Recently, we wrote an article about Andy Mineo and how he stirred things up a bit on the Internet when he brought up the subject of Christians and swearing.
He raised some interesting questions and asked if someone used “profanity” in their music did that mean that they couldn’t possibly be Christian? The response, was, well….lively.
Do you guys really think if a person uses “profanity” (words we’ve given meaning) in their music they couldn’t possibly b Christian? Why?
— Andy Mineo (@AndyMineo) February 13, 2016
The whole topic of Christians and swearing can be pretty volatile. It’s one of those debates that doesn’t always have completely clear black and white answers, and once we enter those gray zones, that’s where things can get heated.
Let’s take a look at some of the issues involved…
“Words are words. Who can say what even qualifies as a swear word?”
The argument here is that words in and of themselves are not evil or sinful, it’s how we use them. And how we use them differs throughout history, cultures, age groups, and countries. There are words that qualify as swear words in one place, but not in another (“Bloody” is a good substitute for the F-word in England, but in America it’s just used to describe the latest Quentin Tarantino movie.) There are words that used to be swear words but aren’t anymore and words that never were bad before, but evolved into swear words. (The F-word used to mean “to hit or to strike”, “B*tch always referred to a female dog until recent times). There are words with more than one meaning that totally depend on how they’re being used to qualify as swearing (e.g. “damn,” “hell,” etc.). And then there is the context the words are used in. Swear words can be used to add color to a joyful statement as in, “You’re getting married? That’s F***ing fantastic!” Or they can be used to hurt and defame as in “You’re a F***ing idiot!” Same word, different intents. Our language is rich and vibrant and constantly evolving. So one man’s curse word may just be another man’s word for a bodily function.
And then there is the “substitution” method of swearing whereby you exchange a “good” word for the “bad” word to put a similar bang in the message without actually having to “swear.” When I was growing up, the mother of one of my friends was a devout Baptist, and could “non-swear” a blue streak of “non-profanity”, that pretty much had the same impact as the real deal. “Judas Crackers!” she would yell, “If you flipping boys flipping come in here with those dadgummed muddy shoes, you’re getting your bleeping backsides skinned!” Funny sounding today, but pretty terrifying, and pretty profane, to a ten-year-old. Then there’s my all-time favorite, “Shut the front door!” which is probably more funny than harmful, but still pretty clear in it’s message. Is this swearing? Is it better? Is it worse? Is it sinful?
So there isn’t any list of words that qualify to be on the do not use list. Despite all the debating it’s pretty undeniable that everybody recognizes true swearing when they hear it, whatever the literal words used may be. A finger is just a finger, but when it’s THAT finger in your face, you know what they’re talking about.
Is Swearing Even A Sin?
Pretty much everyone would agree that taking the Lord’s name in vain is a sin. But after that, things can get hazy. Here’s an excellent take on the situation by Christian author and speaker, Jefferson Bethke. He brings up some great points about our words, how they have true meaning and power, and that it’s not so much how we define those words and categorize them as swear words or anything else, but rather what we do with them and how we use them.
“Words have weight,” Bethke says, “…they can be for life or they can be for death. I know plenty of people, followers of Jesus, Christian people, who have never said a four-letter word in their life. They’ve never said the F-word or the S-word, but they’ve reaped destruction on other people by their gossiping, by their making fun of someone…”
He concludes by asking us, “Is your speech building up? Is your speech encouraging? It’s not about saying are we saying”this” word or “this” word. It’s actually are we “creating life or death with our mouths.”
Ephesians 4:29 (ESV) — 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.
“My audience swears, I’m just being real and relatable.”
You hear this a lot: Swearing is natural and real for the people I’m trying to reach so I don’t want to stand out as being different or apart. I communicate better with them if I speak the language they speak. My take on this is that this is pure justification. Sure, everyone wants to be real and relatable, but not to the point of compromising who you are in Christ. We are called upon to be ambassadors for Christ and what are we representing if we are compromising with our language? Nowhere in the Bible is Christ shown to swear. Is it really necessary that we do so in the name of being relatable? Do we miss the opportunity to inspire something higher?
Our words are a mirror of what’s going on in our heart.
Before I came to Christ I swore. I swore a lot. I swore a whole lot. My speech was colorful and explicit and I took great pride in the way I could juggle the language and effortlessly come up with intricate and creative tirades of curse words. I didn’t think much about the vulgarity of my behavior, I was more impressed with myself for being able to be so linguistically creative. Or so I thought. I wasn’t a pig or anything, mind you. I was respectful about how I used my talents. I didn’t swear in front of my parents or their friends, or at church, or at teachers, or in job interviews, or anything. But, when I was with the guys, or my brothers, or hanging out in bars, or going out with my friends, I let loose with the best of them.
Fast forward to years later when I felt Christ calling me to come close. Around that time, I had become good friends with one of my co-workers and his family who were all Christian. I had been raised as a Christian, but I didn’t have what these people had in terms of a relationship with Christ. And I wanted that. One thing that struck me was how different my speech was from theirs. They never swore. Ever. Any of them. They weren’t prudes or outcasts or weirdos. They just didn’t swear. It made me think about how ugly my language was in comparison. Then one day I found myself on my knees dedicating my life to Christ and I knew why they spoke the way they did. The desire, the pleasure, the need, or whatever it was to curse the way I did betrayed the ugliness and unrest I was feeling in my soul. And now that was gone. Those feelings were replaced with love and grace. Since that time, I just haven’t felt the need or desire to speak foully. When a random swear word does come out I feel convicted. Not so much because I’ve done wrong, but that it indicates my spiritual tank is low and needs filling. My language has always been a barometer of the weather on the inside. Now that the weather has changed, so has my speech. These days, the respect I show to my earthly father by not swearing in his presence is the same respect I show to my Heavenly Father as I try not to swear in His presence.
Luke 6:45 (ESV) — The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Does swearing have a place in Christian Hip Hop?
We could debate the nature of language and the qualifications for swear words and the intent of our words forever, but how does all this pertain to Christians and Christian Hip Hop?
Here at New H2O we have a policy in place concerning music that we will and won’t publish…
- No profanity (especially the word ni**a is NOT acceptable in your lyrics)
- Sexual or “bedroom” songs will not be considered
- Songs that suggest drinking or “club music” will not be considered
- Songs that are degrading to women, children, etc. will not be considered
- Hate music or songs with “beef” will not be considered
None of these items have anything to do with whether an artist is a Christian or not or whether his music is considered Christian Hip Hop, they have more to do with how WE see OUR mission when it comes to communicating with the world. WE want to expose people to Jesus Christ and to represent Him well. We personally want to use our words, and the music we offer for listening, to raise people up, to glorify God, and we want to be good ambassadors for Christ. We don’t edit what people do, we just choose not to publish material we feel isn’t compatible with our mission. I said earlier that, for me, words betray what is in my heart, and I think the same can be said for music lyrics. Using profanity, swear words, or hate speech in song lyrics is a conscious, considered decision. If an artist chooses to include those things, so be it. I’m not going to question his Christianity or pass judgement. But, I would suggest he examine his heart. If he is good with that, then that’s all fine, we just can’t post his music because it’s not what WE are about.
So, for me, the debate all boils down to this: I don’t think the question really is “Is it okay for Christians to drop the F-bomb?” Maybe the better question is, “If you’re a Christian, why do you want to?”