Rend Collective’s Chris Llewellyn has never released a song with profanity in. But neither will he condemn other artists who choose to use fruity language. Here, he explains why

A great clutching of pearls is spreading throughout the corner of the internet occupied by Christian music fans…again!

The Christian artist Judah, also lead singer of mainstream band Judah & The Lion, has released a worship song called ‘Beatitudes’…and it contains the ‘F’ word.

This isn’t the first time fruity language has caused a stir. In 2016, Christian band Kings Kaleidoscope wrote a song of lament in which they also dropped the F bomb. It didn’t go down well at the time, and the response from Christians has been predictably unfavourable on this occasion as well.

Ephesians 4:29 is being quoted extensively: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” and, because this is 2023, heartbroken emojis are being used with frequency.

I must admit, I understand where these critics are coming from. I’ve never used this language in a song for some of the same reasons. But some of the backlash is, I feel, misplaced. 

In watching it unfold, I’ve wondered: Are we right to equate holiness with being ‘family-friendly’? Should we be sentenced to lifetime of PG-rated art just because we follow Jesus?

What actually constitutes bad language is surprisingly complex and subjective. Is a word bad because it’s not polite in our current culture? Language is always evolving. Consider a word like ‘queer’. It has morphed from meaning simply ‘strange’ to being a homophobic slur to now no longer being necessarily pejorative, but instead a label some claim proudly for themselves.

swear words could be appropriate in rare contexts, but I wonder if the bigger issue is that we aren’t offended by the right things

The intent behind a word probably matters more. After all, ‘stupid’ is not a swear word, and yet it can destroy my son’s self-confidence an instant.

The Bible uses some very graphic language. Translators often tone these references down, but when Isaiah 64 talks of our “righteous deeds” being like “filthy rags”, the literal translation is “menstrual cloths”. Is there bad language in Ezekiel 23 where the prophet proclaims: “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses”?

We never seem to debate the appropriateness of the sacred erotica found in Song of Solomon or call attention to the inappropriateness of Paul saying in that he wishes the pro-circumcision Judaisers would go the whole way and cut their penises off (see Galatians 5). It seems scripture is content to discuss adult ideas with adult verbiage and imagery. So perhaps the argument could be made that Christian artists should be allowed the same freedom?

Speaking as a consumer of sacred art, I want to see expressions of real honesty that match the intensity of my grown-up experiences. But I don’t want lazy writing that rushes to expletives for impact. I do think swear words could be appropriate in rare contexts, but I wonder if the bigger issue is that we aren’t offended by the right things. Can it be right that a word creates such a storm of outrage, when there are so many other, more important injustices in the world?

As Tony Campolo once quipped: “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”