Cussing In Church
Cussing is coming to church. I’m not so concerned with the right or wrong, good or bad of it as the significance.
In my sermon at Laura’s ordination I quoted from Nadia Bolz-Weber, whom I described as “the famously tattooed Lutheran pastor, given to salty language.” That is to say, I prepared the congregation for a bit of profanity, while distancing myself from it.
Here’s the key bit I quoted from Bolz-Weber. “I’m not running after Jesus. Jesus is running my ass down.” Thus does she affirm a key biblical theme: the initiative lies with God.
Such language, and much more, is a hallmark of Bolz-Weber’s preaching and style of ministry. I am sure it is authentic for her. It is also signaling. The signal says, this is not about middle-class morality. It is about God’s grace toward sinners (which includes all of us).
Assuming profanity is part of the rest of life, is its use of profanity in church okay? Perhaps even necessary?
I’ve been reading a great book wherein the author swears early and often. It is Francis Spufford’s, Unapologetic: Why Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense.
I can’t recommend Spufford’s book highly enough. Nor can I improve upon the cover endorsement from the London Times, “A remarkable book . . . passionate, challenging, tumultuously articulate, and armed with anger to a degree unusual in works of Christian piety.”
In his “Preface to the U.S. Edition,” Spufford, who is English, addresses the business of swearing.
“What else? Oh yes: the swearing. Why do I swear so much in what you are about to read? To make a tonal point: to suggest that religious sensibilities are not made of glass, do not need to hide themselves nervously from whole dimensions of human experience. To express a serious and appropriate judgment on human destructiveness, in the natural language of that destructiveness. But most of all, in order to help me nerve myself up for the foolishness, in my own setting, of what I am doing. To relieve my feelings as I inflict on myself an undignified self-ejection from the protections of irony. I am an Englishman writing about religion. Naturally I’m fucking embarrassed.”
Before Bolz-Weber, there was Mark Driscoll, founder of the late, great Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Driscoll was known in some quarters as “the cussing pastor.” No doubt authentic to his working class origins, but also signaling to his intended target, young men.
This business of swearing in church seems to me significant. It signals to those that Christianity is not mainly about being a really nice, squeaky clean, kind of perfect person. It signals a divorce between Christianity and polite society.
It can, of course, be a device or an affectation. I personally don’t care much for it when folks say “fucking” in seemingly every sentence. That was actually one of the reasons I stopped listening to Pod Save America, the podcast by a clever group of former Obama staffers. Just seems like overkill.
But pretending that such language does not exist or that are not some situations in life that call for it is also silly.
Still, the taboo on using swear words in preaching, and in church, is a strong one. I used the word “pissed” in the title of a Daily Devotional once. Many tut-tutted.
Is it a taboo that ought to be maintained? Or one that ought to be jettisoned?
My personal bent is toward select use of profanity. Thoughtful cursing, as it were, which may be an oxymoron, as genuine cussing is emotional not thoughtful. Whatever.
I suspect that swearing in preaching, in church and in Christian life does signal, as Spufford, writes that, “Religious sensibilities are not made of glass,” and “do not need to hide themselves nervously from whole dimensions of human experience.”
Which is a good thing.