The Swearing Christian: My 13 Cents

The Swearing Christian: My 13 Cents October 17, 2016

Not long ago, a reader asked my opinion on swearing/cursing/cussing/using profanity.

Certain words are offensive in the hearing of much of our culture. Before someone pipes in and says, “but swear words aren’t offensive to the culture,” think again. I was a high school teacher for many years and there were words that were “offensive” and couldn’t be used by the students nor the teachers without rebuke. That hasn’t changed in most public school systems today.

Further, many parents don’t wish their children to use certain words (you know what those words are). If such words aren’t offensive to a sizable portion of the culture, then why tell children and students not to say them?

So the fact that certain words are offensive to the culture – in general – is without dispute. The question that is in dispute is: is it acceptable for Christian to use such words? We are living in a time where there is less of a consensus among Christians than ever. For instance, I’ve seen arguments condemning and approving the following behaviors by Christian people:

*smoking cigarettes

*smoking pot

*homosexual behavior

*watching R rated movies

*watching pornography

*having premarital sex

*listening to “secular” music

*supporting gay marriage

Swearing/cussing/ profanity/vulgarity, etc. is another topic to be added to the list.

Let’s reframe the question. Instead of looking at it through a legal lens – right vs. wrong – let’s put the question on a different mountain. Is the use of certain words that are considered profane/vulgar by the general population a help to the gospel of Jesus Christ or a distraction from it? To put a finer point on it, here are five questions to ask yourself within your own heart that may help you to navigate the issue:

  • Are you addicted to using profanity? A Christian should not be in bondage to anything (see Romans 6).
  • For some people who are in the world system, using profanity gives them the impression that you are no different than they are. I’ve heard people make this case all my life. “Christians are no different than us. They cuss, talk bad about other people behind their backs, gossip, slander, back-bite, and chew up their own. I don’t see anything that sets them apart from me, so why would I want to join them?” Is it possible that any of your friends or coworkers feel this way when a Christian uses profanity/vulgarity?
  • Do your spiritual instincts tell you that profanity/vulgarity is wrong? Before you answer that, determine if your conscience is operating or if it’s seared in that area. (A person’s conscience becomes seared when they keep ignoring it when it nudges them about something that’s not in line with the Holy Spirit.) One way to determine this is to ask if it ever bothered you in the past.
  • The heart is connected to the mouth. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Do you think that profanity/vulgarity in your own life reveals a problem with your heart?
  • Does your manner of speech violate either of the following texts?

Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

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.”

Again, I’m not asking you to answer this question on this blog. This is for you to examine when you’re alone with the Lord.

Two further thoughts:

  1. Some argue that Paul used profanity in Philippians 3:8 saying that the word “skubalon” is the equivalent of “sh—” today. That’s debatable. The word has a broader range of meaning. For instance, BDAG: useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal, refuse, garbage [in var. senses, ‘excrement, manure, garbage, kitchen scraps’]. Some translations have “rubbish.”
  2. Some argue that Paul allows just about everything in his statement, “All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial.” However, most scholars agree that the phrase “all things are permissible” is a slogan that the Corinthians were waving around. Paul quotes them, and then responds with “but all things are not beneficial or edifying.”

In summary, if you can answer a resolute “no” to the above five questions, you probably feel free in the Lord to use profanity/vulgarity. If you cannot answer “no” to them all, then you may wish to reexamine your speech before the Lord. For “in His light we shall see light” (Psalm 36:9).

Updated Postscript: Here are four more texts that relate to this business of swearing (using profanity/cursing/cussing).

  1. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45 – What comes out of your mouth is what’s in your heart. So if you are using profanity, your heart is inclined toward dirty things. Interestingly, many swear words have to do with intimate acts (the f* word is an abused word that degrades the act of sex which God created; the s* word refers to what happens during a bowel movement — a highly private act. Other swear words refer to the sexual parts of human beings, which God created).
  2. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” James 3:9-10 – In James 1, the writer makes the point that if you cannot control your tongue, neither can you control your body – “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Note that swearing (profanity) is also called “cursing.” Cursing actually brings curses, and not blessing, upon one’s own life. Profanity, therefore, isn’t an insignificant matter. It points to issues that are far more serious than the words one uses. 
  3. “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk [filthy language] from your mouth.” Colossians 3:8 – Obscene talk is a clear reference to profanity and vulgarity.
  4. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7 – Isn’t interesting that when people curse, they will often use the holy name of God to do it. They don’t use the name of Alla, or Muhammad, or Buddha, or Confucius. No, they use the name that is the highest and holiest name of all – Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:9). To say “Jesus Christ!” or “For Christ’s sake!” or even “God damn!” as a curse or swear word is to misuse and degrade the holy name of God. While this is common for the world, it should not be so among those who follow, love, and honor the Lord Jesus Christ.


