As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) youth in the 1960s and 1970s, I was taught by my parents, preachers, and Sunday school teachers that uttering ANY curse word was “taking God’s name in vain.” In the eyes of the thrice Holy God, cursing was every bit as bad as adultery, murder, lying, lusting after your neighbor’s wife, or worshiping false gods. This is why I was in hot water as a fourteen-year-old boy when I told a Trinity Baptist Church youth leader to “fuck off.” Such words were just not allowed. Never mind the fact that “taking God’s name in vain” had NOTHING to do with saying words such as shit or fuck.
While Independent Baptist preachers thundered and screamed against cursing, they generally were indifferent to the use of what I call Baptist swear words — bywords used in place of saying the actual word. In 2020, I wrote a post titled Evangelical Swear Words. Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote:
A dear friend of mine from back in the days when we both were part of the Trinity Baptist Church youth group, laughs every time she hears me utter a swear word. She often replies, “I never thought I’d see the day when Bruce Gerencser said a swear word.” From the time I was saved at the age of 15 until I left the ministry, I never uttered one swear word, outwardly anyhow. I thought plenty of swear words but never verbalized them. To do so would have branded me as a sinner and as a man who didn’t have his emotions under control.
Evangelicals are every bit as emotional and angry as their counterparts in the real world. Knowing that telling someone to “fuck off” would bring them rebuke and shame, Evangelicals have developed what I call Christian swear words. Christian swear words are expressions such has:
Gosh darn it
Son of a gun
As you can easily see, these words are meant to be replacements for the real swear words. This way, angry or emotionally upset Evangelicals can express themselves without running afoul of God’s FCC.
Years ago, a preacher who considered himself totally sanctified (without sin), was known for using the phrase, taking it to the hilt. He and I were quite good friends, and one day when he repeated his favorite phrase, I told him, you know that taking it to the hilt can be used as a sexual reference for sticking the penis all the way in up to its base (hilt). He was indignant that I would dare to suggest such a thing. He later learned I was right and apologized (Do you suppose it ever dawned on him that he had sinned by using this phrase after he said he no longer was a sinner?)
In the mid-1960s and again in the 1970s, I attended First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. After its pastor Jack Bennett retired, John MacFarlane became pastor of the church. MacFarlane was a young boy when I was a teenager (I am ten years older than John). In the summer, I baled straw for MacFarlane’s father. (Please see the ongoing series The Making of a Fundamentalist: First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio — Part One and The Making of a Fundamentalist: First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio — Part Two.) MacFarlane continues to preach the “old-fashioned” Baptist Fundamentalism he grew up in. I told Polly the other day that MacFarlane and I have a lot of similarities. Both of us were born into Baptist Fundamentalism. As children, we were deeply indoctrinated in the “one true faith” by our parents, pastors, youth leaders, and Sunday school teachers. We knew nothing but IFB Christianity. Taught that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God, we were certain that our beliefs perfectly aligned with God’s mind. Both of us went off to IFB colleges (Tennessee Temple and Midwestern Baptist College), later pastored IFB churches, and now live five miles apart from each other, both pastoring local IFB churches. Okay, scratch that last part. MacFarlane still pastors an IFB church. On the other hand, I left the IFB church movement in the 1980s, pastoring a variety of Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House, a non-denominational church in West Unity, Ohio (fifteen miles north of where I now live). After a short stint at a Southern Baptist church in 2003, I left the ministry (2003) and later walked away from Christianity (2008). MacFarlane is right where he was when we both were Jesus-loving youths at First Baptist in the 1970s. His favorite hymn is “I Shall Not be Moved.”
Based on my reading of MacFarlane’s blog — and I personally like John and his wife — I have concluded that his thinking hasn’t evolved much over the years. He is still a strident Baptist Fundamentalist who preaches transactional salvation — believe certain propositional truths, pray the sinner’s prayer, viola! you are forever saved — with a steady emphasis of “living right.” Take MacFarlane’s latest blog post titled, And They All Came a Tumbling Down:
You have to paint a mental picture of this story to get the full affect. A dad named Frank lives at the top of a hill. The incline is a quarter of a mile long. You make a left-hand turn at the top of the hill to turn into Frank’s house. Even the driveway is sloped downward toward the steep road.
A video from a Ring doorbell captures a hilarious event. Frank’s daughter plays softball. All of her equipment is in the back of dad’s SUV, including a couple of buckets of softballs. Unbeknownst to dad, the buckets must have shifted on the ride home.
Later in the day, dad realizes that he needs something from the back of his SUV. As he opened the rear hatch, 30 softballs pour out the back, race down the drive and down the quarter mile of inclined road leading to the house. Dad’s shock stuns him into a moment of inaction before he frantically tries to stop the cascade of balls. His valiant attempt is useless. Those balls are long gone!
On the video, you hear dad yelling, “No, no, no, no, no!” before using other words that I will not print. Had it not been for his language, the entire scene would have been hilarious. However, Ed Mazza, the writer of the article said that after the stream of “no’s”, Frank used “situational appropriate profanity.”
Isn’t it remarkable how people justify their use of profanity? Maybe someone will say, “Pardon my French.” The French language is a beautiful, romantic-sounding language. What you just heard coming out of someone’s mouth was neither beautiful NOR romantic. And it definitely was not French!
Years ago, I remember hearing someone declare that the use of foul language was evidence that the individual obviously didn’t have much of an education. However, I remember the first time I heard a school teacher swear and the first time I heard a doctor swear. I was in high school for the first one but I was an adult (and a pastor) when I heard the second one come from the mouth of a doctor storming out of the ER at Bryan Hospital. He acted pretty sheepish when he saw me.
That’s been a number of years ago. Today, people have no filter and no conscience about what they are saying or who is around when they say it.
James 3:10-12 says, “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. (11) Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? (12) Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”
Through the years, some have lamented that they just can’t seem to put a lid on the vulgarities. Why do I say these things? they ask. The answer is simpler than you might think but it’s probably not the answer we want.
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. (19) For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: (20) These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.” (Matthew 15:18-20)
Whatever is in the heart WILL come out.
There is no such thing as situationally appropriate profanity. Instead, there are hearts that need to be cleaned up. Clean up the heart and the mouth will clean up.
According to MacFarlane, people use profanity because they have “dirty hearts.” Clean up their “hearts” and people won’t swear anymore. How, of course, are “hearts” cleaned up? Drum roll, please. The answer, are you ready for it? is J-E-S-U-S. In MacFarlane’s world, Jesus is the answer to every question, the fix for every problem. The unstated problem here is that lots of Christians swear, especially when you consider bywords too. I suspect more than a few members of First Baptist, on occasion, use words that would cause the good pastor to blush or find offense. MacFarlane, ever a presuppositionalist, presupposes that certain words are sinful; that it is always morally wrong to say these words. In MacFarlane’s world, there’s no such thing as situational swearing — or situational anything, for that matter. MacFarlane lives in a black and white world of absolutes. Never mind that curse words are found in the Bible and that devout followers of Jesus can and do curse. MacFarlane elevates curse words to the level of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Say Goddamn, shit, hell, or fuck, and you might as well be having sex with your neighbor’s wife. In the IFB world, all sins are the same, and the cure is the same too: J-E-S-U-S. Thinking this way turns people into Word Nazis, people who get offended if they hear a school teacher or doctor utter a swear word or hear someone at a store or restaurant using language they deem “sinful.” It is not uncommon for IFB Christians to publicly chastise people for cursing. I know I did it back in the day. Such people believe that they are the protectors of God’s sensibilities, that the God of the universe who knows, sees, and hears everything can’t bear to hear people swear.
Let me conclude this post with another excerpt from Evangelical Swear Words:
Many of us who use curse words use them when we are angry or upset. Sometimes, we use swear words to ameliorate a serious pain that we are having. After hitting my finger with a hammer, I’ve learned that saying “Goddammit!” really loud tends to lessen the pain. According to research presented to the British Psychological Society, swearing is an emotional language, and using it can make a person feel better. Perhaps the use of 506 expletives in 179 minutes as actors did in the movie Wolf of Wall Street is a tad bit excessive, but I know firsthand that cursing can, and does, have a cathartic effect on a person. While certainly, those who swear must be aware of proper social conventions, swearing at the referee on TV who just hosed your favorite football team can be emotionally satisfying, and I highly recommend it.
Swear words are just that: words. Social conventions dictate their use. I am a card-carrying member of the Swearers Club. I make liberal use of curse words, especially when speaking to officials from afar on a televised sporting event. Even Polly, sweet, sweet Polly, my wife, has devolved to my level. While I am careful when using swear words in public or around those who are easily offended, I refuse to be bullied into submission by the word police. I rarely use swear words in my writing, but I do so on occasion. It’s up to the individual readers to decide if a well-placed malediction is offensive enough to stop them from reading.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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