Culture Friday – Cancel culture

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday the 26th of June, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

MYRNA BROWN, HSOT: And I’m Myrna Brown. It’s called cancel culture: Individuals and companies becoming the targets of public shaming, harassment, and job loss for expressing ideas others don’t like. And it’s been a growing issue for several years now.

But the current unrest has intensified it.

Sometimes cancellations are prompted by genuinely offensive comments. But, increasingly, we’re seeing individuals being fired for simply sharing opinions—or even just information—that don’t align with left-wing views. Like a data analyst who lost his job a couple of weeks ago for posting a study that suggested Democratic candidates win fewer votes after riots.

BASHAM: Another fairly stark example occurred recently at the New York Times. Times’ Opinion Editor James Bennet decided to run an essay from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. The essay made a case for using military personnel to quell riots. That’s a view 58 percent of registered voters agree with, by the way.

Some members of Bennet’s staff were upset that he published the piece and launched a social media revolt. Long story short, Bennet no longer works at the New York Times.

Here’s CNN’s chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter, discussing what happened.

STELTER: So basically the arguments that you’re seeing inside the New York Times and other newsrooms is about whether there are many more than two sides and whether one side is what’s most important to amplify and whether other sides should not be given as much attention…It’s a fight that will continue as we see these major questions about democracy versus a more authoritarian impulse play out in the United States.

It’s Culture Friday and we now welcome Trevin Wax. Trevin is the Senior Vice President of Theology and Communications at Lifeway and author of This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel.

TREVIN WAX, GUEST: Good morning.

BASHAM: So Trevin, my first thought on that CNN clip is that I don’t know that this is something newsrooms will continue to argue over.

I wrote a piece about all this for WORLD’s website this week and what I found is that journalists at some of our most esteemed media outlets aren’t actually arguing about it much. Heads are just rolling.

Now, the press is the public’s source of information. It’s our forum for public debate. So this is even more troubling to me than when we’ve seen in other industries.

Can you give us some theological perspective on this?

WAX: Theologically we have to say that we don’t put our trust in the press, obviously, just as we don’t put our trust in chariots and horses and governments, supreme courts, or the president, right? So, the press does play an important role in society and one of the troubling things that we’ve seen over the past couple of decades has been the increase of people going into journalism not because they have a tireless dogged passion to get to the bottom of a story and to present it fairly and to try at least at some level to be objective. 

But you have a lot of people choosing the journalistic industry now really with more of an activist approach from the beginning. 

And, for many people, that agenda—especially coming out of many of our public colleges and universities—that agenda tends to align, obviously, more with the left than with the right. 

There’s been that shift, and I think what you’re seeing is this weaponizing of the press in order to advance a social agenda and then using peer pressure in order to get everyone else in line, a sort of collectivist mentality of the way that we can move our agenda forward is not by persuasion so much but by intimidation and by tactics that we would see as questionable and, in many cases, in order to shut down dissent. So, what happens is the groups begin to police themselves rather than having to wait on someone to come alongside and try to shut down the press. And that’s a very troubling thing because our society is healthier when we have a strong and robust and free press.

BROWN: You know, Trevin, when I was in secular media, I wrote for the news anchors. I could not include faith and certainly not the name of Jesus in the copy that I wrote for them. But when I was field producing my own stories and interviewed someone who freely talked about their faith as they answered, I always made sure that made air. In other words, it didn’t end up on the cutting room floor.

Based on the article Megan wrote, if the culture in my newsroom had been anti-Christian, I could have lost my job for doing that.

How should Christians react to that kind of pressure?

WAX: I think this is one of those areas that requires wisdom and discernment. I think on the one hand we have to be ready to lose jobs in order to be faithful to Christ.

But I do think there’s room for wisdom here as well because Jesus says we are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. So I think there’s this sense in which we want to be salt and light wherever we are for as long as we can be. And so I think wisdom is going to lead different people to different conclusions in different situations and different choices in some of these different situations. 

