Christians respond to the escalation of swearing and smut?
By John W. Kennedy
Vulgarity oozes through society like a toxin. Television commercials,
bumper stickers, radio programs, music videos, T-shirts, magazine
covers and motion pictures poison minds and corrupt souls.
By definition, vulgarity involves words or behavior that violate
good taste, usually involving slang for body functions or body parts.
While such language was once reserved for private conversations and
disreputable establishments, today it is becoming acceptable in the
"It used to be there were certain words people didnt use
in front of pastors, Christians, women and kids," says Gary Allen,
coordinator of the Ministerial Enrichment office for the Assemblies
of God. "Now its only small kids, if at all."
What are parents to do to get their children
to read, watch and listen to wholesome alternatives?
Morality in Medias Robert W. Peters
says there are some valuable programs on TV. But experts advise
parents to limit a childs television viewing time in favor
of family activities.
"The average child spends three hours
a day watching TV but only 15 minutes with parents," media
watcher L. Brent Bozell III says. "Who has a bigger influence?"
Because parents cannot be with their children
all the time, it is vital to train children to act wisely when
not in parental company.
"The biggest thing parents can do is
to control their own speech," says radio host John Nieder.
Gary Allen, coordinator of the Ministerial
Enrichment office of the Assemblies of God, goes a step further.
"Parents have to set rules and explain why certain words
are unacceptable in the house, even if they are used publicly,"
In his book, Cursing in America, Timothy Jay says 13 percent
of the leisure conversation of American adults contains cursing or
While it is fashionable to blame the media and Hollywood for the
prevalence of vulgarity in society, experts contend the behavior of
family members and friends is more to blame for the escalation of
indecency. That, however, does not diminish the negative influence
of motion pictures. Movies have romanticized vulgarity and created
a lexicon of sorts for young people. In 1999, for example, South
Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut set the record for an animated
movie with 399 swear words and 128 offensive gestures.
According to a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs in
Washington, D.C., vulgarity has moved from becoming language associated
primarily with hostility to casual banter. "Words once reserved
to register strongly negative emotions have become the standard lingo
of movies, TV shows and music videos," the study says. "Language
that was once taboo has become standard fare in contemporary popular
The increase in vulgarity reflects the values of those who produce
and act in the entertainment industry, according to Robert W. Peters,
president of Morality in Media, based in New York City. "Mainstream
media corporations have largely abandoned their standards," he
says. "They have chosen the low road in significant measure because
it reflects their lives. They have a distorted perspective of reality."
The Internet has only exacerbated the problem. When people communicate
online, sometimes anonymously, they may type words they would never
utter in person.
The music industry has also changed in the past decade. Under pressure
in 1990, music executives agreed to voluntarily label explicit content.
Regrettably, the warnings have become a drawing card for many teens.
A Federal Trade Commission study last summer showed that 85 percent
of children ages 13-16 who attempted to buy music labeled "explicit"
made the purchase without being questioned. One vulgar-laden album
in 2000 became the fastest-selling hip-hop compact disc in history,
selling 5 million copies in two months.
In the 1950s, TV standards forbade the use of toilet and pregnant
on the airwaves. Times have changed.
"Every time I say it cant get worse, it does," says
L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the Parents Television Council in
Los Angeles. "Its like an itch that cant be scratched
enough, forever pushed to the next level."
Vulgarity alone does not attract viewers, Bozell says, noting the
failure of Foxs Action in 1999. Despite being hyped as
the most vulgar show on broadcast television, Action bombed in the
ratings, lasting only six weeks.
Motion pictures, Bozell contends, set the course for future television
shows. "When a wall [of decency] is broken in the movie theaters,
you can count on someone wanting to break that wall in television
soon thereafter, first on premium channels, then cable, then broadcast
The television rating system is ineffective, Bozell says, because
producers of episodes, unlike the movie industry, determine the ratings
themselves. Nearly 70 percent of evening television programs carry
a PG rating, even though they are replete with vulgar speech and sexual
innuendo. "Its the foxes guarding the henhouse," Bozell
In real life children are reprimanded for swearing by parents, teachers
and church workers, Peters says. Adults are corrected by spouses and
"Yet you never see stars embarrassed for swearing in a sitcom,"
Peters says. "Its always funny. Friends is
not for children, even though it only carries a PG rating. Showing
a lifestyle of promiscuity and irresponsibility is not for young teens."
