You may have heard or read words such as “voter suppression” or “cancel culture” spoken or written within our public discourse in recent months or even years
I certainly have.
But I am far more certain of one reality: such is not a recent phenomena. Suppression and cancellation of other people and other ideas are as old as human history. Indeed, these are old as the human behavior of lying to cover up the truth, or even killing as the human means of cancelling one who refused to be merely suppressed or otherwise silenced. They are old as hiding from accountability or avoiding whatever “other” we humanly fear in this world. They began all the way back at the beginning.
To be sure, voter suppression or cancel culture is neither a recent problem nor a local problem. It does not reside only in the 21st century any more than it resides only in America.
That said, it is in no way absent from our current time and place. Voter suppression and cancel culture remain highly active dynamics within our American life in 2021. The question to be asked is to what effect? Will they work as intended? Or will they backfire, as has traditionally happened?
Those of Abrahamic religious traditions share the ancient story of two original brothers here on earth. One was named Cain, the other Abel. To bring their story into today’s world, Abel was a successful cattle-rancher. Cain was a less successful grain-farmer. Both worked hard by the sweat of their brow, and if anything Cain probably worked up even more sweat than his brother did. Yet he has less to show for his labors.
If this story is familiar to you, you’ll remember that Cain killed Abel out of jealousy and tried to pretend otherwise. He tried to suppress the truth and cancel the reality at hand.
Did it work?
Well, not for long. God, in this story, finds out because the blood of Abel cried out from the ground. God had in Act One of this same story used the ground to create humanity in the beginning. Human blood originated with the ground, so nothing buried in the ground could suppress the truth nor cancel out what Cain had done to his brother, Abel.
So it may be with today’s efforts at what we now think we’ve just invented: “voter suppression” and “cancel culture.” May work for awhile but not in the long run.
As an 8th grade student of Colorado History (the State in which I was born and raised), what was cancelled were many different stories of the indigenous people who lived on the land our school later occupied. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_Creek_massacre . The culture of America’s so-called “Indians” was cancelled; their stories suppressed and hidden from young students like myself who might otherwise learn to question our European colonial tradition based on the medieval “divine right of Kings.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_right_of_kings .
Nor was this a Colorado phenomena. Nor just an American one. Nor just a western one. It was a human problem, and one that still awaits a solution I believe only God is able to “fully” help with.
Within my own mind, suppression did work. For a while. Quite awhile. But ultimately the truth came out. In my 60’s I learned about Colorado’s Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1854. In my 70’s I learned about Oklahoma’s Greenwood Massacre of May 31, 1921. That’s right. It happened 100 years ago tomorrow. And it took me until just 4 years ago, in the year 2016, to even learn about it. The darkness worked for a long time, until it finally dawned on me and I saw in the light what I could never see before in the dark.
As Christians, we should all remember that the words “you must be born again” were spoken by Jesus in the context of a religious man named Nicodemus who came to him secretly in the dark of night. Why? He feared what his fellow religionists might think and say about his association with this liberal, reform-minded, progressive Jesus of the new wine. New wine in this book of metaphors used by John to teach about Jesus was just that, a metaphor for being born again unto a new belief-system based on truth, not a lie, or based on light (the key metaphor of John 3), not on darkness. As Christians we are to be born again into inclusion and not stay in our old beliefs of exclusion or suppression or cancellation. See John 3:19, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”
Did suppression work for Nicodemus? After all, he came at night in the cover of darkness to see Jesus for fear of what his fellow conservative scholars and teachers would say. He didn’t come to agree with Jesus per se, but just to hear him. Maybe learn something new.
John’s Gospel would seem to suggest that the suppression of Jesus and his message of new birth, new belief, and new light worked for awhile. No further mention of anything Nicodemus may have heard or learned for quite awhile. Then in John 7:45-52 we read where Nicodemus actually had a speaking part right out in the open in front of fellow conservatives of religious faith. At which point his voice was rather promptly silenced or cancelled in John 7:52. So maybe suppression was working after all.
We finally get to John 19:38-42. This is when the liberal Jesus was finally killed by conservative politicians of Rome. To applause from the conservative religionists of Jerusalem. Yet two men among those religionists were not applauding. Meet a guy from among that group named Joseph of Arimathea. And one other guy.
Yes, him again.
This time coming forward in the light of day in front of the crowd of Jesus haters. The politicians. The religionists. Any other haters in the crowd. Nicodemus and Joseph came out. Came forward together. Openly claimed the body of Jesus and provided the essential elements of death-care then for which we entrust only morticians today.
The rest, as they say, is history. The conservatives of government and temple alike sought to suppress the voice of liberals, the dissent of new believers who later were called “Christians” in Antioch. Jesus was killed and cancelled. As were his followers, the “Christians.” But over time such suppression never worked except in opposition of its intended intention. The greater the suppression, the more the cancellation, the bigger the movement.
Now, upon this day in history, there are indeed forces aiming at suppression and cancellation of “other” voices and ideas. Of inconvenient truths. Efforts to suppress and cancel democracy are perhaps stronger today than ever before, for example. From China’s Wuhan and Hong Kong to America’s State Capitols and even Houses of Congress there is suppression. Cancellation. And, yes, sometimes it involves liberals working to suppress and even cancel conservatives. But the question of whether this will work or else backfire and cause the bells of freedom to ring even louder is best answered with another question. For how long?
Does suppression work?
Yes, for a while. But whenever it stops working, if global human history is any indication, then watch out! The new morning light will be brighter than ever and the summer season even hotter. And an even bigger truth will then burst forth.