A Final Word

It’s part of our culture that is engrossed by the world system to use profanity. It’s in the drinking water of all media, which leads to brainwashing the masses, especially our youth. A disciple of Jesus belongs to another kingdom which has it’s own values, culture, and way of speaking. As I explained in Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, the language you use is a reflection of the kingdom to which you belong.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

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  • Carol

    There are times when swearing is appropriate. Doggone! just doesn’t express the depth of pain and horror we experience when we experience some of life’s more gut-wrenching challenges.

    Life’s disappointments are harder to take when you don’t know any swear words. — Calvin and Hobbes comic strip

  • gclason

    You are more than a little irrational. Just exactly WHAT sentence in there was illogical and just exactly WHAT ruloe of l;ogic was violated? Are you too ignorant to specify? Or are you unwilling to admit that you have no idea what you are talking about?

  • Frank Viola

    Amy: Thanks for your comment. You are correct that my five questions would apply to any behavior where there is disagreement among Christians. So you can apply them to the other issues I listed, for example. And yes, I agree with your comment about context. Your illustration was helpful in underscoring this.

  • Amy

    Frank, I found your blog on Facebook. This was the first post I read and the first time I read it I got the idea that you felt cussing was wrong. After reading your comments though I realized I was wrong about that. The questions you put out could really be applied to any behavior. I think I was being oversensitive because I do use cuss words in certain contexts. For instance, my husband and I will use certain words in the bedroom that we wouldn’t use in public because the answer would be yes to some of your 5 questions for public use. I also think it depends on who you are with and how they understand certain words too. Would you agree with the idea that it’s an issue of context? Oh, I started reading your other posts and the one on how Christians treat each other was awesome. Also Jesus and the War on Women, your interview with N.T. Wright and the one on legalism and libertinism. I find myself neither left or right but beyond evangelical also. Thanks for the discussion, I just subscribed to the blog.

  • Frank Viola

    A post on cursing vs. abusive language is a great idea. Please let me know when you post it. Would love to check it out. Evangelicalism is dwindling in large part because of the legalism, self-righteousness, and the harsh/mean-spirited way Christians treat each other in the coalition. So discussions on abusive language are needed. Thx.

  • Frank Viola

    Thx. for sharing the Campolo quote. I’ve always appreciated it and found it brilliant. How can a person not love Tony?

  • Frank Viola

    Great point. This is profoundly true. Thx.

  • Frank Viola

    Debbie: Lol. 🙂

  • Debbie Dowles

    I asked God if it was okay to curse. I’m going to take his silence as a yes.

  • Faith

    As a woman who grew up in the institutional church, I have fought my whole life to have a voice and to be heard. I have been dismissed, cut down, ignored, and put in “my place” far too many times when I have quietly voiced concerns, asked questions, or made observations. I have found that many men (and occasionally women) in the institutional church who are governed by legalism only take notice of my voice when I finally get exasperated and say a swear word. I guess I’m like a pesky mosquito that only gets taken seriously when it bites. Since I have left the institutional church and it’s many rules, I have found more freedom away from the religious folks to express myself and my opinions and have had less reason to swear to get my words acknowledged. Ironic, isn’t it? I feel the need (dare I say ‘Holy Spirit prompting’ possibly?) to swear around the people who care if I swear, but don’t feel the need around people who don’t care what language I use. I am so thankful that my God loves me no matter what I say or how I say it. If my actions and thoughts are always in love, then I feel safe knowing that He will sort the rest out. I love that verse “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Somehow I can see Jesus using an occasional swear word to make a point with the Pharisees. After all, he broke pretty much all of the rest of their rules that weren’t about God.

    I grew up in a house that considered the word “fart” a swear word. So who decides what’s a swear word? Does it have to have ‘God’ in the phrase to be swearing? Or is it just vulgarity? Piss, shit, fart, crap all refer to bodily functions or discharge. I don’t see Jesus seeing our bodily functions as evil, sinful, or wrong. After all, He made us to do these things. So is it more about etiquette than sin? Is it more about outward appearances than sin? Jesus didn’t really seem too concerned about his reputation. He seemed more concerned with showing love to those around Him. Anytime we stray into “how we look to the world” we are headed for trouble in my opinion. We should be more concerned with how much love we show the world. What does it matter what our reputation is if we are showing constant love? That’s just my 13 cents worth, but I am curious to see if I’m going to have to drop an Fbomb in response any replies I will get to this post. 🙂 <—-real smile, not fake

  • KariMorgan

    For people who get obsessively hung up on words that you “shouldn’t say”, they need to realize that you can say EXTREMELY hurtful things to someone WITHOUT uttering a single ‘potty word’.
    “If I looked up the word ‘hemorrhoid’ in the dictionary, your face would be there next to it!”
    “When I had you in the hospital, I think they threw away the baby and gave me the afterbirth instead.”
    Those are things my mom would say to me when I was younger. If you will note, there is no profanity/cussing/blasphemy/cursing/etc.

