The Ol’ Social Convention-Morals/Ethics Switcheroo.

(After I wrote this, I began to think that maybe I’m talking about some ghosts from churches past that are still haunting me, as opposed to responding to a current reality I’m experiencing.  Keep that in mind as you read.)

By show of hands, how many of you were offended by the poem I posted a couple of days ago, or thought it was inappropriate?  You know, the funny one about Carnation Milk that ended with the wonderfully laid-back “son of a bitch”?  Just curious.  I thought the poem worked really well and it made me chuckle, but some of you might not feel the same way.

I don’t know what sequence of thoughts connected to come ’round to thinking about that poem, but last night I was laying in bed, thinking about that poem and then I thought, with mild panic, “I’m preaching on Sunday!”  For a moment the fact that I put that poem on my blog and am also one who preaches regularly seemed incongruous, and that maybe that incongruity will get in the way of Sunday’s words. Perhaps you are someone who thinks so.

The funny thing is that I’ve posted stuff in the past which has content potentially much more offensive than the poem.  But for some reason now that I’m employed by a church, I’ve become a little oversensitive.  And the truth is, it’s not because I’m wondering if it’s wrong to do this or that, but because I wonder, “What will people think?”

I imagine that one great difficulty pastors face is this: acting as if they are someone who they are not–or, rather, not fully being who they are and hiding some parts that may not be seen by their community as appropriate for a Christian.  I don’t have a problem with community expectations, which are natural, and I don’t have a problem with being sensitive to other people.  My concern is that we often set up expectations which ultimately have nothing to do with what our community is about (in the case of the church, Jesus Christ).

I’ve been thinking about this all day.  For some there is an expectation that the pastor of a church will be “different”–stand out somehow or be morally superior to the rest of the congregation (I’m not talking about myself or my church anymore–not really).  The pastor isn’t one of them–he or she is not better (in an ontological sense) than anyone else, but he or she is expected to behave differently than everyone else.  And I suppose to some extent that’s a reasonable expectation: someone who has the audacity to interpret the word of God to a group of people had better have the audacity to live it as well.

The problem, though, is this: I suspect that the moral expectations congregations have of their pastors and each other tend to have more to do with social convention than being biblical.  Christians are expected (by some of their own) not to cuss, to avoid alcohol and tobacco, to dress a certain way, but most Christians can get away, I expect, with greed, gluttony and anger.

It’s a problem I’ve seen, growing up in the church: somewhere down the line we did the ol’ switcheroo, substituting social convention with actual moral or ethical issues.  So some of us condemn drinking and smoking, dancing, bars and movies, but we are consumeristic/materialistic, ignore the poor (especially if we think they’re lazy), get angry very quickly, are unforgiving and judgmental.  The list goes on.

Jesus did say that his followers are to be a light to the world, so there is unquestionably some element of “differentness” which ought to be seen.  But, again, in what sense are we to be different?  If we live lovingly and sacrificially as a community and in our communities, will it make a difference to anyone if we cuss or smoke or do this or that?  But if we don’t cuss, don’t smoke, don’t, don’t, don’t, including don’t forgive, don’t be peaceful, don’t give, don’t sacrifice our own interests for the other, what kind of message would that send?  What if we did both–held our tongues and served the community?  Well, I suppose that’s good, too, as long as we aren’t living in some sense artificially–pretending to be a people we are not.  Social conventions change over time and across cultures, and the church doesn’t not need to be homogenous (quite the opposite) in terms of some of these minor issues, so I don’t think that’s the important thing.

I get the sense that the church is loosening up in this respect.  Maybe this is a reflection of the influx of a younger generation.  Of course, with this good, other not-so-goods may come in as well.  But such is the life, I guess, of sinners gathered in Jesus’ name.

48 thoughts on “The Ol’ Social Convention-Morals/Ethics Switcheroo.

  1. Anonymous

    You asked it, I say it, Mark,your poem stinks. I don’t care if it comes from a pastor, pastor. or whatever. Not nice. Jean

  2. Ky

    I personally had a good laugh at the poem, especially because it came as such a big surprise because of what I was expecting due to the previous poems.

