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Cancel Culture and the New Puritans: A Response to My Respondents

Monday, 27 June 2022  | David Griffin

I warmly welcome Jim Reiher’s and Joanna Cruikshank’s responses to my article on cancel culture and puritanism. Conversation about such matters is important.

My article concerned cancel culture as a modern expression of puritanical iconoclasm. I identified four past iconoclastic and cancellation movements before moving onto BLM and the political left’s hypocrisy. That I did not address the right’s hypocrisy does not mean it does not exist.

Response to Jim Reiher

Jim Reiher expresses four concerns. The first is that my statement that BLM is a Marxist Movement lacks any substantiating claim. Agreed, but Engage.Mail is not an academic journal requiring such substantiation and doing so would make articles too long. My substantiation is found here, where one of the founders of BLM, Patrisse Cullors, states in a sympathetic interview that she and one of the other two founders of BLM are trained Marxists and that Marxism is the ideological framework of BLM. I take her admission as sufficient evidence. Furthermore, during the protests (but not now), the BLM website made two statements that express long standing Marxist commitments. First, it aimed to disrupt the Western prescribed nuclear family. Marxism has long opposed the nuclear family in the belief that it supports oppressive bourgeois capitalism as a unit of consumption and not of production. Second, the website stated that it sought to destroy white corporations. Not only is that racist, but again expresses another one of Marxism’s chief goals, the overthrow of capitalism.

Second is my claim that anti-Semitism now resides in the political left, based on the anti-Semitism of Jeremy Corban, a self-described socialist and the previous leader of the British Labour Party. Perhaps I could have expressed myself more clearly by writing that anti-Semitism now resides in the ‘left and not only the right’. And I should have also added ‘far’ or ‘extreme’. But I did not cite Corban as the sole evidence of the political left’s anti-Semitism as claimed, but simply as an example. And as the British Labour Party is a leading centre or left of centre party in world politics, this was significant. The Equality and Human Rights Commission found evidence of 23 instances of inappropriate involvement by Mr Corbyn's office in this regard. I do not wish to open a can of worms about the definition of anti-Semitism, yet I remain mystified why the political far left is so outraged by democratic and liberal (but not perfect) Israel, and not authoritarian and one-party China, North Korea or Cuba, especially given the millions of deaths those regimes have caused. Is it, I ask, because Israel is the only Jewish state? No doubt the extreme secular right is anti-Semitic, but I have never met a right-voting conservative Christian who is anti-Semitic. If anything, they laud both Jews and Israel, primarily due to their pre-millennial and dispensational eschatology, which I do not share.

Third is Jim’s concern about me identifying guilt for systematic racism with apologies for being white. Yet some white celebrities have indeed confessed their complicity because they are white, and have urged other white people to repent of their whiteness and the privilege it provides. It may be that they are not identified, but the association remains.

Finally, there is my ‘rant against Bernie Sanders’ concerning his wealth and property. Sanders has every right to acquire multiple properties, and his portfolio is well documented. Yet Sanders was cited as simply another example of hypocrisy. According to Bernie Sanders’ website, ‘In 2018, Sanders’ adjusted gross income was US$561,293. He paid a 26 percent effective tax rate on that adjusted gross income’, and ‘the Sanders donated 3.4 percent of their adjusted gross income to charity’. He earned some of that money from book sales – commendable. Yet I think my church members, and the wider community, would call me out for hypocrisy if I constantly attacked the rich from the pulpit while receiving an annual pastoral stipend over A$800,000. And most pastors tithe their pastor’s stipend, plus donate more. It was hypocrisy I was calling out, that is all.

None of this means that the political right is free from moral turpitude. I was asserting simply that the left is not as virtuous as it claims. So why should it be shielded from criticism? In the past I have called out the hypocrisy of the right, for example the Howard government, but received no criticism.

