Offensive language: I Think My Mother Taught Me

Images-1WARNING: If cussing and offensive language piss you off, excuse my King James, please do not read on because I WILL refer to words that are deeply offensive and yet must be mentioned if we are to have a serious and objective look at the subject of offensive language and the emerging church movement.

Interesting conversation going on this week at Monday Morning Insight. Charles Swindoll has been dropped from VCY radio station for using ‘vulgar” language [including buns, heck, crap, balls] I think it was the “crap” word that got him in trouble.

Todd says . . .

“VCY alerted IFL that day that the word, “crap” is crude, uncalled for and offensive and should not to be used in a Christian’s vocabulary, let alone come from a pulpit and broadcast all over the country. VCY stated to IFL that this term Chuck used did not pass the test of Ephesians 4:29.” Ingrid responded and is being backed up by Ken who is quoting Tozer and the finger wagging is happening all over.

BTW – Chuck Swindoll was my pastor in the eighties when i lived in Orange County. My wife was a missionary sent from EFC in Fullerton and we were married in that church. He is a good man and if he says “crap”, then i would assume that the era of crap being a swear word has ended and people need to get used to it.

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Same with “ass”. In January this year, John Piper got called out for saying that God “kicks our ass”. He explained later that “backside” would have sufficed, and there was much conversation [see links on Justin Taylor’s blog and Wayne Grudem’s response]. But, honestly, no explanation was needed. I think saying “ASS” should not ASSault anyone and is not ASinine in the slightest. But that depends who is ASking. The word is no longer offensive except to a tiny minority of people . . who are probably ASleep in ASpen. The word might even be an ASSet to poets who need to AScribe strong* words to ASSociates.



*
is an ASterisk.

Its usually the emerging church that gets slammed for bad language and cussing. The most famous is Mark Driscoll who was called “The Cussing Pastor” in a book by Donald Miller and chastised by John Macarthur in his Grunge Christianity?. As I said a few days ago, Mark Driscoll is NOT offensive to the people in his congregation. Every culture and geographic location is unique and finding a universal code of non-offensive language is impossible.

Actually, the international emerging scene uses far more ‘swear’ words than the American. One reason for this is that English is often a second language and certain words, learned from watching Eddie Murphy movies, dont have the same impact. Ohhhh . . the things I have heard . . .

You probably have too. Not so much in emerging church evangelism, as the critics charge. Nothing trendy about cussing at all. But if your church has ever hosted an open mike night and 20 artists are plumbing the depths of their souls and expressing the results with language that fits . . . well . . you hear stuff that your mother never said. Once I was in a church meeting in Texas and a new Christian read some poetry that verbaized his repentance from a recent slip up. We all listened intently as he tearfully read out his confession, in a really loud voice, “God . . . I am sooo sorry. I feel like I have been f___d over by the devil”.

What would you do if that happened in your church?

Words change. I am sure Charles Spurgeon would not talk about “nigger entertainments” as he did in a 1891 Sword and Trowel publication. And the translators of the King James Bible would probably not employ the word “piss” (1 Sam 25:22, 25:34; 1 Kings 14:10, 16:11, 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8) for “urinate” or “to relieve oneself”. The word “sucks”, it was pointed out by Justin on EmergentNo.com in 2005, is no longer a deeply offensive word. Words change, just like cultures change. And applying outdated templates is not always appropriate.

But some words ARE offensive to a lot of people and the Scriptures have much to say about the way we speak and the words we choose. Heres how I see it. Heres the skinny.

Words change and their impact changes. As I already said. I see swear words as belonging to three distinct historical periods and forgive me if they are becoming cliche in these conversations.

1. In Premodern times, the most offensive words were excommunicatory in nature.

Offensive words were religious terms that threatened punishment and damnation. Its still the same in French. My French speaking friends tell me the most offensive words in their language are still along those lines of religious cursing and calling someone a “devil” In English, the words “damn” and “hell” used to have a harsh edge but have softened over time. The names of God and Christ and Joseph/Mary are often called up to create offense. In fact, the word “cuss” is related to “curse” which has religious overtones, as does the word “swear”.

At Sunday School, i was told not to use words like “Geez Whiz”, and “Jeepers” because they were toned down versions of swear words. There were lots of these words – “Gosh”, “golly” . . .”struth” which means ‘God’s truth’ and is still popular in Australia.

My mother was brought up in a very strict Presbyterian home and was forbidden to swear. She and her sisters said “Amster-naughtyword” instead of Amsterdam.

BUT . .. she was allowed to repeat the refrain “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a nigger by the toe . . ” That was not offensive in her day.

2. In Modern times, which is where many people still live, words that cause most offense affront our personal and private sensibilities.

These offensive words [explicit?] are normally associated with private body parts, bodily functions of a toilet nature, and sexual relations. The shift began in the 1800’s in USA, when restrictions on language focused on sexuality. It is this era that many older people still use as a standard of the most offensive swear words. For example, as a child, I was not allowed to say “bum” or “crap” or “piss”. Obviously, harsher words than these were also forbidden.

3. In our Post-modern times, as the voices of the margin dwellers and powerless have been given consideration and brought to the center, it is exclusionary language that causes most offence. Marginalizing people due to their race, gender, disability or status is about the most offensive thing you can say. Once I accidently used the word “girl” instead of “woman” – the uproar was global and the judgement swift. People still remind me of it. Mark Driscoll has also been rebuked by emerging church folk for comments that sounded misogynist. This makes him an interesting subject, as someone who has managed to offend people in at least two camps.

But I have never heard Mark Driscoll say “Nigger” like Spurgeon did . . . and I am guessing he never will. And Spurgeon wouldn’t either in today’s world. Despite his reputation as the cussing pastor, I dont think Driscoll is motivated to offend people. I might be wrong but I think he is more concerned with expressing the fulness and impact of what he wants to say in the everday language of his people. Are’nt we all?

Just a month ago, hip-hop producer Russell Simmons recommended eliminating “extreme curse words” from the recording industry.