    There are also no ‘potty words’ in things like:
    “You’re so fat.”
    “You’re never going to amount to much.”
    “I wish you’d never been born.”
    “You’re no longer a member of this family.”
    Although no one has ever said those things to me, thousands of people hear this every day, and I’d venture to guess that these words do FAR more damage than “f**k you” ever would.

    The truth is that the only words that we “shouldn’t say” are ones that hurt or disrespect other people.

  • John

    Back in the distant days of the 1980s when I was in high school, I heard a sermon by Tony Campolo in which he used a curse word to make his point so powerfully that I can quote it from memory today. He said, “40,000 children will starve to death tonight, and most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse, many of you are more offended that I said ‘shit’ than by the fact that 40,000 children will starve to death tonight.” I would argue that Campolo could not possibly have made his point using a different, socially acceptable word since the shock factor for his audience was an integral part of strategy. From a rhetorical standpoint, his statement is a brilliant example of making your case powerfully, concisely, and memorably. From a standpoint of Christian theology, his statement is on sound footing for reasons already mentioned in this thread (the heart matters more than outward appearance, do unto the least of these, etc.). From a broad moral standpoint, there’s really no effective way to argue against either Campolo’s case or how he makes it.

    Perhaps the questions we need to ask don’t center on whether words themselves are a problem since words are highly malleable abstractions. Rather, we need to focus on how words are employed. As has been pointed out previously in this thread, words need not be considered questionable or offensive to be hurtful just as they need not be considered socially acceptable or inoffensive to be highly encouraging. Like any other tool, they may either build or destroy depending on how they’re applied.

  • Frank,
    This blog is disappointing. I’m hoping that it’s a gotcha, really. I was planning on doing a post on the difference between cursing and abusive language the other day. But this… This? This is classic Why I Can’t Call Myself an Evangelical anymore. I feel you’re taking our intelligence out of the equation here…

  • I believe it’s called “empathy.”

  • Danica

    Yes. And it’s also interesting that L’Engle was considered by many to be a ‘New Age Author’ by many of her contemporaries.

  • Danica

    “Statementing” – (noun): ” in banking, the issuing of financial statements”. I do not think that word means what you think it means.

  • I’m one of those heathenish Lutheran mainliners whose moral compass really isn’t disturbed by salty language…but I will share with you something my high-school English teacher, also a gentleman farmer, also a Baptist deacon, told us many years ago in a discussion about using vulgarities/profanities in our own writing: “When you’re standing up to your knees in a pile of s***, there’s really not much else to call it.”

  • Frank Viola

    “Authentein” is reaching. Not the equivalent of a cuss word. And skubalon wasn’t considered profanity like the hot-button words today. Be that as it may, the 5 questions go to the heart of the issue. If a follower of Jesus can in good conscience answer “no” to all of them, the issue is resolved on the positive. If they can answer “yes” to some of them, then it’s time to reexamine.

  • Frank Viola

    That comment made me laugh. I love thoughtful wit. Thx. 🙂

  • Jesus is all, “I brought the good news of the kingdom for *this*?”

    p.s. Jesus swears in the gospels. The Apostle Paul swears his letters to the churches. Relax, puritans.

  • Frank, if you aren’t trying to lead the reader to a conclusion (swearing is bad), you are doing a f**ing masterful job playing devils advocate.

  • You rock Rebecca! Whether or not it makes the Pelagians cringe, I have honestly dropped the f-bomb intentionally in a conversation with a non-believer because he knew I was a pastor and I figured it was a super-long-shot that he would ever consider Jesus so I wanted to rattle his stereotypes a little bit. From an evangelistic perspective, I look at everything as a “becoming all things to all people” question. If I’m in a community, where f-ing is just an adjective, then I’m probably going to use it if it’s not in a contrived way. I just don’t see the gain evangelistically from “showing other people that I’m different” like we used to learn in youth group, kind of like going to the bar and making it very visible that you’re drinking soda and quietly judging all the booze-drinkers around you while you smile at them.

    I do probably undervalue my decorum as a pastor. But I have never and will never cuss from the pulpit because I think that’s disrespectful to God just like eating a Big Mac in the pew would be. Also I would NEVER use a cuss word AT somebody. Then it becomes a completely different question. And when I cuss at my computer, it’s immature of me and contributes to my cultivating a spirit of unhealthy sinful anger. So it’s more complicated than a simple yea or nay.

