Cursing and Profanity
About the Guest
Is cursing as harmless as our culture makes it seem? Pastor Nelson Searcy, author of "Tongue Pierced," encourages listeners to steward their speech as disciples of Christ. Having been raised in a home where cursing was an art form, Nelson tells how he broke the habit of cursing by putting himself on a 30-day no-cursing challenge.
Nelson SearcyNelson Searcy is the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Journey Church. Started in New York City in 2002, this groundbreaking church sees the majority of its growth coming from new believers and currently meets in several locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, NY, with additional locations in San Francisco, CA and Boca Raton, FL. Author of over 80 church leadership resources, including 14 best-selling books, Searcy is also an experienced teacher, coach and leadership strategist. Before starti...more
Pastor Nelson Searcy encourages listeners to steward their speech as disciples of Christ. Searcy tells how he broke the habit of cursing by putting himself on a 30-day no-cursing challenge.
Cursing and Profanity
Bob: The Bible says that what comes out of our mouths show us what’s really in our hearts. Pastor Nelson Searcy says, “For some of us, there’s a lot of cursing locked inside of us.”
Nelson: So, you think about—we’re hanging a frame / a picture frame on the wall, and we hit our thumb with the proverbial hammer. The word that is most appropriate is not the word that most of us would say—we would let out a curse word. The more appropriate word is: “Ouch! Why did I do that?!” So, in essence, removing curse words is really about being wise with your words and taking these unwise words and using better words.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to teach you how you can learn to say, “Ouch,” more often as we talk about cursing today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I was just sitting here thinking about a conversation I had with my sons. This was a number of years ago. They were in high school, and we were talking about—talking about cuss words / we were talking about profanity. They were trying to make the argument to me that words are just words—you know, that, basically, certain words—[Laughter] —Why are you laughing?
Dennis: That is adolescent rationale. I mean, it’s—it’s—they can’t be wrong. I mean, you know. [Laughter]
Bob: So, the whole point of what they were saying was: “Words aren’t right or wrong. They are just words. It’s whatever meaning you ascribe to them, and that it really didn’t matter.” That didn’t mean that we were going to start cussing around their mom. But in their peer-to-peer communication, they felt a certain amount of freedom to use particular words.
I was saying, “I’m not sure that’s honoring to the Lord.” They were going: “It’s just words. It’s just letters put together, Dad.”
Dennis: I’m glad I had a father—
Dennis: —who modeled what you’re talking about. In fact, when my dad used a word that was inappropriate—a cuss word—I remember laughing because it was so out of character for my father. Even the way he pronounced the word was poor. He didn’t do a good job of even pronouncing the word. [Laughter]
I just remember, thinking of my dad, going, “I’m really glad, as I went through adolescence, that I had a dad who was a—kind of like a rail on a mountain road that keeps you off the edge / away from the edge.” In the locker room, it was pretty profane.
Bob: Well, think about the culture we live in today because this is a culture where people think more like my sons did in adolescence than they think like I do in terms of words.
It has become a coarse culture in terms of the language we hear in the grocery store or language we hear on the street corner.
Dennis: And I’m going to tell the story about New York City; but before I do that, I want to introduce Nelson Searcy to our radio audience. Nelson, welcome back.
Nelson: Great to be back.
Dennis: Nelson is a pastor, currently, in Boca Raton; right?
Nelson: That’s right.
Dennis: You’re not truly the pastor. You’re the founding pastor of the Journey Church in New York City; but you are currently pastoring in Boca Raton.
Nelson: Well, I serve as an overseer for all our Journey locations. Each of those has their own campus pastors. I serve as the founding pastor—the lead pastor, teaching pastor, vision pastor—whatever it is they need me to do on any given day; but the one I originally started is in New York City. A few years ago, we started one in Boca Raton. I thought South Florida might be fun to live in for a while. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, and get out of the snow.
Nelson: Yes, I got away from the wind.
Dennis: Yes, no doubt about it. Well, he and his wife Kelley have been married 21 years. They have one son, Alexander.
He’s written a book called Tongue Pierced. If you didn’t listen to the earlier broadcast, you’ll have to go back and hear the story kind of where this came from. We’ll get to that subject in just a moment.
But I was in—I believe it was Grand Central Station; okay? There were some shops there, and I wandered into one of the shops. We got there before we had to leave—so we were wandering around. We walked into a store, and there was a book that had a vulgar term on the cover. It was right at eye-level for kids, who were five and six years of age, to able to see.
I’m not on a personal crusade in every store I walk into to find something wrong, but something hit me about that. I said, “I’d like to speak with the store manager.” So, I took the book over, and he was there. I said: “I just have to tell you. I was enjoying your store.
