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Al Mohler Takes Stand on Emergent Profanity

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : January 17, 2008

mohler.jpgDISCLAIMER: Due to a thoughtful (offline) response to this article (which is 100% satirical), I have edited it to make it less offensive.

Times are changing. And not for the better, says Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Mohler is concerned by the growing “Emergent” church movement (ECM)–a growing network of dissatisfied rebellious young adults who have decided to do church their own way.

In a recent broadcast of the Al Mohler Radio Program, Dr. Mohler stated: “These Emergent Christians–if indeed they are still Christians–are leading our young people astray. They challenge core doctrines like the substitutionary atonement, inerrancy, and the headship of men in the church and home.”

When asked about his biggest concern with the ECM, Dr. Mohler responded, “My biggest concern is that they are lowering the bar on personal and public morality. Emergents are drinking and cussing and taking a lax stance on sexual immorality–including homosexual perversion. But it is the cussing that concerns me the most.”

Emerging Profanity

A recent study by the Barna Group shows that 92% of pastors who identify with the label “emerging” or “emergent” believe that profanity is “ok in the right circumstances.” This is contrasted with Southern Baptist pastors, 3% of which feel that profanity is acceptable.

“The other day I met with a self-described Emergent pastor,” says Mohler. “I couldn’t believe my ears–there we were debating about the nature of the law when that young man said: ‘I simply will not accept that I need to make someone feel like sh*t before they can receive the Gospel’–can you believe that? He said the word sh*t. Right there at Starbucks.”

When asked to explain his distaste for profanity, Dr. Mohler continued: “You see, I find the word ’sh*t’ offensive. The bible says to avoid unwholesome talk. I also dislike the words *&%, ^%$&, @!%$, *&^&%#, @!%$#*&%, *&#@%, and *!@&$^%?#.”

We wanted to let Emergent Christians respond to these serious criticisms, so we went to the coordinator of Emergent Village, Tony Jones. When asked to comment on these allegations, Mr. Jones responded: “I don’t give a sh*t what Al Mohler thinks.”

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of JesusManifesto.com. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


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Viewing 54 Comments

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    Before writing this post, I asked a couple of people if it "crossed the line." My wife is a good example of someone who believes that it does, indeed, cross the line. Do you think satire of this nature has a place?
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    No Mark... I don't think you have crossed the fucking line, hehehe.

    greetings
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    that Tony Jones sure does have quite the little potty mouth eh?

    serriously though, yeah, i can see why amy would dissapprove. I, however think it is funny.
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    No, I don't think it crosses the line... if he did say that stuff. If he did, then a posting is completely poignant. To see it all together in writing makes for some pretty hilarious reading. Brilliant!

    If he didn't say it though... I would think it is much too inflammatory. Unnecessarily so. So I suppose depending on the circumstances it's necessary or vice versa.
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    Well, he didn't say anything of the sort. That is why I put it under "satire"--I'm hoped people would realize that I made everything up. Maybe I'll get a call from his lawyers...then again, the Onion pulls stuff like that all the time.
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    what's funny mark is that i didnt realize it was under satire. i was completely floored! then i checked the category. i laughed out loud. it made it all the funnier (more funny).
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    Mark,
    I'm with Joe . . . I've seen enough from Mohler to actually believe that he said this stuff. It wasn't until later that I saw it filed under Satire. Indeed, it's funnier once I realized that. Honestly, though, he's probably not that far off from your descriptions. He wouldn't likely elevate cussing to the level of "most disturbing" when compared to "wrong" views of atonement.

    Oh, and since you asked, I don't have an opinion on whether it crossed the line.
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    Since I remain uncredited for the Tony Jones quote......This is definitely across the line!!!
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    :) Thank you for the suggestion, Corey.
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    (sigh)

    Mark, While I personally appreciate The Onion (esp. The Onion Radio News with Doyle Redland) and other satirical humor, I'm afraid this post is sadly and horribly going to be misunderstood and sent around the anti-Emergent blogosphere as further "proof" that Emergents ARE in fact "lowering the bar on personal and public morality." Why do I think this? Because I've already had to correct three people who mistakenly believed: a) Barack Obama is a Muslim (FALSE); and b) Barack Obama refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance (FALSE again). (Those are other Internet rumors, BTW, in case you hadn't heard.)

