When I was a writer for The Wheaton Record circa 2003, I wrote a feature entitled “Cursing at Wheaton.” It was a two-page spread, 3,000 word story that I had researched and worked on for a month. It covered all the angles of cursing from a Christian perspective, including insightful interviews with English and Anthropology professors (Roger Lundin and Brian Howell), and even a survey of 100 Wheaton students who reported on their cursing habits. My biggest finding in the article? Seniors at Wheaton were about 30% more likely to cuss on a daily basis than were freshman. And more likely to use the f- word on a daily basis. No big surprise, I guess. The language of Christian young people isn’t as pristine as it used to be.
The issue of language is of course a terribly complex one, and an entire book could be written on the whole idea of cursing, profanity, expletives, etc.
But to me (call me old fashioned), the issue for Christians is pretty cut and dry. We should avoid using profanity; we should keep our cussing to the absolutely minimum, especially in public.
It has less to do with anything inherently wrong with the words themselves and everything to do with our Christian witness. Even if you disagree that certain words are “profane,” you can’t change the cultural perception. You can’t change a taboo. And as long as certain words are viewed as offensive, profane, or taboo, Christians should make every effort to avoid speaking them. We are called to a higher standard, right? Aren’t we supposed to be set apart? For the same reasons that we should avoid drunkenness and drugs and other “worldly” activities, we should avoid cursing. We are the salt of the earth. We need to discipline ourselves as such.
When I am around Christians friends and I hear them cussing up a storm, I cringe. It makes me sad. The words themselves don’t necessarily bother me. They aren’t what make me cringe. Rather, it is the fact that my Christian brothers and sisters are so recklessly abandoning scruples in what I daresay is one of the most crucial areas of our Christian witness: our language. Just read James 3:1-12.
Not using profanity in today’s world is noticeable. It is the sort of abstaining activity that people will take note of. What an opportunity for Christians to truly show restraint and demonstrate the different-ness of the Christ-like life! I’m not saying we should chastise non-Christians for using bad language or avoid movies or music with salty language; I’m just saying that we, as Christians, should set an example by being different.
Certainly the case can be made that a well-placed swear word can be appropriate for a Christian when no other word will get across an idea or express a certain level of emotion/emphasis. Some of my favorite Christian artists will occasionally throw a profanity into their lyrics to really drive home a point.
Dave Bazan, for example, in his Pedro the Lion song “Foregone Conclusions”:
And you were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord / to hear the voice of the Spirit, begging you to shut the f--- up.
Or Over the Rhine, in their beautiful song “Changes Come”:
I wanna have our baby / Somedays I think that maybe / This ol' world's too f----d up / For any firstborn son.
And most recently, Derek Webb caused a stir when his record label refused to include the song “What Matters More” on his new CD because of this lyric:
'Cause we can talk and debate until we're blue in the face / About the language and tradition that he's comin' to save / Meanwhile we sit just like we don't give a shit / About 50,000 people who are dyin' today.
So there is definitely a place and a time for a well-placed cuss word. But it has to be used sparingly and with a real meaningful purpose behind it.
In general, Christian brothers and sisters, we need to clean up our mouths. I don’t want to get all pharisaic or anything, and maybe in the grand scheme of things it’s not a huge thing. But it is a thing. And a thing we need to be better about controlling. We have cussing pastors now, and cussing Christian bands, and LOTS of cussing Christian college graduates (they tend to take special pride in developing their long-silenced cursing skills). If I was a non-Christian observer I would be wondering, “What ever happened to the good little Christians who always said darn and dang and butt and shoot? I kind of miss them.”