  • I have never read a more substance-less critique of somebody else’s writing. I’m glad you know what the word “logic” means. Don’t we learn that shit in high school?

  • Ebeneezer Schopenhauer

    I wonder if finding Luther’s bizzare utterances funny is a sin.

  • I put the symbol in because, clearly, some people here don’t like it and my comment might not get approved. I may swear, but I read the room before I do so. I do what I can to keep people’s ears open, I’m not swearing for shock value or to offend anyone. I don’t swear around little kids (usually) because little kids can’t read a room and don’t understand that certain words are appropriate in some places but not others. Once they are teenagers and can grasp that, I talk the way I would to anyone else.

  • Win!

  • How is that illogical? Just because you disagree with her statement doesn’t make it illogical. There are plenty of situations in which s well-placed swear word can communicate love, awe, profound understanding (as in, “F*ck man, that sucks). It is a way that we can speak to people in their language. I can’t tell you how much more approachable some people find me when they find out that I swear.
    Also, I think you’re doing some mansplaining. Oh, wait, your need to qualify your remarks with your degrees has a strong air of, “I’m smarter than you.” Yup, that’s mansplaining.
    Elizabeth – BA, MPA, MDiv. So there.

  • Graeson

    Maybe logic isn’t the way to live life bro.

  • Whipsnard

    When I get angry, that’s when I have the propensity to cuss. The Holy Spirit revealed to me this verse for my life, 2 Corinthians 10:5, and uses it as a reminder to who’s I am now. Doesn’t stop me completely, but then if you knew me from the past, you would see the change He has made in me. Besides, I don’t see any version of the Bible showing Jesus dropping ‘F’ bombs while turning tables. I mean, it would have gotten His point across! Oh, wait… He is a holy God who has called me to be holy. Guess I should try harder at giving up control to Him. There should be a new ‘F’ word in the church.

  • jorge

    Matthew 12:36
    I tell you that people will have to answer on Judgment Day for every useless word they speak.
    Ephesians 4:29
    Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.

  • BT

    Interesting as well that Paul breaks his own rule here – quite possibly for the second time. Based on what we know today, it appears impossible to rule out both skubalon and authentein in 1 Tim 2 as being off color to at least some degree.

    There appears much room here to disagree.

  • I curse, also.

    I don’t like it, and usually feel bad afterwards. I don’t curse nearly as much as I used to. I guess as I grow older I see that there are more edifying ways to speak.


  • Frank Viola

    Interestingly, Paul’s admonitions are absolute … “let no corrupt communication …” I realize that some disagree with Paul on many things.

  • BT

    While skubalon does have a range of meaning that can include such things as scraps and rotting food, the infrequency of the word’s use in common Greek, existence of more commonly used alternatives, it’s fading shock value over time, and Paul’s usage here all point to the probability of a vulgarism on Paul’s part.

    As far as Ephesians 4:29 goes, a well placed (and rare) injection of coarse language can indeed facilitate getting one’s point across.

    And as per the second verse in Ephesians, such usage should be rare and used advisedly.

  • Glenn Hyke

    I have always said that profanity or swearing betrays the intelligence of a person. There a certainly more proper words in the English language to use than any vulgarities.

  • I love J. Golden Kimball stories, but on the whole I prefer people to use the kind of language they would in the temple.

  • Frank Viola

    The Blog Manager wanted me to remind everyone about the rules for commenting and moderating. If you’re new to the blog, I don’t moderate the comments. Here are the rules:

  • Frank Viola

    Thanks for “getting it”, Ralph. Your added question is excellent. It’s curious to me that at least one person infused the questions with all sorts of things that miss the mark, but those questions are standard for any Christian who wishes to follow Jesus about *any* issue. I’m glad you and so many others resonate. I will repeat what I said in the post: the Christian family has become so diverse in thought that even the mere open discussion of an issue brings with it all sorts of sets of assumptions and suspicions. Yet we have not so learned Jesus Christ, to quote Paul.

  • Ralph Kinney Bennett

    I found this a very thoughtful article and the ensuing discussion very interesting and in some cases edifying. We have all been created free and at risk in the universe. Christians have used that freedom to make a choice and within that choice a commitment. As to “any further questions,” there is a simple, comprehensive and daunting one for every committed Christian; “How will this (thought, word, action) glorify Christ?”

  • Kelly

    ” While I can be perfect in speech (white washed) my heart can be like hell.”

    Or, you could be perfect in speech and have a pure heart.

    “At least you can say that somebody who curses is transparent, not hiding his inner feelings.”

    Or, they might be hiding their feelings. Cursing isn’t proof of emotional honesty.

    “I would not like to go through life like a mister Spock always controlling my emotions.”

