Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The F-bomb Revisited

Alright, I promised I'd post my opinion on the scenario I brought up here. Thanks to everyone for the insightful comments. I was a little afraid that all I'd see would be knee-jerk reactions and condemnations, but I should have realized that my readers (both of you) are excellent thinkers!

Again, the situation is this: A young poet on a journey back to God wants to read her poem from the pulpit at the Christmas Eve service. The poem quotes people using the f-word five or six times. The church is for those "on the margins of society" and is called Scum of the Earth. If you are that pastor, do you allow the woman to read the poem uncut?

My answer? No.

The comments in the original post spoke to this a little bit, but there is a need for a Christian -- even a new Christian -- to learn not to cause others to stumble. I think of it as a discipleship moment. Although the language of her poem may be authentic, it serves no purpose toward glorifying God. Since we're talking about something to be read from a pulpit, that's got to be the overriding factor.

Does it distract or take away from God? I believe so. Tony Campolo on more than one occasion began a speech this way:
"I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a s**t. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said s**t than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night."
Did Campolo make a point? Yes he did. He shocked people into paying attention. He was trying to offend people, not with the Gospel, but with language. I could scream the f-bomb from my pulpit this Sunday morning and I bet people would be paying attention to the next few words out of my mouth! But would I be glorifying God by doing so? No.

The f-bomb is course language (mild understatement there) and as Christians we are to refrain from it. Certainly I understand that people sin and sometimes stuff like that slips out. But in the case of this poem, and for that matter Campolo's stunt, the use of course language is premeditated. I cannot find a good excuse for using it, especially from a pulpit. And on Christmas Eve, for crying out loud!

I also understand the context of the Scum of the Earth. I have no problem with that concept, after all Jesus hung out with those "on the margins of society." But at the same time, a different atmosphere doesn't change morality or Biblical instruction.

There is a danger with forcing new Christians to be completely holy immediately. Everyone knows we don't achieve instant sanctification when we bow to Christ. We begin a journey as a work in progress. Not everyone will see all their sins the first evening in the faith. Yet at the same time, as a pastor I would feel the responsibility for helping the poet a little farther along the road to spiritual maturity by censoring her remarks. As an emotional artist, she may not understand at first. She may even bolt from the Scum and even reconsider her new-found faith. But at the same time, it is a teaching opportunity. And asking her to rewrite the poem for a Christmas Eve service is a bit different than chastising her for writing or speaking that word. A pastor's obligation is to the community of believers in the context of a worship service. He is a shepherd to the flock. Sometimes shepherds have to make the hard decision.

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