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!