“It’s a beautiful store—getting ready to buy some stuff here—and I just have to tell you—this book doesn’t fit here. This is vulgar.” And he looked at me and was like, “What are you talking about?”
Bob: “What planet are you from?!”
Dennis: Exactly—exactly. I said, “You know, I’m not personally trying to trash you or your store. I would just like to call you up because there are little kids walking around your store who can read. They don’t need to see that term.” I didn’t thump him with the Bible. I didn’t pull out my witnessing tract and give it to him at that point. I just feel like, at points, we need to push back against the crassness of our culture and how it’s just spiraling down without anybody pressing back against vulgarity in our culture.
And frankly, that’s a piece of what this book is doing; but you’re beginning with the household of faith, first of all—those who profess to follow Christ—and you’re saying that our tongues need to be pierced by the cross of Jesus Christ.
Explain what you mean.
Nelson: Yes. Well, the idea of the tongue-pierced lifestyle—how the words you speak transform the life you live—that God has given us this unique ability to use words to build people up and to tear people down. “Life and death is in the power of the tongue [Proverbs 18:21],” as King David reminded us. Part of our issue, as disciples / as followers of Jesus, is to steward our language—to be good stewards of our language. As I’ve talked about this book, a lot of pastors, especially, have been surprised that I would propose that cursing is a problem, even in the Christian world. So, certainly, in Grand Central Station in a bookstore, we might expect to find that kind of language—
Nelson: —or we might expect to hear it out in society.
I was teaching, one day, at the church. I often mention my faults, which means I never lack sermon material as long as I can teach on my faults. [Laughter]
I mentioned how I grew up in a family—not so much my mom and dad / they were a bit cautious with their words—but the extended family, especially—they made cursing an art. They were really good at it. So, I learned very quickly how to use curse words as a verb and how to speak this language and gain respect in my non-Christian family. I mentioned that that was something I was working on.
It hit me that this idea of avoiding foul and offensive language—that’s actually a command that the Bible gives us. So, the Apostle Paul, writing in Ephesians—he says very plainly: “Don’t use foul and abusive language. Instead, let everything you say be good and helpful so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them [Ephesians 4:29].” This led me to think: “What would it look like if Christians started the language revolution, and we eliminated the use of curse words? How would that allow us to be a better witness in the workplace if we opted out of these words that are foul and abusive?
“But then, more so, let’s start with the home. Let’s just insure that, as Christian fathers and Christian mothers, we eliminate that.”
Bob: You introduced a 30-day challenge that you and others went on.
Nelson: Well, that eventually led to me doing more study about the power of language—about cursing—led to a very interesting research project where I thought I would try to figure out what was behind some of our more common curse words. The first clue to the problem is actually in the word we use. Now, I think, where I grew up, they called it cussing—they dropped the “r” out of that—but the idea of curse words is literally a Bible term because the first curse in the Bible happens when God puts the curse on the devil / on the serpent, there in the Garden with Adam and Eve. That curse that God put on the serpent is actually the same word that we use to refer to curse words.
I found that connection to be very interesting. I began to realize that, when I speak a curse word, I’m trying to do something that only God has the power to do. Only God can legitimately condemn someone for eternity; but if I use a “GD”-type word, I’m trying to become God. I’m trying to take that God-like power. If I tell someone to “Go to…”—and I use a curse word there—I don’t have the power to do that. Only God has the power.
Then, I thought, “If I’m trying to be like God, maybe, I should try to eliminate that from my language altogether.” So, at first, I put myself under a 30-Day No Cursing Challenge. Then, the idea was, “Could I go 30 days without using a curse word?” I think that was about ten years ago. I instituted another rule, which is: “If I violate the 30-day challenge, I have to start over.” I think, right now, ten years later, I’m on a—maybe, I’m seven or eight days into my most recent 30-day no curse challenge.
[Laughter] But I’ve begun to challenge people in the church to take a 30-Day No Cursing Challenge. I would preach on it. I would sign people up to take the challenge—I would check in with them.
Many people told me—young professionals in Manhattan, like we have in our church / multicultural church, various backgrounds, various jobs—many of them told me—of all the challenges that I had offered over the years / there were challenges to tithe, or challenges to share their faith, or challenges to fast for Lent—these other challenges that we do as part of our church—this one was the most difficult, but it was also the one that caused them to draw closer to God. I thought, “May be onto something here”; and I put that in the book.
Bob: Well, that’s an interesting insight. They were saying that somehow the language—the coarse language they were using / the curse language—was keeping them separated from God in some way. What’s up with that?
Nelson: Yes. Well, words can bring life / words can bring death.
We think about that in relationship with one another; but the words that we say can also bring life to our relationship with God. So, here’s someone, seeking God—seeking to grow as a Christian / seeking to become more and more like Christ—but every time we take two steps forward, then, our language interrupts that—and maybe, in a sense—forces us to take a step back.