Response to Joanna Cruikshank

Joanna Cruikshank’s concerns are focussed on my comments about BLM. She clearly has more scholarly background to me in the black movements of the USA and Australia and has read my article through those scholarly lenses. As such she has perhaps made one instance of iconoclasm, BLM, to be the main concern. But I was writing about puritanical iconoclasm generally, and how BLM and cancel culture express a similar attitude to the four previous iconoclastic movements described, including the early Baptists. Perhaps the most celebrated biblical iconoclast was good King Josiah (2 Kgs 22-23), who receives strong biblical affirmation.

First is the matter of sources. Joanna derives some of her information from Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (ACLED), a non-partisan consortium. One of its partner organisations is the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR), a ‘UK-based research centre and pedagogical outreach initiative focused on the study and countering of radical right extremism’. Nothing wrong with that. Yet are any of their partners focussed on countering far left extremism? We have all heard countless times the term ‘far right’ but rarely if ever do we hear ‘far left’ or ‘radical left’. Why is this? The SE Asia nation I most visit, The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is never referred to as far left, despite being a one party communist state, high up in the religious persecution index. But Belarus and its current president are frequently called far right. So the question remains: why is one side of the horizontal political matrix always referred to in derogatory tones, but it’s polar opposite not so? Proud Boys was always called ‘far right’, but the Marxist BLM (not much to the left of Marxism) never described as ‘far left’. Why?

Furthermore, the evidence that BLM protests were infiltrated by the far right, as per the hyperlinks to The Star Tribune and Rolling Stone in Joanna’s article, may well stand up, but the media analysis site Allsides rates both publications as politically left. This casts doubt, as would Sky News’ exoneration of right-wing protests.

Second is Joanna’s statement that only 6% of the riots were violent. Yet if 6% caused 26 deaths and US$1-2 billion of damage, we can be grateful that it was only six percent. But 6% is no comfort to those whose shops were destroyed and looted, and whose family members were killed. My criticism concerned the violent responses of some of the BLM protests, not whether their concerns were valid, or whether the violence was universal.

Third is the general criticism of white evangelicals on race. I have heard this countless times, and I simply do not believe it. It has become a common trope. Forty years of pastoral ministry convince me otherwise. I have met racists in my churches, but they were the exception. Nor did I justify the unforgiving attitude to Mugabe by a white Zimbabwean refugee farmer in my church driven off his land at point of death by Mugabe’s war veteran thugs. I showed him understanding, but also asked him to forgive (following the Lord’s Prayer) the life-threatening racism he experienced. Racism may also depend on one’s definition of the term, and I have met people who define it broadly for entrapment purposes. I do not suggest that Joanna has done this. Race based slavery goes back at least to ancient Egypt (Exodus 1), but it was the white evangelical Clapham Sect that stopped the North Atlantic slave trade, and it was white Christian societies that first acted to end slavery in the modern period. Moreover, the grandfather of modern evangelicalism, Billy Graham, removed segregation barriers at his 1952 Jackson, Mississippi Crusade, three years prior to MLK organising the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, and 13 years before the end of the Jim Crow segregation laws in 1965. In 1956, Life Magazine published two of Graham’s anti-segregation articles entitled, A Plea for an End to Intolerance and Men Must Be Changed Before a Nation Can Be Changed. That evangelicals do not protest racism in the same manner as others does not mean that they are racist. Most people with deep passions want the church to share their concern as much as they do, whatever it is, but they need to see that the church is wider than their passion, noble as it is. Nonetheless, I led our church in a public sorry service with local indigenous leaders, handing over a written statement of apology, prior to Kevin Rudd’s national apology. I did not cop flak from the white evangelicals in my church for doing so.

Fifth, Joanna reminds us of the appalling history of racism in Australia and the USA, as well as the terrible behaviour by the Minneapolis Police Department. That history is truly dreadful and inexcusable. And the police department is being cleaned up, rightly. But none of that justifies killing and looting. Christian ethics always condemns violence, rioting and murder, actions which may be understandable, but never defensible. Christ disarmed Peter, and so disarmed Christians, who are commanded to love their enemies. I saw a young white woman screaming hostile abuse in the face of a young black women for not joining the movement. MLK’s movement was non-violent, and Gandhi got the British out of India non-violently. What is true in our private home is true in our national home: a child who has been unfairly picked on at school all day needs our understanding and intervention, but that does not justify him hitting his brother and angrily smashing his toys.