    “What if we did both–held our tongues and served the community? ” I suppose that’s the goal, and until we reach it the best we can do is live honestly, as you say.

  3. rilla

    I also loved the poem. It stuck with me in ways that the other ones didn’t because of the contrast between wholesomeness — carnation milk, milk, nourishment, etc — and the crass ending. As a critic, I think it earns its power through the very phrase that you’re worried about: son of a bitch. Even the fact that it worries you, gives it something special that the other poems don’t have, which makes me love it all the more.

    So, if the poem has merit, why worry what others think about it, and you, for enjoying and posting it? The moment I begin to censor myself in favour of other people’s opinions, I feel like I am less me. It is all you who has been called to serve your community, including your sense of humour, love of beer, warts and all.

    So, serve your community as yourself. If you start pushing away your personality, others will be less likely to want to connect with you and seek you out as a leader. Be confident in your personality. You’ve done nothing unethical.

  4. Linea

    I liked the poem. Crass ending and all. I’m with Rilla that it is this line that really gives the poem its punch.

    But I tend not to get offended easily – for example that birthday card from my grandson just made me laugh. And being offended at it would have spoiled something very special in our relationship.

    It is important to keep your own personality. It is very important to retain a hearty sense of humor, even seeing the humor in the earthy stuff of life. It is part of living out a life of faith in the midst of our humanity.

  5. Toni

    Mark – I don’t think your post is really about the poem, is it? In any case, it’s a poem, so the content doesn’t count, right?

    “Jesus did say that his followers are to be a light to the world, so there is unquestionably some element of “differentness” which ought to be seen.”

    Let’s turn the DON’T thinking on it’s head for a moment. Jesus called His people to be salt and light. This is not a negative calling, but instead a positive one. The question then becomes, “how can we be salt and light in our community”. So instead we are not trying to be different by our negativity, but instead by being like Jesus in our love, honesty, compassion and holiness. This requires us to grow in maturity in Him too, and develop our walks with Him.

    This naturally leads us to a second question: do those who are mature in Jesus curse, watch questionable films, smoke heavily or get drunk? The answer is clearly no, because they are living to please Jesus, not living to please themselves: these are the actions of those who wish to please themselves instead of God. (One might also ask if those who are not doing these things because they are suffering church-cultural pressure, rather than from a love of Jesus are deluding themselves).

    What about pastors in all of this?

    Pastors are just as human as anyone. They must be allowed to make mistakes.

    But.

    They also need to be an example – not THE example – but an example of how to live the Christian life.

    Can you ask your pastor for help with your drink problem if they are a drunkard? Can you ask him for financial advice if he’s always in debt? What about marriage advice if his marriage is a mess? How about how to live righteously if he is seen to continually fall in sin?

    In a church he should not be the only one living the Christian life, but he cannot lead effectively if he is not walking the talk. How could one respect a man that expresses curses to men and blessings to God with the same lips?

    There is much more that could be said, but as always I’d rather be face to face with you, my friend.

  6. Marc

    Thanks everyone. Mixed response, as expected.

    Rilla & Linea: That last line is what makes the difference. Oddly enough, I didn’t really find it crass in its context. I found it quite fitting–fit the mood, etc.

    Toni: You’re right, the post isn’t about the poem, but about expectations. I agree with what you’ve said.

    I guess the only difference is that I’m not talking about excess: drunkenness, addiction, speech unintelligible for the language, people cursing other people, but more about things that are condemned simply because we’ve decided they’re wrong (i.e. cultural), and things that are accepted even though they’re clearly wrong.

    That is, of course, why I asked about the poem. “Son of a bitch” is enough to get some people to wonder about another person’s “walk with God”–so are a host of other things which, biblically speaking, are not wrong in and of themselves.

  7. Toni

    As a pastor it’s necessary to also conduct yourself in a manner that is appropriate for the culture around you.

    My experience of pastoring people is that although I could have carried on telling the occasional off-colour joke, it didn’t sit at all well. It wasn’t the people, but instead I think the Holy Spirit made me unhappy about it. Certain words I used to use, sounded wrong from the lips of my wife.

    My suspicion is that the Spirit of God has been speaking to you about these things. I guess you need to ask, do I need to keep my freedom to say what I want?