    I'm just waiting to see this entire post copied and pasted into Ken Silva's pseudo-blog, and then I'll know my fears have been confirmed.
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    Much better. This is definitely in good taste.
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    I'm totally open to suggestions...do you think I should take it down, Steve? Or make a disclaimer. A little bit of heat is ok, but I don't want to get people spazzing out.
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    I'm not a regular reader... is this 100% satire or are some of those quotes really from Dr. Mohler?
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    Mark, I think the last comment from Michael Krahn about sums it up. And, OK, I admit it, the first time reading it through, I thought it was legit! And satire usually works and is funny because it is close to the truth but just a little off. This, I'm afraid, is not funny because it's going to be easily misunderstood and misconstrued.

    Since you asked, I would honestly encourage you to take it down. A disclaimer is still going to be overlooked, and it can easily be left off when anti-Emergent folks highlight and hit control C. That's just my opinion. I'm not saying to stop writing satirical stuff. I just think this one is too problematic and not worth the potential headache.
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    Baptists are pretty much the premier cup polishers.

    I can see why they would be more concerned about vocabulary than making someone feel like shit to receive the gospel.
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    Don't take it down.

    People either need to learn to lighten-up and laugh, or grow-up and get over themselves.
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    I think I'll leave it up, but include a disclaimer.
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    Don't take it down.

    You put a disclaimer on it.
    You labeled it under satire.

    Only someone with the intelligence level of a waitress at Hooters would actually take this seriously. And if you get heat from someone who does take it seriously, then we know what their next career choice is likely to be.
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    Being labelled under satire should be a disclaimer enough. dont you think?
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    What's wrong with Hooters?

    Brilliant post mate! Needed a good laugh.
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    Well, obviously with this sort of filth around, I won't be becoming a regular reader. You obviously don't have a real relationship with God if you can use that type of language.






































































    See how easy it is to take satire for seriousness when it comes from someone you don't know? For a moment there you thought I was serious, didn't you?
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    There's a lot I could say to temper the next statement, but ultimately I feel a line between the sacred and the profane is requisite for a Christian. This one goes over my line quite acutely. And, yes, I knew it was satire before I read it.

    I suppose if the post was more oblique (and hence more like satire), then it might be more palatable. For instance, instead of Mohler spewing examples of words that make him uncomfortable, make him a little more stereotypically Christian. He could say something like, "The bible says to avoid unwholesome talk, so I won't go into the particulars here, but suffice it to say that I hear most of them when I watch The Sopranos.”

    You get the idea.
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    Well, I've changed the disclaimer and edited the article. I would appreciate additional feedback.

    Here's why. I got a thoughtful email from a reader who is a parent:

    Mark, I read your most recent satire blog and thought I’d give you my opinion “off-web”. Amy is right on this one; you have likely crossed the line. She is doing what all wives of excellence do, cover their husband’s backside...This piece might be funny on the Onion (which is only funny on rare occasions), but Jesus Manifesto is not the Onion. Besides, I love JM and I want my boys to be able to read the site. We can discuss this more mañana.

    Here is my response:

    My goal was to do more than be funny…I was also hoping to raise a conversation about certain Christian taboos. In particular, swearing. I cuss on occasion and think it has a place. But I’ve seen so many people judged because they still have a potty mouth, and I’m not at all convinced that a good biblical case could be made against most of the swearing that people do…with some exceptions of course. My goal here was simply to raise the issue in a provocative manner...So far the only compelling critique has been yours—I want everyone to be able to read that article, even your kids. So, I’m going to edit it.

    ***

    I know that some of you don't think this is funny. It may seem like poor taste. But I have a dark sense of humor, and a lot of other people share that sense of humor. I think Christians are over-sensitive to swearing. And I wanted to raise that issue.

    The other day, I was having a conversation with a housemate (Karen). We were talking about what to teach children regarding swearing. I told her that my hope for Jonas (my unborn son) isn't that he won't swear, but that he'll know the time and the place.

