The Sacred and the Profane

The Sacred and the Profane May 1, 2006

I’ll tell you what I tell my children: it is never appropriate to use bad language.

Let me add a further clarification to this directive.

It’s especially important never to use bad language in an interview with the Washington Post in which you are identified as the pastor of a church . . . in an article that is published with full color pictures the day before the quarterly all-church business meeting (look it up—I am not really interested in providing a direct link at this moment).

There are many reasons why this is not a good idea, beginning with the fact that, although society has degenerated quite a bit over the years, I’ve discovered that it is generally unacceptable for pastors to be on the public record swearing. It’s kind of like the old adage that Baptists never recognize each other in the liquor store—I think most people probably KNOW that the pastor might occasionally use a bad word. But not in public. And certainly not when speaking to a reporter officially on behalf of the church.

Further, I am coming to understand that there is something important in this city about a public persona. In Washington, you see, you are the person you really are in real life and you are also the person the public sees. Two different people. I’ve discovered that my “be real wherever you are” approach to ministry and life does not mix well with this unspoken Washington rule.

I have had a long and rocky relationship with the press, not having learned anything at all in seminary about how to effectively deal with the press (among other things). You would have thought that I would have learned my lesson by now and kept my mouth shut but, alas, such was not the case.

As I gratefully gain distance from this experience I want to consider what I might have learned from it. I’m still spinning but here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Do not use bad words in public, especially in front of reporters who are interviewing you in your professional capacity.
  • Apologize when you make a mistake; it’s time the congregation realizes you are not perfect, after all.
  • Explore and pursue ways to make sure this never happens again (Media training? Perpetual laryngitis? Never talking to the press ever again no matter what? Adopting a public persona for whom you’d be required to purchase a completely new wardrobe? Getting your mother to come for a visit and wash your mouth out with soap? I am considering all of these).

I’m trying, as I desperately wait for the next big drama to overshadow this one, to look at the positive. Right now the only positive things I can think of are two. First, I’m clinging to the slim chance that someone will read the article and think, “A Baptist minister who swears! I might like to visit that church.” And, second, if I had to be quoted in an international news publication using profanity, I used possibly best word I could have used, as “hell” is, technically, a theological term.

Isn’t all of life a strange blending of the sacred and the profane? This week I got a taste of the practicalities of this unique combination. Here’s to hoping I’ve learned my lesson!

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  • A. Lin

    I had to go over to the Post and read what you were quoted as saying. I don’t think it is too bad, but I bet you will be extra careful next time. And you are right, at least it was hell and not some other word. One-sentence quote from you and that was the one they printed! :)

  • Anonymous

    That would certainly not stop me from coming to your church!

  • Mary

    Reading it, I can see how incredibly easy it would have been to do that… like walking down the street in full view of a banana skin, muttering “I must not slip on it… I must not…. whoops… bang”.

  • Anonymous

    Now we will definitely have to visit Calvary DC when we are in the neighborhood in late July! Grace and peace from Slovakia.

  • Teri

    Having read it, it doesn’t seem that bad. Though I can see how some churchy folk might think differently! I hope a new drama comes soon.

    In other news but the same article: my church is the one in Chicago that they’re talking about. So I can feel your pain a little on the whole church-in-real-estate-what-on-earth-are-we-doing-here? situation.

  • Onajourney2b

    hmm…you could always hire a fresh new face on staff who just happens to be graduating in the spring 07 with a PUBLIC RELATIONS degree…just a thought…Lym.

  • Will

    Hi Amy

    It will not stop me to go to church as well. If we’ll take every word we’ll say in a life time. And don’t forgive each other for what each other say. In the end we’ll be going to that hot place in hand basket.

    You’re a great person.

    You’re Friend

  • Tripp

    I read the article.

    I laughed out loud…and still agree with you. Irreverent pastors slip in this way. I know I do. I said “bulls**t” in the pulpit one morning.

    Yeah, that makes ya popular. Oy. I think I am still digging myself out of that one.

  • revabi

    I couldn’t find the post, don’t have a subscription to the post. But I with the others, it wouldn’t keep me from coming. to church.

    While going through seminary, I worked at a children’s home in the 15 year old girl’s cottage. I learned more curse words working with those girls. They became part of my vocabulary. To this day, I cannot get rid of them totally. Although I am much better, and no my mom did not come and wash my mouth out with soap, and your mom does not need to do yours either. (Although the mothers at dance class were talking about using vinegar.)
    The worse use of the curse words were in front of the youth group, when they were just sitting around doing nothing instead of helping clean up on a retreat. The Pastor’s son was there, and went home to tell his daddy, who then had one of those not-so-nice tough confrontive talks with me his youth leader. Needless to say, I was more careful after that.
    Two things seem to stand out in your post; 1. a previous bad experience with the media, and they can be oh so fun, and 2. Having a public persona versus the private one. I hear your pain. I think we are still called to be ourselves, and yet deal with the media and some people with caution and to know when, who and what. You are a breath of fresh air to the people of Calvary and DC. And remember they called you there as their Pastor perhaps because you are who you are, certainly God has called you there.

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