Language Shift

Language is important. Words are the invisible expression of what we’re thinking or feeling or hoping or dreaming. The language landscape of America continues to shape and shift in ways that are hurtful and oftentimes crude. Maybe never in all of our history has it ever been as clearly seen as in the political environment today and the campaigns for the presidency. It’s not just the old curse words that are being used. It is also the derogatory, demeaning, critical, cheap attacks on each other. When questioned about many of the offenses, the response is something like, “Well, he did it to me.” It seems fair and okay, but I confess to you that it never worked for me when I told my mom or dad that. They really did not care what someone else did. They did care about my actions and speech and conduct. For sure in ways that possibly we’ve never seen, the loose language has risen to a new level.

It’s always been around. I understand that. One of our fine retired pastors was telling me the other day about when he was pastor of a certain church years ago. He was going to borrow a mule from a neighbor to break up his garden. When he asked the man if he could borrow his mule the fella told him that he could but in order to get this mule to work, he’d have to use certain language or the mule wouldn’t respond. The pastor used only a moment to think about it and then said to the owner of the mule, “I think you’d better come with the mule and talk to him. I don’t think I need to do that.” Both of them laughed as they reflected on the fact this mule may need to hear language outside the boundaries of what the pastor needed to be saying.

Language has always been an issue of keeping clean and clear. As you well know, one of the Commandments is not to take the name of God in vain (Exod. 20:7). It is not just about curse words. That commandment is talking about all the kinds of language we can use that would defame the Lord and not represent Him well in our own lives. Where did this slide that sometimes seems like an avalanche begin? I suppose it began way, way back there in the deep recesses of our hearts, but in America some trace the use of inappropriate and sometimes just bad and crude language all the way back to a word that was used in a movie that was released in 1939 called, “Gone with the Wind.” In the movie, Clark Gable famously said, “Frankly my dear…,” and you know the rest. In time that and many other such words became a part of language heard across the airwaves and then in private conversation and then in public conversation. Sadly, you can hear it almost anywhere you go whether it’s at a sports event or a business meeting or in some churches.  Sadly, those words and their vile friends joined one another and just keep proliferating in our society.

For me, probably the saddest aspect of this improper and untoward language is the fact that young people today accept it as the norm. While some of their parents and many of their grandparents are still shocked and disturbed by it, others just see it as the language of the day and think we need to just get over it and go with the flow. Really? It seems to me that every one of us needs to check either fixing the filter on our mouth or putting a filter on our mouth and guarding our speech to the degree that we would not say things that would be out of character, for what we would say if we were sitting in the company of Jesus?

Does He care how we talk? Well, listen to what He said in Matt. 12:36 (KJV), “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” There is something vitally important about what we say and how we say it and also the impact on others and the impact on us. If no one else cares about the standard of speech in your circle of friends and influence, then you can simply demonstrate on your own a new standard of speech. I don’t know how you may talk to your mule, but I know God wants you to talk to your friends and your family and your acquaintances with kindness.

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Jim Futral
Executive Director-Treasurer