Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Pastor's Guide to Cussing

We've all experienced an unintentional slip of the tongue. It happens when we mean to say one word, but accidentally say another instead. The most common and hilarious example of this is when a pastor means to say 'sit', but accidentally slips an 'h' in there during his sermon.

Of course, we've all heard the verses that seem to incriminate bad words. They're the ones that say stuff like, "let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths" (Ephesians 4:29 & Colossians 3:8). But the truth remains, cussing just isn't as much of a cultural taboo in the church as it used to be.

Many pastors, elders and ministry leaders seem to be gravitating away from the philosophy that says, "Four letter words are inherently evil," and are adopting a stance that says, "There's a time and place for everything" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). It's a viewpoint that certainly isn't comfortable for everyone. Some people are personally offended by cussing, which is a good reason not to have a loose tongue. And the Bible doesn't mince words about the goal of our language. There are a few verses on this, but Ephesians 4:29 puts it best in saying our language should be, "only such as is good for building up." So, the question that comes to mind is this:

Can cuss words be used in a manner that is uplifting?

I won't argue with you if you say no. But I do remember one pivotal moment in my spiritual journey. During one of the darkest days of my life, a good friend was talking with me. I told him about some of the mistakes that got me to my low point, and how ashamed of myself I was. Then in a very matter of fact tone he said, "Well, the good news is Jesus loves you, and there's not a f*%&$# thing you can do about it." Was the f-bomb necessary? No. Was it useful and uplifting? Well, it certainly made an impression because that conversation was a significant turning point in my life.

Today, as I read, listen, and even speak, I've noticed an unspoken code of conduct for cussing among Christians and church leaders. I'm not arguing that this is right or wrong.

No cussing at all. This is very rare. I only know a handful of people that are like this. I've always sort of regarded them similarly to wizards. They have powerful and mysterious ways. And this is arguably the safest way to go with your language if you're in church leadership.

'H-E-Double Hockey Sticks'.  At one time this word was a serious offense. It was they type of word that kids had to spell out with the obligatory 'h-e-double hockey sticks'. I assume the hockey sticks were some sort of consolation for the fact that you had to actually spell the word out loud. But today, it seems to have been downgraded to kind of a minor cuss word. In most places, if you use it to refer to a physical location, people don't even bat a lash at it.

The 'D' word. This word used to be a class A, four letter cuss word. I remember being in middle school, reading Huck Finn with wide eyes because of this one. However, decades of Vegas Vacation style dam jokes have turned this one into an old man's cuss word. While the 'D' word is still uncouth, you really only hear it when your dad is on a rant about how the government is ruining America.

 The 'B' word & The 'A' word. These two words are similar in that they're totally inappropriate among church folks, unless they're preceded with, "pardon my french" and are used in the context of a quote or joke. You can also say the 'A' word if you're quoting the Bible, which most adults childishly do for the simple sake of saying the word.

 The 'S' word. This one seems to be the Christian password. It's the word church leaders use to tell you, "Hey, we're no longer just acquaintances. We're buddies now."

 The 'F' bomb. This one is still pretty much a bad word to all Christians, and even to most non Christians. It's the poster child for the 'four letter' word. Church leaders rarely use this one. But when they do, it makes a big splash, like it did in my conversation with my friend.

Of course there are other words, but none worth mentioning. When it comes to cussing, only one thing really matters - the heart behind the word. Any of the above words can become wicked when used to cut people down. The important question to ask is not, "which words should I avoid?" What we need to ask ourselves is this:

"When I speak, do my words build other people up?"