The Proper Use of Christian Profanity

dwcoverI like Derek Webb.  He not only understands music and verse he understands his job as a Christian artist.  I’m not at all a musician but I’m inspired as an artist when I listen to his albums.

His latest album is surrounded by a bit of controversy.  His record label refused to include one of his songs, “What Matters More”,  in his newest release, “Stockholm Syndrome”, because he chose to use the word “sh!t”.  He, in turn, refused to change the song so they had to work out a compromise where you can only buy the complete, uncensored album directly from Derek Webb himself.

I think Derek made the right choice to use the word and to refuse to change the song.  Please watch the video above to hear the song before reading my thoughts on why it was appropriate.

In the song Derek is challenging Christians to consider “What matters more?”.  He weighs the condemnation we might feel about a homosexual’s personal choices against our need to respond lovingly to the AIDS crisis.  I think he quite thoughtfully uses to word “sh!t” to provoke a reaction out of Christians.  They’ll naturally be offended by his use of the word. Their feelings of offense offers him the opportunity to again ask, but in a slightly different way “What matters more? My profanity or your indifference to suffering?”

I think it’s an appropriate use of profanity.  He doesn’t sling the word about because he can’t find a better word to use.  His ability to communicate isn’t handicapped by the word, it’s enhanced.  He wishes to cause offense and the most expeditious way to do that is via profanity.  I think he follows a Biblical model for using profanity.  There is plenty that is profane in the Bible and my understanding of the Old Testament prophets is that they too use profanity but it has been white-washed out in translation.

All that being said, crossing this barrier in Christian art causes me concern.  Artist have a need to continue to provoke.  Once an audience becomes numb to one thing the artist must take the next step to illicit a similar reaction.  Next we’ll be on to the “f” word and then the “c” word.

A couple of years ago I saw an art exhibit in which the artist was torturing himself through various methods (his purpose had nothing to do with the Bush administration if that’s what you’re thinking).  It was quite disturbing and quite powerful.  He successfully garnered the reaction from his viewers that he was seeking.  Unfortunately I don’t think his message was worth the price to himself or to his viewers.  It’s one thing to be controversial, it’s another to be controversial for controversy’s sake.

I hope as Christian artist explore the use of profanity that they do so as thoughtfully as Derek Webb and avoid the cheap punch of sensationalism that it might provide.