    First of all, Mr. Spock is awesome. Secondly, we all have to control our emotions, and you know it. Do you curse in front of little children, or the elderly, or your boss? Do you throw tantrums at work, burst out laughing at funerals, etc? Not swearing doesn’t mean becoming a robot, and swearing doesn’t make you a more “real” person.

  • pete d

    Great post Frank and particularly Sally’s response. We are commanded to “Be holy, as I am holy” What does that entail?
    I also rarely cuss when getting my adult son’s attention at home. He uses the f’ bomb frequently. It bothers me very much and is probably keeping me from going to see “Silver Lining Playbook” as reviews say there are 34 f’bombs in it. Must be a great flick but that would probably keep me from enjoying it completely. My son’s friends say that they didn’t even notice that! Could they be numbed to its use? Probably. On the other hand, I enjoy Anne Lamont’s books very much, for instance, and many R rated movies, with some cursing going along with them. Must be the “decorum” of the media!
    One other point, my guess from the texts is that “sinners” that hung out with Christ changed quite a bit after realizing who He was and “being born again as believers”. ala woman at the well (Go clean your act up)

  • Sally

    My questions are these:

    1 – Instead of “Why can’t I?” shouldn’t we be asking “Why should I?”

    Instead of looking for (or actively using) an excuse to continue the way we are (calling it “freedom” or saying the other way is “legalistic”), shouldn’t we ask ourselves how we can become more like Jesus instead of how can we fit into the world better and make others around us more comfortable?

    To say that cursing or swearing is, in essence, a good thing to do in order to make lost people around us more comfortable with us as a “Christian,” is a cop out (to say the least). Jesus was NOT “seeker friendly!”

    To be honest, I am totally offended by the crude sexual words used freely on here. How can the “F” word EVER be used decently? And to say that it can be used when witnessing? Come on!

    And using God’s name in vain is totally out of the question and is very clearly sinful to those who are His.

    2 – Where is the sacrificial living? Those who are Jesus’ disciples know His voice and follow Him and “die to themselves daily.”

    This whole discussion makes me want to say less that is offensive, NOT MORE. To have the attitude that you use swear words and will continue says a whole lot about your heart.
    You can call me “judgmental,” but the Bible tells us to “judge righteous judgment.” I am not pointing at your splinter before having taken out my own log. We are to see things as they are and have the courage to speak up with boldness and a heart of love.

    3 – Whose are you? Does Christ own you? Or do you own yourself? My attitude should be – “I will go no where, say no thing, participate in no activity that is not of You, Lord!”

    Frankly, after reading the comments on here, I am determined to be even more holy in my speech. Any unwholesome talk, whether it be gossip, questionably crude, or simply worthless and idle, I will diligently work on, knowing that my Lord is listening.

    Our aim should be to honor Him in all that we do and say! “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, Oh Lord, my strength and my Redeemer!”

    I am very boisterous and very bold, but I don’t need to use foul language to get my point across in the name of a holy God! I can get in the trenches and relate to someone and let them know I’m human and have compassion without talking trash talk.

    No wonder our country and world are in such a bad shape! People of God, rise up, seek to be more holy and separate for Him!

  • I try not to use vulgarity. Sometimes though I curse in anger. I don’t particularly feel good about it. I don’t think that it is perfect yet sometimes it might be acceptable in certain circumstances. When my son was wasting opportunity after opportunity and kept getting in trouble as a juvenile lost my cool with him and istructed him that it was in his best interest to wake the F up and remove his non-thinking head from his ass. He got the picture. Do I talk like this on a regular basis? NO.
    I have been to combat in Iraq on 3 deployments as a squad leader, then a section sgt, and finally as a platoon sgt. On more than one occasion I used profanity in the emotion and heat of battle. Yet with my soldiers I tried to be as gentle and loving as a good dad would be.
    So using profanity all the time = NOT GOOD
    yet sometimes it may make the point

  • Frank Viola

    As already stated twice, the reason behind the post is set forth in the post in clear terms and I repeated it in a comment. To read anything else into it is to “project” and judge motives. “Having an agenda” beyond the reason stated by an author is a judgment of motive/intention. Let’s leave it there.

  • René

    Yes, and he also knows my thought. I wonder why we are so concentrated on the outward, while Jesus in the sermon on the mount was rather preoccupied with the heart. While I can be perfect in speech (white washed) my heart can be like hell. At least you can say that somebody who curses is transparent, not hiding his inner feelings. I would not like to go through life like a mister Spock always controlling my emotions.
    I don’t read much in Frank’s post about the role of the Holy Spirit in this. In stead of concentrating on legalism shouldn’t we be more concerned that he leads us 24×7. Is it not more a matter of surrendering control over against taking control? Rules will only proof that we are sinners, they will not free us from sin.
    Read Shelby Marsh’ comment and you’ll see what I mean.