    Some of you have challenged me by essentially saying: Mark, this isn't the time and place. I disagree. But, out of consideration for people's sensibilities (and out of concern for my friend's children), I've edited it.
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    mark

    i like your edited version better than the original - leaves more room for imagination,. i just put up a blog post that references it and also calls it SATIRE, in case some slow people out there think its serious.
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    It's funny. ChristianityToday.com did a survey on satire the other day. I was surprised at the number of people who said they don't read satire (http://reachingnewheights.wordpress.com/2008/01...). I thought Tony's "quote" was quite poetic.
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    hillarious
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    Mark, I didn't read this until you had already edited it. I laughed out loud at the end! And I'm glad you edited it because just two days ago I recommended this site to my teenage son. And because yesterday I posted a link to Jesus Manifesto on my Facebook. So--good call--thanks for the edit! And thanks for asking.
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    Steve K said: Mark, While I personally appreciate The Onion (esp. The Onion Radio News with Doyle Redland) and other satirical humor, I’m afraid this post is sadly and horribly going to be misunderstood and sent around the anti-Emergent blogosphere as further “proof” that Emergents ARE in fact “lowering the bar on personal and public morality.” Why do I think this? Because I’ve already had to correct three people who mistakenly believed: a) Barack Obama is a Muslim (FALSE); and b) Barack Obama refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance (FALSE again). (Those are other Internet rumors, BTW, in case you hadn’t heard.)

    What did Obama have to do with this? Was there any link here between Obama and Mark's satire? Or did you just use this as an opportunity to make a statement , even though it had absolutely nothing to do with or add to the discussion at hand.

    Mark, I thought it was funny. I'm still not going to take down my Al Mohler poster or get rid of my Al Mohler sheets. Yet, anyway.:)
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    I'm going to go cuss on my blog. Maybe then I can get 32 responses in just a few days. Geesh!

    I actually agree with the comment above about the use of imagination and satire. We can't go about claiming we are trying to be all subversive and stoke the fire of Christian imagination once again, while at the same time leaving little blanks for the imagination to ponder. I think this edited version does it a bit more tongue-in-cheek and stokes those fires in a more productive manner.

    You had to know this reaction was coming Doug...I mean Mark
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    For the record, it has been about 24 hours. ;)

    I knew it would come, but not this heavily. I assumed that almost all of the readers would find it funny, some would find it distasteful and move on, and a few would be upset. But I thought it would get a few comments and that's it.

    Controversy helps get readers, but I don't want to be a jerk. And it really has little to do with Al Mohler. He is just a fundamentalist foil for the satire. I've learned a lot about striking the right balance. I will keep writing satire on a weekly basis...hopefully I'll become more adept at striking just the right chord and raising the right questions. My goal isn't to get cheap laughs; I want to raise important questions (or push against unimportant questions).
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    Can someone explain to me why this issue is such a deal breaker?
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    HA! Ok ya gotta know ... i grew up in Jersey where i think i thought the F word was Jesus's middle name - up until i was 10 or so..... so satire or not... Words are Words... and there has been enough censorship - i don't like the idea of book burning ... people burning or burning of words. There is a Dung Gate in the Holy Land .... and it was an ASS that spoke... So i guess since the Ass saw the Angel and the Sword...... i don't mind sounding like one. At least the Ass had a viable WARNING!
    ps. Tripp, Zac, Andrew, Tony- hugs dudes!
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    The only thing I would say regarding satire pieces on Jesus Manifesto is that if someone is quickly scrolling through your posts using something like Google Reader (as I was doing) they cannot necessarily see the disclaimer of its being posted under Satire, as Joe Troyer suggested.
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    its offensive when compared to the scriptures
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    Care to elaborate, Daniel? I guess you're referring to Eph. 4:29:

    You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear.

    and Eph 5:4:

    Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting – all of which are out of character – but rather thanksgiving.


    The trouble with quoting these sorts of passages is that it is hard to know when they apply. And in what context "cussing" is vulgar or foolish or coarse or unwholesome. In most setting, the cuss words my grandparents would have avoided are now ok (like crap). And others (like shit) have been used in rural parts to talk about cow poop. So, when is it ok? Does it really OFFEND you to read satirical use of cussing? Is it really THAT big of a deal? I think it made a good point: this stuff isn't a huge deal, so long as you understand your audience.

    Tall Skinny Kiwi posted an good article about swearing (from a biblical and theological perspective) here: http://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com/tallskinnykiw...
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    the fact that you had to ask if you crossed the line should answer the question for you.
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    Scott hill:

    So any time you question the wisdom of something you should always take the "safe" approach? Just one question; did Jesus do that?
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    Well, if you want a regular use of foul language look at the King James Version... 'Piss' and 'Pisseth'...... where I come from (Christian or not) that is swearing, or profanity as some call it. 1Sam 25:22, 1Sam 25:34, 1Kings 14:10, 1Kings 16:11, 1Kings 21:21, 2Kings 9:8, 2Kings 18:27 and finally Isaiah 36:12.

