If you’re sensitive to such things, you’ll notice we’re using a few slightly off-color words and phrases on this site. We’re guessing that for most of our readers, that’ll be a big yawn. If that’s you, carry on. But as pastors, we’re also pretty sure any type of cursing will offend some readers. If that’s you, we’re sorry. We’re not specifically trying to offend you. But we do want to invite you to think about it a little bit.

Will relaxed standards on curse words be the downfall of Christianity?

Sometimes that’s how it’s made to seem. But we disagree. Christianity is facing some pretty big undermining forces, but we don’t think those come in the form of four letter words.

Actually, we’re pretty convinced that the downfall of Christianity is more likely to be all the religious crap we can’t seem to separate from the gospel.

Let me explain.

A decade ago, I read an interview with Bono in Rolling Stone that was filled with F-bombs and Jesus. When I read that article I was inspired by Bono’s thoughts on God, but I was frustrated by the juxtaposition of the F-bombs and Jesus. The two felt mutually exclusive. I even thought to myself, “I wonder if Bono is truly saved?” No joke. I can be such a jackass.



Is cursing a sign of damnation? Is it a sign of liberalism? Do those two things amount to the same thing? Let me quickly say several things that seem clear to me at this point in my life. 



“The things that get me wrapped around the axle are not the things that did it for Jesus. Let’s all chill out a bit and resist the urge to be more biblical than the Bible.”

1. We need to lighten up. It’s not that following Jesus isn’t the most serious thing in the world. It is. At least it is for me. It’s just that the things that can get me really wrapped around the axle are not the things that got Jesus wrapped around the axle. Therein lies the problem. Jesus never asked us to police other people’s words to ensure they would play on Christian radio. Look, Paul said, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking (Eph. 5:4),” but he also used the impolite word for “excrement, manure” in Philippians 3:8. If you’re speaking Greek the word is “skubalon,” but if you’re speaking English, it’s four letters long and rhymes with hit. So chill out a little bit and resist the urge to be more biblical than the Bible.

2. We need to work on our em-pha-sis. When something is really really really horrible, sometimes we need to EMPHASIZE IT with a strong word (like Paul did)! People can be real jackasses, even in the name of Jesus! That sucks. 



3. We need to undermine religious hypocrisy. This gets a whole chapter in Matthew 23. It’s a big deal. I sometimes think these baby curse words, I even whisper them to my wife and “safe” friends. So why not just say it aloud?



4. Sin is ugly, so why are we holding back? Every time I take a posture of superiority to others, and heaven forbid God, it is really ugly. So we’ve decided to use words like jackass as confessions and laments. If you prefer “mean” or “Pharisee,” no problem. But say them in ALL CAPS. It’s good to denounce hypocrisy and the moralism that blinds us to our need for Jesus. We think it’s better to call out jackassery and religious poop. Either way, we want to get rid of everything that keeps us distracted from Jesus.

5. We need to accept tension. If you don’t know what you think about all this quite yet, that’s a wonderful thing. You are wrestling. Proper wrestling will cause you to ask, seek, knock, and find. Too often, Christians seem to come across as sure about everything. I do. That’s the worst place to be. The place farthest from Jesus. Jesus created a lot of tension, chiefly among the religious. My hope is that if you spend time getting to know us, you will find that we have a DEEP DEEP LOVE FOR JESUS! AND a deep disgust for the religious cultural undertones that undermine God’s work.



I also want to note that we’re not about virtue signaling here. (That’s pretentious speak for: I don’t think I’m better than you because I do some “baby” cursing.) If you read more on this site, I hope you find this to be a place of confession, humility, and freedom. The only rule is that we fight hard against judgment and superiority. We want to be honest and direct. It may be a bit crass from time to time, but humility is a primo value here.


We just want the main things to be the main things. JESUS. We want to love ALL people well, from prodigals to Pharisees. We want the church to be unified—not in theory, but in HEART and SPIRIT. And we would love to kill a little jackassary (ours chiefly) and burn a giant pile of religious poop on the internet’s doorstep. Hopefully, what you will find remaining is LOVE, JOY, PEACE, KINDNESS, and JESUS. 



