Christians who cuss

Kudos to Slate for taking such an unusual and fascinating approach to Serena Williams’ tirade at the U.S. Open Saturday. I’m sure you know the back story, but, if not, here it is:

Williams was on the ropes against Kim Clijsters in the semifinals when she foot faulted on a serve. Williams didn’t believe it and let loose on the line judge:

“I swear to God, I’m f—ing going to take this f—ing ball and shove it down your f—ing throat, you hear that? I swear to God.”

Slate’s approach was in line with the unique angles they often take. This time it concerned just whether Williams’ behavior, particularly her swearing to God and cursing at another person, were congruent with her practices as a Jehovah’s Witness.

The short answer: No.

Cursing, then, is a sin among Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it’s a “nonjudicial” one — meaning it’s not sufficiently grave to merit formal censure from Witness elders and cannot lead to “disfellowshipping” (expulsion from the congregation). Infractions for which you might be disfellowshipped include abortion, sexual abuse, adultery, heresy, and murder. The Sept. 8, 1989, edition of Awake! recommends that “if a fellow Christian lapses in his or her speech,” the best corrective is “a kindly reminder — not a lecture.” Habitual cussing, however, may warrant a talking-to from a fellow Witness or some kind of disciplinary action from family members.

And that’s why this feature is called The Explainer. I feel more enlightened for reading it.

But talk about a fault. Slate writer Juliet Lapidos ends with this paragraph that could not be more misleading:

Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, aren’t alone in discouraging bad language. Other small, tight-knit Christian groups such as the Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, and Brethren strongly disapprove of curses, particularly those involving the words Jesus or God. They recommend substitutes, like goodness for God. Among Catholics, cursing is generally considered a venial but not a mortal sin — so the foul-mouthed won’t be automatically excluded from the kingdom of heaven.

Actually, I think it’s more than just the Anabaptists who “frown upon” curse words. Plenty of Christians are prone to the occasional cussing — especially when I play basketball. But I can’t think of a single denomination that doesn’t at least discourage cursing, if not outright teach against it.

I seem to recall this teaching:

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt[a] water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

That’s from the Book of James, which is included in all Christian Bibles

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  • Lisa Jones

    Serena did more than just swear she used the *F* word with assault threat this is Biblical “reviling” an ex-communication disfellowshipping offense all by itself.

  • Logan Roberts

    Rock star Prince,the Williams sisters and other famous people have no problem telling the public about their connections with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. How can it be that the organization, known as “mother” treats all of her children differently. “Mother” has always encouraged her children not to participate in worldly pursuits, such as being a rock star or a professional athlete.

    The recent news concerning Michael Jackson is opening lots of eyes and getting the Witnesses to think. Michael Jackson disassociated himself back in the 1980s, but yet his mother and other Witnesses seemed to have no problem associating with him.
    Why the double standards?

    The Watchtower organization can only “pull the wool” over the eyes of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for so long. Many Witnesses are now leaving the org. because of the double standards that are so profoundly noticeable in their “spiritual paradise”.

  • andrew

    There have been many contestants at wimbledon who curse but their religous affiliation was never brought up.

  • Julia

    Among Catholics, cursing is generally considered a venial but not a mortal sin — so the foul-mouthed won’t be automatically excluded from the kingdom of heaven.

    There aren’t any sins among Catholics that automatically exclude on from the kingdom of heaven. Until the last moment of life, one can repent of one’s sins, be absolved and be spared the ultimate penalty. Where do people get these clever-sounding but erroneous ideas?

  • Lisa Jones

    Jehovah’s Witnesses celebs are the same as Scientology celebs eg.Tom Cruise,no worse but NO better.

  • Jettboy

    “Many Witnesses are now leaving the org. because of the double standards that are so profoundly noticeable in their ‘spiritual paradise.’”

    From what I understand from many atheists, this is why all religions are losing membership in the United States. Its the old beam and mote thing going here with the comments.

  • T Stanton

    Not sure what lots of the above comments are talking about.

    Anyway – if I recall correctly – Tmatt once posted about some evangelical men’s movement where the pastor or preacher or leader or evangelist or whatever used to cuss from the pulpit or stage or platform or whatever.

    It was some man-hood type thing, but I also remember that Mark Driscoll used to cuss from time to time and I think he is still comfortable using a$$ in a sermon.

    These hooks would have been interesting and could have completed the idea.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    That’s a great point, T. I have known pastors to drop bombs from the pulpit to make their congregation squirm and to illustrate a point about how they don’t haventhe same reaction to, say, hunger. Others just don’t think profanity is a big deal. Such discussion would have filled this story out. But, on the whole, I think we can agree that Christianity, not just Anabaptists, says no to cursing.

