Recent reviews have stirred a discussion about profanity in the lyrics of artists who profess to be Christian. We received many responses from readers, expressing a wide and thoughtful range of opinions on the subject. A sampling:
I'm not offended by most words, but following the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, I try to constrain myself according to the weakness in others. It's more important that I win them to Christ than I display my contemporary linguistic skills.I wonder if it isn't time the church reclaims some of our sensitivity to the lost and loses our self-indulgent practices … I know I need to.
Depends on the culture. I am from the U.S., but live in Australia. The words "ass" and "damn" are a regular part of most Aussies' vocabularies, even in Christian circles. As a longtime admirer of Bruce Cockburn, I have live recordings with tunes where he even "cracks the f-whip" so to speak. I am not comfortable with that as far as my vocabulary goes, but I also don't write songs that make political statements. I think the issue is that he takes off his mask and says what's really in his heart, and sometimes he is utterly torn up—and I can forgive him for that. Maybe we all need to take our masks off more often.
As someone who has been involved in the professionalmusical community formore than 20 years, I would say Bruce Cockburn is nota committed believer, nor would Iputhim the category of "Christian artist." He's more of a "wounded warrior," asecular folkartist that has dabbled in Christian music with some ofhis tunes. IfBruce were a practicing Christian, he wouldnot be usingprofanity in his songsor in his concerts despite his opinions about the current political climate in the U.S. As a worship leader and committed musician and believer, Iwill not allow any of this "New Age messaging in music" to be in my home or CCM collection.
W. Ian Walker
I've always wondered how the equivalent of Jesus calling the Pharisees "white-washed tombs" and "vipers" would translate into our modern day language. I'm not speaking literally of course, but more in terms of cultural impact. Was Christ committing a huge
faux pas? You would think so, given the reaction of the Pharisees. They missed his message and wanted to kill him. I wonder how many of my fellow Christian readers visiting this website are just as quick to crucify Bruce Cockburn for his rather salty language, all the while missing the important message in his music.
Gary D. Kersey
Thanks for a very thoughtful review of Bruce Cockburn's new CD Life Short Call Now.
I especially appreciate your engagement of Cockburn's work in its total context, and your honesty about the sometimes troubling aspects he brings to the fore. For a Christian listener, he is a challenge—and that's a good thing, I think.
You've covered Christian artists who've gone through divorce, have been addict to drugs, and lots of stuff that sometimes is known and more often not known. What should be the response to sin in the life of other believers? Should we ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist, perhaps even pretend like it is irrelevant? Should those practicing immorality in their lives be financially rewarded for their behavior? Of course, if we wait to listen only to perfect role models, we may end up waiting a long time.
Although I believe many of us drop an ugly word now and again, I feel the real issue with profanity in music is how unbelieverswill be affected. My favorite recent song has been "My Jesus" by Todd Agnew, whose use of the word "sluts" speaks to the [raw, transforming power] God has to change any of us who think we [are beyond redemption]. But also, my husband is a partial-believer, constantly looking for something to be "unholy" in Christian artists, so I haven't let him near that song. He heard a member of Third Day use "screwed up" on a DVD and went semi-ballistic! I guess when releasing material labeled as Christian, less is more. Forget "artistic freedom," because we are expected to die to ourselves and glorify the Lord in whatever we do.
The intro to dc Talk's "What If I Stumble" has a man sharing his thoughts on Christianity's inability to change culture, saying, "Today, the main cause of atheism in the world is Christians. We profess Jesus with our mouths, but deny him with our lives. That's what the world finds simply unbelievable."HHe is right. When an unbeliever hears music by those who profess Christ as Lord and Savior, but resort to foul words in their music, the convicting power of the gospel and our testimony is quenched, and all of Christianity to that unbeliever are properly labeled "hypocrites."
How can profanity possibly be used in a way that glorifies God? As a Christian, I am always trying to find cutting edge music by other Christians, so that I don't have to worry about the lyrics for my teenagers or myself. If you are putting out a CD that Wal-Mart has to edit [to sell it], then you may have crossed the line. It's a slippery slope.
Christian adults should know how to talk. Whether light or heavy, profanity is unacceptable as far as I am concerned. I am appalled at what some people think is OK. If you can't say it in front of Christ, then it shouldn't be said at all. There are plenty of ways to say things without using profanity. Anyone can be like world but it takes someone who is a Christian to rise to the challenge to be different and speak as they think that Jesus would speak. What would Jesus do?