Which words? They were “nigger, “bitch” and “ho”. Note the absense of sexual or bodily function type cuss words. These days, no one loses their job for saying “crap” but if you say “Nigger” in USA or “Ching” in Australia or “Coconut” in NZ or “Paki” in UK then your entire career might be on the line.

In the USA a lawsuit was brought against a Southwest Airlines Flight attendant in 2003 for using this rhyme, even without saying the n___ word. What she said was “Eenie, meenie, minie, mo, pick a seat, we gotta go”.

Its the same refrain I used to repeat when counting.

I think my mother taught me.

[hey mum – dont worry . . you didnt know any better]

In the UK, a paper published on offensive language called ‘Delete Expletives’ [pdf] found the word “nigger” had the most movement – going from eleveth position in 1998 to fifth in 2000. In the same time period, the word “Paki” went from seventeenth to tenth. “Paki” in USA hardly registers as a swear word at all.

Delete 300

So, I guess I am saying that words still offend but those words are in a state of flux and their impact is related to what is happening in society.

And God’s word is still just as applicable today as it has always been. Apart from one of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20) telling us not to use the LORD’s name in an empty manner [ie, without thought or meaning, or ‘in vain’], there are two passages from the Scriptures that stick in my mind:

1. Jesus warned his listeners against calling anyone “Raca” or empty-head.(Matthew 5:22). This is the kind of exclusionary and demeaning insult that makes up the harshest offensive language today in these postmodern, postcolonial times. The equivalent of “Raca” will be different in every language. “estupido” in Spanish is a very harsh word but in English it isnt very offensive. But there are plenty of insulting words that rip people’s esteem to shreds and the command of Jesus remains. Lets not tear each other down with these kinds of words. Love builds up and it never destroys. Love is the language of the Kingdom and the Kingdom is more about power than words (1 Cor 4:20) so we shouldn’t get too hung up with wrangling (good Texas word) over words.

2. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Eph 4:29-31

Again, lets use words to build people up. Lets NOT use our words or our blogs for slandering others or expressing our anger. Give your anger to God and let him deal with it. Words can tear down or build up. Lets build each other up and not grieve the Holy Spirit.

Carla Rolfe has some viral-worthy advice on this and anyone who gets intoxicated with criticising and ripping down should pay attention:

“If someone is currently blessing you or has been a blessing in your walk, take the time to tell them. Call them if you can, or email them, or send a card. Find a nice way to lift their hearts and know that they have indeed blessed you and strengthened you.” Go bless someone, Reflections on the Times

And when it comes to choosing words to express oneself, I try to keep in mind my audience. If i am invited to preach at a traditional church and there is a lot of grey hair in the front rows, I figure their list of bad words is from an earlier historical period than mine and the language I choose will hopefully fit the situation and will not cause offense. Why offend when we have a message to get across? But its not always easy to express oneself fully to multiple generations.

And if the person i am listening to uses a word that offends me, I will be quick to believe the best (1 Cor 13) and assume that they have walked a different path, and what i consider offensive may not necessarily be the same standard by which they judge their words. But there is still a place for rebuke and correction.

Anyway . .

———————

Want to help me out?

This little blog post is just crying out to be a 3 point ditty for some Baptist pastor to repeat. But I cant find a word for the second point, nor the desire to find it. Maybe you can. Make sure it starts with “ex-“.

Afterword:

My wife just came home and after showing her my blog post, she told me of some related news. The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) just today has officially removed any reference to the male blackbird as C___K. The reason was that their website was getting blocked by profanity filters. The word c.o.c.k will now be spelled with 4 asterisks – ****

If Beavis and Butthead were here, one of them would say “He he he huh he . . . he said ASterisk . . . huh huh he he!”

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

90 Comments

  • Very interesting post. I was made to think of this issue a week or so ago.
    Had been watching the first session of BattleStar Galactar on DVD (until I figured it was just a soap opera with space ships and go board). Relevance – they use “Freck” as their standard swear word..
    Anyway in this work meeting with two Christians and said something about politics and how unless you can show people why it is important to them they wouldn’t give a Freck.
    Anyway the facilitator of the meeting said he never allows swear words or anything close to it in meetings so don’t do it again.
    Felt quite chagrined but realized that as a Christian my standards should be the level above what people find offensive. And that I hadn’t really given the word “freck” any thought. It has taken me quite a bit of disciple and work to pull back the words that are marginal.
    Like you pointed out though really issues come in with a national or global community.

  • Last year I was depressed and uptight (some people who know me might say I still am!) I had all kinds of prayer, was trying all kinds of ways to get out of it to no avail. I spent a week with a pastor friend. At the end of the week he said God had given him a word for me. The word “In the name of Jesus Christ just [F word]ing relax.” Did he get it wrong? Does God swear? All I know is that the impact was immediate. I was immediately released and in a different place. Somehow … “just relax” would not quite have had the same effect. It didn’t offend me. I guess they both (God and the pastor) weighed that up before saying it.

  • I was giving a message on Creation and I quoted Alice Walker in The Color Purple saying “I think it pisses God off when we walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.” I referenced the quote and apologized ahead of time in case it offended, but I still got one strong complaint. Last summer I was praying in front of a large group of mostly Americans and I happened to say in my prayer for the situation in the Middle East that I was “embarrassed of my government.” I got into quite a lot more trouble for that. I guess you never know what will offend.

  • excremental? he he he. that sounds almost religious.
    lisa, thanks for that. i wonder if sometimes God pushes us to break our own taboos, like he did with Peter and the food he ate (with Cornelius) and with Ezekiel and the kind of dung he chose.

  • Andrew – my old church in Canberra clearly didn’t get the memo about “ass” not being a swearword. I got about six complaints after using that in the pulpit and one father banned his daughter from attending the evening service!

  • Andrew, thanks for not being afraid to get stuck into a sensitive and controversial subject. I find your overview very balanced. Frankly, if everyone worried more about judging themselves than others, there would be a lot more grace on display.

  • dave, are you sure you didnt use the word “arse”. “arse” in Australia is much harsher than “ass” in USA and i would hold back before letting that one rip from a pulpit. . . the WORD i mean.