Finally, which blacks matter? There are many black Americans who continue to reject BLM. Some have ridiculed the term Black Lives Matter, preferring the slogan All Lives Matter, a term derided by some of our own federal politicians as expressing a tin ear. It seems these black lives, or at least their views, are open to ridicule by some white politicians. Do the blacks who reject BLM matter?

But back to the matter of reports and press coverage. I ask another question. How many readers are aware that the British Foreign Office released a report in 2019 into anti-Christian persecution which stated that in the 50 worst countries an estimated 260 million Christians were being persecuted, harassed, killed, mistreated etc.? That’s just the top 50 of 144 problematic counties. The report includes John L Allen writing in The Spectator: ‘[The] global war on Christians remains the greatest story never told of the early 21st century’. Eighty percent of religious discrimination is directed towards Christians according to the International Society for Human Rights. The Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt released the report to the press. You can read the report here.

Readers have likely not heard of that report. George Floyd’s death was hideous and the police officer rightly found guilty of murder after due process. I do not belittle his or others’ experience, nor do I deflect. But has the world, especially Christians, erupted in protests, some violent, because about 1/3 billion Christians are currently persecuted, some killed by summary execution? Does anyone care? Why the media silence? SBS knows about Jeremy Hunt’s report, and also that over 4,500 Christians were killed in northern Nigeria last year, for I emailed them the information. I was politely thanked, but it was not covered. But they did cover a deadly Nigerian oil refinery fire involving fuel theft in early May.

Finally, two matters from my own experience.

First, please do not think I hold any animosity towards people for their political beliefs. In my last church in Canberra my wife and I had weekly dinner guests in our home including some whose spouses worked in the Chinese Embassy. You only get a job like that if you and your spouse are a well credentialed and trustworthy member of the CCP. Some of my Chinese church members would not talk to them, believing them to be spies. Perhaps they were. But we shared our home, our food and the gospel. We had similar experiences with communists from other countries, who remain our friends. But they do not riot and loot, they do not try to disrupt our nuclear family, nor do they seek to overthrow Australian white corporations.

Second, I cite Joanna’s reference to Esau McCauley’s Reading While Black, which outlines the accumulation of pain by black Americans. None of that pain can be dismissed. But for a response to evil that avoids the rage, resentment and anger which I criticise, I encourage all Engage.Mail subscribers to read the magnificent story of George Dawson, grandson of slaves, in his Life is so Good (Harper Collins). I found it a deeply gut wrenching but uplifting story. It starts with his childhood eyewitness account of a young black man lynched for allegedly ‘violating’ a young white girl who later gave birth to a white baby, to the deafening silence of the lynchers. Dawson learnt to read at age 98, and the book is his collaboration with his literacy teacher, Richard Glaubman. Life is so Good: please read it.

God’s justice and peace are brought about in God’s ways. ‘Human anger does not bring about the righteousness of God’ (James 1:20). When the victimised psalmist prays for his enemy’s death, Bonhoeffer righty argues that he is asking God to do so, and thus committing himself to peace. We are to put off anger, bitterness, rage and malice (Eph 4:31, Col 3:8). Here is a wise response: ‘Do not take revenge my friends, but leave for God’s wrath, for it is written, “It is mine to avenge, I will repay”, says the Lord. On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing so, you will heap burning coals on his head”. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good’ (Rom 12:19-21). And Peter cites Christ’s death as our model, ‘Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was fond in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly’ (1 Pet 2:21-23).

Blessed are the peacemakers.


David Griffin is a Baptist Pastor enjoying retirement at Vincentia, Jervis Bay, NSW. His interests include social philosophy, ethics and the Bible.


Scott Buchanan
July 1, 2022, 2:50PM
Lots to interact with here, but for now:

'Perhaps I could have expressed myself more clearly by writing that anti-Semitism now resides in the "left and not only the right".'

I'm not sure it's true to say the anti-Semitism *now* resides in the left, if by that one means it used to not be the case. After all, anti-Semitism was rife in the Soviet Union, especially under Stalin.

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