  8. Ang

    From what he has said, I am in complete agreement with Toni. Leaders should lead – be an example, raise the standard of livings that people may follow suit. I don’t think it is neccessary that the pastor strive to live beyond what his congregation can but to show them what they should be striving for. I don’t believe that we are to live under these rules of “don’ts” but more to look towards doing what we were asked to do in the Bible and that is to do what we can to become like Christ. So I guess that would be the question. Would I be telling this, saying this, doing this if I were sitting in the room having this conversation with or doing this in front of Jesus physically/tangibly in front of me?

    As I look around at our world today, I see the majority of Christians living their lives as close to the line, that separates them from being worldly, as possible. They walk that line like a tight rope clinging to the things of the world they can get away with and then tell the world how it is so much better to be a Christian.

    What does the world see? Someone telling them how much better the Christians are than the world all the while trying to be as close to the world as they can get away with. What does that add up to for the world? Hypocrasy; that is what they see, a bunch of hypocrites telling them how much better they are at being “sick” than the world is.

    Now, please know that I am not saying in any way that I think YOU are being a hypocrite. That is not for me to say in the least and I never would! I am meaning this as a general statement of how I see a great deal of Christians and not directed at your question of whether the poem was wrong or right.

    Perhaps, and I do think, Toni was right when he said that God has been speaking to you about these things.

  9. Collette

    the one thing I liked most about Marc and particularly Dixie when I first met them was that they weren’t your stereotypical churchy people. it made the topic of religion easier to approach when I realized that they are real people, and not fake “perfect” people who are going to judge me for the occasional damn that I may utter. we had many, many fulfilling conversations about religion that could not have happened if they hadn’t shown their human side.

    I’m with Marc on this one. I think that certain arbitrary things have been deemed un-Christian, and I’m not really sure it helps anything.

    I have a lot of problems in my daily life dealing with people who think I’m much younger than I am (I’m 31 but I look 24, which is a problem in office life), who assume that I do drugs because I wear my hair a certain way (I have dreadlocks), and who treat me differently because of the way I choose to adorn my body (I have some piercings). and it’s a shame that some people attach so much meaning to things that I just think are interesting and fun. I know a lot about human biology and healing because of my interest in piercing, I’ve enjoyed learning how to get my hair matted up properly and also the history of dreads, and I can’t help that I look young but someday I’m going to be 50 looking 35 and everyone will be very impressed.

    Marc posting a silly little poem the ends in son-of-a-bitch is not something that would make me question his commitment to his faith. he clearly shows his faith in ways that are far more significant.

    humans seems to like judging. and they like compartmentalizing. and they like watching the great fall. I urge people to find commonalities, not differences. it’s a more hopeful, more optimistic, kinder, more loving, and more beautiful way to live.

  10. Andrew

    I agree with Collette.

    Being “worldly” is such a subjective notion – every church group seems to have their own definition of what that might mean. Modern technology at home? Dressing down too much – jeans and t-shirts, or piercings, or coloured hair? Loud music?

    How much time is wasted by christians arguing amongst themselves whether socially-determined cuss words are usable or not, or whether attending a pub, having a beer, smoking a cigarette, etc is ‘worldly’? what a waste of time and resources.

    ‘Worldliness’ has nothing to do with using ‘son-of-a-bitch’, it has to do with the idolatries of materialism (which western christians seem to turn a blind eye to), gluttony, indifference to the plight of the poor or alienated.

  11. Marc

    Ang: I’m not sure what you mean by this: “raise the standard of livings that people may follow suit. I don’t think it is neccessary that the pastor strive to live beyond what his congregation can but to show them what they should be striving for.”

    The other thing is, and this is what I tried to say in the post, under what circumstances will people see hypocrisy in the church? If I cuss or if I ignore the poor or am judgmental or hateful?

    Everyone:

    Andrew kind of summed up what I was going to say.

    Oddly enough, I generally agree with everyone for the most part, except I think we might be talking about slightly different things (or maybe not). I’m not talking about cursing like a sailor or being an alcoholic. At root, what I’m talking about is the fact that in some churches it would be scandalous if the pastor had posted such a poem.

