If there’s something guaranteed to get a number of Christians worked up, it’s a good old swear word!
Chris posted about Andy Crouch’s open letter to Mumford & Sons where he berates the band for using the lyric “fucked it up” in the song Little Lion Man. While he may have a point that the song contained the words needlessly (especially as they performed ‘clean’ versions for TV), I thought the letter was a little patronising. Anyway, it got me thinking about the use of swear words.
Generally, I’m not a big fan of swearing (or cursing) and try not toÂ swear myself (too often anyway). That said, I do think it can be a valid form of expression and has been used to great effect in art and poetry. I will always remember as a teen when my friend’s parents were going through divorce, a senior figure in our church came up to us, looked sympathetically at my friend and said: “It’s shit isn’t it.”
Those were the last words we were expecting from this individual and it made us laugh out loud. They were also incredibly powerful words and gave validation to the feelings of my friend at that moment.
When working with young people, I hear a LOT of swearing. It’s part of the culture and language. Sometimes it seems to be good natured and fun, but sometimes it’s pretty offensive and disrespectful. So I’ve developed a general rule of thumb for when to intervene:
If someone uses swear words as part of general, descriptive language then I tend to let it go. I might occasionally ask them to tone it down or question why they’re using particular words, but on the whole I leave them to it. If I were to spend my time insisting on clean language and policing the conversation each time someone swore, I wouldn’t have the time or rapport to develop any sort of relationship with the young people.
However if someone is using rude or offensive words against or about someone else, then I challenge it head on. I won’t condone any sort of bullying or slander.
Obviously all this depends heavily on context. The rules above are for mostly of my general, open access youth clubs and groups where there is a lot of social activity. For a smaller, faith-led bible study group I wouldn’t really expect (or allow) any swearing. Partly because of the purpose of the group, partly because it’s a smaller intimate environment, and partly due to the expectations of the church, families and young people upon that group.
So how about you? What are your thoughts on swearing? What context do you work in and how is it different? Let us know in the comments.