  • Well, I don’t know how offensive it’s considered in the USA, but I wouldn’t have thought “arse/ass” was especially strong language here.

  • Interestingly to highlight our religiousness, I remember Tony Campolo saying something like, ‘most people couldn’t give a s*** that 9000 children will die of starvation today (or similar) and you are probably more bothered that I have just said the s-word than the fact that so many children will starve to death.’ We Christians can tend to get awfully hung up on these things and lose a sense of priority.

  • It seems so legalistic to me to get hung up about words, which probably mean something entirely innocent in other languages anyway. Isn’t an ass a donkey? I had no idea until a few years ago that it meant something quite different in the USA.
    Having said that I don’t like some of the ‘bad’ words, but recognise it’s my personal hangups and preferences. As you say, what matters is our heart and attitude, not the actual words we use, which are related to culture and upbringing.
    Even then, I think Christians can sometimes be too diplomatic, too polite, too careful not to give any offence when perhaps it might be better if we did. It was Jesus, after all, who didn’t hesitate to use phrases like ‘brood of vipers’ or ‘whitewashed sepulchres’. Perhaps the emerging church is actually walking more in Jesus’ steps than many more traditional and legalistic congregations…?

  • I think we need a healthy dose of getting-over-ourselves. We have already succeeded in turning the bible into totally banal English – and now we are attempting to superimpose our middle class values onto others.
    You don’t tend to hear much about it, but I am told that the original language makes it clear that St Paul considered himself to be a waste product in Philippians 3:8.
    Curious, isn’t it? We prefer the sanitised version than the actual text. I don’t even want to think about what the text actually says when we read that ‘x lay with y’ and produced a son or daughter.
    The other problem is that our system of language is linked historically to the Latin rather than the Anglo-saxon. Therefore it is fully reasonable to use words like copulate, urinate, defecate and so on when the anglo-saxon words which mean exactly the same things are very rude.
    The anglo-saxon sounds harsh. This is what makes the swearing worth doing – it expresses some of the pent up pain and anger inside. I’m not sure that most people who swear actually mean what they’re saying – that is totally beside the point.
    OK enough already.

  • I don’t know, Andrew. I don’t like this sanitised bible and middle-class christianity – the thing is meant to be offensive.
    Imagine if Christ had actually said the equivilent of
    “Blessed are f-ked up, for they will inherit the earth”
    “Just as the well do not need a doctor, it is the prostitutes, the punks, the losers, the s-tfaced, the drunkards, the losers, and the other lowlifes who really need me”
    “When someone really really pisses you off, do not plan bad things against them. Be nice to them, and it will be like tipping a full ashtray over their head.”
    And rather than taking offense at the tone, how about we take time to deal with Real Christ rather than this pathetic cardboard cutout we so often mistake him for.

  • Excremental was good, but I thought exhibitionial might also work, since so many of the words deal with bringing “bedroom” subjects into the open…

  • [updated response] Joe – i had to add something to this response. I agree with you. The edge of the challenge of Christ is dulled by mediocrity. Jesus offensiveness happened on many levels. Thanks for your excellent comment.
    [original] i hear you Joe but at the same time i dont think we should confuse the offence of the cross with offence caused by certain words that trigger endorphins of negative reactions.
    having said that, it must be said that Jesus’ ministry and words were offensive, but in that first way – not the second.
    also, Jesus was offensive to the Jews because of what he DID NOT SAY as well as what he said.
    Example from Luke 4 where Jesus does NOT keep reading from Isaiah – the part about judgment of the Gentiles – but instead talks about the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan – HIGHLY OFFENSIVE –
    and finds himself in deep . . ahhh . . water . . and given a tour of the Nazarene cliff faces.
    Jesus’ life and actions were offensive, reminding me of the quote from someone that goes . .
    “Jesus was killed because of how he ate”

  • ish – good point.
    hey ish – i saw you and your dad are involved in the REAL Summer of Love ministry this summer in SF. Come back and tell us about it if you can.

  • Yeah when we were in Mexico for 4 years, we would cringe as the visiting work groups would use the word “stupid” in every other sentence during there testimony time. Also, a few months ago didn’t Tiger Woods get in all sorts of trouble for referring to himself as a “spaz” while playing in the Biritsh Open? Another word that I would have no idea was offensive if I were in England…

  • A friend of mine who left the church some years ago for a long period of time, said to me one day “you have to realise that almost NOBODY out there is talking about you (the church) or even considering some of the issues that you seem to feel are SO important”.
    Storm…. teacup….

  • Andrew,
    I wish I was involved in the REAL summer of love, it’s website looks great and the program sounds wonderful. However, I’m not sure if I’m even related to Jesse Engle :-).
    Does that excommunicate me from these discussions? 😉

  • I don’t like “excremental” or “exhibitionary”.
    How ’bout “exciting”?
    :-)~
    P.S. It makes me sick when people care more about the words you use than what you’re actually saying.

  • thanks ryan.
    ish – sorry . .. i thought you were Lou Engle’s son. my mistake. and yes, you are still welcome to comment here.

  • I’ve thought through this subject quite a bit the past few years. There are a few conclusions that I have come to:
    1.) Say what you mean, mean what you say. It’s a matter of the heart. If you say poop and mean shit, you’re just as guilty of the offense (if there is any). In my youth, these euphemisms were referred to as “minced oaths,” and they were more of a 2nd or 3rd degree offense. Today, if occasion necessitates it, I would continue to use the lesser out of habit.
    2.) There is a cultural relevance. If our society has recognized a psuedo-list of offensive terms (such as govern movie ratings and TV broadcasts), then we need not be more corrupt than the culture. This is not to define right or wrong, but there is a level of respect that is necessary.
    3.) Your human conversation should mirror your divine. First and foremost, if you are going to cuss, do it with God. If there are words that you are uncomfortable using in your heavenly dialogue, then you should probably remove those from your horizontal vocabulary. God knows what you meant to say anyway, so come right out and lay it on the line.
    I was reared in a rather conservative KJV only church. I have since experienced some freedom from legalism; however, there are certainly many words that I am incapable of using in conversation without feeling some sense of guilt. I can hear them used and think nothing less of the speaker, but they are not part of my personal vernacular.
    I really appreciate your research and thought given to this. I look forward to the dialogue continued in the comments.