  • Jerry

    I’m sure you know the back story

    You know what they say about unwarranted assumptions, I assume :-) I don’t follow sports so I knew nothing about the back story.

  • david s

    Contra Lisa Jones, I would say, “Serena did more than use the f– word, she swore.” That is, she invoked the divine as an oath.
    In my religious understanding (I’m Catholic), the second commandment is “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Not to be used lightly. The f– word is merely vulgar, and an offense against other people. Obviously, also a cultural taboo, and an offense against journalists’ stylebooks, as indicated by the non-use of the word in the original post.

  • T Stanton

    Brad – You’re clearly right, I grew up in Assembly of God (Oregon) and I remember getting in trouble at church when I was 7 for using ‘heck.’ At home, that word was completely acceptable, but at church it was not children’s church friendly. Apparently my mom (dutifully) took the heat on it for me – God bless her.

    Granted the AG is influenced by the Anabaptists historically – but your point still holds.

  • Julia


    You’re right on about the imprecise use of language. It seems that cussing, cursing, swearing, profanity and oaths are all bunched together as equivalent.

    Cursing/cussing – calling down devine or demonic harm on somebody else

    swearing – calling down devine or demonic harm on one’s self or one’s loved ones if the person doesn’t do something that is promised – an action, which can include telling the truth

    oath – calling on God as a witness to the truth of a statement

    Searing & oath can be similar

    profanity – speak about something sacred with disrespect or debase a person with speech – this would probably include the “F” word

  • Gayle

    I don’t think Serena would be disfellowshipped/expelled/excommunicated from her congregation. However, she could very well be publicly (or privately) reproved for her ‘conduct unbecoming a Christian’.

  • rosie

    It is true that Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for their clean speach; the very fact that Ms Williams outburst has attracted such attention in part lays testimony to the high standards held by the 7 million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide.

    Regardless of any actions (if any) taken by the Jehovah’s Witness organisation, honest observers will no doubt note that it is not reflective of the majority and should not be used as a platform by JW opposers eagre for an opportunity to promote their anti-witness propoganda oneline.

  • jeans

    FWIW, Mormons have taken the injunction against cussing and using God’s name in vain to some amusing lengths that I don’t heard anywhere else, including “Oh my heck,” “Flip,” “Fetch” and others – as seen in Napoleon Dynamite. LDS discussion here for example.

  • jeans

    sorry about my mangled verb in that comment!

  • NillaMo

    Major problem with this article…. It is putting Jehovah’s Witnesses in the light with Christians. They are not associated with the Christian religion, but rather deny the deity of our Saviour, Jesus.

    Of course, Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses alike are prone to making human mistakes, including cursing. The difference being that Christians are taught salvation through Jesus’ payment on the cross for our personal sins. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus’ sacrifice only paid for their sins as a group, that as individuals they must earn their salvation. (February 1, 1996 WT as seen on their website)

    I hope Serena someday comes to an understanding of what Jesus truly did for her, that she can be forgiven and that she comes to know and love Him. Perhaps then she can be helped to overcome her anger and the feelings of guilt and shame that must come as she loses control. Having that “earned salvation” hanging over one’s head makes for a hard time, for her and for all of JWs.

  • Elizabeth

    The best source of info on JW is EX-members who are no longer under the spell of the Watchtower corporation.

  • http://N/A Todd

    Rosie said it best

  • Smith

    The Watchtower teaches Jesus second coming on October 1914 this is false doctrine.

  • tom sheepandgoats

    Ah well. Sometimes a woman just has to blow off some steam.

    David and Julia have a point. Moreover, in the Bible there is decidedly earthy speech. Such as when Baal failed to respond to an offering made for him. Elijah taunted that perhaps he was indisposed, taking a you-know-what.

    “And it came about at noon that Elijah began to mock them and say: “Call at the top of your voice, for he is a god; for he must be concerned with a matter, and he has excrement and has to go to the privy.” – 1 Kings 18:27 (NWT)

    It’s hard to believe he actually said “excrement?” Don’t you think that’s modern translators, trying to clean the passage up a bit?

    Most translations sanitize it even further, saying he must be on a journey, or concerned with a project. But the Living Paraphrased Bible says he must be sitting on the toilet.

  • tonyspeed

    amen lisa jones, amen.

    REVILING: Subjecting a person to insulting speech, heaping abuse upon him

    The Bible says: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a REVILER or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)

    *** it-2 p. 802 Reviling ***
    “Deliberate reviling had no place among first-century Christians. (1Co 6:9, 10; 1Pe 3:8, 9) One guilty of habitually and intentionally vilifying others was to be expelled from the congregation.”