    What I’m suggesting in this post is that perhaps we’ve set up a false morality for ourselves in the church (which I think is what Andrew was getting at). Instead of having high expectations of each other in terms of service to the community, living within our means, loving our neighbour, being forgiving, not judging, etc., some churches have established a series of quasi-(or non) biblical “don’ts”, such as don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t go to movies, don’t ever say a bad word, don’t dress *that* way, etc. (rules may vary by church).

    And so we feel good about ourselves because we meet these rules we’ve set up for ourselves, all the while breaking many of the Christ-like actions clearly set out in scripture. Now *that’s* hypocrisy.

    When Jesus said his woes to the Pharisees, it was over something similar. Nitpicking about minor points of law (much of which was their own sub-law of the Law) while forgetting the more important elements of love God and love neighbour.

    Jesus *does* tell the Pharisees that they should do both, but I’d say the Pharisees were in a different situation than we are. We are not talking about laws or rules set out in scripture, but stuff we’ve set up for ourselves.

    So all that said, should pastors and Christians in general be examples of a morality which might just be community-created and false?

  12. Ang

    This is where I find “religion” to be absurd. In the book I have been reading morality has its own chapter and Pastor Steve has this to say, ” But is it possible that personal morality plays too big a part in our religion? Have we made it the center of our beliefs when it’s only a peripheral matter?”

    He goes on further to say, ” Personal morality is at the center of my absurd religion, and I think it’s out of palce there. That’s a risky statement because to some it might appear I am promoting immorality in the church, or inventing a weird “do what feels good” relgion. But that would miss my point. Of course morality has to have a place in Christianity. But it turns absurd when morality becomes the pivotal venter of our view of God.”

    I think our focus should not be telling people they are wrong for smoking or whatever and focus on ourselves for a change. I will worry about my behavior and focus on living in a way that brings honor and glory to God in EVERY aspect of my life. What I meant by “worldly” is to differentiate between those who are Christians and those who are not, not by those who have television sets and those who have body piercings and tattoos, etc.

    Marc, talking with people who are outside of the church. I think they feel we are hypocritcal when we do ALL those things because they know that we are to be like Jesus and that by doing those things we are acting more like them than like Him.

    I think God wants pastors who don’t worry about morality as much as He wants pastors who preach His power, strength and how to get God activity among us but I think too that we need to separate oursleves from behaviors that could cause one to wonder “are they or aren’t they”? Be a light that shines in the darkness in ALL ways whether that is our language, our treatment of others, the way we present ourselves, etc.

    I don’t think it is for us to push our morals onto each other because it is obvious that morals are going to vary from culture to culture but I do think that we need to strive for excellence. Granted, we will NEVER be excellent but we can sure try. What’s that saying? Try flying with the eagles instead of waddling with the turkeys.

    I guess another way to look at it is this. Are people comfortable living their lives focusing on how much can I get away with while still being deemed as “good” or do they want to live the best they can be? So again, it falls to each person answering that question for themselves.

    I also think that we need to focus more on what God wants from us and how He feels about our behavior instead of focusing on what others do. Our focus needs to be Him.

  13. Ang

    Marc, let me add one more thing and maybe this will actually summarize what I feel about it. You ended your last comment with this: “So all that said, should pastors and Christians in general be examples of a morality which might just be community-created and false?’

    Here is what I think, I think that pastors should behave and speak in their daily life the way the would if they were at church and the same for Christians in general. If a pastor would say certain words in his Sunday morning sermon then perhaps he can say them whenever but if he can’t speak those words or behave in such ways if he were in the house of God then perhaps he shouldn’t at anytime. The same goes for Christians in general. If you feel they don’t honor God while in His house then perhaps they don’t honor God while in our homes either.

  14. Toni

    Collette – I understand somewhat more than you might expect – I’ve worn that kind of mask too. It’s kind of hard on people if we project one image on the outside while getting cross when they take us at face value. Rather like scowling at people all the time when we badly want a hug.

    The point at the end of the day is: why do we do what we do? Is it for us or for Jesus. And we can argue all we want about whether it’s OK or not, but as Paul says, all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. One expects someone mature as a Christian to major in the beneficial, and not the permissible.

