Years ago, as a young youth pastor, I was invited to be the guest speaker for a week-long spiritual emphasis week at a school for missionary kids. The school was located in Guatemala City Guatemala.
I spent several weeks preparing stories and illustrations that I thought would be appropriate to American kids living in a foreign country because their parents had experienced a calling to missions.
The first day of chapel went well, and I was feeling really good about the positive reaction the teens had toward my message. The second day seemed equally as successful, or so I thought until I was approached by one of the teachers at the school.
They requested a private meeting with me about some serious concerns related to my message. I thought about what I had said and wondered where I might have said something offensive or heretical.
At the meeting, this is the gist of our conversation:
Teacher: I’m concerned about your use of profane language during your presentations?
Me: Profane language?
Teacher: When you were speaking you said “gee” five times, “dang” four times, and “gosh” twice.
Teacher: The words “gee” and “dang” are substitutes for swear words. They mean the same thing. The word “Gosh” is just a substitute for God and it’s the same as taking his name in vain. The spirit from which these words flow is the same spirit of profane language. We don’t allow the children here to use those words because it is the same as swearing.
Me: Gee, I’m sorry.
Teacher: There’s an example of how carelessly you use profane language. I’m not sure you should continue as a chapel speaker since you are such a bad role model. I, of course, will bring this up with the school administrator.
That ended the conversation. I was too afraid to say anything else for fear a “gee” “gosh” “darn” or “heck” slipped in.
I was allowed to continue as a speaker, and for the next three days, the teacher would hand me slips of paper enumerating my use of profane words.
Gee- 3 times
Heck- 2 times
Darn- 5 times.
Most people use the second commandment as justification. “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain” (Exodus 20:7) as justification for their prohibition of such phrases as “oh my God.” The missionary teacher extended this to “gosh” and “gee.” But what did it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain?
Leviticus 19:12 says, “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.’” This prohibition is about using God’s name to legitimize lies, testimonies or other communication. Many times throughout the Old Testament, God condemns false prophets for using His name to legitimize their claims. It has nothing to do with using profane language.
The exchange between the missionary teacher and I demonstrates the Fundagelical focus on the minutia of behavior and how rules are often arbitrary and idiosyncratic. Go to any Fundagelical church, and you will find a unique list of sins based on their interpretation of what they think scripture is saying.
Maybe this early experience as a “profane” speaker was an early warning about how “profane and heretical” I would be in later life dagnabit.
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