Recently a small firestorm erupted among the readers/commenters at the Charis Connection. The issue? Obscenity/profanity in Christian fiction. You may be amazed that this is an issue at all–especially since Christians are commanded to be watchful, for we shall give an account of every idle word–but an issue it is. Even after I googled “profanity” and “lazy writing” and found over 800 sources who agree that the former equals the latter, other folks were offended that we should equate the two.

Well. This morning I was plowing through my stack of newspapers and ran across a Wall Street Journal editorial by John McWhorter. Mr. McWhorter reports that Mr. Russell Simmons of Def Jam records has called for a voluntary ban on the “n-word, bitch, and ho” in rap music. He suggested those words be bleeped out when music with them is broadcast. In addition, the NAACP has spearheaded a STOP campaign “aimed at combating the use of these words, and the imagery associated with them, in popular culture.”

This, opines the WSJ, “is a moment for the history books.”

“The idea that black people ought now sit back and savor the ‘reality’ of abusive language, including the same word that the Bull Connors of the world once hurled at us in all of its ‘reality,’ is in essence lazy,” says Mr. McWhorter.

Sound familiar?

If rap music–which comes from the streets–is cleaning up its act, why do some insist that Christian novelists should wallow in the mud? The logic continually eludes me. A writer does not need to borrow verbatim from gutter language to make a point. Dialogue, after all, is not a transcript, it is a representation of speech, and a truly creative writer can represent that speech and intention without resorting to language that offends.

If that requires us to think a little harder, so be it.

LOL. I suppose we owe a tip of the cap to Don Imus. Something good has sprouted from his ranting.



  1. Karen

    I agree wholeheartedly! I’m taking a fiction class in college, and even many of the non-Christian students are uncomfortable when “f-bombs” and the like are hurled at us in the works we have to critique. It’s not that we should avoid the harsh reality of sin and its consequences, but that the God Who has redeemed us can give us the creativity to show that reality without, as you said, wallowing in the mud.

  2. carlton w.h.

    Amen! I totally agree! I don’t even understand how Christians can watch movies and TV shows with such language, but that’s just me. BTW, suggestion for BOM=The Debt!

  3. BJ

    Well, you know how I feel about this, since I’ve already been taken to task for my stand on it, so just consider this an “Amen.” Good point and well-made.


  4. Kay

    I have always thought profanity was lazy talking. It shows that the person doesn’t have an adequate vocabulary to express themselves any other way.
    I supposed a character in a book could be one of those limited people. But it can be expressed without using the actual words.
    Although I find it easy to skip over profanity when reading mainstream fiction, I always stumble over anything like that in Christian works. I don’t expect it.

  5. Cindy

    Angela, I am one who does NOT want to see profanity in Christian fiction. We are flooded with it in the mainstream media…must be deal with it in Christian literature as well? I’ve seen authors handle it very well with, “he cursed under his breath,” or “he uttered a profanity.” We don’t need it spelled out. Of course we know people curse. But hey, did you know the first Godfather movie didn’t even have the “F” word in it? If you can make a movie about the mafia without the F word, you can write a terrific story without profanity.

  6. Nicole

    I’ve blogged about this because I continue to marvel at all the ways Christian writers/wannabes “argue” the necessities for these words as well as leaving God/Jesus out of “Christian” fiction with threats to test the ABA waters. Go for it.
    It takes more effort to show the character who uses profanity without the actual words on a page.

  7. Suzanne

    I am so glad to see you address this topic! I’ve read a few Christian fiction books lately that have had minor swear words in them, I don’t know how they got past the editors! I complained (in email) to one publishing company about it and they wanted to know page numbers etc of the offending words. It was unfortunate that I had already returned the book to the library and didn’t get that info back to them.
    Jerry Jenkins wrote a book on writing and in it advised to stay away from profanity, he said that if your character needs to swear then to write, “he swore” instead of using the actual words. I agree. One reason I stick to Christian fiction only is to avoid that stuff, I don’t use that language, why should I read it?

  8. Brittanie

    I agree with all of yall. I do not want to read it in Christian Fiction either. I would pefer not to read it in any literature or hear it on the radio or TV. One of the main reasons I stay away from mainstream fiction because of how unclean it is and how much I like the messages in my Christian Fiction versus regular. Dont get me wrong I still read some of the classics from way back when. 🙂 Brittanie

  9. Vicky

    Written in large letters on a sign which hung in the front of my grandmother’s schoolbus some 40 +/- years ago:

    “Profanity is the extreme effort of a feeble mind to express itself.”

  10. Ane Mulligan

    I agree with Vicky. I’ve always said it’s a lazy writer who uses profanity over and over.

    Is their vocabulary so limited? Then I suggest they pick up a copy of Reader’s Digest and go to the vocabulary page for a few months. Can’t hurt – might help.

  11. Rachelle

    Angie, I’m so glad you posted on this! Not only do I think profanity is lazy writing and lazy talking, I also think we have a responsibility to protect our ears from it as much as possible. The more we pollute our minds with “ugly” things, the more difficult it is for us to focus on “whatever is lovely” as Paul instructed.

    One time I accidently played a CD in my car of Gwen Stefani — the song has the “s” word numerous times and my kids heard it (before my lightning-fast hands could turn it off) and my 7-year-old started crying! I asked her what was the matter and she said she didn’t like it when words like that got in her head because it was so hard to get them out! From the mouths of babes, indeed.

  12. jan

    exactly the reason why i have switched to chritian novels,so i don’t have to read the profanity!

  13. Dianne

    I agree. I always think people that use profanity profusely have such a limited vocabulary . . . and perhaps some communication issues? About the only thing I can handle in non-Christian fiction is the occasional expletive (I mean – 1-2 per book) such as when someone smashes their thumb with a hammer – which is pretty realistic, as we probably all feel like saying something when that happens. I don’t think the use of profanity colors the writing at all – it takes away from it. People just don’t talk that way! I don’t want to see it slipping into Christian fiction and appreciate authors with restraint in this area.


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