    Context is everything...... bastard is a perfectly good word if used properly. The word isn't the problem, the culture has hijacked it and now means something very different and used accordingly.... or is it just our literalist people who confuse things?
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    James 3:5
    Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark

    JAMES 3:6
    The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

    Psalm 34:13
    keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.
    Psalm 54:24
    You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue

    The fact is taming the tongue is mentioned all throughout the Bible and if a follower of Christ must be done. Now some swear words i.e. Hell, damn . If used in the proper context "Non-believers will go to hell if they don't have a personal relationship with God" , "People are damned with they don't have a relationship with God when they die" However, Tony's comment was out of line, and not funny. Al Mohler, never even mentioned him personally and Tony attacked what he said with no respect, by swearing (what Al Mohler detests). If Tony, didn't agree with what Al mohler was presenting FROM THE BIBLE. Then he could have responded with a more respectable answer. What comes from the mouth comes from the heart.
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    Oh, and i believe, "pisseth" in the bible in 1 Sam, doesn't refer to urination of any kind. If you are to look in other Bible versions, ie. NASB- urinate, pee, "piss", or urination, are not used to translate the word "pisseth". "pisseth" is actually "any male" translated. So, just like many english words that are vulgar now- may have actual literal meaning back when the Bible was written.
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    P. James wrote: "this stuff isn’t a huge deal, so long as you understand your audience."

    This is a critical point. If everyone reading JM is a 20 to 30 something progressive, emergent-Church type, then there probably won't be any problem with unnecessary offense (of course, offense is necessary in certain cases). The world-wide web isn't so narrow, however. All sort of folks may stumble onto this site: kids, grandmas, even traditional Anabaptists.

    We want to gracefully and eloquently share our point of view and still have fun. This doesn't preclude satire, it just forces us to be more clever about it.
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    I guess I don't care if I upset an unwary adult. I do care about teens and younger, but I had mistakenly thought that only adults read JM.

    There is a big difference between offending someone (in the truest sense of causing someone to stumble) and upsetting them because of cussing. And I believe that, in spite of all the hullaballoo, I made my basic point: we make swearing a much bigger deal than it deserves. All of this attention proves my point.

    I stand by this work of satire as it currently is. And if only adults read this site, I would have kept it the way it was--which, while containing profanity--contained profanity for a very particular purpose. I wasn't going for the cheap laugh. The web contains much worse (which isn't to endorse web profanity). I am not a prolific cusser, nor do I throw cuss words haphazardly into my writing. But to write a satire about Christian hangups with cussing, I felt like it was worth using some of the actual cuss words. Those cuss words (with the exception of the tame word "shit") have all be edited to the point of meaninglessness, so where is the problem?
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    Wow, that wasn't even remotely funny. Even for being written by an Emergent®™!
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    Daniel, thanks for an explanation re 'pisseth', you don't really explain the intended use though...... the exegesis. What alternative meanings do we have for the word 'piss'? I know other versions don't use the same bad translation but you missed the point..... I think 'Piss' doesn't have any alternative meanings thats all.... just alternative words for the same meaning to make it more acceptable.
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    Am I personally offended? No. I spent 11 years serving in the Navy. I could quite possibly out cuss anyone on this website. However, I do have a little bit of a problem with Mark's wanting to take on Christianity's sensitivity to cussing.

    Read Romans, chapeters 14 and 15. As you will find in those verses, if we encourage anyone to do something that they believe is a sin, we cause that person to commit an actual sin. Even if it isn't really a sin. Those of us who are stronger in the faith are called upon to be considerate to the sensitivities of those who are weaker.

    While I personally don't think that all cussing is sinning (with the obvious taking of God's name in vain as an exception) and I will almost certainly continue to cuss on occasion, I would be foolish to cuss in front of those who are sensitive to that subject.

    A discussion on the topic could be suitable if we knew who our audience is and know that they don't have a problem with the particular topic. However, this is the internet and we have little or no control over who would read what we have written on a public blog.

    I will close with Paul's words from Romans 15, v 1-2
    "We who are strong in our convictions and of robust faith ought to bear with the failings and the frailties and tender scruples of the weak; we ought to help carry the doubts and qualms of others and not please ourselves. Let each one of us make it a practice to please and make happy his neighbor for his good and for his true welfare, to edify him and streghthen him and build him up spiritually.
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    Two points:

    + John Piper has used profanity in sermons to make a point, like the god-damn one. Many at BBC were offended, but Piper took the literally meaning of it and was an English Major at Wheaton, so I guess it's OK. And, plus, people worship the words and actions of Piper, so the man can do no wrong.

