Author’s Note: I’ve recently seen a bit of anger and frustration amongst Christians on my facebook feed, as it relates to issues of cursing. I’ve struggled a bit with the question, “What should the language of the redeemed look like?” and wanted to offer my take. There also will be a bit of language in this post (as there is through the rest of our blog.)
The Power of Language
I had an interesting session in my college Philosophy 101 class. My professor, always one to push the envelope at my Christian university (which, for the record, is exactly what you want in a philosophy professor!), was infamous for giving a cursing lecture. He was determined that we should be masters of our language — not trapped, offended, or able to be ruined by simple curse words. He went through every commonly used swear in American English, and we discussed its origin, its original meaning, and its perceived meaning (each of which were generally pretty different). For example, have you ever thought about the f-bomb (and flipping the bird, in both American and British history) means you wish sexual harm upon someone? Granted that’s not the way it’s often used, but knowing that origin…it makes you really think about whether that is an appropriate response when someone cuts you off on the freeway.
At that point in life, I was still in my high school mind of being VERY uncomfortable around foul language. But that lecture had the intended effect: I still wasn’t using these words, but I was much less crippled when I heard them used. I could focus on what was going on behind the words better: why someone was really upset, or excited, etc. I didn’t get caught up in the stumbling block of language.
I’m at a point in life where I don’t actually have a problem with cursing – with the BIG exception of when it is being aimed at an individual. We live in a world where sometimes, I would even argue that curse words have appropriate uses. If you want to call the fact that slavery still exists in our world a fucking travesty, I will wholeheartedly agree. Our curses often communicate an intensity of feeling – and as there is a lot of goodness beyond measure in our world, a lot of intense shit also exists.
HOWEVER. As a Christian, I know that there are fellow believers who would vehemently disagree with me: that this kind of language is never appropriate and, as a redeemed individual, our language should be of a higher level. That our language is one of the quickest ways we can be distinguished as a follower of Christ.
And I completely respect this opinion. I am wholly behind the heart of it: that the love of God would show itself in every aspect of our lives.
The Biblical Take on Grey Areas
And fortunately, the Bible clearly speaks to these kind of disagreements. Check out Romans 14, in which Paul focuses on dietary matters causing disputes (emphasis mine):
13 Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. 19 Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; 21 it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. 22 The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. 23 But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Don’t let minor stumbling blocks get in your way: Paul fits you in to three categories for dealing with gray areas and excesses in the faith:
- v13: if you feel yourself prone to judgment, he warns fellow believers not to judge by the standards they personally believe are right
- v15: if you are causing someone to stumble, he urges you to have enough self control to refrain
- v22: and if you have doubts about the way you are acting, listen to the urging of the Spirit
Every single one of us, no matter where you find yourself in the categories above, is encouraged to operate from faith and faithfulness, and to love our fellow believers.
Some of you might argue that cursing is not on the same righteous level as dietary matters. Though I warn you, there are plenty of Old Testament verses that provide very specific dietary restrictions. If Christ gives us freedom from the old laws (and praise God, I believe he does), then we can’t pick and choose which ones to keep because of our personal belief systems.
So my challenge to each of you:
If you are Camp Pro (or neutral)
Which is more important to you: caring for your brothers and sisters, or your own personal liberation? Live your life by that answer, and be respectful of the convictions of others. Examine your choices with the Lord, and know that Paul gives you permission to be confident in these carefully considered decisions, regardless of what someone else says. Being respectful doesn’t mean you are assuming their convictions as your own – it means you love your brothers and sisters more than you love a set of words.
If you are Camp Anti (or neutral)
Which is more important to you: caring for your brothers and sisters, or sowing dissension and contempt? Live your life by that answer, and carefully examine your beliefs. If your opinions about what is right aren’t in the Nicene Creed, there is a decent chance they aren’t one of the fundamental matters of our faith. Respecting each person’s ability to sort out their own convictions with God can be hard, but that is very specifically what Paul is calling us to do. And allowing someone their own convictions is not admitting your own are wrong or less significant, or that you are in agreement with them on how they live life: it is saying that you love your brother and sister more than you love your own opinions.
And for all of us
In what situations can you picture Jesus taking someone to task for a foul mouth? I can easily see him coming to the aid of a person who was being verbally assaulted or abused. But how about someone who drops a casual h-bomb? Do you think he would be more interested in cutting to the root of the issue, than getting someone’s vernacular in line? I don’t know about you, but the former feels more like the Jesus I see pictured in the gospels. The latter feels like the Pharisees, constantly focused on the outward rather than the inward.
I’d love to hear your take on the language of the redeemed. Please feel free to share in the comments – but please keep it from a place of respect and love.