  15. Toni

    “So all that said, should pastors and Christians in general be examples of a morality which might just be community-created and false?”

    I see a small roseate fish before me.

  16. Andrew

    Nope. It’s no red herring — it was the point of the post. Don’t put your own spin on it.

  17. Dean

    The only word I’m going to add to the discussion, which I find conspicuously absent, is “responsibility”.

    Say what you want, do what you want, but as a leader, you assume some responsibility for the general well-being of those under your leadership & example.

  18. Toni

    “Toni: You’re right, the post isn’t about the poem, but about expectations. I agree with what you’ve said.”

    So we’ve dealt with that aspect of it. This is a new spin on it – at least to me.

  19. Marc Post author

    Well, I’m getting thoroughly bogged down by all the commenting.

    Toni: The post is about the poem only insofar as it is an example of something which might offend someone within the church when perhaps it should not.

    I *have* agreed with most of what you’ve said so far. I’ve agreed with most of what everyone has said. (The postmodern part of me that’s willing to live with the tension. 🙂 )

    But there’s something else I’m trying to get across (ineffectively, obviously).

    Dean: Responsibility, yes. But in what respect? “Responsibility” can be a very vague term. Responsibility to model following Christ? Yes. Responsibility to maintain the status quo? No–not if the status quo is something we’ve created out of nothing.

    Everyone: Look, I’m not suggesting pastors and Christians become potty-mouthed, philandering drunkards. I’m simply saying that a) we tend to have our moral concerns mixed up, and b) perhaps some of our moral concerns are only so because *we’ve* made them so.

    WRT a) I would hazard that between Pastor A who posts the poem with the offending phrase and Pastor B who announces on his blog that he has replaced his 2005 vehicle with a brand-new 2010 vehicle or has just upsized his house from something adequate to something much more than needed, it would be Pastor A that gets in trouble and Pastor B that is congratulated.

    WRT b) One of the things we can agree on, I think, is that Christians historically (and hopefully currently) do not (or should not) allow the surrounding culture to define them or what they do and say. I would argue that the same applies to the culture within the church.

    Lets do away with the language issue for a moment (we’ve discussed ad nauseum in other posts, anyway) and look at drinking alcohol. Toni, for you that seems like no big deal. To many, if not most, North American evangelicals (especially the more conservative ones) drinking is a big, bad “No”. You’ll hear all kinds of reasoning behind the alcohol in the Bible (it was heavily diluted, it was unfermented grape juice, etc.). Sometimes there’s no reasoning at all.

    Is it the responsibility of the pastor to pretend that he agrees or to simply not drink because it offends (however erroneously) the Christians in his church? Or is it the pastor’s responsibility to speak truth into the life of the church by word and example?

    I guess what I’m getting at is, what is a pastor (or other Christian) to do with traditionalism? What is a person to do with something that is specific to a culture, not universally considered immoral?

    (I’m still asking questions, by the way. I’m just not sure my questions are coming out right.)

  20. Marc Post author

    Also, this discussion is getting a bit overwhelming and I’m leaving for a second go at visiting my family in Summerland tomorrow. Not sure if I will be able to maintain this discussion.

    If it carries on, be nice, be civil. We’re all human beings here. 🙂

  21. Dean

    Marc: I know it’s just a discussion, but it sounds like you’re looking for a definitive easy answer to what I would call a prime (& brilliant) argument FOR situational ethics. That doesn’t mean being two-faced, that means being respectful to those whom you MAY offend, while deciding if it’s actually a sin for you to go ahead and do it anyways.

    You can’t account for how everyone is going to react to you, but you can be respectful to those who might be offended by something you do without feeling like you’ve compromised your own personal standards.

  22. Marc Post author

    Dean: Actually, I preached a sermon on that a couple of weeks ago!

    Of course, offending someone isn’t the problem. It’s causing a “weaker” brother or sister to stumble in their faith.