"The [television] characters [people] want to identify with
the most use the majority of the foul language," says Matthew
Felling, media director for CMPA. "Its no longer the domain
of the man in the black hat."
WWF Smackdown! holds the distinction of being the PTCs
"most offensive" television show for the 1999-2000 season.
The wrestling show regularly features characters portraying prostitutes,
a pimp, a porn actor and a sex addict, with frequent use of bleeped
The broadcast and cable networks have pushed the envelope in an attempt
to appear as edgy as the premium channels. The CMPA study says hard-core
obscenity is heard every two minutes on premium cable TV. "For
all that critics complain about the sex and violence, foul language
is where the action is in the popular cultures ongoing descent
toward the lowest common denominator," the CMPA study concluded.
The PTC has conducted several studies, determining that foul language
is more than five times as frequent on the air in 1999 as compared
to a decade earlier.
"Words that were once taboo now are common in the news or even
in normal conversation," Allen says. "Young people are not
embarrassed because they grew up hearing it."
John Nieder, host of the Art of Family Living radio program in Dallas,
says the rise in vulgarity is symptomatic of the godlessness, abusive
behavior and lack of restraint Paul predicted in 2 Timothy 3. The
tolerance of vulgarity is a strong indicator that the body of Christ
is not impacting society as it should, Nieder says.
Grant Jones, a licensed psychologist and associate professor at Evangel
University in Springfield, Mo., says vulgar language disregards the
respect God intended humans to have in interacting with each other.
He says vulgarity can hinder or harm relationships, and such language
can hinder the Christian witness of believers. Jones says people who
use sexual innuendoes are also more likely to eventually act on such
James OConnor, author of Cuss Control: The Complete Book
on How To Curb Your Cursing and a lecturer at Cuss Control Academy,
made a decision some years ago to stop swearing. He determined that
it sounded immature and inane. "It does influence the way people
perceive your character, intelligence and maturity," OConnor
says. "People need to be more considerate of others. Ive
been told, I swear all the time and it doesnt bother anybody.
Well, yes it does. They just dont tell you."
Teaching children to avoid vulgar expressions is difficult when many
of the rich and powerful movie stars, athletes and politicians
use inappropriate words with impunity.
"Theres so much more exposure to what is considered acceptable
vulgarity at an earlier age," says Wanda Hynson, elementary vice
principal at Capital Christian Center School in Sacramento, Calif.
"Weve become so conditioned and desensitized to it."
Hynson is surprised that some Christian parents allow their elementary-age
children to watch PG-13 and R-rated movies. "Their attitude is
the movie only had a couple of swear words," she says. "But
one is too many."
While parents are not going to be able to control what their children
say outside their presence, if they are trained properly they will
be less likely to use vulgarity on their own, she says.
Vulgarity is considered a major infraction at the 500-student school.
For the first offense, pupils are counseled. A second violation means
a parent must pick up the student from school and have a conference
with the teacher. Third-time rule breakers are suspended for up to
three days and during the re-entry conference with administration,
parents are warned of possible dismissal from the school if the behavior
As part of the Bible curriculum, students at Capital Christian are
taught the importance of speech. "We tell them if you love your
neighbor as yourself you will speak respectfully to them," Hynson
says. "Our speech should be edifying and encouraging."
Nieder believes Christians should counter the spread of vulgarity
in society with speech and behavior that pleases God. Christians must
refrain from swearing or using distasteful language, he says. "Its
like people claiming that dabbling in soft-core pornography wont
lead to hard-core viewing. Letting down our guard only leads to worse
things. Curse words shouldnt be on the lips of Christians."
Gary Allen urges Christians to pray for people who use bad language,
but not intentionally avoid contact with them. "In trying to
build relationships with people we must do so without giving approval
to the vulgarity they may use," he says. "But in our efforts
to witness to them about the gospel we must reach beyond verbal differences."
John W. Kennedy is an associate editor of the