  • As a side note, “excremental” came to my mind before I read the comments. It gets my vote.
    How about Orthodox, Organic, and Origin?

  • Language note:
    In Spanish, the word “Estupido” (not Stupido) varies in usage and strength of offense depending on the culture in which it is being used. I.e.- In Mexico, it is pretty harsh. In Spain, not so much.
    Good debate!

  • Estupio. Lo siento, Jonah. Hablando palabras sin no intendiendo por que mi espanol SUCKS.
    really – i hear it but never read spanish so i didnt know. and thanks for the mexico vs. spain. i love that stuff.

  • One more piece of ammunition you may want to consider is Paul’s estimation of the life we leave behind, considering it “dung”, translated to modern day, “shXt”, where the X=i or a. My Old-Testament professor in College made a big stink about this (no pun intended, but its there). He often said the Jewish people where “people of the earth” – and being recognized as the world’s 3rd most leading Jewish Scholar gave some credibility to his statements…
    My “application” from his message is this: if Paul the Apostle used strong language to express a spiritual truths, shouldn’t we also? There are far too many week Christians who speak with weak language and live weak lives. I don’t need to purposely be offensive – the gospel is offensive enough, but I will not shrink down and marginalize that which is important for the sake of diplomacy.
    So there. How do you like them apples?

  • I don’t like this sanitised bible and middle-class christianity – the thing is meant to be offensive.
    The Bible writers did have and use their own euphemisms. Literally, Eglon was thought by his servants to be “covering his feet”, which the NIV translates, with a canny accuracy, as “relieving himself”. Scholars wrestle with Naomi’s instructions to Ruth to lie at Boaz’ feet: was she telling Ruth to sleep with him, or is this quite literal? The New Testament writers demonstrate that death was a taboo subject by using phrases such as “breathed his last” and “fallen asleep”. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about it not being good for a man to “touch” a woman, when he clearly means a little more than “touch”.
    As for skubalon, we don’t really know how offensive it was. While some suggest that it should be translated “shit”, many others say that “crap” is closer. I know that the etymology pushes towards “fit only for dogs”, which would be bad enough for an observant Jew. You used “waste product” euphemistically; but I would suggest that while it may be anodyne, there’s little more flavour we can add without getting into nuances we simply don’t understand.
    While the Bible was certainly written in the language of the people (albeit sometimes in the language of very well-educated people), there’s such a thing as swinging too far the other way; the Bible writers, while noticeably forthright on many issues, were equally reticent on others. So the message of Scripture is offensive to the human heart, but I rather think that the Bible was not “meant to be offensive” in quite the way you surmise.

  • I have never heard a pastor preach on Ezekiel 23:20, So I think I agree that we avoid some of the stronger language of the Bible

  • at least when you meet Jesus face to face you won’t be dropping f-bombs…you’ll be dropping to the ground, prostrate…..no f this or f that or excuse me King of Glory how the h..ll are you today? Nope…potty mouths will be cleansed with burning coals just like Isaiah begged for….He’s coming soon so yuk it up in the pulpit while ya can…..you’re gonna be laid out before Him…and if you think NOT…..THINK AGAIN…..HE’s GOD ALMIGHTY and WORTHY OF ALL PRAISE….(not you)

  • An important thing to think about in the midst of all this talk is, simply, the reason for using obscenities. If we’re using them for deliberate reasons, to communicate more effectively with our audience, then we’re gold. But sometimes it can be easy to swear just because it feels good to defy the restrained spirituality a lot of us grew up with; that’s a little more suspect. And when we’re using obscenities without even thinking about it, we’ve almost certainly crossed the line into some sort of sin. Not the sin of coarse speech (which is not, in fact, a sin), but of failing to control what we say.
    Good topic–I was going to write something along these lines eventually, but I’m not sure I have much more to say than what’s been brought up here. I appreciate your fair approach to the subject.

  • Forgive me the double post–I need to comment on something I said, and don’t think I can edit.
    When I said “coarse speech’ isn’t a sin, I just meant that the words themselves aren’t sinful. I didn’t mean “coarse” as in “hurtful”. I hope that’s obvious, but I ought to cover my bases anyway.

  • Ahhhh [yawn] good morning everyone. happy saturday morning to you. Glad you like my post. Sure are a lot of people here from Desiring God website.
    Nate. We hear ya.
    and thanks Bob for the Greek lesson. a quick thought on “sh_t” as used by the Apostle Paul.
    As far as i can tell, and 2 years of Greek does not a scholar make, the word probably is the equivalent of our harsh words
    but
    i am not scholarly enough to tell you if the impact of that word was the same as its impact today in the English language.
    It is probably not in German. ‘sh_t” in English is much harsher than the equivalent word in German “scheitzer” which is more common in everyday language and German Christians speaking in English will often switch over to “sh_t”.

  • Interesting.. One of our top TV hosts got into a lot of trouble when he called Kofi Annan a “cheekie darkie” – and that may be a lot more innoffensive than words like crap, bloody, or wanker, to some of you, but it caused such a stink and made international news. The presenter had to do a public apology and I think he even wrote a letter to Annan to apologise.

