What is appropriate?

What’s appropriate to say from the pulpit? Can you talk about sex? How explicit can you get? What about cussing? What if it’s part of a reading? And how about clothing? What is appropriate to wear to church?

I cussed from the pulpit, the first time I spoke in front of the congregation. It was totally intentional. Part of a poem I had written and was doing. The phrase was, “bullshit moral standards.” I said it loud and clear.

I usually wear jeans to church. Sometimes a pair of black or beige cargo pants. Usually I wear a polo shirt or a button up. Every so often I’ll throw on my Standing on the Side of Love shirt. And sometimes I’m really happy to have made it out of bed and gotten myself ready in time that I realize I’m wearing Birkenstocks with orange wool socks, jeans that have seen better days, and the same black t-shirt that I wore the day before. Nobody seems to care.

At least my underwear are clean.

And about that whole cussing from the pulpit thing? Well, nobody seemed too upset by that, either. But I’d never do it again.

Why bother, if nobody cares? I guess because I see church as challenging me. Challenging me to be my best self and my best self is not cussing. It’s not throwing on the first thing I see in my laundry basket. It’s not being a grumpy sour person or a cold, mean person. It’s not cussing or saying mean things or gossiping about people or any of that.

The thing is I don’t actually have a problem with cussing. But that one time I did it in church? It felt so monumentally inappropriate. It felt wrong. Whereas with my friends? I’m like a sailor and I don’t really mind. And with my friends? I have some shirts that I love. But I’d never dare wear them to church. “Whips and Chains belong in the bedroom, not the circus” is one of my favorites. But it’s not appropriate for church. Am I being inauthentic in church? I don’t think so.

So let me ask, do you think it matters? Do you think people should try to be their better selves in church? Do you think it matters what you wear or what you say?


6 Comments to “What is appropriate?”

  1. Interesting essay, Andy. It opens up asking what IS your “better self”. I would say your better self is your most authentic self and if your most authentic self wears a t-shirt that says “whips and chains belong in the bedroom not the circus” than that is who you should be. On the other hand, dressing up a bit for Sunday service is a sign of respect so perhaps I would iron the shirt. 🙂 I actually struggle with this issue because like you, I swear like a sailor. As anyone who knows me can tell you, my favorite word is F*ck. (This pretty much sums up why: http://www.paxacidus.com/why-fuck-is-the-best-word-pax.php ) I am with you in your search for what is appropriate. I’ll be interested to read people’s thoughts. Much love to you.

  2. Hey Andy, I’m Jim from South Carolina. Tag surfer brought me here and I’ve read a few of your posts before.

    I’m kind of the same way. I hate saying “darn” when “damn” sounds so much better. Yet I can’t stand it when people cuss every third word in their sentences, and I’m married to someone who doesn’t like to hear me cuss at all. But a well-placed expletive sometimes is in order.

    In the pulpit…I guess it depends on the context. Most people wouldn’t mind a “damn” I suppose, and a minister sometimes has to grab your attention. Maybe it’s a Christian holdover, but our minister still feels the need to wear a suit when he preaches. The rest of us are quite casual. Cheers

    • Before our minister left she wore a robe every time she preached. I liked it. Growing up at a church were the minister wore a robe and then coming here I think I would have felt strange if she didn’t wear one. I obviously would have gotten over it, but yeah, I am definitely more talking about laity here.

  3. If a reading is significant enough to the topic at hand to use in a service, use it without sanitizing it. I have on a few occasions used a poem with “fuck” or “fuckin'” in it from the pulpit because the poem was the best available expression of the concepts I was working with in a service. But not frequently. Depending on who’s present, I might acknowledge the presence of strong language in the reading before reading it. But I would never use such language in my own words from the pulpit. And I would never choose a reading essentially for its shock value. That would indeed be inappropriate.

  4. That last question, “do you think people should be their better selves in Church” got me thinking. I guess I feel the more places we can be our better selves the better. I, also, think that what we wear or the words we use often don’t have a lot to do with our better selves and often not even our authentic selves, but frequently have to do with some impression or statement we are trying to make. Getting all dressed up for Easter use to bother me at some level when I was a teenager eons ago, a lot more than a quirky t-shirt and jeans ever has.

  5. Yes, you can mention sex and sexuality in a sermon 🙂


    Clothing and cussing are more difficult – I try to strike a balance between comfort and smartness.

    I would read a poem with a swear-word in it (unless there were kids present) but I wouldn’t put a swear-word in my own sermon, probably – not unless it was relevant to the theme.

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