In fact, you can usually tell the non-christians from the 'cool christians' by this. Do they apologize to the pastor when they cuss, or do they smirk at the pastor when they cuss?
Needless to say, I have done some thinking about this, and while I am tempted to side with those who enjoy scandalizing the religious (they certainly need to be scandalized!) I am even more interested in how this plays out with those outside the bounds of our faith. What do the cultures of the world think of when they hear followers of Jesus using profanity?
So, some basic facts:
- Scripture is more concerned with God than with teaching people etiquette.
- Vulgarity is a cultural norm that changes from culture to culture and language to language.
- Many of the prophets use scandalous imagery, and language that might be considered on the 'strong' side (i.e. Paul's use of skubala which is definitely less technical than 'scat or defecate' and more vulgar than 'poop,' although probably not as offensive as 's--t,' and should probably be translated as 'crap') as a way of clearly communicating the depths of God's and/or the author's displeasure.
- Jesus hung out with people who probably used language a lot worse than skubala (and behaved even more despicably) but managed to avoid making them uncomfortable around him AND avoid participating in their behavior.
- Religious folks in our day (and in Jesus' day) seem to be caught up in behaving 'properly,' and seemed to think that 'being proper' was superior to 'being godly.' This is the most dangerous spiritual trap imaginable.
The points above definitely lean towards a relaxing of our rules around vulgarity in the church, but I just don't think that rises to the level of justifying the use of the words our culture has said are offensive in and of themselves. It's not that the words are immoral, rather, its that they are indecent. Using the f-word is like pooping your pants, if a 2-year old does it without really understanding, people aren't offended, they just teach the kid how to go in the toilet. …or they say, "No son, thats not a f--k, thats called a truck."
But when adults choose to use words that are indecent, knowing they offend the sensibilities of our culture, it rises to the level of immorality. Not because the words are immoral, but because they are intentionally offensive. Just as if I chose to poop my pants and walk around in it all day, 'sharing' it with my neighbors.
In fact, it is probably almost exactly like flatulence in front of others (something I have had recent conversations with my kids about). If you don't understand that its offensive to some people, then its clearly not immoral, its just unintentionally indecent. But when you know it offends, and you do it on purpose (either to be offensive, or because you just don't care enough about others) then you are being immoral…
Matter of fact, I hung out with a local ministry leader recently who couldn't stop dropping the f-word. The first time he used it kinda made me laugh …after all, people love to test pastors to see how they respond. Then he wouldn't stop. I kept thinking, this guy sounds like Eva (a teenage girl who lives on our block), who thinks she sounds like an adult by talking this way. It just came across as immature.
Obviously, I wouldn't put this in the category of 'central doctrines.' Many of my good friends come down on the other side of this, but a point of agreement is that the use of vulgar language should not be embraced simply out of a lack of control over our tongues or our minds. Indeed, perhaps the take away here is this: both my personal decision to avoid such language, and my colleagues' decisions to intentionally use it, are motivated by the prioritization of missional relationships to those outside the church, and the missional de-prioritization of peripheral issues like using profanity.