Having served 11 years in uniform, let me confirm that you will rarely walk down a pier, into a hangar, or onto a range, without hearing unsavory speech. It’s often spoken loudly, rapid-fire, frequently with laughter, and believe it or not, even in a good-natured way.
The Perception of Language Use
The words pour out, the good with the bad, almost as if to say “isn’t this great– we have this short moment to be real, in the midst of a hurry up and wait life, and the constant demands of warfighting.”
Service members use this language—like it’s cathartic–freeing to unload the frustration, irony and excitement of the life they’re leading. Doing it in a communal way with back and forth banter seems to be a rite of passage.
So you might ask, “‘Chaps’, ‘Padre’, ‘Sky Pilot’ — what’s the big problem with my cursing—as long as I don’t do it at home? Seems like everyone, good and bad does it in the military.”
Okay friend, I hear you, so let me cut to the chase, and get into the issue. It’s not so much in the foulness of the language…Or that we don’t really “mean it,” that’s the problem.
It’s that doing it, is the opposite of what we were made for.
It creates resistance-friction-that’s tough to turn around, and recover from, once we begin regularly using it. It’s also harder to feel we have the high ground, to obey God at an instant, in any given situation, when prior to that prompting we’ve thoughtlessly abused words.
Before we go any further, let me highlight what many of you might be thinking. “I’m not sure this discussion is for me ‘Chappy’, cause the moment I quit, my peers will know! They’ll think I’m a hypocrite. Worse, they’ll box me out. I won’t be one of the ‘homies’, one of them, sharing in their world and struggles.
Fair concern; great point, but let’s dig in a little before you decide on an issue this important.
Forms of “Cursing”
I want to define two forms of “cursing”: vulgarity and profanity.
Vulgarity is coarse, crude, earthy speech that treats something God made in a distorted, and often sexual, way. It always wears down the value of this gift of life. And it frequently introduces a pessimistic outlook characterized by a lack of gratitude.
Profanity can be blasphemous speech. Knowingly or not, it always treats cheaply what’s holy. It ultimately dishonors God.
This is heavy. I know.
So, what will it look like if you make the gutsy decision to make a change on this issue? First, you will feel headwinds pushing against you. Here in the military you will be swimming upstream. That’s okay. We certainly didn’t join because “everyone else is doing it.” So let’s fight the urge to conform now that we’re in.
Some tips. Stop using profanity first: misusing Jesus Christ’s name, and abusing the words, “God”, “Damn”, and “Hell”.
Once we gain traction in this area we’ll likely notice words of vulgarity more clearly. Often it’s the “S word”, the “F word” or the varied alternate names for reproductive private parts. The “B” words demean people too, as illegitimately born, or often to females to signify they are harsh or unloving.
A truth here, backed up by God’s Word, is that when the bad words come out, even thoughtlessly, harmlessly we might say, –At that exact moment, good words cannot. A lingering environment is created too.
It impacts us and those around. Quietly grinds down and erodes what’s true and beautiful—affecting, over time, our sense of purpose and value.
The Power of the Tongue
The book of James, Chapter 3: 5-12, gives penetrating insight on the difficulty and importance of how we use our tongue.
“The tongue is a small body part, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”
Standing Firm despite Difference
So, the simple advice, “Be different!” It’s an uphill road, but one with a great destination.
If you sacrifice in this simple way, you won’t regret it. It will improve your work and love relationships.
And, to be truthful, it will mark a difference between you and your peers, and sometimes, even your leaders. It may cause you to be identified more quickly as a follower of Christ. This is a good thing.
Paul tells the Philippian Church to “shine among them like stars in the sky holding firmly to the word of life.” Life-giving speech underneath the waterline, up in the air—or out on a patrol shines out and lights up the dark.
Think about that “new join”, who has just come to your division, or platoon. They’re wondering how to fit in; if faith in Christ can find a way, here, so far from home. Your positive example with speech may help them notice you. It might just be a lifeline!
Up front, this is not about being better than others or “goody two-shoes”. In fact we all have feet of clay.
The hardest thing is to make the decision to change.
If you do, daily ask God for help.
It may be one of the toughest things you’ve done. But know this, there’s already forgiveness provided by Christ when you stumble.
There are different perspectives out there on language. We must determine not to look down on one another about this. But I would ask if you are on the fence, wondering God’s plan for our speech as His followers, try to find a passage in God’s Word where profanity or vulgarity are encouraged.
I think you’ll see the opposite—in reality we find profanity at the lowest point of the Passion Week. Remember Peter? “Lord if everybody else denies you, I won’t!”
Just hours later. In the company of strangers, there in the courtyard of the High Priest, dark night lit up by a fire, he is cursing. He loudly denies that Nazarene. Yes, the One who will die for him.
Then Peter wept bitterly when the cock crowed.
Peter’s shame hits me in the gut. It seems the gain we get from cursing isn’t worth the cost. “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”
So let’s get out front, boldly make a change–and give God our speech. I trust Christ will meet us in it, strengthening our effort. The Apostle Paul’s words, will become our own, –for each of us who lace up the boots, or pray for those who do– “to this end I (will) strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”
We can be characterized as warriors, AND, as people whose words honor God and bring life.