Oh Lord, open Thou our lips, and our mouth shall show forth Thy Praise.
How many of us have repeated those words, over and over again, every time we say Morning Prayer? How many of us take those words to heart and apply them to every aspect of our daily lives and conversations?
What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them. Matthew 15:11 (NIV)
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:29-30 (NIV)
When we were kids, my mother used a bar of soap, applied quite liberally to the teeth, tongue, and gums to demonstrate to my brother and I just what words SHOUDN’T come out of our mouths. I learned early to let my brother use words I wasn’t sure of and test the results. Poor him. For a while, he must have had the cleanest mouth in our neighborhood, since he said “bad words” as soon as he learned them. I must say, the results were quite effective, and the lesson she taught us by doing so remains with me to this day.
It seems to me that certain words and phrases that were once considered totally unacceptable have become mainstream in today’s culture, even for Christians. Should this be so? Profanity is growing more and more popular. According to some of the latest statistics, public profanity in America is up by 800%. We can now expect there to be loud profanity in many public places, even places that claim to provide a family atmosphere. Women and children are now often heard speaking expletives without any shame or regard for others. 57% of Americans are bothered a lot or some when people use profanity. 42% are bothered a little, or not at all. A recent Barna Research survey reveals the use of profanity was deemed morally acceptable by 37% of church people.
In a conversation with a bishop from a different denomination from mine, he made the comment that he had “a lot of s**t to do.” In the course of normal conversations with other clergy, I’ve heard the phrases, “every damned one,” and “get the hell out of here.” Perhaps I’m a prude, but I was shocked and dismayed and disappointed. Are we as Christians not to be set apart from other people? Are we not to be an example of clean and Godly living? Does this not include our speech?
Webster tells us that a curse is “the verbal expression of a wish that a person, place, or thing, might suffer some evil, loss or harm.”
First, we need to establish that despite claims to the contrary , cursing and cussing are virtually the same things. Even though there are some people who may attempt to differentiate the meaning of the two words, there really is no difference. The fact is, the word cuss is simply a colloquialism that is derived from the word curse. In other words, cuss is merely the slang form of the word curse. Although it is true that in modern times cursing or cussing has come to be used as an expression of disdain, vulgarity, or frustration, it is still typically a form of cursing. Disdain is a form of evil contempt, and vulgarity is a verbal offense. And shortening curses does not change the principle. For example, if someone were to shorten the phrase “God damn it,” to simply saying, “Damn it,” or even “Damn,” that does not change its basic meaning. Damn is a curse word, so that when we utter this word in frustration, we are pronouncing a curse on whatever or whomever we are frustrated with. And whether we say, “damn you,” or we merely day “damn,” we are still cursing. Whether we say, “go to hell,” or simply say “Oh hell,” again, we are pronouncing a curse, and are thus cussing. There really is no difference between the two words. And using any other number of these words in a profane or unsavory way falls into this category of cursing.
Is cussing a sin? I believe it is, because cursing, or wishing evil on someone or something is a “usually” sin. And in the context of cursing and cussing today, it is almost always sin. A simple examination of the meanings of these words will illustrate this. They are usually words (besides a curse) meaning filth, excrement, sexual innuendos and acts, or are otherwise insulting in some way. When people use these cuss words, they invariably do it to be profane (sin), as a vulgarity (sin), in a vain attempt to gain approval (sin), to give in to those giving peer pressure (sin), or to call a curse on someone (sin).
What God-glorifying way are cuss words used? They are often spoken in a quarrelsome manner, and this is not what should be coming out of the mouths of Christians. When is cussing ever done in a positive light? These facts in themselves should be proof enough for earnest Christians that this is not a good thing.
Paul tell us, “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Colossians 3:8 (NIV) And, that we as Christians are to be an example in everything that we do and say: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:31-33. (NIV)
And finally, does cussing show Christ’s light and love to others, or would we be totally embarrassed ashamed to let a well used unsavory phrase slip out when standing before Christ? Simply ask yourself, “Would I be comfortable cussing and swearing in normal conversation with Jesus, or would I watch what I say? When in prayer, do I use these words?” Would Jesus, like my mother, want to get out a bar of soap? The honest answer is usually is a good judge of how we feel about what we say, and is indicative of whether or not we should amend our speech habits.
As many of us pray before we preach: “May the words our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.” Amen.
Prior Beckett is the Prior of the Order of Preachers, Independent in the Unified Old Catholic Church. He and his husband live in South Carolina with their two lovely canine children.