United Church of Christ

Bad Words

"The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks." - Luke 6:45, NRSV

There has been a lot of airtime given recently to whether particular words are allowable when critiquing public figures. Whether scanning Twitter or Facebook, or reading an actual, old-fashioned newspaper, everyone has opinions about which words we use. Some words are deemed permissible if said by someone of the same race or gender as the one criticized; some words and images are never acceptable. And some words seem more or less offensive depending on whether we agree with the political position or the faith tradition of the person using those words.

I try not to have a double standard, expecting one kind of language when I agree with a person and another when I do not. I want to think the measure I use would be pleasing to Jesus, but maybe I'm really just following the rule laid down by Thumper's mother in the Disney classic, Bambi: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

Nice words are important.

Yet there are times for hard words, too – times when injustice, cruelty, racism, and other bigotry must be named by people of good faith using challenging, even confrontational words. Otherwise "bad" words can serve a good purpose; their strength can shock us into rethinking our assumptions.

Does a word illuminate a situation or accelerate a fight for the sake of disagreement? Are we righteously angry, or simply angry? Are our hard words "good treasure of the heart?"

Sometimes, yes.

Prayer

Holy Jesus, help me to find good, strong words when they are needed. Amen.

About the Author
Martha Spong is the Executive Director of RevGalBlogPals, a clergy coach, and the co-author of Denial is My Spiritual Practice (and Other Failures of Faith).

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