  • We do not realize the earth is revolving at a great speed, because everything is moving at the same speed around us. I remember when the violent depiction of gun-shot wounds in the movie Bonnie and Clyde was hailed as the advent of the “new realism”, and so it has been. But can anyone seriouly debate the virtue of the way in which such realism has progressed? This “realism” simply numbs us to the meaning of violence. So it is with the “realism” of speech that is now in vogue. It is not that new terms are displacing old ones that matters, it is that the meaning of the terms has become acceptable in every type of context.
    Bodily functions and sexual relations have always been a part of man’s state, but these are associated with the dying natural man, and not the spiritual life of one of the Sons of God. It doesn’t matter what terrm is used to describe the state, the idea is, why is the description necessary at all? Germs, disease, pain, stench, and ultimately death are most manifested by all of these bodily realities (and this includes sex outside of God’s ordained place for it), so nature itself should tell us to avoid a familiarity with these things, or descrptions of them, that tend to make their real meaning less poignant. When the Bible speaks of a dog returning to its vomit-Prov.26 and 2 Peter 2-it is meant to depict the filth of the natural man’s ways. It is not to make the use of the word vomit so familiar that it loses its meaning. If anything, it should cause us to refrain from its use unless we truly need the same depiction to be able to convey the similiar meaning. As the term vomit has become more widespread, it has gradually come to imply less than is what is truly-that is, sickness, discomfort or pain, the spread of disease and ultimately death.
    If it is necessary to use the term f__k in order to describe the act to peoples whose vocabulary would demand it, and in so doing be in the context of calling it sin, then that would be okay. But to use the term f__k as an exclaimation or emphasis, is to minimize the meaning of the term, and this would be true if fornication, copulation, or any other word were used.
    I read this blog (refered to it by the DG site), with an open mind, hoping that ultimately the real reason we do not use crass, brutish terms would be understood. Instead, I find the reasoning identical to why using neo-grammataical writing and punctuaion is acceptable today. I seems the same argument for a less disciplined standard, and one that serves the desires of the heart, not the value to Christ. If it looks like dogs s…, and it smells like dogs s…, why taste it? Perhaps there are venus in which this picture is the only way to make a point, but if we look like the world, smell like the world and taste like the world, do we expect to be able to show our inward conversion more plainly?
    Sorry for the take on this, but there is no reason to use terms with a bad connotation unless it is needed to describe the sin they refer to, whether they be Latin derivatives or grunge language or street talk, etc.

  • Thanks for writing on this. I too have close connections with Chuck Swindoll. I know him well enough to say that when he uses this type of languague (although this sample is not too bad!), it is always very intentional. He wants Christianity to be defined beyond the don’t-drink-don’t-curse-and-don’t-hang-with-people-who-do-mentality.
    Thanks again!

  • Thanks for writing on this. I too have close connections with Chuck Swindoll. I know him well enough to say that when he uses this type of languague (although this sample is not too bad!), it is always very intentional. He wants Christianity to be defined beyond the don’t-drink-don’t-curse-and-don’t-hang-with-people-who-do-mentality.
    Thanks again!

  • oh my flipping word…………. lets see – i grew up in bloomfied NJ… soprano-ville…..um you don’t even want to know what i thought Jesus’s middle name was!!!!! The f- word was a adj, verb. noun and prepositional phrase…. and to this day… can be the only thing close to the viseral emoting… of frustration. Last time i checked it was a sentence… Fornicating.. unlawful… carnal … knowledge…. over the stocks! so guess i need to censor my emotions at times just to be biblically PC! Hmmmmmm God still spoke thru and Ass…. check your KJV…. will someone please build a bridge and get over it…. – we can argue with words… and OVER THEM… but there are still those dying… bleeding… and screaming…. wonder what there verb tense is??? Guess i can’t help but piss off a religious spirit…. oh… pray tell in the KJV… there was a quote that says….. something about “piss-ith… on the wall”
    Is all this a pissing contest…. of the verbage??
    still want to do london??
    cat

  • The title of your article certainly caught my attention. As a middle school teacher I’m amazed at what the kids don’t consider cuss words. There seems to be very few taboos on words these days.
    I came of age in the late 70’s the tail end of burn your bra, anything goes kind of behavior. Swearing was “cool” but the F— word was left for when you were really ticked off! The word had much more impact – now it’s become quite main stream – even my 20 year-old daughter, whom was taught to watch her mouth – uses it as casually as if she spoke of the weather. Am I offended by it?yes. Am I offended by off-color jokes? Yes. But the interesting thing is that when I was younger I was not offended by either of these things – I swore – I told dirty jokes – it makes me cringe in rememberance, but the older i get the more embarrassed I become. But I think there is something to this -I think the Holy Spirit works on us and through us as we mature shaping us to be more like Christ – Today I see that trashy talk and dirty jokes as a pollution that some take on as part of the culture of growing up and as we become more Christ-like God purifies the polluted waters. But who knows where are culture will be twenty years from now – Perhaps the F— word will be as mundane to use as the word damn is now perhaps it already is….

  • This is sad. All my life it has been so easy to let my light shine by just talking different from those around me. They do take notice. I was quoted one time as saying something with an expletive in it. The hearer said, “I know Chris didn’t say that.”
    To have to listen is bad enough, but if we have to use crude talk when our beautiful language will do just fine, Please stop the world and let me off.
    Rappers and Europeans will never set my speech standards and neither will my great spiritual food provider, John Piper.
    Lott was not a good example on how to live a life pleasing to God but He still had a righteous soul that was vexed.

  • thanks chris and rob . . but i hope you hear me saying the other side of the coin . . . . which is . .
    there are some NEW taboos in this postmodern world – some words that were NOT offensive to my mother but if you used them today you would seriously offend the postmodern emerging church people.
    i hope that part of the message doesnt get lost by people glossing over my blog post.

  • Has anyone else noticed that fundamentalist-raised people seem to be more obsessed by the evils of dirty language in roughly the same proportion to the coldness of their hearts toward God? How many times have we seen a – conservative Christian visitor rebuking people in our relatively raw group for their language all the time, only to find out he’s sleeping with his or mired into o? Or hasn’t lifted a finger for the kingdom of god in any positive way during the past several years?
    We had one guy in my group who would wax furious about dirty language from time to time, and I gradually realized the correlation: more furious lectures on not cussing usually meant he had again fallen into his fairly serious ual sin habit again.
    I believe many spiritually unhealthy Christians focus on language as a way to strain out the gnat while swallowing the camel–Entire churches where most people live for materialism, but nary a cuss word to be heard. What’s wrong with this picture?
    I remember also being in a church as a kid where the anti-golly and shuks lectures figured prominently in Sunday school. Yet as rigid as that group was on cussing, they hadn’t seen anyone meet Christ in living memory.
    To be sure, this whole discussion about cussing is only of interest within Christian circles. The rest of the world couldn’t care less. As Andrew correctly pointed out, racist or ist language is the only thing secular people are worried about today, at least in our area.

