Dr. Michael Svigel recently shared this on twitter: “Is it just me, or is ‘Jesus Christ’ as a curse word on the rise in popular culture? I’ve heard it a lot lately both live and in recent television/film. It’s almost as if it is being purposely scripted to offend. I can shrug off a lot of profanity, but this one bothers me.”
I agree. How about you?
But what can we do? I think we should begin saying something, rather than staying silent, when we hear the NAME of our Lord used in a profane way. Speak up, even if it is a stranger in public.
But we don’t want to come across as holier-than-thou or judgmental, so we say nothing. But I think it is easier to say something in a non-judgmental way than we think. This is NOT about giving someone a lecture! Maybe we are over-complicating it. Some ideas:
Use the element of surprise. People aren’t expecting a response to their profanity, so take advantage of that fact. You may decide to take their profane statement literally, and this will likely surprise them and get them thinking about the words they say. Often people say things without thinking.
Speak in a matter-of-fact way. Being deadpan or mellow in your tone could be effective, rather than your tone being passionate or riled up. Be calm. They won’t feel threatened. You may be able to use humor as well.
And to clarify what I mean, here are some ideas, which could be more or less appropriate depending on the situation:
♦ Someone says “holy Christ” in a profane way? Take it literally. Respond, in a serious tone: “I agree that Christ is holy, but what does that have to do with this mechanical issue we are trying to solve?”
♦ Many years ago I worked with a nurse who wore a big crucifix necklace all the time, and would also say “Jesus Christ” in a profane way. I never said anything, but if I could go back in time, I think I would use mild humor. Consider the tone here to be light and friendly: “So, I like your crucifix necklace. But when you also curse using the name of Jesus Christ isn’t that a bit contradictory? I think you are cancelling out any benefit the crucifix may have brought you! (mild chuckle).”
♦ You, in passing, hear someone say “Jesus.” Say something like “Praise the name of Jesus. He is worthy of all our praise” or “What a wonderful Name it is!” Again, make sure your tone is not arrogant or on-edge but properly emotional – genuine – expressing your love for Jesus, like you are in church saying it.
♦ I heard this shared once. This man was being helped by a sales clerk for a few minutes, and several times the clerk profaned the name of Jesus. When their transaction was about over, he said something like: “You have been very helpful today. Thanks for your service. But when you cursed using the Name of someone very important to me, I was hurt and bothered.” — The clerk was puzzled, and had no idea what he meant. He then explained it was when she misused the name of Jesus. The clerk responded that she didn’t even realize she had said it, and she guessed it was something she said out of habit without thinking. They had a brief, cordial discussion, and the man was able to share what Jesus meant to him as his Lord and Savior.
♦ After hearing the profane use of Jesus, spontaneously burst out in a Scripture quotation! Such as: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11) And then just move on – don’t say anything else about it – but continue your conversation where it left off or keep walking on your way. Just a Scripture “burst” probably leaving the person startled. haha. That verse in Philippians does say “at the name of Jesus” and you did just that!
Your input and ideas are welcome.
UPDATE: someone commenting on social media described this approach as being “gently re-directive” – Yes, let’s pray to be/do exactly that!
Let’s turn things around, and lift Jesus high!
Also: Turn off the movie or TV program if the name of our Lord is used as a curse. Stop watching it. Check online sources BEFORE you decide to watch a movie to see if it has profanity, so you won’t even start watching it to begin with. Imdb.com has a “content advisory” section where you can sometimes determine if there is profanity.
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ANOTHER post here: More thoughts about responding to the profane use of the Name of our Lord…
P.S. I have a category of posts entitled “It’s about Jesus” – see the right column. One post is here: It’s about Jesus…part 6. The honor of His Name.
Canadian Natasha said:
Hi Laura, I’m a long time reader (but not much of a commenter). While I can emphathise with the wince it causes when people use Jesus’ name rudely, I wouldn’t recommend any of the suggestions you made, at least in my area (western Canada). Around here, those responses would come across as REALLY passive agressive/agressive and rude.