  • MJ

    I also wanted to add that I’m not judging your motives–I don’t know you and I have no idea what you’re about; your words are all I have to go on and so when I read the essay I step back and consider what it is trying to convey and how it is doing its work. As I’m sure you meant your own words of caution to me to be seen as a constructive critic, I would suggest that you step away from your essay and read it with fresh eyes. Perhaps you will then admit that it has a specific agenda, or perhaps my reading is, as you wrote, suspect.

  • Frank Viola

    Very simply: You’re reading into the questions and the post things that aren’t there. Not a good practice when reading someone’s writing. I try to keep myself from doing that when reading others as it’s presumptuous (and wrong) to judge the motives of another human being. Only God has that ability. The post stands as stated and the questions can apply to many other questionable practices wherein Christians disagree. I trust you understand that cultural issues have moral components as well. And that’s what some are arguing here. But again, I’ve set the issue on a plane that transcends both culture and morality.

  • MJ

    Hi Frank (and Mike Kurt, and Pat)
    Hey, first off, I really like Mike’s comment above and for Pat, I do use Anglo-saxon words on occasion, but I also try to employ a sense of decorum–I try to think about my audience–when I reply to posts like these. Kurt’s post pretty much illustrates or at the very least aligns with my mentioning of Madeline L’Engle’s use of Anglo-saxon niceties.

    Frank, when I read your list of questions and the “if you can answer ‘yes’ to all of these” line, I think “look, Matt, you’re not supposed to be able to answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions and if you do manage to answer in the affirmative then you truly must be hardened to the core of your soul, or hopelessly clueless about what it means to be a true believer”–that’s what I understand your list of questions to be stating. You can disagree with my reading, but look at how the readers keep stacking on yet more questions to your already long list–gads! Is this what it means to live for Christ? Answering lists of questions with every culturally questionable activity!? Yeowza!

    Words are, well, words and yes we will stand or fall by them; however, I don’t think that scriptural passages are not emphasizing the use of individual words, but the manner and spirit in which we say what we say (constructing sentences of words to lie, cheat, demean, and steal).

    As I mentioned earlier, most of the words being bandied about as cuss words are merely leftovers from the Anglo Saxons while the nicer speech is derived from Latin words. Anglo-Saxon words were considered coarse, earthy, base and ignoble (because Anglo-Saxons were considered to be coarse, earthy, base and ignoble by their Norman conquerors as well as by their earlier Latin speaking Roman conquerors). Latin speech was noble, pure, sophisticated, and spoken by the educated elite (as was the French of the later Normans); however, in the decline of the Empire when the first East/West councils were meeting, the Greeks saw Latin as a rough, unsophisticated language incapable of expressing the subtleties of the Godhead via theology. Anyway, we Christians crafted metaphors that link anything of the earth as ignoble and bad (flesh, anyone?) and anything that was from the sky was noble (the Great Chain of Being is a fine example). So, Anglo-Saxon speech being rough and earthy was seen as ignoble and not meant for polite society (which is why the official language of Queen Elizabeth’s court was Italian (i.e. “latinate”) and NOT English!) All this history to say that the use of individual “cuss” words is a CULTURAL issue and not a moral one. Decorum, baby.

  • Enjoying the discussion. Thank you Frank for initiating. I suppose the one thing I would add is that while we can debate whether Jesus would or would not use words we consider profane in our culture, he very clearly hung out with quite profane people. He may not have spoken like them, but he felt at ease with them, and they with him. This brings me great relief, because one thing is quite clear: no matter what words we do or don’t use, we are all quite profane! This also tells me that he didn’t, more than likely, directly confront off-color speech patterns by the profane at his table (which is why we are left surmising much about what he would say or not say when it comes to off-color speech). As indicated in many of the comments, his approach was and is typically much more oblique when it comes to reshaping our thought and speech patterns. “Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good.” Interestingly enough, the speech patterns he does confront are those of the pious. The ultimate blasphemy was not saying “holy crap” “fuck” or “shit.” It was speech of the pious who would only ever dare say at worst “f***” “sh*t” or even “G-d” and at best “dang” “darn” “gosh” and frickin'” but who when seeing the finger of God moving right before their faces sneered “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” It was in this setting that he uttered the words, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” This tells me that, while not giving us carte blanche to cuss away, we should perhaps be asking instead how do we pious folks swear like a sailor without ever using a single off-colour word.

