I was asked the question:"Recently I have been a part of several discussions involving the role of our words as Christians mainly on the topic of cussing. What is your biblical interpretation about having Christians avoiding cussing? (even in screenplays or acting as well)"
As a Christian filmmaker I've always debated and actually prayed about this topic. Filmmaking a storytelling is about honesty, realness and true-to-life as you can get. So what if your character is a rebel or prisoner? Would they say "fiddlesticks" when they stub their toe? If a Christian made Shawshank Redemption would the story have all the redemptive qualities in it if everyone in prison were shaking hands, hugging and watching their language? I'm not sure.
So anyone that has grew up in or around a Christian church has been taught that the four sins to avoid so we can earn our salvation are "don't cuss, don't smoke, don't drink beer and don't have sex". People think that if they do this, they're alright. Which totally eliminates Jesus from the picture. The Bible says "if righteousness [right standing before God] could be obtained by the law [by obeying a set of rules] then Christ died for nothing" (Galatians 2:21). That is the main point I want to make, before I make any other points. You may disagree with the other ones, that's fine, but if you disagree with that, you disagree with the Gospel.
Please read this whole blog to get my conclusion. Because it will be easy to assume my conclusion before I get there, but just let me finish.
I volunteered at two inner city youth centers a while back. Both had a lot of troubled youth attending every day. In fact, one that I volunteered at was so troubled that sometimes when a kid didn't show up it was because they were locked up or in the obituaries the next day. The average life span of the guys that attended there, from what I was told by the main leader, was 26 years old. From drug use, gang violence or whatever else. The other one, which had a younger group that the first, didn't have death, but did have a lot of troubled kids that seemed to be going the way of the first one. Once someone would tell me that a kid that I skateboarded with the day before was arrested for bashing in a elderly man's head with his skateboard the day after. Some of the kids I got to know, share a laugh with or even talk about life are still in jail today (about 4 years later). So the purpose of the youth centers was to provide an alternative means of entertainment or escape from their normal lives in hopes of surrounding them with good influence and share the gospel with them through relationship. So we'd play pool, ping pong, skateboard, wrestle and even teach some guitar and other instruments. It was great. They'd swear in their normal conversation and when they messed up a skateboard trick, pool shot or guitar chord, they'd slip out a swear word. We were told to encourage them to watch their language. Then the main leader of this youth center moved overseas for missional work, the new leadership came in and started a 'no swearing' rule and they enforced it. Now I'm sure a lot of people that are reading this will disagree with me, but please let me finish this whole blog. I'm sure a few people reading this have degrees in Youth Ministry and whatever else. I don't, but I did grow up in an inner city my whole life. I know that these kids come from homes where swearing is just another word, their parents use it for encouraging, discouraging, joking and whatever else. So these kids would show up to the youth center and cuss like anyone else they know and get kicked out for a day or a week. And just like asking a southerner not to say "ya'll" these kids would slip up and sometimes just not know how else to talk. You can tell a southerner to say "you guys" instead of "ya'll" but I guarantee they'll slip up. The youth center had around 80 kids at any given moment down to 20 kids. Here's the kicker, the remaining kids that still showed up were the kids from the churches youth group! The SAVED! This to me actually still works me up a little bit. Didn't Jesus say "It's the sick that need healing, not the unsick"? But wouldn't you know it, we cleared out a hospital from all the sick and filled it with people getting standard check-ups.
The problem with swearing isn't the words, the pronunciation of "SH-it", if pronouncing those two things were a sin, then you can't shush people and reference an object. You couldn't talk about a certain breed of dog weighing 8–16 lb with long silky hair (Shih Tzu). What if pronouncing those syllables was a sin? What about typing them? The Bible talks about taming your tongue, but what about your keyboard and your finger tips? Is there anything wrong with the letters S,H,I and T? If there was, then typing "hits" was wrong then Christian radio stations couldn't type out what songs they play. Well, Jesus said "love your neighbor" and if you love someone you'd try not to offend them. Jesus offended people all the time (that's what got Him killed). If a Christian swears in a forrest and there is nobody there to hear it, is it still a sin? I went to Mexico and pronounced something wrong and said one of their swear words, is that a sin? These are arguments I've heard or made myself. It's funny how you can run yourself in a circle. Christians can, will and have debated this for years.
So what does the Bible say? It's funny how Christians will take a broad verse and narrow it down to just cussing but fail to see why the Bible kept it broad so it'd cover so many other things. Like cussing, the Bible says "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:29). We take that and throw out all the other meanings of it and make it about cussing. One time I was driving to a youth retreat with some youth (go figure) and of course, there was no swearing the whole 2 hour car ride. But there was dead baby jokes and gossip. I could almost guarantee that if I cussed they'd freeze in their tracks in shock that I'd say such words. While we're here, let's talk about cigarette smoking, the only verses we got going against smoking is about honoring God's temple (your body), "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies."1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Which is hilarious to me, true to form, the Church has taken a broad verse and narrowed it down to one thing. Or worse, in this case, narrowed it down to something that it isn't even talking about. If you read the verse before (18) "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body". The verse is about sexual immorality, not smoking! You might be thinking "but Isaac, I think the verse does apply to smoking as well." And to that I agree, we are to be good stewards of our bodies and whatever else God gave us, that is written all over the Bible. But why do we only apply that to whether or not we're smoking while we eat fast food everyday, don't exercise/stay active, chew aspartame and eat trans fats. Our problem isn't with smoking, it's with the negative association of smoking. If an old man smokes a pipe on the porch we don't look down on him, but if that same old man smokes a cigarette we do. While we are here, if someone has a glass of wine with a fancy meal, it's accepted, but if someone has one beer while watching the game, it's unacceptable. This all sounds like it doesn't have anything to do with cussing, but it does.
