Earlier this year, a reputable Christian website for young writers posted an article on whether or not to include swear words when writing novels. That's a legitimate question, and one they answered very poorly. Not only that, but I quickly realized that they were listing swear words to avoid. I know a small number; most everyone does. But these were ones I had never heard of before. I quickly exited, and the Lord was gracious enough to blank them from my memory. I couldn't tell you a single one, and I am grateful that He had that mercy. But those people will be held accountable for polluting the minds of their readers. And more than that, they are accountable for polluting the minds of young people.
I cannot express to you the extent of my displeasure at their shameful action.
I have gone through approximately 35 yards of correction tape in my literary quest to blank out foul language, which amounts to 105 feet and 1,260 inches. This distance is about the length of a city block. Needless to say, dealing with dirty words is an important topic to me, and one that I think is taken entirely too lightly among Christian bibliophiles.
Before I start this article, let me say that all discretion shall be used, and while types of swear words shall be defined and referred to discreetly, no actual swear words shall be used or abbreviated. It is my wish that you walk away from this article knowing how to deal with them, without my being the instrument of polluting your minds with more than you already know.
So here are some principles to start on:
1. Authors Will Be Judged for the Words They Use.
We shouldn't excuse their sin. They know better.
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
And finally, authors who pollute the minds of young people are sinning grievously indeed:
“And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck."
2. Christian Authors are Equally Guilty.
Ironically enough, I have received most of my mental scars from books by Christian women. Much of the vulgar words I have to deal with are from conservative evangelicals or people who claim to be renewed by our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me clarify by saying that I believe these people's statement of faith. I believe that they are dedicated Christians who truly want to honor their Lord. But profaning the name of the Lord all for the sake of "authenticity" is dishonoring to our Saviour, and sends a poor message to those we are trying to witness to. If I find language in a book by a non-Christian, I am much more likely, while recognizing it as sin, to also make allowance for them, because they do not accept the fact that God has a law, and one that we must follow. But those who know the law of God and claim to follow it are without excuse.
3. "Authenticity" is Inexcusable.
At the writers' conference I attended, I heard one Christian speaker say that he included language to be "authentic". Otherwise, he claimed, his stories wouldn't be believable. This is a common misunderstanding among authors who honestly do want to reach a certain people group. The sad thing is, in our quest for authenticity, we're no longer safe from language anywhere. Christ is the most authentic story teller that ever was, ever is, and ever will be, and he never considered it necessary to swear to be authentic. Nor did his disciples. Nor did God himself, throughout the whole course of Scripture. It is wrong to have dedicated Christian parents protect their children from hearing these things, only to have innocence lost because of a pastor's quote in the morning service. And it is wrong, as an author, to pollute the minds of your readers when you don't know who they are or what they know. Perhaps some argument could be made for "authenticity" if you were only reaching the group you're trying to be authentic to. But if you're marketing your "authentic" book to help save gang members in Chicago, then keep it well away from conservative Christian high school students. God calls Christian authors to be pure, set apart, fit for the Master's use (2 Timothy 2:21)
Before we leave this point, let's dig a little deeper into the reasoning. What are these authors trying to be authentic about? Are they trying to present an authentic picture of Christ's purity, to show a sinful and lost world the righteousness to be found in Him? Or are they instead trying to be relateable, presenting an authentic picture of the sinner needing to be saved rather than the Savior ready to cleanse? Authenticity does not call us to make excuses, or to sin. Relatability often does. As Christians, we are called to be "little Christs"--authentic pictures of a sinless Savior. We are never called to become sinful so our prospective converts might become saved. That's not how God works. He didn't include the words of the curses at the cross to make sure the Gospel had authenticity. Neither should we.
4. Don't Panic.
When I first noticed language on my bookshelves I panicked, and tried to throw out any that had swear words. While some may feel called to do that, and I fully support you if you do, God lead me down a different path. If you really start looking, you'll find precious few that don't have any. There are some authors I don't read any more because they had a hand in causing my problem. I'll be honest and say that Dorothy Sayers is one of them. While many others find her readable and enjoyable, and I fully understand why, I have to stay away because of the struggles her books opened up for me. Different books open up different struggles for each of us--that's why our journey's are unique. On the subject of language, if this is an area you struggle with as I did, you may want to avoid books with language for a length of time. But more on that later in this series.
5. Realize that You'll Be Going Against the Crowd.
People thought I was ridiculous for caring about language. After all, what's the big deal? I got blank stares, condescending smiles, and total disagreement. Fortunately my parents thought I was exactly right, and that gave me the perseverance to continue on. It's something you'll have to monitor yourself, because very few will think to mention it. I try to mention it in every book review I write, simply as a courtesy to those who have the same struggle I do. I was caught many times by books I never would have read, if people had mentioned in their reviews that it contained some pretty coarse language. However difficult, it is worth the effort, in spite of snide remarks, to have the peace and comfort of avoiding pollution.
Are some swear words worse than others? What about words that used to be good, and now aren't? And how's a poor bibliophile supposed to keep from swearing through ignorance?
That's all next time. Until then, I wish you happy and unpolluted reading.