Ryan MacDiarmid is currently the Lead Pastor of a church in Sacramento, California. He has served vocational ministry for over 15 years, working at small churches, large churches, and everything in between. He is a husband, and father to five children. He loves Jesus, but like so many of us can be distracted and disillusioned by all the religious crap. And even on his best days, he can be a real jackass

3 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Pastor Ryan,

    Thank you for this blog and your sermon series! These resources have really helped me to identify and attempt to fight the pride and enmity in myself. Similarly, your use of self-admittedly “off color” language in both your sermons and this blog has prompted me to consider what the Bible has to say about language. Thanks for this opportunity for growth!
    Also, as I write this post, I hope to come across in an attitude of love, humility, and truth-seeking. Please understand that I am not judging or condemning you because of your use of language. So here we go 🙂

    I completely agree with your statement that the main problem in Christianity is not the use of four-letter words and other crass language. However, Scripture seems to contradict the idea that it’s ok to lightly use terms that many people find offensive and crass. I recently read a part of a chapter on purity of speech in Wayne Grudem’s Christian Ethics. In this chapter, Grudem categorizes three types of speech as offensive language:
    1. Taking God’s name in vain
    2. Cursing (expressing a wish that someone would be damned or condemned)
    3. Using obscene or unclean language
    I’m struggling with whether some of your word choices fall into the third category, “obscene or unclean language.” The Bible is not quite as outspoken on this category as it is on the first two, but there are definitely passages that address it. I’ve listed a few and explained my reasoning afterwards.

    Eph 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

    Titus 2:10: “…so that in everything [Christians] may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

    Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

    From the passages above, it seems that it is unbecoming for Christians to use language that culture deems “unclean” or “dirty.” We are supposed to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” by our words and works. What do you think determines what words are viewed as “dirty” (as long as they are not taking God’s name in vain or cursing someone)?

    I think that if culture sees us as a bunch of cussing and unclean “potty-mouths,” then it seems to me that this sheds a negative light on the gospel and, as a result, on God himself! But our goal as Christians is to glorify God. What do you think about the use of words our culture regards as “dirty?”

    In thinking this over, I do not think that it is glorifying to God to use these words. As an eighth grader seeking to glorify God, I am still forming my opinions about what I think about uses of language as a Christian. The youth culture of today is full of cussing, but is this right? Does it draw people to the Christ that we proclaim? I don’t think so.

    Mainly, the use of the word jackass is what prompts thought in me. Does this word really build me up in my faith or benefit me? (Eph. 4:29) Personally, I don’t think so. I know that Paul used “skubalon” in his letter to the Philippians, but:
    1) We can’t be sure that “skubalon” was the equivalent of a cuss word in Greek. It’s clearly a strong word, but “strong” does not mean s***. I know that if I write an essay in English, I can use strong language like “filthy refuse” or “dung” if I want to say something is really garbage, but I can be strong without being crass. Given that God consistently warns us against being crass in verses like the ones above, I don’t think it’s justified to assume that Paul used a rude/swear/cuss word in Philippians.
    2) Paul was comparing our petty works of the flesh to the glory of knowing Christ. He was not calling someone “skubalon.”

    My question is: Is it really glorifying to God or becoming of a pastor of a flock of Christians to call them jackasses? Even if it is true? According to Ephesians 4:15, we are supposed to “speak the truth in love.” In being called and seeing other people being called jackasses, I have not seen the love of Christ shining through. Some may, however, so this might not bother them. But is it really necessary to get the shock-value of using the word jackass when you risk offending people and causing dissention in the body of Christ?

    You say in your article that we need undermine religious hypocrisy, so “why not just cuss aloud?” What is your advice for me, as a Christian eighth grader, on when it is appropriate to swear?

    Thanks for considering!

    • First of all, thank you for the comment. There is a lot here, so I may not be able to address it all in the comments, but I will try to set up my line of thinking when it comes to language. I love, love, love that you are wrestling with what the bible says about this matter. It is so healthy. Since, you go to Creekside, if you wanted to personally email me to set up a time to get together to discuss more in person, there may be more adequate time to address anything that needs further clarification.

