Unclean Lips

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has written a post about the use of foul language by Christians.

"According to a profile in Christianity Today entitled ‘The Positive Prophet,’ the liberal evangelical Tony Campolo would often begin a speech by saying:"

‘I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a sh*t. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said sh*t than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.’

"Although Campolo is overstating the point, he is right that evangelicals often take great offense to the use of such language and are surprised when it is used by Christians."

I have nothing new to say about cursing, but I will point folks to what I’ve already said on the subject.

[I’ve changed my mind and decided to reproduce the posts below instead of just linking to them. – Funky

Comments 14

  1. MarkLaRoi wrote:

    The ease with which some pastors and priests fling about “coarse language” never ceases to ice up my insides. I think it falls largely to a lack of respect for authority. I remember cursing almost every sentence before submitting to Christ and conciously considered several times that I was putting it “in someone’s face” and that was fun for me.

    After a while it became habit, but even then I knew when I should and shouldn’t do it. It was about feeling the power of being abrasive

    Posted 29 Nov 2005 at 12:56 am
  2. GFvonB wrote:


    Posted 29 Nov 2005 at 2:19 am
  3. Rob wrote:

    Try owning parrots. There’s a segment of the brain that is active when we use profanity or profanity substitutes. It’s why profanity is a universal concept. Parrots have this in spades — they learn profanity better than just about anything. Teaching a parrot to swear is cruel, and so we must be very careful.

    Campolo is right, though. Why aren’t we more upset about the kids dying? Is it that, if they’re dying, we don’t have to worry about them swearing? Campolo’s point is that our priorities are out of whack. I care much less about people’s use of profanity than about those children.

    There are also times when profanity is useful. In emergency situations, for example, well-chosen profanity shocks bystanders, family members, patients, co-workers, and supervisors, enabling them to stop panicking and think. I got rather good at that trick, and I have no qualms about using it that way. I figure I can apologize for the profanity later, but if someone dies, the apology doesn’t really set things right.

    Posted 29 Nov 2005 at 2:58 pm
  4. Tom Smith wrote:

    I disagree that Campolo’s point is relevant. Simply because there are worse things doesn’t mean that lesser evils aren’t still evil.

    I agree that the death of innocent children is far worse than many things, but that doesn’t make everything less bad than kids dying a-okay.

    Posted 29 Nov 2005 at 8:01 pm
  5. Funky Dung wrote:

    Tom, I think Campolo’s point might resonate with you more if you were part of the Evangelical sub-culture he was addressing. There’s a lot of form over substance. Actually, that’s part of the reason why we need to be careful how we handle our approaches to liturgy. Worshipping well and meaningfully is certainly important, but it’s for naught if we aren’t loving our neighbors. We must be careful, lest we should appear as Pharisees to others. Let’s not strain flies and swallow camels. Getting back to cursing, under most circumstances it’s not something worth nitpicking.

    Read the linked posts for a more thorough version of my opinions. Comments are welcome and encouraged.

    Posted 29 Nov 2005 at 8:26 pm
  6. Rob wrote:


    How do people react to what Campolo said? They respond that he shouldn’t swear. That’s the first thing they do. The first thing they do is not try to figure out some way of saving those kids.

    Clearly, to them, Campolo’s use of profanity is far more serious than the dying children.

    I’ll worry about the profanity after we stop the kids from dying. Until then, I’m busy.

    Posted 30 Nov 2005 at 5:49 am
  7. Stiegemeyer wrote:

    I think Campolo’s point has merit. I have never considered “shit” a bad word. It is a sin to use the Lord’s name in vain. I am opposed to all dirty joking. And it is wrong to curse another human being.

    Saying “shit” is not sinful. Under certain circumstances, it might be impolite or rude and that would be wrong. But in other company, saying “shit” is neither offensive nor shocking. So I couldn’t care less that Campolo said “shit” in public.

    What I do care about deeply is that Tony Campolo is a raving heretic. He wrote an article after Katrina saying that the reason bad things happen is because God is not omnipotent. Uh…heresy.

    And what I also care about is the fact that many Christians are far more bothered by the fact that I wrote “shit” five times than that Campolo believes that God is not capable of controlling the weather.

    And by the way, malnutrition is not the biggest killer of children int eh third world. Mosquitoes are. And the diseases they carry. And we could completely eradicate these mosquito borne diseases by using effective pesticides. But because the Greens care more about sparrows the children… well, you get my point.

    Posted 30 Nov 2005 at 5:52 am
  8. Funky Dung wrote:

    I’ll all for putting children above mosquitos, but large-scale use of poisons that mess with ecosystems makes me nervous. For all we know, by killing most/all mosquitos, we’d be giving a leg up to a far worse parasite. Also, pesticides tend to be harmful to humans as well. Since mosquitos breed in water, that means there’s a good chance the pesticides would get into drinking water.