We want to appear righteous instead of be righteous. Did you get that? I'll say it again; We want to appear righteous instead of be righteous.
Meaning, we want our actions to look Christian, instead of our hearts being changed by God. Your youth group may have accepted dead baby jokes but haven't accepted the "S word". So you tell dead baby jokes, you know people will cringe a bit, but that's the point right? But God forbid we say 'damn', unless it's referring to God's judgement on people that cuss and smoke.
So let's go up to the verses people mention all the time: Ephesians 5:4 "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving". (The verses that sandwich verse 4 are both about fleeing from sexual immorality). What's funny to me, is we have created "7 words you can't say on TV" and kept those rules fine, but if anything is foolish talk, crude joking or filthiness, it's dead baby and that's what she said jokes. I don't say that to give you another rule to obey, another thing to judge your Christian friends with or one more thing to tense up about if a non-Christian says it.
The purpose of the law (the rules that we think Christianity is) is to show us our need for God. Jesus speaks out all the time about sin being a heart issue, not an action issue. Our actions and failure to obey the law is evidence of our sinful rebellious heart.
I think sometimes, like the new leaders at the youth center, Christians get so "out of the world" that they fail to make an impact for the Kingdom in the world. We hear a swear word and freeze up and the speaker feels judged. I remember at the youth center some youth would be telling me about their life, their struggles, their doubts and in their explanation they'd slip up and swear, they froze and thought I was going to kick them out after. I just told them "continue...". We try sometimes so hard to change their actions and not their heart.
I remember one time I brought my extremely vulgar friend to a youth group all-nighter. At that time I felt the need to explain or prepare my Christian friends for his language, so they didn't freeze up or judge him. So when I told my youth paster that he has a filthy mouth, he replied "God can change that". Basically saying, God can change that, I'm not going to. Which I loved, it was the gospel. What is the point of getting sinners to act like saints if they aren't saved in the end? Not swearing isn't going to save you, any of your actions won't save you, it's Jesus Christ alone that saves. When we think our actions save us, we no longer need God.
It's not a sin to hear swearing. I think we need to know this. If it were a sin to hear a swear word, then how are we supposed to reach the lost? Do you think when Jesus hung out with the tax collectors and sinners that He didn't hear swearing?
I used to cuss all the time, F-bombs and whatever else. I used to love being "one of those Christians that doesn't conform to the church". I felt like I had a leg up on all those Christians. That I found out something that they didn't. That I was better than them because I wasn't a pansy Christian that wasn't allowed to cuss. I'd hang out with my non-Christian friends all the time, cussing back and forth. I'd even convince other Christians that cussing isn't wrong. I'd say "I look at it like yelling. You can yell to bring someone down, insult or hurt. But if you yell as a joke, yell to get someone's attention or mimic someone else yelling, than it can't be wrong then, right?". All my Christian friends agreed, but one friend just asked me "yea, but is it worth it?" (after that started a three year journey of wanting to marry that girl because she challenged me, haha). So through a life-changing dream God showed me that my testimony falls on dead ears with my non-Christian friends because of my language. After I woke up I stopped cussing* and when I stopped, they started listening to me and respecting what I had to say. One is now a Christian and I was his best man in his wedding. The other, continues to tell me that he respects my walk with God and says that I take my faith seriously. Not to brag on myself, but to show how God worked in that and to show how right God was in that situation.
If you do see swearing in my films in the future, know that it wouldn't make the script unless a lot of thought, prayer and submission were put into it first.**
Cuss words are just words, it's more about the heart, what's behind those words? I can say "nice haircut" in a sarcastic tone, or "nice haircut" in a meaningful one. One is an insult and one is an encouragement. So either way, I think we need to watch our words, not just our swear words. When we speak, do it with thought behind each word, instead of empty words, cuss words or not. Mostly it's not worth it, it's foolish. We could be destroying our testimony when we swear. But if your conversations about God and theology are limited to God's view on cussing, check your heart. If You don't cuss, judge others that do but know a lot of racial jokes, dead baby jokes or anything similar, check your heart. If you do cuss and you feel convicted, check your heart. If your left arm is getting numb, you have shortness of breath and chest pains, check your heart.
Jesus didn't die on the cross to stop us from swearing. He died on the cross to make us righteous before God, to change our hearts, our whole being. If your walk with God stopped after you stopped swearing, I really hope you check your heart.
God wants our whole tongue, not just the parts of the tongue that can pronounce SHHH and it. But even then, "out of the overflow of the heart, the man speaks". Your tongue will show you were your heart is. Let Jesus change your heart, everything else will eventually follow.
*I avoid cussing but I'm not perfect. **I've also seen some great Christian films with swear words that were appropriate. ei a documentary on a man's life.
[I'm writing blogs in replies to questions about theology and the Bible. Though I don't have any handle on either, I think it's a good way to start discussion. So email your questions Isaac[at]tubopopcorn.com]