  • yeah – its true what Dennis says – this is really an IN HOUSE discussion that makes us look ridiculous to the world. i am a little embarrassed about having to post it here and have this discussion.
    the kingdom is not about words but power.

  • What a great exchange of ideas have taken place here. Now to put in my two cents, I grew up in a secular, atheistic family. We lived in the council houses of London, England. I was surrounded by constant swearing. When I became a disciple of Jesus I tried to take Col 3:8 seriously. For me the debate boils down to several points.
    1.The Bible has lots of explicit verses in them. We should not run from those words or be frightened to preach on those verses.
    2.Is there really any need to swear? Yep. I get frustrated too. But maybe church can be a place where we are free of that and be different than the world around us.
    3.Does swearing build up those around you?
    4.Who wants their kids hearing “Jesus I’m all f–ked up today”?
    5.Does it really please Jesus? This is the most important point for me.
    Someone said earlier that the world does not care about this issue. I think people do. Those people I work/socialize with want to see something different than the world they live in. When we become like everyone else we lose our distinctiveness.

  • Mike, I don’t intend to imply that swearing and cussing is not wrong. I believe it is. The question is whether this is a vital or central issue. The quirk I’m referring to is when people who are ignoring what Jesus called “the weightier portions of the law” zoom in on cussing as the big deal–mainly because that’s one thing they don’t have a struggle with.
    To reflect the biblical balance we should teach what the Bible teaches, and emphasize what the Bible emphasizes. Is this a biblical emphasis? Nowhere near the level of serious sins of omission, like failure to love God or love others in a sacrificial way. Yet, the most virulent anti-cussing preachers often flagrantly violate these far more important commands.
    That seems to be a modern version of a religious dodge already popular in Jesus’ day–straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel. The attention is directed to external, relatively unimportant areas (which the person keeps) in order to diver attention from the more important areas (where he is failing).

  • how about “explicit”? Which basically means being specific about something that’s not (or in this case, something that people believe shouldn’t be explained).

  • I generally agree with Dennis – it amazes me how often people want to talk about sins they don’t commit and completely avoid talking about the ones they do.
    And not just little things either. How many of us are actively involved in visiting people in prison, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry? We come up with all kinds of imaginative reasons why Jesus didn’t actually mean what he said here and in the sermon on the mount, but the real answer is that we are often ignoring direct commandments from Christ.
    Although I do not often use so-called cuss words, I am not offended by them. In contrast there are plenty of things I am terribly offended about in the corporate life of the church and in my personal life failures. I need help to sort my life out, no question. But I really don’t see how focussing on language is going to help that. You might be terribly offended by the way I talk, I might be offended by the shoes you wear. So what?

  • It’s certainly true that we tend to focus on areas of sin which we can get very worked up about, while ignoring others, or just ignoring some of the things we dont do that we should.
    Other good examples might be are homosexual sex, and gluttony.
    We’ve not really got very worked up about gluttony for a long time, (few hundred years) and these days its a real problem – it kills people for goodness sake.
    On the subject of language, it is very context specific. Somethings are necessary to offend people about, after all thousands of children dying is such a terrible thing, that using foul language to make a strong point and spur people into action is totally acceptable in my eyes.
    Most of the time swearing is merely self indulgent and lazy though, and we shouldnt really be living like that.
    On a mischevious note, I do love it when people from other cultures, particularly in my experience ex pat brits, come back to the uk and say unintentionaly offensive things. For instance I know missionaries working in Asia who talk blithely about ‘shit’, and workers in france who talk very ‘frankly’ about sex, both of which cause some people to raise the odd eyebrow.
    Highly entertaining.
    Great subject.

  • Martin Luther, for what it’s worth, is judged as having a very coarse and vulgar vocabulary by today’s standards. But he was not chastised as so by his contemporaries.

  • I cuss/curse sometimes when I get really angry/frustrated & an not able to express my true feelings to those who are acting like pure jas/jackasses for sure & then this is what the enemy does to shame me – he comes out of the mouth of a friend/co-worker & condemns my cussing (when all the time this person has no personal relationship with Christ, nor do they ever read the Word or attend any gathering similiar to church (other than a casino)) & gripe & mumur constantly about their husband, job, chilren, life in general – but yet I said a cuss word. I don’t like the enemy to put me down like that so that is why I stop cussing – obviously I am making someone stumble??!?!?! But isn’t that just like the devil to point at us/the called-out-ones & try to make us feel unworthy in light of whose mouth he/satan is using!!! It’s a vicious circle that I don’t like & don’t like to be accused by him that accuses the brethern – so I call on the fruit of the spirit of self-control & do not get to exercise my freedom in Christ with repentance of course (at least 90% of the time).

  • Andrew,
    There is much to consider here…it is interesting that in much of our church culture we are quick to admonish profanity but virtually ignore those who gossip or tear down others.

  • Briand
    I think that is what we are all getting to through this conversation. We like to pick the sins that we pick on.
    I agree we nee a more balanced approach to the treatment of sin, supporting one another through trials and seeing victory over it all.
    Andrew, thanks for starting this conversation. It has been very insightful.