    But this is different. This isn’t forcing a view on someone, but a person who has sorted this out for himself getting in trouble for that very thing from someone who disagrees. (I didn’t get in trouble–well, other than any trouble I’ve gotten into here. 🙂 )

  23. Phil L

    Why is the term SOB considered offensive by many Christians? Is it really in the same category as drinking wine in moderation, keeping in mind that Jesus drank wine? Is it really just a cultural thing, a “social convention”, or can it be classified as “foul language” which scripture warns Christians against (Ephesians 4:29)?

    I think Ang got it right when she said above, “I think that pastors should behave and speak in their daily life the way they would if they were at church and the same for Christians in general.” I wouldn’t want my pastor using that phrase from the pulpit. And I’ll discipline my kids if they use it at home.

    In recent years I’ve noticed a coarsening of the language of many Christians. I wonder if perhaps it reduces our witness to non-Christians?

  24. Marc Post author

    Phil!

    🙂

    This is the point I’m trying to make an example of the things I’m thinking: I felt quite ‘good’ about posting that poem. I thought it was a good poem, as poems go. Then that one night I thought, “I’m preaching on Sunday!” And I began worrying–not because I thought there was something wrong with the poem, but because I was worried about what people might think.

    Now, I’m not the pastor at our church–though I do some pastorly things–but I’m feeling that tension now: one of the people who employs me (and also, I might add, a friend and someone I admire) has a problem with a phrase I posted on my blog.

    Again, my issue isn’t moral guilt or conviction, but concern over what someone might think. What will this mean for my job?

    (I’m even hesitant to post this comment. I’m not trying to make an example of you, Phil, honest! It’ s just that when I saw your comment I began to really feel that worry).

    To be fair, I’m not arguing for the use of this phrase or others from the pulpit. I see no reason to do so (unless maybe telling a joke about a dog or reading the poem in question. 🙂 )

    Does it reduce our witness to non-Christians? Probably to some. For others it may open them up to put aside their preconceived notions of what it means to be a Christian and hear the message of the gospel. I don’t know. (Mark Driscoll seems to have had great success as the “cussing pastor” 🙂 )

    I really do suspect that most of the people who would be offended are already Christians. This discussion appears to be evidential evidence in support of that.

    Again, I’m not suggesting that we all just unloose our tongues and go about cussing and swearing. I’m simply saying that posting that poem could cost a pastor his or her job, or at least put him or her through a lot of grief. Is this right?

    (Is it foul language? I believe this has been discussed at length previously…oooooor maybe not: I just spent 10 minutes looking for the post I had in mind. Looks like it doesn’t exist…wait…here’s one from May 2004, but it didn’t generate much discussion. Here’s another interesting and related one: “ Would You Read This Blog With Jesus?”)

  25. Marc

    I’m not entirely happy with my last comment. It seems more like a self-defensive appeal to emotion than anything else. That wasn’t what I was trying to do.

    Just read my post again, to refresh my memory (I get bogged down and distracted by long blog discussions).

    I said:

    “My concern is that we often set up expectations which ultimately have nothing to do with what our community is about”

    Seems like this discussion is heading this way! 🙂

    Is a church a group of people who don’t do this and don’t do that (I believe someone was saying something along these lines in their comment)?

    And why has no one said anything about the consumerist pastor? Or the quick-to-anger pastor? Or our materialism (Andrew did)? Our judgmentalism? Etc.

    (Also, is it a given that a phrase like “son of a bitch” is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 4:29. It’s a passage that comes to mind quite often, actually.)

  26. Pingback: The Eagle & Child: "A blogging tour de force!..." - Marc Vandersluys, The Eagle & Child

  27. Randall

    For the sake of your kids and their kids, just be consistent, online and off.

    Each generation and culture (Do you know what we call manure out here in the field??) will think one way or another about words. And in the end most any word can be an uttered curse. (There was room in Christ’s life to utter curses too.)

    Context will play a part, but let the Holy Spirit guide you in this. And remember to use the same language at home that you do at church…

    well except for things like “Thee” and “Thou” and “Thus sayeth your father on earth” kinds of things.

    🙂

  28. Collette

    what does the phrase “our witness to non-Christians” mean? I don’t understand that.

    Marc said: My concern is that we often set up expectations which ultimately have nothing to do with what our community is about.

    true. absolutely true. not just with the Christian community, though. I’ve experienced it in others.