What if we could remove that negative language and talk to other people in much the same way that we would talk to God?—and eliminate those curse words from our lives—quit trying to be God and put these curses on others. What would that do to our heart?—because, if out of our heart is coming these curse words—we fix the curse words, then, what would that do to the purity of our heart; and how would that draw us closer to God?
Bob: Okay, you might be able to guess this; but my sons, who knew their Bible, knew that Paul had used a scatological term in one of his epistles, where he said that his good works could be compared to dung.
They said: “There you go. See, the Bible even uses some of those words.” And I told them, “If they wanted to use, ‘dung,’ as their curse word, that that was okay.” [Laughter] They could get by with that.
But some folks would say, “You know, the Bible uses—Jesus spoke very harshly and spoke to the Pharisees with some hard words.”
Nelson: Yes, I understand that. I’m not trying to be legalistic in this idea; but I think, oftentimes, we use curse words almost as a cheap way to say something. So, you think about—we’re hanging a frame / a picture frame on the wall; and we hit our thumb with the proverbial hammer. The word that is most appropriate is not the word that most of us would say—we would let out a curse word. The more appropriate word is the word: “Ouch! Why did I do that?!”
Nelson: Well, in a small way, that’s what we do with language.
We cheapen our language by using curse words so frequently that they actually become poor words that need to be chosen more wisely. In essence, removing curse words is really about being wise with your words and taking these unwise words and using better words—better words in our home / better words with our children.
Bob: Okay. So, let me tell you what happened the other day. You tell me if—I think this was a better word, but I’m just trying to get the principle here. I was travelling—we were with some friends.
Dennis: I’ve worked with you too long, Bob. I know exactly—
Bob: You know where this is going?
Dennis: I do.
Bob: So, we were having lunch together—had a nice lunch. We were in Fresno, California. Where do you think I went for lunch in Fresno, California?
Dennis: Cheesecake Factory.
Bob: Exactly—had a wonderful lunch!
Dennis: At number 80—what?
Bob: Eighty-—I’d been there before. So, it didn’t—but this was 83; okay—location number 83. [Laughter] At the end of lunch, we pay. We get in the rental car. We drive to the airport.
At the rental car place, I go to get out my credit card—I’d left it back at the restaurant—catching a plane / got to turn in the rental car—the credit card is back—as soon as I opened my wallet and see that the credit card is not there, I said, “Stink!”—that’s what I said. Now, I picked that up from our mutual friend—you know, our friend, Dave Daggett, used to say, “Stink,” all the time.
Dennis: Oh, you’re going to blame him with it. [Laughter]
Bob: He was the one who introduced me to “Stink!” as an expression that I could use out of frustration or in a frustrating moment. Now, I’m back to my teenage sons, who would say: “Dad, it’s the same thing, whether you say ‘stink,’ or you say something else. It’s—it’s—you’re just cursing. You just picked a different—a few different letters.” So, is “Stink!” as bad as something else I might have said?
Nelson: Well, I’ve had this question before about these Christian replacements that we have for curse words.
Dennis: Christian replacements?
Nelson: Oh, sure.
Dennis: I’ve never heard them called that.
Dennis: I understand what you’re talking about. [Laughter] I’ve never heard them called that, though.
Nelson: Some are better than others, of course. I would say, given the choice—you were much better to use your word, “stink, stank, or stunk,” [Laughter] than any of the other words that might come to mind, if for no other reason than the witness that that might give to those around you.
Nelson: But I think, as always, we have to hold our lives up to the mirror of Scripture. I think of Psalm 19:14, where—we often think of it as a prayer, but it’s also an evaluation verse: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
So, in that moment, you made a human mistake—it is part of our fallen nature. We forget things. We are imperfect. So, could you have given praise to the Lord? It might seem a little unusual if you had done that; but in a way: “Praise the Lord that I am saved because He overcomes my imperfections. I’m the imperfect person who leaves my credit card back at the store—
—trying to catch my flight—but God has forgiven me. With that in mind, I can press on; and we can solve this problem together.”
Dennis: That would be the way I would view it. I would think, “You know, God in heaven did not move forward on the edge of the throne, reach over to His left and find a fly-swatter, and go, ‘I’m going to club that Lepine guy—
Bob: —“’for saying, “Stink!”’” [Laughter]
Dennis: You know what? I think there are bigger issues in our life. I understand the question, Bob, because I think we are too casual sometimes with these things; but I think God relates to us, understanding who we are in our broken state. He does call us to holiness. I’m not minimizing that in anyway whatsoever; but I think He may have bigger issues in our lives and in our hearts that He may be dealing with.
