heirarchy of knowlege–which I know you’ll be thrilled with!–but I did feel like the book stayed too much on the surface with occasional statements like the ones you quoted in your blog that point to a more complex discussion…but then they left it unaddressed. So all that to say…I was asking some of the same questions!

    • Kally Elliott says:

      Scott, I think you may have just articulated why I couldn’t really get on board with this book. You are right, they don’t really go deep. That said, in my inspectional readings, I rarely am able to read very deeply – so maybe it is also on me :).

      I appreciate your use of “canceling” vs. “censorship.” There is a difference between the two and I’d like to explore that difference.

  4. My Pastor Kally, I love how you think and process and your critical thinking is so smooth. You and Scott Dickie have such a gift to think deeply about a subject and challenge the premise. I so wish I had that gift.

    Anyway, in regard to your relative, you did the right thing by walking away because your mental, emotional, and spiritual, and physical health are extremely important. Jesus said to love others as you love yourself. Which means if we don’t have a healthy love of self, you will struggle to love others. Therefore, if someone is mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually draining you, they are ripping into your soul, causing you to disconnect with yourself and them. When people cause you inner pain, which leads to disconnection, this is not only unhealthy but it can also be traumatizing if it goes on for months or years.
    So by letting them go, you are loving yourself and actually loving them because you are saying, “My worth in God does not allow me to be continually abused by you.” Sometimes love is tough. Just my 2 cents.

    • Kally Elliott says:

      Thank you Todd for your wise words of counsel from a literal counselor! Sometimes love is tough – and that is a good reminder for me. I feel like I am making the tough choice of loving myself in this situation, creating boundaries that I will only relent once I believe it is safe to do so. However, that choice is being challenged by almost everyone else in my family who wants to make it less uncomfortable for everyone – keeping the status quo. Sigh. Thank you Todd!

  5. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    “But I do think that cancel culture is *sometimes* helpful to those who traditionally have less power in holding accountable those in power who have used their platform to hurt or wrong or be blatantly racist or sexist or homophobic or… Lukianoff and Schlott even admit, “There are some institutions, ideas, and even people who need to be torn down – from Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt to odious sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein.”[8]”

    yes…I just wrote in another blog about this as I agree, not all canceling is bad. I think boycotts and canceling are a way marginalized people can take back some power.

    • Kally Elliott says:

      I’ll go read your blog after this! I am so far behind this week! And yes, I too think boycotts and canceling can be a way for marginalized people to take back some power, especially when it would seem they’ve tried everything else and it hasn’t worked!

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