Life Group Discussion Guide

Is our current cancel culture obsessed with the condition of hearts or the conformity of words and actions?

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”[a] 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”[b] (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Mark 7:14-23

Instant Cancelation

All humans are imperfect. This should be a common assumption shared both by Christians and non-Christians alike. Although Christianity offers a distinct explanation of why we are all imperfect, the need for grace from both God and man is a place that we can find common ground with anybody.

It should be no surprise when people in the public eye do things that are upsetting, offensive, stupid, or just plain sinful. There are some things that should just be overlooked by other people. There are other things for which repentance should be demanded. This is true of every person who has ever lived.

One thing new in the age of ever-present social media and 24-hour news is that everything that a person says or does at any hour of the day holds the potential for that person to be publicly shamed for his or her crimes against the culture. A popular term for this public shaming is being “canceled.”

Sorry I Got Canceled

One of the interesting recent developments in the cancel culture is the proliferation of apologies for all manner of social mistakes. These apologies can range from genuine regret and repentance for real sins to very trivial statements such as “I am sorry if anyone was offended.”

One common statement in these media apologies that is relevant to our conversation today is when people say something like “the actions/words/things that you saw do not reflect the person that I am.” What is being said is that people caught in some sort of unflattering light want to do everything they can to not be defined by their actions once those actions have come to light.

The Original Cancel Culture

The Pharisees were the original practitioners of cancel culture. They were very much about using external forces/teachings/threats to get other people’s behavior to conform to their ideas. They operated from the assumption that it was the religious behaviors of the nation of Israel that formed the identity of the people.

The teachings of Jesus run headlong into the idea that our actions and our identity are independent of one another. While the Pharisees wanted to point out the smallest and most minute sins against their oral traditions, Jesus wanted to dig deeper into helping us recognize the very sinfulness of our hearts. 

Jesus in no way teaches that behavior modification will somehow make you a person who is part of the family of God. The promise of Jesus is that he comes to adopt us into his family and transform our inner nature.  Consequently, our thoughts/words/actions CAN change ONLY because they reflect who we are as a new creation.

Discussion Questions

  • What connections do you see between modern cancel culture and the Pharisees? 
  • Do you think cancel culture has helped or hurt people in their effort to identify and root out sinful words, thoughts, and actions?
  • Is our current media culture obsessed with the condition of hearts or the conformity of words and actions?
  • What is the difference between a genuine apology and a “media-driven” apology?
  • Is it true that our actions/words reflect who we actually are?
  • Do you think the people understood Jesus’ statement in verse 15?
  • What does Jesus mean when he says “it is what comes out of a man that defiles him?”
  • What approaches to exposing sin does Jesus take that would be shocking to 21st century Americans?
  • How can we be more attentive to the condition of our own hearts?
Jonathan Pugh
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