  • Andrew, I also wanna thank you for bringing this up. In our Bible translation work, we have now come to Ezekiel, and I have to say I am SHOCKED at the language – not just individual words, but the general EXPLICIT character of whole chapters. Somebody already mentioned ch. 23 here, i would like to add ch. 16 to this list. OH MY GOD! We really struggle to convey what the Hebrew says there in modern Czech – dont want to lose the shock value by watering it down, but at the same time dont want to present God as some lewd person. This is perhaps one of the greatest translation challenges we have met up to now.
    But it makes me think – God´s heart was really broken, I mean, he was really MAD when he said those things about his people. In the same way, John the Baptist and Jesus used some strong expressions when people really p*ssed them off. But Paul uses even stronger vocabulary – not just in Phil. 3:8 (his former life = sh*t), but even more, and more consistently in Galatians, where he is most angry:
    1:8-9 cursing his opponents
    2:14 saying that Peter lives like a Gentile (!)
    3:1 calling Galatians “fools” (Jesus used the word in Luke 24:25)
    5:12 preachers of circumcision should go all the way and cut the whole thing off
    All in all, it seems to me that there is a place for being angry, strong, explicit. But the motivation behind the words makes all the difference. All these contexts express so much brokenness on the part of the speaker. I would suggest to try to reserve strong language for strong moments. I mean if those strong words become too frequent in our normal speech, “how shell we then cuss”?
    Anyway, enough said, good nite 😉

  • Andrew,
    Thanks for the discussion. My wife and I “discuss” this from time to time, and I recently had an email talk with a disgruntled reader of my blog. She was upset that I used the word damn.
    Here in Kenya since English is not most people’s first language the rules are quite different than they are in the good ole USA. Most people, young ones in particular, seem to have learned many interesting words from television or movies. It is always amusing to be in a “Christian” meeting and hear people using swear words.
    Many things that would not be permitted on the main networks in the USA are broadcast here without any hesitation. It is not uncommon to hear the f word or other type language on television. Not cable or satellite mind you, but the main broadcast stations.
    Anyway I know many supposed followers of Jesus who care more about the type of words I use than what I am saying. It is time we learned to adapt with our cultures; some fights are just not worth fighting.

  • So f8ing much time wasted trying to please the religious nitpickers among us when the followers of Jesus would better use their lives to be about His business.
    Here’s an idea… stop talking to these uptight christians and start talking to those who don’t call themselves christians.
    Love *those* folks, help them fall in love with the Jesus found in the gospels. Focus on what JESUS focuses on. Look at the % of time He spent on the subject. Simple… use no insults toward others. How anyone has built a subculture of uptight prigs worthy of the SNL Church Lady is beyond me.
    People, we must get out of our inbred churches and go into the world where we belong!
    ( | o )=====:::

  • nice guitar!
    yeah . . . a lot of us need to get out there and do it .. . but a few need to hang back, interpret whats happening, and make sure the slow ones arent dragging their feet. much nicer to do it together. much more . . . . SPECIAL . . . dont you think?

  • Andrew,
    Thanks about the guitar. 🙂
    “Together” is great as long as we don’t become a weird subculture that gives the world the idea that Jesus hates like people.
    This is very telling…
    “In a recent interview with the British gay news service Pink News, Kathy Griffin said, “America has got very Jesus-y. And you know Jesus … Jesus didn’t like homosexuals!” She went on to attack American Christians saying, “Well these Christians, they gotta twist everything, its how they are, craaaazy fundamentalists!”
    Ok, I know this is a camera craving comic but the indictment is against us for tolerating Jesus to be sold as a litmus test for politics, right or left.
    Wouldn’t it be better if our critics were taking us to task for representing Jesus who never turned someone away except the hyper religious and the craven politicians?
    We’re not telling our story well and we’re letting the “God Hates F*gs” people win.
    Just some thoughts.
    Thanks for letting us post.
    ( | o )=====:::

  • I’ve always liked the take that Dave Bazan (of Pedro the Lion) has. He sings…
    “You hear the voice of the Spirit telling you to shut the f*ck up. You thought it must be the Devil, trying to make you go astray. Besides, it could not have been the Lord because you don’t believe that he talks that way.”

  • Foul Language

    Recently Chuck Swindoll was dropped from the VCY Radio Network for “Crude, Vulgar, From the Gutter” Language. Some bloggers applauded the action, others were offended by the radio network, not by Chuck.
    Andrew, the Tall Skinny Kiwi, pointed out …

  • Great Post! This is always an amusing topic. I think of Jesus, who went ahead and said “Raca.” He could have taken a much different, more sensitive route saying, ‘what ever you do, don’t call anyone a four letter word rhymes with shaka,’ but alas, the Lord understood that the power is not in the sounding of the word, but in the heart that speaks it forth.
    Side note: I find the language of bad theology much more offensive that the language of “the gutter.” Don’t see too much about that, that doesn’t involve Spencer Burke ; )
    Word.

  • I think we should also consider a sociolinguistic perspective. I loved the historical phases in the post, but for completeness we need to consider how words function and for whom they are or are not offensive. I fear some of this debate devolves to class prejudices being aired in the name of morality. Check out http://nouslife.blogspot.com/2007/02/more-on-profanity.html and http://nouslife.blogspot.com/2007/01/theology-of-profanity.html and probably more importantly http://nouslife.blogspot.com/2006/04/who-gives-about-profanity-mar-28-2006.html

  • As a pastor and father, I think it is important, not in a legalistic way, to set an example with my speech. I do an okay job of this but…
    A couple of years ago, I was at an amusement park and somehow got talked into riding a contraption called the “Amazing flyer.” They hoist you 150 feet in the air and then drop you and you “fly.” I was strapped in with my 7 year old and, as I pulled the rip cord and started to plummet to the ground to our untimely deaths, I screamed “sh*t!” Years later my boys still LOVE to tell that story. I think that’s the only thing they remember from the whole vacation!
    Also, although my wife and I watch our words very closely in public,we both cuss a blue streak during sex. I’ve always felt like we should feel bad for that, but we don’t. 🙂

  • Cultural differances are also fun too. I was new in America and giving a sermon that had three points in it (yep boring). I stuck up my sole middle finger on point three.
    Some of the older people in the church didnt talk to me for a week. We still laugh about that one.

  • Semi-Random Linkage

    I’m actually working on a real, live post – oh frabjous day, callou, callay! Or something like that. Anyway – I think perhaps something has shaken loose and the brain juices are flowing. More on that later. In the meantime,…

  • Hi Andrew,
    Long time. Glad I looked you up.
    Growing up in a mildly conservative Christian family, I had to think this one through for myself.
    I finally figured out that the worst words were lies. The more pleasant they sounded the worse they were.
    My work became to listen hard enough to be able to use the right words to connect. If someone just heard what I said instead of what I meant, I didn’t listen hard enough!