    Marc also said: If we live lovingly and sacrificially as a community and in our communities, will it make a difference to anyone if we cuss or smoke or do this or that?

    it shouldn’t, but it does. and I think it’s a shame because it’s a big waste of time.

    Ang said: I think that pastors should behave and speak in their daily life the way they would if they were at church and the same for Christians in general.

    I disagree. I would never have sex in a church.

  29. Andre

    I’ve found that in moving closer to Christ is to move closer to the world. I believe he is far less interested in me doing things for him (his work is finished), than he is in me doing things for my neighbor. But doing things for real people is hard. Doing thing ‘for Jesus’ can be whatever I want. Church culture has virtually nothing to do with following Christ.

    Morality is a something of a crock. It’s not what attracted God to us, nor is it what keeps him around. Faith is what draws God, more particularly, God’s faith in us. He had faith before any of us did – and his loving, accepting presence is what enables us to find faith in ourselves and turn to him with hope.

    We’re all sons of bitches – but we’re his SOBs, and we’re not called to be examples – we’re called to be witnesses. There’s a significant distinction. Witnesses express what they actually see by virtue of where they actually are. To tell someone to change their behavior to ‘be an example’ is to tell them to deny who and where they are and express what they think people want/ought to hear.

    Get thee behind me, Satan, is a far harsher curse than anything in out culture, even a string of F-Bombs. It’s the sort of curse that made every single one of Jesus’s followers question their faith. And it should make me question mine.

    What’s wrong with questioning your faith? Who wants a static faith?

  30. Andrew

    Excellent comments, Collette and Andre, both. Particularly Collette’s last paragraph. We all vary our behaviour depending on the environment we’re in. That’s not hypocrisy – it’s discernment (another favourite Christian word).

  31. Gavin

    So here’s what’s in my head. I’m thinking about Paul’s word in Colossians 2:

    “You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, ‘Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!’? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”

    I’m thinking to myself, “Hang on. ‘Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!’ Well, those sound like the church’s rules, not the world’s….” Am I right? But those ARE rules which much of the church today is holding to, and tightly! All kinds of legalism has crept into the prominent evangelical mindset.

    Say what you want about the Pharisees, they were defending Laws that came right from the mouth of God. How about our “laws?” I think that’s a question that’s been asked in this discussion….

    I’ll leave that were it is for now….

    As as pastor (sorry to tell you, dude – you ARE a pastor to those folks), are you expected to live differently (ie. “better”) than your congregation? Short answer – I’d say “yes.” At least, you are held to account in a different kind of way as a “teacher,” as in James’ epistle. BUT, what is the ethic to which you are accountable? Is it to use a certain kind of language, to eat and drink certain kinds of food/drink and not others, to socialize only in certain kinds of “establishments” and not others? Well, I don’t think so. Those are human rules, and they don’t provide any “help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”

    Our ethic – for Christians together – is to (picking up with Paul where I left off) “put on our new nature.” Show mercy. Be compassionate. Be generous. Be quick to forgive. Be faithful. Above all – LOVE.

    Maybe that’s too simplistic and naive of me to think that this is an ethical formula that is pragmatic….

    And, because it’s a strong finish, I’ll close with some more of Paul’s wisdom to the Church in Colosse: “And WHATEVER [emphasis added] you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”

    I feel like I’m reiterating some of the other good words of these good folks, but that Col.2 passage is – I think – a crucial idea in this conversation…. Had to represent Paul, my homie….

  32. Marc

    Thanks, everyone. Great discussion. I think it has achieved some balance (Dixie is right now thinking about the Hegelian dialectic).

    I think Gavin’s comments express my thoughts quite well. More articulately, actually, and with some of the good ol’ saint himself thrown in.

    Good comments all. I clearly have a lot to think about and a lot to learn (such as articulation).

  33. Phil L

    With all due respect to “The Cussing Pastor”, I just don’t see SOB and F-bombs as part of building one another up.

    I believe that morality matters … I don’t think it’s a crock. I don’t believe it saves us, but that it’s part of growing in Christ.

