Following Jesus in the Real World: Swearing can boost morale?

by Dave Burchett
Posted on Monday, April 20, 2009, at 1:34 pm

A year or so ago I ran across the following news headline: "Swearing at work boosts team spirit, morale."

Wouldn't it be interesting to be at that pep rally?

"Yay bleepin' team! Bleep, bleep, bleep! Whooeeeee!!! [Jump in air . . . extend arms.] Bleep!"

The news article outlined the study:

Regular swearing at work can help boost team spirit among staff, allowing them to express better their feelings as well as develop social relationships, according to a study by researchers. Yehuda Baruch, a professor of management at the University of East Anglia, and graduate Stuart Jenkins studied the use of profanity in the workplace and assessed its implications for managers.

They assessed that swearing would become more common as traditional taboos are broken down, but the key appeared to be knowing when such language was appropriate and when to turn [a] blind eye.

The pair said swearing in front of senior staff or customers should be seriously discouraged or banned, but in other circumstances it helped foster solidarity among employees and express frustration, stress or other feelings.

That seems like a lot of, uhhhh, silliness to me. As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I live in a profane, obscenity-laced profession. In my regular job of sports television production, the "f-bombs" fly in a way that would constitute "shock and awe" for most Christians. I do not use any of the seven words that formerly were never said on TV. My reason is largely unrelated to my faith, although I am reminded of Paul's incredibly annoying challenge in Ephesians:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).

Clearly that is reason enough for followers of Jesus to be careful of their words. Using words that are offensive to some demonstrates bad manners and a worse vocabulary. I remember working with a network producer who when informed that I had written a couple of Christian books looked a little sheepish and said, "I didn't know you were a religious man. I am sorry if my language offended you."

My answer seemed to surprise him: "Your language is not an issue to me because of my faith. On a professional level I think that language is an issue of civility and creating a comfortable work space. As a Christian I don't judge you because of language, nor do I think any less of you because you use it."

That was a loving way to say that I am never surprised when sinners sin. He was thoughtful for a moment and then replied, "I have never heard that kind of acceptance from a Christian before. I would like to talk more about that later."

We did talk later. I suspect his interest was fueled by the grace I displayed when he felt embarrassed about using bad language around the "religious" guy. And I was sad that my response of grace was a surprise to him.

Some say that words are merely words. There is some truth to that. Jesus made it clear that what is in your heart is really the issue. So if you have profanity in your heart you might as well let 'er rip. Right? Paul again moves from meditation to meddling with some more words to the church at Ephesus:

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:4-5)

Ouch! I'll bet the Ephesians were looking for some steel-toed sandals and hoping the next letter from Paul would be delayed in transit. But he makes it pretty clear for a Christian: Words do matter. And I need to get better at this. I can be cynical and harsh. To be honest, a lot of my words do not fit Paul's standard of "building others up" or communicating thanksgiving. I have considerable room for growth on this one.

So how do Christians, who clearly are called to a higher standard, react to an increasingly coarse culture? The natural impulse is to run to the safe bunker of all Christian activities and groups. For those of us who have to live in secular environments, that is not an option. Dealing with coarse language may be one thing, but what do we do when the name of God or Jesus gets tossed into the mix? That will be the topic next week.

Dave Burchett

Dave is a former WORLD contributor.

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