A couple at the church I used to attend had a habit of swearing. It was unnerving- they were a highly regarded, highly involved couple in the church and yet no one ever seemed to be bothered by their slips-of-the-tongue (these "slips" normally took place at their house on online, never "at" church). I didn’t realize it then, but looking back their use of swearing really impacted me. It made me take the instructions the Word gives us on “keeping watch over the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3) less seriously. It doesn’t take long to become numb to offensive speech, no matter who is saying it.
Yesterday, J. Lee Grady shared, “Why I Don’t Use the F-Word” over on charismamag.com. In his piece, Grady discusses our profanity saturated culture. He laments the many ways pop culture has legitimized the use of swearing, but his main focus is toward Christians, not the broader public. He implores fellow Christians to stop swearing for three reasons: it defiles you, it’s a reflection of your inner character and it’s a sign of an unsurrendered will.
“I honestly never thought I’d see the day when Christians would justify swearing,” Grady writes. “But it was only inevitable, since many popular preachers have emphasized greasy grace while overlooking our serious lack of discipleship. The underlying message these days is: “Don’t be religious or legalistic. We have to be relevant to the culture.” The implied meaning is: “Go ahead and talk dirty. God doesn’t care. Maybe when non-Christians hear you swearing, they won’t label you a religious nut.”
Grady isn’t the only one reflecting on this issue. Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of Lifechurch.tv, wrote “What’s the Big &%#^! Deal about Profanity? on Crosswalk.com. In it, he encourages us to see the damage that foul language can do to us:
“Each image and message we ingest may be a germ that will make us gravely ill, especially when combined with the many other sensory germs we’re taking in. If we’re serious about our spiritual house cleaning, then there must be no exceptions. We must take the images, language, and stories we allow into our minds and hearts very seriously.”
What starts off as unconscious absorption of foul language and graphic material via the media or our friends often becomes uncontrollable habits that we have a hard time turning off. I think that’s what Jesus meant when he rebuked the Pharisees, saying, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” What comes out of our mouths is often evidence of what’s inside our hearts.
Still, there’s a reason this is an ongoing debate. Many Christians believe that if we focus too much on language we will fall prey to legalism and drive non-Christians away. Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, is infamously known as the “swearing pastor.” In an article on patheos.com, Kurt Willems says he is “with Mark Driscoll on this one,” and says the key to language is all about the context.
“I do not think that we ought to be known as “cussers” but I do believe there’s something wrong when my non-Christian friends feel the need to apologize when they slip the F*Bomb in the conversation. My response is always: Please, please, please feel free to be exactly who you are around me! Your language doesn’t offend me or make me see you in a bad light. I’d rather get to know the real you.”
So, what do you think? Do we need to start holding each other to a higher standard, or would that just drive away our friends who are more prone to swearing? How do we balance living in line with the standards God has given us, while also giving grace to others?
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.