I once got a respectful and fraught email from a (now former) subscriber. She said she was unsubscribing because of a swear word I used on a recent post—“shitty”. (And then last week, I didn’t censor that word in an interview…because I thought it was warranted.) My former reader mentioned the verse from Timothy about not having any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, and said she didn’t find it helpful to read swear words on blogs.
I told her I blessed her as she left, and I do. I am sensitive to all sorts of things in this world. There are children’s movies I avoid because they give me the heebie-jeebies (Coraline and Gremlins, I’m looking at you). I carefully avoid some news, images, stories, or TV shows because they make me anxious or keep me from sleeping.
So please know that if swear words just bring you to a dark place, I get it. You don’t have any obligation to listen to them, or read them, and I bless you as you go too.
But I think there’s a conversation to be had here about what exactly “unwholesome talk” is, and why I think sometimes swear words can be, well, wholesome. Even though every time I write one down, or even think of saying it, I go back and forth in my mind about eleventy-million times.
Curse Words Make Me Feel Safer Sometimes
Can I tell you something that’s both true and odd? Curse words helped save my faith. Really.
Especially hearing a Christian swear.
Even now, it does my heart good to hear a believer use expletives. I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it, but it makes me feel safer.
I think, “They are not going to judge me if I ask questions.”
Or, “They are trying to figure things out too.”
Or, “They have stopped trying to act perfectly “Christian.” Maybe their insides match their outsides. Maybe that’s safe for me too.”
Or “They are not a Good Christian. I might fit in with them.”
And it’s not the best guide in the world—some people who cuss are just not in control of their tongues—but it ain’t the worst one either.
It’s very, very, very important to me that people who have been hurt or abused or ostracized by the church feel welcome here, because I count myself among that number, and I desperately need a place to feel safe.
You. I’m looking at you: YOU are welcome here, and I understand and sympathize if sometimes church or the Bible or prayer or Christians or just life in general make you want to talk like a sailor.
When Niceness is Poison
The other half of reserving the right to use swear words is more important to me, and it’s this.
I have witnessed things in my life that cannot be described in polite language, and I have seen Church people paper over the sin with double talk, politeness, and theological rationalizations.
When I hear Christians being polite about things that are not polite, are heartbreaking and ugly and filthy and oppressive and wrong, when I hear people dance around those realities and describe it in Christian double-speak, when I see them use niceness as an excuse to not get angry, I go slightly insane.
In most Christian circles I worry more about the unwholesomeness of our politeness. About our euphemisms and our meaningless words, and spending our energy on being nice rather than speaking truth. I worry about cutting off the full range of human expression. I see Christians worry about word choice when the marginalized are crying out in anger.
I worry we ask them to tone it down when they are dying.
When I see children lose their innocence, or hear about callousness, racism, sexism, homophobia or abuse, and I see all that in the middle of church, I struggle to find words to describe it.
Sometimes, the best ones for the job might offend somebody.
The corollary to the Ephesian’s verse about not using ‘unwholesome’ words is this: “but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs”.
According to their needs.
I’m a spiritual abuse survivor. I’m crazy in love with Jesus, but the church in all its churchiness makes me nervous. I know there are others like me.
Swear words have built me up. I have needed them, and I know others do too. So I don’t want to forswear them completely—even if it loses me readers.
What about you? Do you think there’s a place for the judicious use of cuss words?