  • Frank Viola

    Smiley faces = genuine smile. The 5 questions are framed not in a right vs. wrong periscope (which is stated in the post), but rather reframed to ask how it bears on the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Christian witness. I’ve discussed the matter of spiritual instincts in my books, but in short, they are the instincts that the Holy Spirit gives the believer when the Spirit enters into a person. We are given a new set of faculties by which to discern what is pleasing to the Lord verses what is of the flesh and of the world. 1 John 2 talks about this as well as Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 2 and Hebrews 5 – “having our senses exercised to discern . . .” Anyways, feel free to add another question to my 5. Take a look at some of what the others have offered on that score. They are great contributions.

  • MJ

    Hi Frank,
    Well, if I had to pose a “thoughtful” question, I would ask “is this a moral issue or a cultural one that is making a moral issue out of a matter of decorum? If it is an issue of decorum, then I would ask, “what role should decorum play in our Christianity?” However, this kind of question would be out of place in the parameters that you have assigned in your main text (the interpretive aspect of the essay kindly insists that using coarse words is a moral issue and your questions align well with this outlook) If you want to promote “thought” about using coarse words, then you’d have to reshape your approach, and rephrase some of your questions as they are written in such a way as to gently lead the reader to see the error of her ways (what are “spiritual instincts” anyway? ) but something tells me that you’re not interested in that–could this be the reason that I used the word, “agenda”? Perhaps.

    P.S. I so dislike those smiley faces because I can never tell if they are genuine or meant to be ironic.

  • Pat

    I have a question. If those of you who truly believe that using profanity/cussing/vulgarities is fine, then why not be just ad bold and spell the whole word(s) out in your post instead of using symbols? Or are you afraid/concerned of/with offending some? If you are concerned with writing the words, shouldn’t you be just as concerned with speaking them?

    Another question. Would you choose to use these words around little children? If not, why not, if they really do uplift and do no harm?

  • Frank Viola

    MJ: I’ll have to borrow your mind-reading cap when you’re finished with it. 😉 My only “agenda” is to stimulate thought and encourage *prayer* before the Lord on this matter via the 5 questions I set forth. I believe that is clearly stated in the post. Thus you seem to be imputing motives beyond that to my post that aren’t there. If there’s any other “agenda,” it’s stated in my question at the end: “Can you add any further questions to the above list?” I noticed you didn’t answer that. 🙂 Thx. for your comment.

  • I think you make some valid points here Rebecca.

  • Hi Frank,

    I wrote about this a bit over a year ago. I took a slightly different approach.

    Briefly, I’ll add this definition from Philippians

    skubalon – In secular Greek this depressing word means rubbish and muck of many kinds: excrement, rotten food, bits left at a meal as not worth eating, a rotting corpse. Nastiness and decay are the constant elements of its meaning; it is a coarse, ugly, violent word implying worthlessness, uselessness, and repulsiveness… The only NT usage is Paul’s in Phil 3:8, where he says of all the natural and religious privileges which once seemed sweet and precious, and all the things he has lost since becoming a Christian, “I count (estimate, evaluate) them as (nothing but) dung.” The coarse and violent word shows how completely Paul had ceased to value them. [New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 1, Zondervan: 1980, pg 480]

  • Shelby Marsh

    I can only tell you my story. I got saved in jail…just me and Jesus. 2days after I got out of jail, I resided in a half-way house & attended AA…I cussed like a sailor. Then I started not liking how it sounded coming out of my mouth. It didn’t really bother me that others cussed. Not long after that, it was as if my heart was being pierced when I heard others cussing; and yes some hurt way more than others for some reason. I can’t fully explain the hows and whys. All I know is that it was the Holy Spirit. I don’t remember consciously thinking I shouldn’t cuss. I don’t recall asking God to help me. All I really know is that 12 years after being born-again, I no longer drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or cuss. It is by God’s grace & I can’t imagine ever doing these things or wanting to do these things anymore.

  • MJ

    Hi David (and a bit for Frank V at the close),
    You were a bit rough on the first poster. The Christan writer, Madeline L’Engle (I’m not sure if you are acquainted with her, but she wrote some children’s books–among many publications–that are still widely read today) once argued in favor of a targeted usage of profanity as a way to grab her listening audience–because the value of words change with time, she reasoned that using a well-placed expletive would underscore the seriousness of her message. Her only misstep, so she wrote, was that she chose the word “sh*t” whn trying to make an emphatic underline, and the vast majority of her listeners failed to even bat an eye. Words are powerful at conveying emotion and while profanity is certainly among our arsenal as humans , we should, if we so choose, to deploy these words wisely for their intended effect, unlike our father in the faith, Martin Luther, who used them widely and often, but without intended effect because his culture, like L’Engle’s audience, was more than just well-acquainted with them. Again, please refrain from making a moral issue out of what is essentially an issue of decorum.

