Remember that scene in The Christmas Story where Ralphie finally loses his mind on his nemesis, that kid with yellow eyes (YELLOW EYES!) and just drops a massive array of obscenities while pounding away at his bully’s face? Kids recoil, the voiceover takes control to protect the watcher’s ears of the barrage of filth flying from this adolescent’s mouth as pure rage takes over.
In another scene from the same movie, Ralphie drops the f-bomb in front of his father, resulting in the worse friend rat-out in cinematic history alongside a punishment made of a mouth full of Lifebuoy soap!
Swearing is kind of a big deal. It always has been. Like it or not, it’s something that’s typically frowned upon in Christian circles (go figure), and it causes most of us to stop in our tracks, with ears perked up while we begin to question everything around us.
Others, it seems, don’t really mind. And they are big ole stinky, smelly sinners.
Swearing in Christian music is something previous generations of fans never had to deal with. Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Point of Grace, Casting Crowns, Audio Adrenaline, dcTalk, Jars of Clay and hundreds of other bands in the previous three decades had done quite well on the charts (and even in the mainstream!) without making their mothers blush once. (Well, Amy Grant DID say the word “baby” in a song… gasp!)
But times they are a-changin’, or so I’m told, and I’m a bit concerned that we are at the early stages of what I view as an epidemic. More and more artists are going independent of a record label, vying for attention in an increasingly difficult musical environment while justifying their poor lyrical choices a hundred different ways.
Let’s make this clear from the start: I have zero percent pity for artists who say they struggle with not being able to find a way to effectively communicate in their music without cussing. Swearing has ZERO place in Christian music. End of story. And it’s time for artists of any faith to knock it off.
Yes, I’m looking at you, Hillsong United. I know; weird, right? The thing is, no church on this planet is going to be singing the words of the second chorus in “Even When It Hurts (Praise Song)”: Even when the fight seems lost / I’ll praise you / Even when it hurts like hell / I’ll praise you. Look, I get it. Sometimes, life does hurt like hell. I don’t think any of us will argue that and we don’t need to pretend like it doesn’t. That’s not the point. The point here is that ears have been perked up, and now we’re now focused on dissecting the entire message and its delivery. The distraction is instantly created and, if even for a moment, the focus has the potential to shift from worshipping God to a certain word choice.
Argue for or against the use, it causes some to pause, some to stumble, and in a number of cases, flee entirely. The response that I see from proponents of this “honest songwriting” (and sometimes the artists themselves) typically is “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.” Writing those people off as out of touch, snobby, churchy goody-two-shoes, or as simply not welcome in this little swear club cool clique you think you’re creating, is about as insensitive to the issue as you can get. And let’s not forget Romans 14, where Paul writes, “But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.” Artists may really want to use certain words, but if their decisions could cause distress, there’s a problem.
Oh wait, is “hell” not edgy enough?
OK. Well, let’s stay in the worship genre and look at Kings Kaleidoscope’s use of the f-bomb on their 2016 release. The track that sent a shockwave through the industry contained not one, but TWO uses of the word. The song title? “A Prayer.”