Bob: At the same time, this issue of cussing is something that you’ve addressed on FamilyLife Today as an area for parents of teenagers / as an area for all of us to be on guard against the language we use.
Dennis: And dads, to be sure. I don’t remember if it was a peer, as in another dad, or one of my sons I had this conversation with—but it caused me to do some thinking of: “What is the root of this? What’s taking place when we take a word and we twist and turn it into a curse word?” I think it was my son I was explaining this to—I said: “You know, God made certain acts that a husband and wife have in marriage to be holy / to be blessed by Him, and it’s good. It’s absolutely good. But when people take that act and they put vulgar terms around it—that wrap anger around it / that wrap hatred around it—in essence, they are almost shaking their fist at God and what God designed, wanting to take His place as we curse, and wanting to redefine what He called good.”
I just think for that very reason, those words have no place in our vocabulary.
Bob: So, let’s take the person, who is listening, who would say: “Okay, I let a few of these words loose more often than I would like. I get angry. I get frustrated. I just—it’s engrained in my habit patterns. What would you suggest I do? How do I back away from—because I want my words to be pleasing and edifying? What do I do?”
Dennis: I’m going to give you a spectrum here. Let’s use Bob—what he’s talking about as one end of the spectrum, and maybe, me as a middle part of the spectrum, where the other night, I got an email at 10:30 at night. The word that came out of my mouth surprised me and surprised Barbara, and I was not aiming it at my wife. It was just not a good word.
Bob: You didn’t say, “Stink”?
Dennis: I didn’t say, “Stink.” I would have been better informed to have gone with your sanctified—
—what did you call it, again?
Bob: Christian replacement.
Nelson: Christian replacement.
Dennis: Christian replacement. Immediately, after I said the word, I said: “Sweetheart, forgive me. That was inappropriate. That was not the right response”; and “God, forgive me.” Move on, at that point.
Now, in that spectrum—and I’m just telling you—I don’t remember the last curse word I said before that. Now, that one’s fresh because that didn’t happen too many days ago; but you’ve got people, who are all over the spectrum on this—people who grew up like you did, hearing the words all the time—and others, kind of like me, who had a dad who—he pretty much walked the talk.
Nelson: Well, first of all, everything that has been said, just in this conversation to bring awareness to our words—the person who is sitting out there, no matter where they fall on that spectrum—if they just desire to be more aware of their words, it will do something in their relationship with God. Talking to Christians, in particular:
“When a Christian curses, it is not that God judges them; and it’s not that they are loved less or that’s an unpardonable, unforgiveable sin. Just like you said—you asked your spouse to forgive you / you asked God to forgive you—you are forgiven in the midst of that.
I think awareness is a big piece of the puzzle. That’s really what I’m trying to do—instead of being casual with our language / instead of being loose with our lips or speaking cheap words—we say: “Words are cheap,” / “Talk is cheap,”—I’m trying to bring awareness. What I’m saying to the Christian is: “If you give something a try, like a 30-Day No Cursing Challenge—you do it with the right heart, you do it with grace, you do it in the spirit of, “God, use this to draw me closer to You,”—you may be amazed at how that new awareness and this new discipline in your life can bring about growth in all the spiritual disciplines in your life. You may just find, at the end of a 30-Day No Cursing Challenge—or if you’re like me and you can’t get 30 consecutive days in a row—you may just find that that is a spiritual-growth practice that can lead you into a deeper walk with God.
Bob: And the person who says, “I want to take that challenge,” would you encourage them to come up with some replacements words; or do they just bite their tongue?
What do they do?
Nelson: Well, actually—and I don’t know if this is appropriate—but I wrote 30 devotions that—if someone goes to the book’s website, they can sign up to take the 30-Day No Cursing Challenge. I address that and other issues that may come along, including the fact that most people stumble about Day 3. I address that in these devotions to help people get a proper perspective on this challenge because it’s not about legalism—it’s about us becoming more like Christ.
Dennis: And go to Bob’s website to find out his sanctified—
Bob: My list of words. [Laughter]
Dennis: —Christian replacements for “Stink.”
Nelson: Well, I could put those on the website as well.
Dennis: And yes! [Laughter]
Bob: We’ve got a link on our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com, to the devotions that you’ve put together. So, if a listener wants to get a copy of the book and work through the 30-day challenge, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com, click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER,” and they can order your book from us, online; or they can download the devotions from us.
Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call if you’d like to order a copy of the book, Tongue Pierced, by Pastor Nelson Searcy. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329. Or again, you can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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And we hope you can be back with us tomorrow. We’re going to talk about gossip. We’re going to talk about expressing gratitude and praising another person. We’re going to talk about the good things and the bad things you can do with your tongue. So, I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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