*The following post contains coarse language, reader discretion is advised*
Christianity is a funny thing sometimes isn't it? We're a religion that preaches unmerited grace, undeserved mercy, and the freedom that comes—or ought to at least—with it. Instead of living in joy within the freedom that being in Christ brings, we instead love to come up with our little lists of dos and don'ts that only gives us the appearance of righteousness while we really are just slowly turning into Pharisees.
Take language for example, when is the last time you heard your pastor cuss (on purpose) from the pulpit? Never, right? And if you ever have, I doubt they're still your pastor. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating for a free flow of "shits" and "fucks" on Sunday mornings, but I am absolutely saying that those words can have their place in civil conversations.
Christians have a long list of analogous "pseudo-swears" that we use instead of the real thing. Tim Hawkins has made a career out of rapid firing them into a microphone. If you haven't heard his "Alternative Christian Cuss Words" comedy bit, you need to, it's hysterical. These "fake swears" are probably familiar to many of us, but I'll share a few below, just for fun:
Shut the front door
Son of a biscuit
Son of a motherless goat
The list could go on, and I'm certain that many of you know which words these words are stand-ins for, and that's kind of my point. We ALL know what you're saying when you tell that "Mother father" to "Shut the front door!" and it has nothing to do with the position of the opening to your house.
Are euphemisms really any better than the real thing? Is the real thing all that bad after all? We talk a lot about "the heart" in the church. Sin is not based on the act alone, rather it is the position of the heart. For example, eating and drinking aren't sins, but gluttony and drunkenness are. Overeating at a wedding because it's a party and you're celebrating a loved one's joy is not a sin, but overeating because you're seeking solace from your problems in comfort food rather than in the Lord certainly is.
Most of us treat our lives with this kind of mindset, why not our language too? I maintain that calling someone an "idiot" or even "a fool" in anger is actually a sin (and I think Matthew 5:22 backs me up on that one) whereas saying that it is a fucking tragedy that malnutrition is the cause of 45% of the deaths of children under five isn't a sin. Yet, I'm certain many of you cringed when you read that. Not the factoid about childhood hunger and mortality, but rather the word I used to emphasize how much of a tragedy it is. (I’ll give Tony Campolo credit for this line of thinking, you can find his quote here.)
I'm not advocating for language patterns that would make a sailor blush, nor am I confusing what we call "swear words" with blasphemy or taking the Lord's name in vain, that's a separate post. I am saying that occasionally "frig" just doesn't cut it.
I'm a dad with three young kids, so when this topic comes up, inevitably I'm asked about how I deal with "bad words" at home. Well, it's simple. I don't believe in banning words. I do, of course, try and limit some of the more colourful phrases in my lexicon around the kids, but I keep the dialogue open and I have asked my daughter frequently what the "bad words" are that she knows. (Of course, I then had to explain the concept of bad words since it's not a phrase we use). She told me that the only words she knows that she can't say in school is "poop". She explained that in her class, the children don't need to go poop, they "have to go to the washroom". That'll change quickly; her vernacular will grow leaps and bounds when she enters grade one next year and is released from the safe confines of "Kindergarten Court" for recess and joins the ranks of the “Big Kids" in the schoolyard. As she learns new words, our dialogue will remain open and I'll want to know what she knows. I'll explain to her that there is a time and a place for the words she learns and that if she's in doubt, she should avoid them. Is it more difficult to teach a 6-year-old the idea of context? Perhaps, but it'll be less work later.
My oldest (she's 3) dropped something a couple weeks ago and said "shit." There were no consequences. We laughed, she laughed. However, if, someday she calls me, her mother, or one of his siblings a "piece of shit" then there will be a reckoning. See the difference?
Telling someone to "Flock off" might tick the "Christian" box of avoiding bad words, but where is the speaker's heart in that moment? Is it really any different than just saying the word? You can use all the stand-in words you want, but at the end of the day, the things I say to my close friends when we’re all laughing and fooling around aren’t sinful, they’re a great example of what fellowship can be whereas those things coming out of your heart might just be condemning you regardless of your vocabulary. Banning words is a lazy solution to something that shouldn't even be an issue. Ultimately, it’s about your heart, not your word choice.
As a Biblical conservative, a cultural Liberal, a husband, a dad, and a pastor, I want to see the church act differently in the world. My big passion in ministry is to see how believers can bring the Gospel into the world around them while pursuing the lost art of winsomeness. It is what fuels me and drives me to write. Engaging culture with the truth of the Gospel in a way that is winsome, wise, and as Colossians 4:6 directs us: “seasoned with salt.” It’s my hope that what I say here helps you not only in your own faith, but helps you share it more effectively and fruitfully.
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