When you report on the faith angle of something or you allow someone’s faith to be represented accurately and fairly, what you’re doing is you’re giving a voice to faith that motivates the hearts of people. And then that not only has an effect for the person whose view you’re allowing to be expressed publicly, it also has an effect on readers. 

And if they are a person of faith, they recognize they’re not alone. And so I’m grateful for Christian journalists who are doing the good work they can in whatever environment they’re in, whether it be an environment that’s favorable to their Christianity or one in which is not favorable to their Christianity, trying to be salt and light in all of these professions and all of these places.

BROWN: They certainly need our prayers. I’d like to turn this subject on its head a little bit. Because the person who is being demonized and ostracized obviously stands to lose a lot—position, income etc…. but there is also a cost to those who are part of the collective.

What are they losing or giving up?

WAX: Well, once you move in this direction you’re giving up part of your humanity. And this is something that you can see. As people begin to grow quiet about things that are troubling to their conscience and they begin to either take part in the spreading of lies or simply acquiesce to the spreading of lies, there’s something of one’s own freedom that is at stake there. 

And there’s a very dehumanizing result that happens with this. And so, yes, the person who loses their job may be ostracized and may go through a very difficult time, but the people who keep their jobs were part of the collective outrage or the bullying of another perspective. They’ve lost something of their humanity as well. And, corporately, it doesn’t bode well for us as a society when that becomes more normal and more common.

BASHAM: Finally, Trevin, kind of a thorny question here. Obviously a lot of the cancellations we’re talking about right now are stemming from what’s happening with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

I’ve heard comments in the vein that delving into statistics or reporting certain angles is like asking victims to justify their pain. Now I don’t think this is just a journalism question, but it’s certainly an important topic for those of us in that field. How do we balance mourning with those who mourn while doing our jobs to report facts and truth as best we can?

WAX: Well, the way you asked that question, Megan, I think has the answer in that you are seeking to balance. And part of wisdom is knowing when is the right time to say or do what. For example, there’s someone in our life group at church whose mother recently died of COVID-19 and of course this family has a certain perspective on COVID-19 and has been hit very drastically by it emotionally. 

Even if my job as a journalist is to do facts and to lay out the truth as best I can, there’s something to be said, though, for recognizing pain and empathizing and not presenting facts and truth in a way that invalidates the experience or seeks to minimize the experience of the person in pain. And I think one of the challenges we have in a very polarized society right now is the increasing inability to empathize across party lines.

And it’s troubling because I actually think it leaves us all impoverished. It leaves us all less human, not more human. And so I think your question is right in that we do have to balance these things. We can’t simply let empathy mean we don’t ask tough questions. Tough questions matter for the sake of the truth, for the world. At the same time, though, we do so as people who are full of grace and truth, right? As people who are full-blooded in our humanity, not just simply accessing one part of our mind over against our heart or just our heart over against our mind. We bring this together as whole people. The more that we are whole, the better we will be in any profession that God might place us in.

BASHAM: Well, Trevin Wax is the Senior Vice President of Theology and Communications at Lifeway and author of This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel. Trevin, thanks so much for being here.

WAX: Thanks so much for having me.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File) In this June 28, 2018, file photo, a police officer stands guard outside The New York Times building in New York. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Culture Friday – Cancel culture

  1. JerryM says:

    ” Well, the way you asked that question, Megan, I think has the answer in that you are seeking to balance. And part of wisdom is knowing when is the right time to say or do what.”

    I have been thinking about Trevin’s response to Megan’s question. It has troubled me for two reasons. First, as your guest Katie McCoy stated last week (, we live in a time where our “way of knowing” increasingly comes from our emotional response to events. How should our empathy extend to these kind of emotional impulses. Second, there is a sense of urgency regarding current events that was not at all recognised by your guest. For example, calls to defund police are being driven by a felt sense of systemic police racism and brutality towards minorities. We should empathise with those who have experienced any racism or brutality but the idea this problem is systemic appears to be driven more by emotions than facts. Given the potentially catastrophic outcome of disbanding and removing policing from communities, there would appear to be a sense of urgency to not spend too much time addressing emotions rather than the facts.

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