  • Maybe Spurgeon wouldn’t say the N-word today, but had he been an American saying that in the 1800’s, it still would have had the same offensive connotation that it has today. I’m not well-versed in England’s culture and their history of swear words, but in America, the N-word was considered a derogatory term while slavery was still going on.
    “In A Treatise on the Intellectual Character and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the United States: and the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them (1837), Hosea Easton wrote that nigger “is an opprobrious term, employed to impose contempt upon [blacks] as an inferior race. . . . The term in itself would be perfectly harmless were it used only to distinguish one class of society from another; but it is not used with that intent. . . . [I]t flows from the fountain of purpose to injure.” Easton averred that often the earliest instruction white adults gave to white children prominently featured the word nigger. Adults reprimanded them for being “worse than niggers,” for being “ignorant as niggers,” for having “no more credit than niggers”; they disciplined them by telling them that unless they behaved they would be carried off by “the old nigger” or made to sit with “niggers” or consigned to the “nigger seat,” which was, of course, a place of shame.” –from
    Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy, on Washingtonpost.com
    I tried to glance through the comments to see if anyone addressed where you were raised. But here in the North (Thank God I’m a Yankee!) you would be hard-pressed to ever hear catch a “nigger” by its toe. We say “tiger.” But the point is that whether your mom and her family said “nigger” isn’t what determines if it was offensive to black people. It has been offensive for a long time and the fact that white people have said it for a long time doesn’t mean it was every not offensive.

  • I find it very interesting that many people here, including you Andrew, feel the need to “blank out” some words even when you are giving them as an example e.g. “God . . . I am sooo sorry. I feel like I have been f___d over by the devil”. but are happy to type out words like “Nigger” and “Paki” in full, words that I find far more offensive, because they are used to reduce a person to de-humanize and de-personalize them, whereas the words blanked out are “simple” expletives! Funny that, are we perhaps more concerned with our own “good standing” with God than we are with abusive stereotyping (racsim, sexism etc.)?

  • This tiny article from the Wall Street Journal brings to mind the current trend of some emerging pastors to flaunt vugarities in the name of Christ. I couldn’t say it better:
    “If you turn on the TV and hear the word “f—” or “s—”, said Daniel Henninger, don’t be surprised. A federal appeals court recently ruled that the FCC could not punish TV networks for broadcasting profanity blurted out during awards shows and other “live” programming. After the ruling, left-leaning editorialists and columnists applauded the court’s modern sensibility, and mocked the “moralists” and “language police” at the FCC. But something was missing from these commentaries: None actually used the four-letter words in question, resorting instead to “f—” and “s—” or various euphemisms. I found this omission quite curious-and telling. Could it be that “deep in the primeaval corner of the editorial soul sits the sense that somehow there really is something not quite right with promoting verbal f’ng and s’ng in public?” Vulgarities debase language, and express nothing but the speaker’s lack of imagination and self-control. They offend. They’re in bad taste. That’s why the FCC sought to hold networks accountable for airing “f—” and its crude bretheren, and that’s why the gleeful hypocrites in the print media still won’t print them.” Source: The Week Magazine – June 29, 2007

  • melody – i dont think you read the post. we are against vulgarities but words change. which words is the discussion and which words used to offend more.
    mark – likewise, i have both spelled them out and blanked them out, not as a value judgement but more because of internet filters.

  • One thought:
    And when it comes to choosing words to express oneself, I try to keep in mind my audience. If i am invited to preach at a traditional church and there is a lot of grey hair in the front rows, I figure their list of bad words is from an earlier historical period than mine and the language I choose will hopefully fit the situation and will not cause offense. Why offend when we have a message to get across? But its not always easy to express oneself fully to multiple generations.
    Sure it is – the English language is broad enough that a pastor-teacher-preacher can effective get a message to their flock without using language from ANY of your three categories of offensive language. The Christian expressing his point has historically been done MOST effectively by avoiding ALL such offensive language. It is only in the modern generation where people have lost classic command of the language and communication skills that has led to the rise in needing to use more vulgar or shocking language to TRY to make the point as effectively as those in previous generations did without using such language.

  • Good comment Jay.
    Just because we have been desensitized to the vulgarity of a word doesn’t mean it isn’t vulgar.
    Ephesians 5:4
    Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

  • Jay – a pastor and flock probably know each other well enough not to offend each other – same culture in most cases.
    but the emerging-missional churches, arising in new cultures find this a bigger issue.
    for example, i got caught out this month. I was explaining something to a group of missionaries in Scotland and i used a word that in USA I have heard used in charasmatic worship but in is only used in lesbian sex and never in regard to worship.
    how embarrassing?
    i wont be using that word in UK again.

  • Thanks Dan. I will take a look at your blog post.
    And Sarah, regarding the origin of the word “Nigger” and whether it was ever used in a non-offensive way . . .
    I think the word was used a long time ago in a non-derogatory manner to point to geographical origin.
    The early church in Antioch had a number of people including “Simon who was called Niger” (Acts 13:1) but I have always taken this to mean he was originally from Africa (word related to Nigeria or Niger, or Africa in general) and the word is not used as derogatory at all.

  • Stockpiled Stromateis

    I have enjoyed Stephen Fry’s work in various contexts; it’s now my delight to enjoy reading his blog., and not only because he slags “Dan Whatsit” and his “preposterously awful” book The Leonardo Code. And now I know many things not to say if I ever me…

  • Funny, I grew up using “eeny meeny miny moe, catch a tiger by the toe” as a playground rhyme to settle questions (like who goes first in a game), and never knew it ever had any offensive words in it. Maybe I was sheltered, but even though some people did use the n-word, it was always well known to be highly offensive, and I wouldn’t dream of using it in that rhyme. So it’ll always be “tiger” for me.

  • Thanks for linking to this again, Andrew. It’s an interesting discussion. As a Doctor I get to talk about topics like sex, bodily functions etc quite a bit, and never use any “offensive” words. But there are some people who’s lives are “F-ed up”, and I find that saying that opens a doorway to dealing with the situation that “Things aren’t going well for you, are they?” just doesn’t come near.

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