      Second, I believe overall, the gospel brings a lot of freedom. Paul exemplifies this best in Rom. 14. The question to me isn’t what words are allowed to be used. The question is why do we use the words we use. And is our purpose for using them glorifying to God. It’s easy in our Christian subculture to jump to the conclusion that words like jackass are not glorifying to God, because they tear people down, or are “inappropriate”. I happen to feel like the specific way that I am using it, is fully for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. The same way that naming sin and calling the church to repentance is the building up of the body of Christ. Take for example, John Bunyan, in Pilgrim’s progress, I don’t think he is being mean or nasty when he uses allegorical names like legalist, obstinate, pliable. He is simply highlighting a specific type of being, giving it a name, and then using the narrative to show how that undermines Christian’s journey. I feel, calling out different types of jackassery, is a modern equivalent. Naming the ways that we can be unloving as Conservatives, or unloving in our silence, or unloving in our enlightened thinking is putting a label on behavior that we all fall victim to. The purpose is not to tear others down, it is ultimately to build up the body by bringing us all together. I know that it can seem backwards, but it is the intentional choice that I made. The beauty of Rom. 14, is that it gives you and I freedom to see these things differently, and make different choices in how we honor the Lord.

      Eph 4:29 – Is an often cited verse for this type of thing. Most people go to the “unwholesome speech” and rule out words like “jackass” etc. The problem with the Ephesians verse is two fold.

      1) It isn’t specifying any specific words. Even if “unwholesome speech” were the best translation for that (which I will argue in a minute that I don’t feel like it is), nobody knows what “unwholesome speech” really is. Words are cultural. Obviously, Paul could not have been referring to the word jackass or any of our specific “four-letter” words, since the english language wasn’t invented yet. If he means, that we are to judge what is wholesome and unwholesome by the cultural acceptability of the word, that too is quite wishy washy because some words are offensive to some, and others words are offensive to others. So “unwholesome speech” has to be contextual. Context changes.

      2) The ESV does not translate Eph 4:29 as “unwholesome speech” it translates it as “corrupting talk”. I think “corrupting talk” fits the context so much better. I do not believe the issue that Paul was addressing was using improper language (i.e. specific types of words), I think that it was “corrupting language”, language that is divisive, talking poorly about others behind their back, tearing other people down. If you read on to verse 31 and 31, Paul lists out the following “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” So in the context it seems that Paul is once again addressing the heart behind the use of the words. People in the church regularly use “appropriate” words to maliciously gossip about other people. So the words themselves are not the point, but how those words are being used. If I went around and slandering people at the church by calling them names, that would be using corrupting talk. If I stand in the pulpit and say, I am a Jackass, you are a jackass, we are all jackasses, and we need to humbly love people. I don’t feel like there is anything corrupt about that. It is all for the purpose of building up the body and bringing together the church. Again, you are totally welcome to disagree.

      You also mentioned Eph 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love”. I truly hope that when I communicate the jackass message that the overwhelming aim is a call to LOVE and UNITY. The vast majority of people who have been coming up and talking to me after these past couple Sundays have felt that this message was exactly that, me speaking a heard truth in love. But again, not everyone will always feel the same about that.

      Finally, if you are asking my advice on when it is appropriate to swear, I’m not sure I can answer that for you. That is a personal decision, and as long as you are under your parents roof and authority, that is also their decision. In my house, I do not allow my children to use foul language. I would not condone them to use words like jackass flippantly, though obviously they know the way I am using it in church and on the website. Part of that is because when they are younger they don’t understand some of these nuances. But I want to be clear about the fact that those are not biblical decisions, those are cultural decisions, that I make as a parent. For me personally, I do cuss sometimes. When I cuss, I don’t see it as inherently sinful. However, in my everyday conversations with people, I do not like the way that cussing sounds, and it feels often culturally inappropriate. But again, in most cases I do not see this as sin issue, as much as a cultural decision. When it is a sin issue, it is far more about the way I’m treating other humans, not so much about the use of specific words.

      I hope this helps answer some of the questions. Feel free to contact me, if you would like to get together to discuss more at length. I truly appreciate your thoughtful comment.

  2. Love the invitation to process thoughts and especially traditional moors. I’ve said, from a few district “pulpits,” and in a lot of face to face conversations, that we seem to care for these “baby”-curse-kinds-of-things at a level of “burn the heretic at the stake” all the while evidencing no real concern whatsoever that real people on our pathways are actually perishing. What is my jackass-ish responsibility for fostering that perspective over the years?

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