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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

To Swear or Not to Swear?

  • Christianity Today Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2009 20 May
  • COMMENTS
To Swear or Not to Swear?
Editor's note: When word leaked last week that Derek Webb had "crossed the line" with his label, INO Records, partly over the apparent use of a four-letter word in one of his songs, we responded with a commentary by Todd Hertz on the topic—and readers have responded in droves. Some of your responses got Hertz to rethink his admitted pet peeve about artists who self-declare their work as important—and after further consideration, Todd says, "I jumped to some unfair conclusions when reading Webb's use of the word 'important,' and I apologize for that. I expect any artist to have passion for their work. If it is not important, why do it?" Other reader responses brought great insight into complex issues that, frankly, we still don't know everything about. As Webb said in a follow-up e-mail to fans yesterday, "Make no mistake, our trouble with the label over content is very real, and not as simple as one word; we're backed into a corner." He is going to lay low for now, he says, but promises more details to come. And so, without further ado, we'd like to share some of those reader responses with you here:

I don't understand Todd Hertz's pet peeve about artists self-declaring their work as important. Don't we all want our work to be meaningful and important? I'm a public health nurse and I am passionate about the work I do. I am convinced it is important work that makes a difference in people's lives. Should artistic work be any different? Also, I know Derek Webb weighs each word he uses, sometimes obsessively. If he feels a word of profanity is necessary for the message of the song, I would like to hear his reasoning. He has always been willing to take risks and say what is sometimes hard to hear. I'll take that honesty and refreshing transparency any day over the boring pop Christian pabulum.
—Margo Cameron

I find it grating to hear an artist go on about how important his or her music is—and how necessary it is that it be heard. I believe that music is only important in hindsight. For instance, U2 is important—but no one could have known their importance when they recorded War.
—Tom Richards

I feel like Hertz poisoned the well a bit, making it sound like Webb called his own work important and leading readers to see Derek as arrogant. Derek said he sees this as his most important record, which is perfectly legitimate for him to say. He's saying that of his body of work, this record is important to him. That's vastly different than saying "my record is important among all records ever made." I believe it's a mark of true humility to be able to freely talk positively of yourself, giving yourself neither special praise or criticism.
—Jason Gray

For too long, legalism prevailed in Christianity: don't do this, don't say that. That's not good—it's very similar to the bonds of sin. But now, the contemporary Christian stance is license and liberalism. You are free to do whatever you see is appropriate. We have gone from one extreme to the other.
—Gary Gamble

This discussion reminds me of the Tony Campolo line: "While you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a s—. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said s— than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night." Sometimes swearing is quite appropriate because the thing being sworn about is much more important than the swearing itself.
—Adam Shields

If a record company doesn't like a product for any reason that an artist is presenting, I believe that it is their right to do whatever they wish. However, if that is the case, they should release an artist to explore his artistic endeavors as he wishes.
—Chris Risheill

The Apostle Paul used some very strong language concerning very strong subject matter. (In one instance, he used the Greek equivalent to somewhere between crap and s—-.) Although I realize Scripture talks about no unclean thing coming out of our mouth, but what if that statement is more about hatred, and non-edification? I don't think we all ought to be incredibly potty-mouthed, but I do think we certainly have bigger fish to fry! Also, while profanity may not be right for "safe for the whole family" radio stations, it certainly could get the attention of others who commonly use profanity.
—Heather Strouse

Hertz was far too lenient in his comments about the use of profanity in art. The matter speaks for itself: profanity is profane. It's bad enough that in anger and the flesh we utter profanities. But to deliberately script and produce it is unacceptable to those called to live holy unto our Creator, pursuing that which is pure and true and right. The church today has a crisis of discernment and compromise of the authority of Scripture.
—Duane L Burgess

I don't understand why we categorize certain words as profane and others as not. They're all words. I think this definition gives certain people a sense of morality and others a sense of rebellion. If it makes a stronger point to use a certain word, then use it. I do understand why Christian record labels would have rules against the use of certain words. That's why I think Webb needs to break free from the record label cage. Because he's one of the few Christian artists that actually make good and meaningful music, I believe him when he says the song is important.
—Cate Song

I believe that using curse words is completely unnecessary and inappropriate. The Bible is pretty clear when it comes to the power and effect our words have (life and death is in the power of the tongue) and that we should tame our tongues.
—Abe VanMeter

Artistic and poetic license is celebrated. People live and die for this freedom. But as a Christian, I live for so much more than just to make music, no matter how much I love it. Heroism in a Christian should be different from that of the world. If any of our music ever begins to take away people's eyes from God, is it really worth our artistic pride?
—Louriz Manuel

In his song "Wedding Dress," Webb used strong words to great effect in making a profound point about the reality of grace covering our broken lives.I would fight for the freedom to do that! But the use of distasteful words just to say, "Look what I can say" is not needed. Flaunting liberty is a dangerous thing.
—Verne Haskell

I for years have battled with trying not to swear. I think artists should have artistic license except were it will adversely effect others by leading them down a slippery slope. Matthew 18:6 comes to mind.

—Richard Campbell

I am a Christian songwriter. I wrote a song that included a profanity. I worried slightly about it, but it seemed to fit. My youth pastor told me he played it for the middle school students but stopped it before that line. I then decided to change it. I did not like the idea that kids needed to be protected from my music.
—Larry Davidson

The more I read about Derek the more I start to wonder what his true motivation is. Does he truly think the message he's been given by God to share is so important that he's just fighting any and all opposition to it? Or is he just rebelling for rebellion's sake?Can we know?
—Jessica Stewart

The heart of this matter lies in sensationalism. If it takes a curse word to get an audience's attention, then what does that say about the awe inspiring, life changing Word of God?
—Gilbert Paez

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