Of all the things 2019 has given us, “cancel culture” has to be the most absurd.
Actor Chris Pratt — perhaps the most popular of the four Hollywood Chrises — was scrutinized this week after a relatively obscure mini-mob of Twitter users feigned outrage when the “Guardians of the Galaxy” star donned a T-shirt featuring a modified rendering of the Gadsden flag.
It was the same kind of senseless indignation that led former NFL player Colin Kaepernick to complain to Nike about a commemorative shoe including the Betsy Ross American flag on its heel. Because Kaepernick is a spokesman for Nike, the apparel company decided to pull the sneaker from production.
Both of these incidents perfectly illustrate our cultural willingness to dismiss the value of those with whom we disagree, regardless of how respectable or ridiculous our differences may be.
Nike pulled its Betsy Ross shoe because, according to Kaepernick, the flag featuring 13 white stars in a circle, designed during the American Revolution, was “offensive.” And a small handful of people criticized Pratt for wearing a shirt with the Gadsden flag on it, calling the symbol a sign of “white supremacists.”
Betsy Ross was a Quaker, a religious order made up of some of the first white people to actively denounce slavery in Europe and in the American colonies and to join the abolitionist movement. Ross also served as a beacon for women, rising to prominence at a time in Western culture when women were largely dismissed. To erase her contributions to our country is to dehumanize her and devalue her role in American history.
One reader of The Washington Post, describing himself as a “flaming liberal,” sent a letter to the editor of the newspaper, expressing his frustration at Kaepernick’s misguided offense.
“Ross represented an entrepreneurial woman in the age when entrepreneurial women were few and far between,” Barry Lurie wrote. “As a Quaker, she likely opposed slavery. I proudly fly the Betsy Ross flag to show my support for entrepreneurial women everywhere, as well as the ideas of America for all time.”
Even still, America’s imperfections then — as with her imperfections now — do not cancel out what the United States aims to be, what President Ronald Reagan described as a “shining city upon a hill” and “a magnet for all who must have freedom.”
Human beings are complex and flawed, filled at the same time with folly and goodness — though not always in equal measure. Regardless of our demeanors, we are all image-bearers, made in the likeness of God, endowed with value that cannot ever be and should never be stripped away.
But when we “cancel” a person because of a moment of error or after a decision with which we disagree, for any number of reasons, we forget that truth, we turn our backs on our shared value as human beings.
Just as Kaepernick and his supporters did with Betsy Ross, so a handful of naysayers did this week to Pratt. Despite a career absent of any reason to doubt he is a person of goodwill eager to live a morally upright life, they decided the 40-year-old actor is no longer worthy of admiration or favor.
Ross and Pratt were and are imperfect people, at the same time deeply flawed and deeply valued. Just as there was no issue with the flags Ross sewed, there is no problem with the T-shirt Pratt wore. And even if that wasn’t the case, they are still innately valuable.
In Genesis 1:27, Moses wrote, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female, he created them.”
We are in need of redemption, not cancellation.