I’m not saying those people are always correct, but especially in any situation where you DON’T have an ongoing relationship with the swearer, most people won’t think you are in the right for demanding they change their language for your sake (and doing it obliquely where they have to guess at what you mean will be even more frustrating to them). The result- their first or only contact with you as a Christian will be “that person who got really rude about my word choices when I was bagging their groceries”. 😦
On the other hand, an honest and direct conversation asking someone you DO have a connection with to try and moderate their language for your sake- coworker, friend, neighbour, or relative- is more reasonable because you have earned the right in some extent to speak to them about their actions that affect both of you.
Thanks for these helpful comments Natasha! Certainly our particular culture should be considered. And for that matter, something considered witty or simply (appropriately) straightforward in one culture, could be considered rude or passive-aggressive in another.
I live in the US, and the Bible Belt at that, so I think around here – and perhaps in the US generally but not everywhere – the ideas would be taken differently.
Input from others welcome too!
Wally Fry said:
Kids are the worst. I just got back from camp and OH MY GOD is constantly proclaimed. I just offer them the chance to lead prayer since they like to say that. Seems to work and they get the point.
Kids are usually open to instruction, and I actually had an acquaintance who, when she heard children using God’s name profanely, would have a mini lesson with them. She’s had some good opportunities.
Again, though, I think tone and approach is key (and our underlying attitude/motives) – as to whether we come across as obnoxious or gently concerned and corrective.
Wally Fry said:
That’s very true
I love the ideas and discussion here. Very good ideas for an uncomfortable situation.
Thanks Nancy! It is something I have pondered for a long time. And finally some ideas came to me about creative ways to reply.
I like the sense of humour you’re bringing to this dilemma of what to do when someone’s profanity bothers you. I listened to a Moody radio podcast recently (Chris Fably Live, Bible Q&A) and this same question came up there, too. One of the men, I forget who, said that when he wants someone to stop using profanity when talking to him, his usual line is “I’m too young for that kind of language” – which is funny because he clearly is in his 40s or 50s, and so the people chuckle but also take the point.
May I share another different cultural perspective: Scandinavia?
Like Natasha said, if you don’t have an ongoing relationship or some kind of ongoing connection with someone, it would be really rude to correct their language. Now if it’s someone you work with, that is obviously an ongoing connection, so it’s possible to say “this profanity bothers me, do you think you could tone it down” or something. Gentle, honest approach probably works best, but a sense of humour is good, too.
Having said that, it’s also generally considered rude and unprofessional if someone who is serving customers (like the sales clerk in your example) uses any kind of profanity, so if I was in the same situation as the man in your example, I might say something, try to give gentle feedback like he did, depending on the situation. (Not if the person already seems stressed out. The stress might be making them say things they don’t normally say.) After all it’s for their own good: if they’re saying something offensive without even realizing it, it’s better for their career prospects if they become aware of it and stop doing it…
I don’t need to deal so much with God’s name taken in vain, though.
In our language(s) the most usual profanity is various names of satan, hell, etc. plus vulgar terms for genitalia. And yes, that profanity bothers me. I can mostly overlook what someone says in distress – hard to control your tongue when you’ve hurt yourself or something has suddenly gone badly wrong. When someone is using those words casually all the time, it really irks me. But if it’s a random stranger speaking like that, then it’s probably only a short moment that I need to be exposed to that.
Thanks for these comments Tuija! I like that example of humor you heard on Moody Radio. I think we need more of such creative ideas.
That is interesting that profaning the name of Jesus is not so common there, but other related religious profanity or vulgar terms.
Someone from the US who replied on social media said he found people to generally be respectful/understanding when he politely objected to their taking God’s name in vain. However, they were less receptive if he objected to other types of bad language. Perhaps a lesson that we need realistic expectations of others. We can’t object to everything! And as you point out, there is a difference between a bad word used in distress and such words used casually all the time.
One more cultural difference … I think in the US talking with strangers is more common. If we pass a stranger, we at minimum smile, give a friendly head nod, or even say “Hi! How are you?” or similar greeting. And getting into brief, friendly “chat” with strangers in public is fairly common as well.
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Great post, Laura. All great ideas on how to approach the misuse! Thank you for sharing. I took two online courses hosted by Dr. Svigel, and met him at a DTS graduation. Did you take a class from him at DTS?
No, but I wish I had taken a class from him!! I have a book he wrote in my current “to read” stack. He shares many brief theological and biblical statements on twitter that are exceptional – and appreciated by those from varied Christian backgrounds.
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