Should Christians Use Profanity?

There’s a new trend in Christian preaching: “cursing from the pulpit.” Which is, in essence, using curse words while you’re preaching/singing/praising God.

One common argument I’ve seen to defend the position of it’s okay is this: it’s more effective to curse. As if it shows the depths of your worship, or anger, or how strongly you feel your emotions. It makes me wonder: would Jesus’s diatribes have been any more effective if He cursed at the Pharisees? “You ********** whitewashed tombs, ********** you, ********* your hypocrisy”—or were His words and actions powerful enough?

Jesus was angry. We can feel His emotions. He wept over Jerusalem. He flipped over the money tables at the Temple. He cried when Lazarus died. He chastised His disciples quite frequently. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the disciples kept falling asleep on Him when He was so upset He was sweating blood, Jesus never cursed at His followers. He asked them why it was so hard for them to stay awake, to do this one thing for Him, but He didn’t lose His temper or show how upset He was about His upcoming death with swear words.

Even when Jesus’s emotions were at their most heightened, agitated state, He never let His tongue get the best of Him. In fact, Jesus reminded us that our mouths are one of the most direct ways to show what’s in our hearts in Matthew 15:11 when he said, "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.

what defiles a man bible verse

And it seems like His disciples shared His opinions:

  • Ephesians 5:4—Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

  • Ephesians 4:29—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.

  • James 1:26—If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.

Now, this isn’t limited to just cursing, of course. This is anything that puts down someone, any gossip or slander or malice. But we can see that, repeatedly, the Bible warns us to watch our mouths. I know that this isn’t a popular opinion. Swearing is commonplace nowadays, and it’s hard to escape it. But I would challenge you to think: what are our motives when we swear?

Is it a slip-up from a life lived hearing these words?

Is it because we want to fit in with the cool crowd?

Is it because we think there aren’t any better words to express ourselves?

Is it because we don’t see anything wrong with it?

The mouth shows us the attitude of the heart. And we should always be reevaluating our hearts, looking inside them, questioning our motives as we try to become closer to Christ. We will never be perfect, and Jesus forgives us of our sins, but as we are to be a living sacrifice to Him (Romans 12:1), we are to continually strive to be a better version of ourselves for Him.

So, let’s evaluate why we swear:

Is it a slip-up from a life lived hearing these words?

  • This is a super common answer. And, I’ll admit, if you grow up with something, it’s hard to switch your attitude to consider it wrong. And there’s something called “muscle memory,” which means that our bodies are geared to do what’s familiar. It’s almost like a reflex: if you’d usually swear in this situation, your first instinct is to swear. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t conquer our first instincts: 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that the old man is gone, and the new has come! We are alive again in Christ, and He can completely change our natures. And what a testimony, what a light we will be to those that used to know us. There’s no better way to stand out for Christ than by discarding what used to be second-nature to us and running towards Christ.

Is it because we want to fit in with the cool crowd?

  • If we’re swearing because it’s cool or normal, then we aren’t setting our minds on what God wants us to do: be a light in the world (Matthew 5:14). We’re more interested in our own reputations than showing how God can change people’s lives. As much as it stings our pride, we’re not called to be cool or normal as Christians. We are called to be set apart, we are called to be the light of the world, to be the salt, to be different. And by guarding our tongues, that is one way that we can be different—because cursing is so commonplace, people will recognize if we aren’t!

Is it because we think there aren’t any better words to express ourselves with?

  • Why aren’t there? Let’s think of some of the most memorable speeches. The first one I thought of was “I Have a Dream.” This is a powerful speech. And Dr. King was angry, as he had every right to be. He was calling out social injustices that were not fair, that was dangerous and un-Christian, and needed to be rectified. His speech is emotional—but yet, he doesn’t use any curse words. Another example that came to mind was Ronald Reagan’s famous line: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” I can think of several ways to input an expletive into this simple sentence, but Reagan didn’t use one. But again, here he was, calling upon an end to tyranny, to an end to social injustices that the world was angry about. He had heightened emotions, but yet, he didn’t feel the need to express himself with cursing.

Are these examples any less potent because they lack vulgarity? And, no, that doesn’t mean that I have scoured the Internet, searched every backlog to find out if either of these great men ever cursed a day in their life. They are, after all, humans, and not Jesus (the only perfect person). But the point was this: these two speeches, some of the most historic ones in U.S. history, were no less powerful because they lacked profanity.

Is it because we don’t see anything wrong with it?

  • I come here with a genuine question: why? I’m not meaning it to be condescending in the least bit, but to start a genuine conversation. I realize that language is ever-evolving (after all, people not even 20 years ago would know what you were talking about if you used today’s slang), and that curse words are a man-made concept. Somewhere along the line, though, these words got the reputation of being “things you shouldn’t say in polite company.” I don’t know why people chose them to be offensive, but they have. And since some people may be offended by it, shouldn’t I try and be different from the world? Shouldn’t I make this sacrifice of my language to better serve people? Let me put it this way: I find no problem with the word “frog.” To me, it means an amphibious creature, because that’s what it means in English. However, if I was in France, that would be a more derogatory term because it’s an insult. So, if I was in France, then I would try and avoid this because it might hurt my witness. And that’s what it’s all about: trying to be the best example of Jesus I can be.

Because that’s what it’s all about, really, whether cursing or some other issue: how can we best be Jesus to the people around us?

author hannah carter introverted mermaid

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