You’re likely familiar with John the Baptist. Apart from Jesus Christ, John the Baptist is probably the most theologically significant figure in the gospels. While his formative years were lived in obscurity in the desert, his public ministry ended nearly four hundred years of prophetic silence. John was the voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for the coming Messiah.
Matthew 4:12-17 says, “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen. From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Before John’s arrest, we saw him in the desert, candidly preaching the Word of God.
John may be one of the first victims of cancel culture. Cancel culture, also referred to as call-out culture, describes a form of a boycott in which someone who has performed an act that is considered a violation of today’s social justice norms. The idea is that if you do something that others deem problematic, you automatically lose all your currency. Your voice is silenced. Those who condemn cancel culture usually imply that it’s unfair and indiscriminate. If we look at John’s life, his ministry, and even his death, we can understand how he was a victim.
John’s lifestyle was as bold as his message. He lived in the wilderness, clothed in camel hair, and subsisting on locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). Unlike Jesus, he expected people to come to him rather than going to them. He was also a fiery prophet proclaiming the apocalyptic message of God. John wasn’t a crowd-pleaser. He willingly confronted the hypocrisy of the religious establishment (Luke 3:7). He also didn’t hesitate to expose Herod's immorality, choosing to die a martyr’s death rather than go against his convictions.
John was shunned by society. He had strong convictions. He may or may not have chosen his isolation and the strange stuff he ate and wore willingly. Yet, he also called out the religious leaders of his day as broods of vipers. He stood up and spoke truth to power, both religious and political. He ultimately paid dearly for his choices to speak truth to power. As Christians, as we too choose to speak truth to power, we can also find ourselves in the same place John found himself. We may find ourselves isolated even when it is the right thing to do.
As we look at cancel culture and modern-day John’s, we should also think about how we isolate people and reject those we don’t understand because they fit outside of the norms. As we also strive to be more like John, we should know what to be prepared for.
As a modern-day John, speaking and living your faith boldly, you will be debated. You will be debated. You will be attacked. It’s just a reality of life as a believer. If you want to survive any argument, particularly about God, you should be prepared to be bombarded with the questions that may be thrown at you. These arguments will counter your beliefs. Be ready to state your arguments relevantly and logically.
You also need to be prepared for rude, condescending statements and opinions about who you are as believers of Jesus Christ. You should be mindful that there are people who have not had the best experiences with Christians or have warped opinions about them based on their beliefs. That’s why it’s so important for us to reflect love to those around you, including people who don’t share the same beliefs that you do. The same respect you want from the person you’re speaking with is the same respect you should be willing to give. It’s important that you not give them your unsolicited opinion about why they are an atheist. It is rude and offensive, but it’s also condescending and one of the worst ways to begin a dialogue with someone. Doing this can sabotage the dialogue from the beginning.
Those who don’t believe in God may make assumptions about you as a Christian, and you may make assumptions about them. The last thing you should do is start out being pretentious. As stated before, don’t assume or suggest. Not only will this offend, but potentially cause greater confrontation. Begin the conversation from an honest space. It’s ok to talk openly from the heart and admit that your belief is based on faith if this is the case. Share your faith story and the impact of having a relationship with Christ has had on your journey. You may even be called to acknowledge points where you’ve been weak in your faith walk, or how your belief in God was troubled and how God intervened. While they may not share the same beliefs as you do, they will more likely than not respect your honesty and openness.
The impact of John’s life and ministry should not be underestimated. During his lifetime, he has a following of disciples who shared common practices such as fasting and prayers. John’s disciples survived his death and spread throughout the Mediterranean world. He sparked a spiritual movement that had influence long after his death, If we too find ourselves, victims of cancel culture, because of our faith, the words we speak can still transcend us.