  34. Ian H.

    FWIW, I start off with the premise that whatever I’m about to do is going to piss *somebody* off. Once you’ve accepted that, it’s very freeing.

    Whether it’s too liberal views on women in the ministry, or too conservative views on social justice, eventually you’re going to clash with someone’s pre-conceived notion of what a Christian is supposed to be.

    It’s interesting to note that Christ himself expressed frustration with the preconceptions of the religious people of his time (Luke 7:33-35).

    I’m not arguing that we should go out of our way to anger people (though that’s fun, too), but realize that people are petty and judgmental, and our best bet is to ask ourselves how whatever we’re doing affects our own relationship with God.

  35. Marc

    Gavin: the cussing pastor is Mark Driscoll, who I mentioned in an earlier comment. (I get that reference from Blue Like Jazz. I believe that cussing pastor is Driscoll.)

  36. Phil L

    Yes it’s a reference to Mark Driscoll. I should have clarified that.

    WRT language, I’m not advocating a list of naughty and nice words, but I see the issue in terms of three broad categories:
    – scatalogical – I personally have no problem with manure or any of the terms to refer to it, including the old Anglo-Saxon “sh*t”, but I generally try to avoid stepping in it;
    – sexual – if I had a casual attitude toward sex I probably wouldn’t care, but I see sex as something sacred and wonderful, so yes I try to avoid F-bombs, and even the ubiquitous “sucks” and “blows”. I’ve worked in a sawmill and other bush camps so it doesn’t shock me, but I don’t expect it from those I look to for spiritual leadership;
    – Taking the Name of God in vain – This I take the most seriously, including the even more ubiquitous OMG.

    I realize that makes me a puritanical moralist in some folks’ view, but there you have it.

  37. Marc

    Phil: A wise policy, to avoid. I follow it myself. I wouldn’t say that’s “puritanical moralism”.

    Morals aside, I find that crude language often comes across as lazy or unarticulate.

    And at the same time I do think that there is such a thing as a well-placed expletive (see the lyrics to U2’s “Wake Up Dead Man” or, again, the poem in question).

    It’s interesting that this conversation has moved to speech (it happened quite early on, not with your comment, Phil). My original concern arose because I posted a poem–someone else’s at that–with an expletive. Not that the two are unrelated, but still…

  38. Marc

    Sorry…my last comment looks like I’m suggesting Phil’s policy is a wise one to avoid. What I meant with the opening lines is “it’s wise to avoid”. That’s what I get for trying to write clever sentences.

  39. Gavin

    Phil, I’m wondering which category “S.O.B.” fits into, as it is the phrase which started this massive string of comments….

  40. Jean

    Wow! What a kettle of fish you have gotten yourself into! Well, I still believe in good morals, a clean speaking tongue, in other words, live as Chrost would have you to live. Read the Scriptures again. Ask yourself tjis, would Christ do these immoral things, etc.? Anyway, I found the responses very interesting.

  41. Phil L

    Gavin, I’d put SOB in the second category, since I don’t think most people using it are referring to “bitch” as a female dog, but to “a lewd or immoral woman”, and a son of a bitch would be the offspring of the same.
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bitch
    (and yes I understand that the poem in question was referring to a can of Carnation Milk)

  42. Andre

    Jean, the modern translations of the scriptures have been “cleaned up” so as to not offend modern social convention. In the original language they are grammatically poor and blunt and represent both Jesus and Paul as speaking heavily in ways that would challenge our conventions.

    When confronted with Jesus, we should not expect to find ourselves vindicated and in the right, which is where an embrasure of ourselves as moral people takes us. Having divided the world into good and evil, we might want to take some pride or at least some security in thinking we land on the good side, and so thank God we are not like those poor, low folk on the other side of the line.

    The whole point of morality as a system, is to recognize something about myself and myself only. It’s not the world, or things that are immoral – it’s me. That’s the start and end of moral thinking. It’s no coincidence that the fall of man is a fall into morality – the mistaken sense that we can now name things good and evil. Prior to the fall Adam simply named things, and named them well.

  43. Phil L

    Ian: I’m one of those people. I don’t think I’m taking the Name in vain, but I’m teachable – will need to ponder it.
    🙂

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