    + Why the hell do all these older Christians judge the Emergent churches? I mean I am sure if Al Mohler did not infant baptize his kids, as most parents from his generation are Catholic, and you gotta baptize the baby....he rebelled and said, "Hell no, my kids are Baptist, and they get dunked."

    Al has points, like us all. But I think Jesus is very saddened by his judgment of the GenX - Art/Centered - Shit-saying churches. Shit, I know dairy farmers that say shit, cuz that what it is on the bottom of their boots. It's not bad if you're a dairy farmer.

    Maybe you should be a dairy farmer on weekends Mark, and then you can say shit, and mean it.

    -Jason
    www.RazorResume.com
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    another question is how much do we honor and respect our "weaker" brothers and sisters? maybe we shouldn't throw it out there for some to stumble and fall over.
    what is our responsibility to them?
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    RE: "weaker brothers and sisters"

    You're NOT weaker if you have a strong "conviction" and believe it is a conviction that applies to all.

    It might be a matter of "deference" or "preferring one another in love"...
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    nc. i am speaking about those whose faith is young or look to us for leadership. not neccessarily those who have different convictions. how do we build up those who may take our liberties as their excuse for sin? i have seen this not with profanity as much as i have seen this abuse with alcohol.

    as a body of christ, how do we take care of each other?
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    GenX - Art/Centered - Shit-saying churches

    Mind if I borrow that?
    • ^
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    I think mark was right when he said that the point of this satire piece was proven by the response to it. It is sad to me that this topic is what draws the most impassioned comments. Why are people so upset by it? In the grand scheme of things it really doesn't matter. I'm not saying that we shouldn't to watch what we say. We must always be motivated by love, and therefore respect one another with our choice of words. However, there is a big difference between saying obscene words and cursing someone. Nowhere in this article [even in the original version] did mark curse anyone. We are all familiar with innapropriate language, none of those words are foreign to us. Furthermore it should not be our goal to preserve our linguistic "virginity", but rather to love one another. Now, i firmly believe (and i have a pretty good idea because Mark is one of my closest friends) that this article was written out of love. The purpose of this piece was not to curse or condemn anyone, or to encourage anyone to use foul language. Instead it was to use dark irony to point to the sad truth that too often Christians focus on superfluous and inane details. It is a provocative challenge for the church to embrace the things that Jesus embraced instead of petty hate mongering. At most it is that. And at the very least it is just wickedly funny. There is something simply hilarious about an anal retentive prudish person listing in absolute clarity all the words he dissaproves of. So let's just step back a little bit, and refocus. Take time to emember the purpose of this article, and the spirit of JesusManifesto. I think there is still a lot of fruitful discussion to be had.

    Grace and Peace
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    hey joshua,

    now, i'll admit, i havent read all 55 comments on here. i tried to read many. you may or may not even be addressing me here. now, i noticed mark actually addressed my question before i asked it. it is hard to sort through all the comments sometimes. but for myself, i am just asking the question. i personally found the article hilarious. i said so in an earlier comment. i was just asking the question in reference to our day in and day out lives. i know there are words i use that some would say is cussing or whatever. i just thought we could keep this discussion going and get some interesting dialogue. there was no accusation in my comment. although it is hard to communicate intent without speaking to someone in a "real world" sense. i thought this could be fruitful conversation. these are important things to talk about in my opinion.
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    It is sad to me that this topic is what draws the most impassioned comments.

    In the immortal (probably slightly paraphrased because of my poor memory) words of Tony Campolo at a chapel service at Wheaton College in the 1970's:

    "30,000 children are going to die from starvation tonight, and you people don't give a shit. In fact, you're going to be more upset about the fact that I just said shit than that 30,000 children are going to die tonight."
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    The Lord Jesus Christ is coming soon. He was there at the creation, because He was and is the Creator. He is all loving and He is the One who will judge you on that day that can't be undone. Please don't disregard His word. The Good Book is very clear about unwholesome talk. Just so you know occasionaly I use foul language and am sorry when I do. I repent and He forgives me. Don't let any "little sin" keep you from right relationship with Him. It is the un-confessed and self-exscused sin that will hinder your walk.

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