As a Southerner, I believe "cussing" is a lost art! Profanity is misused in our society and usually inappropriate. That said, a well-placed "cuss" word gets the point across. "Frankly my dear, I don't care." That just doesn't work the same!
I don't agree with singers that claim to be Christians and have foul words in their lyrics. If you have become a Christian, God will change your words. If you keep swearing, how do people know you have changed? Far as they are concerned, you are just like them because nothing has changed about you.
If we are true followers of Christ, then we are not to judge our brothers and sisters. We who are "teachers"—be it musicians, preachers, group leaders, or just sharing with friends and family—are going to be judged by the King for all of our actions. Those who choose to show mercy will be shown mercy.
If we are warned by Paul to speak in reverence and guard against unwholesome speech, we know that (within our cultural context) profanity is not acceptable. If I didn't know better, I would say your column is a deliberate marketing strategy on the part of the CCM moguls to loosen up the flock's morals and levels of tolerance so more diversity of "art" can be introduced to a growing CCM market.
The Bible strictly prohibits coarse talk as well as coarse jesting. As believers, we are to set the standard, not try to "baptize" the world's language and use it to reach the unsaved or as a means of expression. Additionally, a profane or crude word becomes diffused and virtually meaningless with repeated exposure. The danger is in believing that overuse of a profanity can lessen the meaning or the impact. We merely become desensitized to it. Finally, we must realize that "strong language" is not the same as profanity or crude talk. Did Jesus ever use profanity to reach his generation? He did use very strong language when referring to the Sadducees and Pharisees calling them "white-washed sepulchers" and "full of all manner of corruption." Perhaps we should take our cue from Jesus rather than a so-called Christian artist.
G. R. Farmer
A touchy subject. I think there has to be a balance between the religious laws of man and God's pure law. What counts as corrupt language is relative to the individual. The only specific word that God ever mentioned was not taking his name in vain. Outside of that, it's left to the individual and their personal convictions. I don't use profanity, but it doesn't offend me. When someone uses God's name in an inappropriate way, that gets to me more. Maybe the question to be asked is whether profanity is necessary to make a point. As long as an artist's work is lifting up God and turning others toward him, that's really all that matters. If someone doesn't like something then they don't have to listen to it.
For the Christian artist that thinks a little profanity in their music is OK, I suggest that they put about 1/4 teaspoon of dog manure in their next batch of brownies. The amount is so small you surely shouldn't be able to taste it, and the heat from baking should kill all harmful bacteria. Whaddya think?
Preston E. Palmer Sr.
We are called to deny ourselves any freedom that might cause a brother in Christ to stumble. I am a radio broadcaster in Asia, and we look very closely at what we say concerning politics, religions, and other things. As artists, we need to keep the goal in mind. If my goal was art for its own sake, I might be less concerned what people thought. But I have to deal with my responsibility before the Master, as do we all.
We are admonished to be "in the world, but not of it." Did Jesus use profanity to get his message across? I believe what we are seeing, unfortunately, are Christian artists being conformed to their secular influences. I've heard it said that, "Satan aims high." He knows that if he can influence those in leadership or influential positions, he can lead many others astray along with them. This is not a condemnation of Christian artists. We need to pray for them. Satan will grab a foothold wherever he can.
The English vocabulary is so large and diverse that there is no need for profanity. Some might use the excuse that we can only get to non-believers by using their "language," but it's totally unnecessary. We have to set an example, showing nonbelievers that we can be "in the world, not of it." Although I'm sure these songs have relatively good messages, [the profanity] destroys the purpose of it.
If the intention of using profanity is to gain credibility with the world, I would say that the ends don't justify the means.
I have not cussed since I accepted Jesus 14 years ago. Before I got saved, I was a very good "cusser." But I have known several people who have accepted Christ and struggled with cussing. I do not believe that diminishes their experience or their relationship. However, the cussing that you are talking about (song lyrics) is not an instantaneous reaction, but something that is thought out and could be avoided. None of us will be perfect until we are at home with Jesus, but that does not give us license, even artistic license, to use words or actions that are contrary to the walk of Christ. Paul stated that all things were lawful for him; but not all things were edifying.
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