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Father Richard Kunst: How to view ‘cancel culture’ in a healthy light

Many years ago when I was having a conversation with a brother priest, I had expressed to him something that had me upset. I have no recollection of what I complained about, but I will never forget how he responded. In a voice that a parent would have used to talk to their infant child, he said, “You are such a victim! Yes you are! Yes you are! You are such a little victim.”

Father Richard Kunst

I have to say that I was two seconds away from punching him in the face to make him the victim. In the interest of full disclosure, I found it hilarious, and I have often done the same thing to friends of mine since then.

My brother priest’s entertaining response is pretty appropriate to our current generation. We live in an era in which people cling to their past hurts like they are some sort of security blanket.

The examples are endless. “Woke cancel culture” is all about playing the victim. If someone says something that is deemed offensive, they get ruthlessly attacked on social media. It is a form of playing the victim. “That person said something that hurt my feelings, so I am going to strike back by getting them canceled.”

People in the public eye, such as celebrities, politicians, and athletes, might have a comment they made 20 years ago unearthed only to have the full force of woke political correctness unleashed on them. It is toxic and crazy what is happening in our world with this sort of behavior. Many famous comedians have decided to no longer perform on college campuses because college kids are so easily offended by the jokes. They get offended because they have a victim complex. This is why so many colleges have had to make “safe spaces” for their students, so that the thin skinned student can feel coddled in their victimhood.

Unfortunately the victim complex is not just on college campuses, it is pretty much everywhere now, including our military. It is even being institutionalized with the debates surrounding “reparations” for descendants of slaves. I have yet to hear a good argument for such a program. Why should the government give somebody money now because their great, great, great, great, great, great-grandparent was a slave? We are empowering victimhood with such discussion.

You might be surprised to know that this “woke” victim culture is nothing new. In fact, there is some evidence of it in the Bible! Or there are at least stories in the Bible that appear to be woke in nature. One account is of the Samaritans refusing to give Jesus and his Apostles hospitality because they were on their way to Jerusalem (a holy site they rejected). In Luke’s version of the story, after the Samaritan rejection, “when the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’” (9:55). The two Apostles wanted to cancel the Samaritans for hurting their feelings! There is no doubt that James and John felt like victims for being rejected, so they wanted to punish the perpetrators.

Jesus’ response to his two “cancel culture” apostles is what is important in the story. After they tell Jesus they wanted to call down fire to destroy the Samaritans for hurting their feelings, the Gospel says, “Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village” (9:56). Two points — first, the Gospel uses the word “rebuked,” which is the same word that is used when he exorcises or silences demons. It is not a stretch to view our cancel culture as a form of evil, because it certainly is. It destroys people’s lives and reputations for petty reasons.

And second, they just moved along and went to another village, rather than sulking like so many people do today.

Life is not fair. Every day we will be met with disappointment and hurt feelings. It is not a Christian value to crush people on social media because they said something that was deemed hurtful. It is not a Christian value to lash out at someone on Facebook because you don’t like what they said or did. As adults we need to “buck up” and not focus on how we are victims. As always, Jesus provides us the perfect example in all things.

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected].