John MacFarlane is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. First Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. I’ve known John since he was a child running the aisles of First Baptist. While we had a distant, but cordial relationship when I was an Evangelical pastor, that is no longer the case.
MacFarlane writes a daily blog post for the church’s website. Typically, MacFarlane takes a story/date in the news and uses it to preach the gospel or make some sort of spiritual application. Several days ago, MacFarlane used the classic movie Gone With the Wind to admonish his congregation about swearing. Titled The Slippery Slope of Swearing, MacFarlane states:
On June 30, 1936, Margaret Mitchell’s book Gone With The Wind was published.
Now, for those of us who have never watched the movie, there is one iconic line that everyone seems to know. The movie version was released in 1939 and on today’s date, that famous scene was filmed. The scene was shot using two different lines. The alternate version featured Rhett Butler telling Scarlett O’Hara, “Frankly, my dear, I just don’t care.”
Film censors were on hand to preview the filming. There was nothing wrong with this line. However, film director Victor Fleming wanted the scene to have more bite and he threw in the infamous curse. He was accessed [sic] a $5,000 fine by the censors.
I have to admit that this little piece of history surprised me. Cursing is common in commercials today but who would have thought that it was something found in books and movies to that era? We tend to think of the early-20th c. being a little bit more pristine – or, at least, I do.
We are told in Philippians 3:17-19, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (18) (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: (19) Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)”
Swearing should be shameful. It’s certainly not today, though, and it evidently wasn’t shameful then. Instead, there is “glory” in it. Mr. Fleming had to pay $5,000 just to slip in one cuss word. And what did that do for the movie? Nothing! Even if he could argue that it increased the sales, that is taking glory in something that is sinful and shameful.
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Cursing is corrupt communication. Nobody denies that. Yet, it’s done freely and the movie/television industry is doing its best to desensitize young people to the shamefulness of the words.
As kid-friendly movies are released, you will notice that more and more are incorporating a blatant swear, plenty of slang swears, and the obligatory misuse of God’s name. What is the point? Did it make the movie better in any way? Absolutely NOT!
June 27, 1939 put the budding movie industry on a slippery slope. The last few years have angled the slippery slope towards the kids.
As Christians, we can take a stand against this. We can refuse to watch or buy any movie with profanity – even if it is just one. And we can (we must!) guard our own tongues to make sure nothing rolls across our lips that would be shameful.
MacFarlane is outraged over the use of the word damn in movies, along with other words he has deemed curse words. He calls on church members to take a STAND against movies with profanity. MacFarlane believes saying swear words is sinful and shameful.
MacFarlane is right, in one regard, there IS more swearing in movies and by people in general. I swear multiple times every day. As I write this post, I am listening to the Cincinnati Reds game on 700 WLW. The Reds give me ample opportunities to curse. On the other hand, broadcasters announced that Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos, corner outfielders for the Reds, both made the National League All-Star team. My response was a hearty “fuck, yeah!”
MacFarlane is obsessed with the language of others. In a May 2021 post, MacFarlane said that people who swear have “dirty hearts.” (Please see People Who Swear Have “Dirty Hearts” Says IFB Pastor John MacFarlane.)
MacFarlane is waging a losing battle. Swearing is common in our culture, including by fine, upstanding pastors and members of IFB churches.
In 2020, I wrote a post titled Evangelical Swear Words. Here’s an excerpt from this article:
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?)
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.
MacFarlane is free to swear or not swear. However, when he says that people who swear have “dirty hearts,” and that swearing is “sinful” and “shameful,” I am not going to let it slide. Instead of policing the language of others, perhaps he might want to focus on things that matter. MacFarlane is outraged over the word “damn” in a movie, but he had no problem preaching my rapist uncle into Heaven a few years ago.
In 2020 post titled Dear Pastor, Do You Believe in Hell?, I wrote about my uncle’s funeral at First Baptist:
I have come to the conclusion that most preachers really don’t believe in Hell. Preach as they might about Hell, when it comes time to put their theology into practice, they cower and refuse to proclaim their Hell belief.
Let me tell you a story about a man named Bob. (Bob is a pseudonym, but all the details that follow are real.) Bob was raised in a Fundamentalist Baptist home. His parents were stern, devout, Christians who helped start several local Baptist churches.
At the age of 17, Bob attended a revival meeting at the local Baptist church. When the invitation was given, Bob walked down the aisle, knelt at the altar, prayed the sinner’s prayer, and at that moment became a born-again Christian.
A short time after his conversion, Bob had a falling-out with his family and moved out of his parents’ home. Bob never attended church another day in his life apart from an occasional funeral or wedding.
Bob lived to be 83 years old. From the time Bob was 17 until he died, he lived a life of sin and infamy. Bob was a child abuser. Bob beat his wife. Bob was a drunk. No woman was safe from Bob’s leering eye and his groping hands.
Bob was a nasty, vulgar kind of drunk.
Bob raped a woman while her 12-year-old son was home from school sick. He was never prosecuted because his victim was a mentally troubled family member.
Bob died recently.
Bob’s funeral was held at the same Baptist church he once attended. His family still attends the church. The funeral was the first time that Bob had been to church in over 60 years.
The preacher mentioned what an ornery man Bob was. And then the preacher spent the next 20 minutes preaching AT Bob’s friends. The funeral service was not about Bob at all, it was all about Jesus. Maybe that was better because it was probably hard to find much good to say about Bob.
Mercifully, the preacher brought his Jesus talk to a close with an invitation to trust Jesus as savior.
Why? So they too could be in Heaven someday with Bob. The Bob, who at age 17 walked down the aisle, knelt at the altar, prayed the sinner’s prayer, and became a Christian.
According to the preacher at First Baptist, Bob is safe in the arms of Jesus. Pity all the women he raped, abused, and molested over the years. Pity all those he terrorized when he was drunk. The fire insurance Bob bought at age 17 covered everything he would ever do. This gave him immunity from prosecution for all his debauchery.
It matters not that he did not attend church in the past 60 years. He never prayed; never read the Bible. In fact, he cursed God, hated God, and lived as if there is no God.
But, at age 17 . . . well, you get the gist of the story.
The pastor in this story? John MacFarlane. Instead of being worried about people saying damn, fuck or shit, he might want to focus on things that matter.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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