    Anyhow, I don’t want to divert conversation away from the topic of cursing. I just think the issue is more complicated than it was portrayed by the good pastor.

    Posted 30 Nov 2005 at 1:21 pm
  9. Rob wrote:

    The complete banning of DDT would appear to be a mistake, but it may be a necessary mistake. If DDT were used sparingly in homes, malaria would be greatly reduced. The problem is, humans are idiots, and DDT would not be used sparingly and it wouldn’t only be used in homes.

    A perfect example would be trying to use Tamiflu to treat Bird Flu in humans. The Chinese used Tamiflu prophylactically (am I allowed to use that word on a Catholic Blog? Sorry about that, F.D.) to treat the chickens, resulting in most strains of H5N1 being resistant to Tamiflu.

    Ironically, vaccinating chickens and ducks in Asia against H5N1 may be the best way to prefent an H5N1 outbreak — better than vaccinating humans anywhere else.

    Posted 30 Nov 2005 at 6:48 pm
  10. Mark La Roi wrote:

    Casual (repeat:casual) cursing belies a dark spot on the spirit. I am completely turned off by the forawding ot the opinon that as long as one certain problem exists, others aren’t worth addressing. If we start with one and ignore all others until that one is dealt with we will never solve anything.

    We will always have the poor with us, Jesus said so. Does that mean take less action to aid the poor? Not in the least. It means that we’re just going to have to be willing to make the effort to address multiple problems, each in the order most productive.

    Standing in the midst of a village of starving people, if someone curses in the line as they are getting food, I’m not likely to even give a second glance. However, in that same village, later in the night once all is quiet until the next day, if I am with that person and he/she curses casually I might (repeat: might) take that opportunity to address it in some non-confrontational way.

    To hear a pastor or priest curse is a complete turn-off not only to me, but to unsaved people as well because even if they can’t voice it the same way, the thought becomes one of “if they sound just like me, there ain’t that much of a change”. I had a friend who is a fishing guide tell me of several priests that “are just like every other guy” because when they lose a big fish or hang up a fly in a tree, they start cursing.

    I can guarantee you that this makes a negative impression more often than is revealed.

    Posted 01 Dec 2005 at 6:48 pm
  11. Tom Smith wrote:

    Mark, thank you for explaining my point better than I did.

    This type of reasoning, that because something very bad is happening, we’re suddenly freed from our obligations to not do less bad things, is BS. First off, it takes almost no effort to stop cursing. If you think it’s bad, stop. Although I don’t think it’s a big deal, it’s still a deal, if that makes any sense.

    “I’ll worry about the profanity after we stop the kids from dying. Until then, I’m busy.”

    Really? You’re too busy trying to save starving kids. Right. I know it takes ten seconds of your precious time to say a prayer asking God to help you control what comes out of your mouth, and you could save about 0.00132 lives or something with that ten seconds.

    Sorry for the sarcasm. I don’t think ill of you or anything, Rob, but I do think that this is a kind of lazy reasoning that society employs, because it doesn’t take away any of our effort from saving kids to make an effort to stop cursing, and because very bad things do not justify somewhat bad things.

    Posted 02 Dec 2005 at 7:49 am
  12. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Casual (repeat:casual) cursing belies a dark spot on the spirit.

    Not sure what you mean by “casual”, Mark, but I’d offer that senseless talk, i.e., purposeless noise, of all types belies a dark spot on the spirit. It is akin, I think, to the classic deadly Sin of Sloth. Sensible, i.e., purposeful, cursing is a veritable virtue… as is purposeful vulgarity, itself being quite distinct from per se’ cursing, and each being distinct from lewd or lascivious speech.

    Posted 03 Dec 2005 at 5:13 am
  13. Mark La Roi wrote:

    Good point about purposeless noise Steve, though I am at a loss to understand declaring cursing a virtue.

    Posted 05 Dec 2005 at 4:47 pm
  14. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    … cursing, that is to say, things worthy of being cursed!

    Posted 07 Dec 2005 at 1:11 am

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 3

  1. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » More Unclean Lips on 22 May 2006 at 10:10 am

    […] The subject of cursing seems to be a favorite among Christian bloggers. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll point you to this and this. […]

  2. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Unclean Lips Redux on 22 May 2006 at 11:00 am

    […] As I was cleaning out old email, I found a comment Steven Nicoloso made regarding curising. Since this topic was recently addressed here, I thought I’d share the comment. […]

  3. From Joining St. Blog's Parish @ Ales Rarus on 20 Dec 2006 at 10:04 am

    […] Unclean Lips […]

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