Why “Saints Who Swear”?

Note: This commentary is a part of my “Saints Who Swear” series wherein I challenge attacks from apostates and haters of the LDS Church. I have chosen to use very salty language. I swear, a lot. If swear words offend you in the slightest, please do not read on.

As it happens, this post does not contain swearing. 🙂

I created the page “Saints Who Swear” on my blog site to address critics of my LDS Church. In responding, I use what is known as “swearing,” “cursing,” or “salty language” to communicate my thoughts. But why? Why communicate in such a “crude” manner?

Everybody I know, who has referenced “Saints Who Swear,” from friends to enemies and those in between, has scratched their heads, openly or silently, wondering so many things about why I would choose to write like this. I am a faithful Latter-day Saint. I have represented “traditional values” in the modern American culture war for four decades. I have six married children and 21 grandchildren. I am friends with LDS Church leaders, several at the highest level. My typecast would be a person who should be offended by swearing. So, what gives?

Before I address the many questions teasing your incredulity and ones I know that hang over my head, let me first remind readers that you may choose not to read what I write. My blog site is mine, not yours. You are my guest. I am not your guest. I’ll take my shoes off when entering your home because those are your house rules. On my “Saints Who Swear” page, my house rules will expose you to “bad” language. Continuing the analogy, I’m wearing dirty shoes in this part of my house and so can you.

Second, I am not immune to the feelings of others when I do swear. I am very conscious of it, even if it seems to others (and sometimes feels like it to me) compulsive or habitual behavior. Just the other day, during a private moment at a business meeting, I apologized to a dear friend, one who knows me well and who knows I swear, for swearing in front of him. I love him enough to respect his sensitivities. Here is how he replied — a person who loves me — “No need to apologize.” The truth is that the people who love me even when I swear are concerned about me, not them. I accept their love and concern because I accept who they are and their standards. I’m glad people care about me because I care about them.

I will be 65 years old in two months. The day I turned 62, I got three tattoos while on a business trip in Austin, TX. Not even Sally knew what I did until I shared it with her. Over the last year, I have let my hair grow. I have great hair. I like it. I just went through the Las Vegas Temple wearing a ponytail. That said, I also just asked Sally to cut my hair. It’s hair, not my heart. Tattoos are not my heart. Swearing is not my heart.

So, questions?

How can a truly faithful Latter-day Saint swear? My faith is my business and a determination of faithfulness is mine alone. I assure readers that I am worthy to and do enter the House of the Lord. In determining my worthiness, I am not asked if I swear.

Several Brethren have referred to the use of vulgarities as bad behavior, a person of limited vocabulary and small mind, a poor missionary, and a person behaving to drive away the Holy Ghost. What say ye? In their own way and in their own context, they are right. Who am I to argue with their opinions? Perhaps the better, more exact, questions might be:

  • Is swearing bad behavior? It can be. So can a smile or a laugh or a wink. The behavior is contextual and these types of behaviors can communicate something appropriate in a certain context or communicate something inappropriate.
  • Along that same line of question, isn’t swearing always inappropriate? A smile or a laugh or a wink are not always inappropriate, in fact, quite the opposite most of the time. A fair point to raise. But, no, swearing is not always inappropriate in the same way that violence is not always inappropriate, as when we defend those we love from others who seek to hurt them. I am purposely but not always “violent” with my language when defending my LDS Church.
  • Do people who swear have limited vocabulary? Perhaps. I don’t have a limited vocabulary.
  • Do people who swear have small minds? Perhaps. I don’t have a small mind.
  • Are people who swear also poor missionaries? Yes, when they are doing missionary work. In that case, aren’t faithful Saints always doing missionary work by example and appearance? No. I believe the ones who try to purposely live like that turn off more prospective members, projecting self-righteousness, than someone like me who swears projecting candor.
  • Does using bad language drive away the Holy Ghost? Some Brethren assure us that it does. My experiences have proved differently, both yes and no. The status of my heart seems to determine when I have or have not driven away the Holy Ghost. For instance, I am quite positive I have driven away the Holy Ghost without swearing. I don’t think the same Brethren would disagree with that thought.