    And to Frank V: I understand that you have an agenda (13 cents is, after all, more than a tuppence worth and so you have an investment somewhere) but a host is always seen as gracious if he replies not only to those who are in line with his thinking, but also his opponents in the matter at hand.

  • Stefan Korth

    This subject is rather easy. As all moral questions this is a Jewish point of view. We did not get a new law, therefore there is no such answer to a question like this. Is it allowed to swear? The answer is easy: ask god. And keep the answer to yourself and do not turn it into a law. If we do not have a law, but a relationship, we can never be sure with a law to do the right thing. The Pharisee obeyed the laws but did miss the heart of the matter. So the absolute answer should be maybe. There is no absolute thing that stands out like a law. Even the few reminding laws the apostles left were compromised by Paul later on. The deciples never knew what Jesus was up to next. If they thought they’d be ahead if the game, Jesus corrected them again. They were looking for the right rules, as we still do today. If you live by rules, you have not yet understood the meaning if grace. Morals are a nice thing for human interaction and therefore make sense as good manners, but please do not mix these things up with heavenly affairs. It is as if we discuss if taking no showers is a bad thing. Or eating junk food. Our behavior will have an effect on us, therefore we should think twice. But it won’t interfere with god. Grace is still greater than we can grasp.

  • Frank Viola

    Great question. Thanks.

  • I think a question I would add to the list is, “Am I causing a weaker Christian to stumble or sin by using profanity around them?” Sometimes fellow Christians see us doing certain things and join in, thinking it will bring solidarity, but violate their consciences by doing so. If a person feels deep down that swearing is wrong, then we shouldn’t do it around them or encourage them to join in. As the Apostle Paul said, I shouldn’t allow the exercise of freedom that I have in Christ to lead others astray.

  • Frank Viola

    Adrian: Thanks for adding to the list. These are great questions.

  • Summer Smith

    I’m still up in the air about the whole darn thing. It confuses me. I’m not so bothered by cursing, but I understand that having small children, I really don’t want them to be penalized in school for it… so I prefer to refrain mostly on that alone. It has nothing to do with what I consider sinful etc.

  • BTW….get this, although you can’t see him, Jesus IS in the room and he hears everything you say.

  • I have two more questions:

    1. Is it a word that an unbeliever has apologised for using in your presence? Often their standards for us are higher than our standards.

    2. Can you imagine the Lord Jesus Christ using that word if he was to appear today? Or, for that matter, if Jesus was in the room would you use that word?

    Of course some of us have seared our consciences, but somehow I think most of us know which words we have no business in using!

  • MJ

    Hey Rebecca,
    I mostly agree with your assessment, but I kind of cringed when you fell into the trap of comparing/contrasting your use of anglo-saxon niceties with the outright impermissible activities of gossiping, slandering and the like. “Swear” words are, for the most part, etymologically linked with anglo-saxon speech, while their wholesome sounding counterparts are mostly taken from Latin (i.e. sh*t versus excrement). Hence, there’s no moral issue at work here; however what we are dealing with is the concept of decorum. While I can certainly let my linguistic hair down with friends and those who need to know that I can relate on their level, I wouldn’t use some of those words while speaking from the pulpit because the scene and the audience expectations are completely different. I’m not saying that one should be fake by putting on and taking off ways of speaking; what I am stating is that what I say is not as important as who I am saying it to.

  • David

    I have never read a more illogical reply. One would go as far as saying you have no logic at all. Please take a class on logic before statementing “Used properly, curse words can do an exemplary job of communicating the goodness, tenderness and depth of a person’s heart.”
    David – MS. BA.

  • Great blog entry & great questions to use for reflection to ‘check ourselves’ & look inside our heart as to why we act a certain way or do things that we do. These can be used for so many areas of our daily life & walk. Thanks as always

  • I curse and will continue to curse. I don’t gossip, I don’t cheat, I don’t slander, I do my utmost to extend grace to all – especially the fallen, hurting and unlovable. I stand on my witness and my character as testimony to the active work of Christ in my life. Cursing puts many people at ease. It communicates an ability to be real, to be willing to get right in the ditches and gutters of reality along with everyone else. It brings flavor to my communication. It is an outlet for intense emotions which harms no one. Properly used, it is earthy without being vulgar. I know many people who engage in degrading speech without ever using a curse word. And I know others who engaging in uplifting talk while using curse words.

    I’m not saying that everyone ought to curse. But I am saying that it is entirely possible to use curse words as a person of faith. And no, it does not require searing one’s concience to do it. The content of a person’s speech is far deeper than the mere words used. Most people would rather hear “that F’ing s*cks, bro!” than “bless your heart” from the lips of Christians. Used properly, curse words can do an exemplary job of communicating the goodness, tenderness and depth of a person’s heart.