I will stipulate here — and people who know me in the least know — that I do not take the Lord’s name in vain. Never. If I write an exclamatory “good lord,” which I very rarely do, I write it in lowercase. If I write an exclamatory “good god,” which I very rarely do, the same way. I will write frustratedly “godammit,” though rarely. One of Bill Buckley’s many non-fiction books is titled “Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription.” He was not looking to use the Lord’s name in vain. Neither do I.

I swear in front of my wife, Sally. I try not to in front of her parents, mostly her mom. I swear in front of my children and their spouses, although not all of them. I swear in front of my grandchildren, although not all of them. Why not in front of all of them? As I mentioned, I am sensitive to the feelings of others — sometimes sensitive in favor of swearing and sometimes sensitive in opposition to swearing. It’s contextual.

When I worked for ten years on Capitol Hill, I swore. And when I worked for fourteen years for Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City, I typically did not swear — “typically” because most of my work in the bubble of Utah’s LDS hyper-culture was based upon appearances among people who enjoy appearing righteous. Exceptions while living in Utah were in personal moments like my boys’ basketball games whereat I swore publicly and loudly (yeah, I was that guy). If it helps here, I felt bad after the fact.

I swear among work colleagues today, again, in context but with much less worry about the self-righteousness of others. My current colleagues are genuine people who seem to appreciate candor however expressed. Of course, I am not talking about my company-wide colleagues, some of who among them often fall into the category of those politically correct, DEI-types, self-righteous judges. Among those colleagues, I have learned through sad experiences to not speak at all.

So, let me ask you. What is more important to my eternal exaltation? My words or my heart? I am not asked to have an impeccable vocabulary and “nice” manners. The Lord does ask that I have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. A good question relevant to “Saints Who Swear” would hinge on my treatment of apostates and haters of the LDS Church.

Is my swearing an act requiring contrition? Of course, not. It is a defense of my faith, defending against irrational people — bullies, cowards, and liars — who hear what they want to hear. What they hear from me is unmistakable. No, I do not care about them. I am not Jesus. I am more like Peter who cringed and was at times violent when others disrespected the Lord. Yes, that is a lower standard. Yes, I am “trying to be like Jesus.” But I don’t often live up to that standard. Only Jesus is Jesus. That is what grace is for.

But why do I accept the lower standard in the case of apostates and haters, even lean into it? Honestly, I do it so well. I enjoy it. And, when the Light of Christ dims among them, I often shed the only light that seems to get their attention.

Lastly, as funnyman George Carlin reminded the world, they are just words. Words. Sincere intent matters. My broken heart matters. And, yes, words can matter too, of course, they can — and swear words are words too. In sum, as a communicator trying to persuade an audience to a certain end, all words are in play for me.

Questions?

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2 Responses to Why “Saints Who Swear”?

  1. Natalie says:

    I enjoyed this post. I too swear.. a lot. My six year old often tells me that I use too many bad words and that maybe I should stop.
    I will admit, my candor helped bring a friend back into the fold of the Lord’s arms. And that candor included swearing. Being my true self around her allowed for the ice to be broken, that ice being the ‘perfection’ image that some non-members feel is required for entry into the gospel of Jesus Christ. The truth is, none of us are perfect and we will not reach perfection while on the earth. We are accountable for the effort we put into trying for perfection and like you said, where our heart’s aim lies.
    Thank you for always being so willing to share your thoughts.

    • ptmadmin says:

      Thank you for sharing that. When I was young and investigating the Church, our missionaries (the same age as us) were normal with us and related to us. That helped me a great deal to trust them. The adults in the ward were more “appropriate” but I needed that too at the time. The big problem is the LDS hyper-culture that pushes everyone to be alike, look alike, and sound alike. Even the idea of “progression” within the hyper-culture gets perverted into some groupthink measure.

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