Friday, September 25, 2009

Non-Controversial Regards to Controversy

I didn't write this, but it's about me. Kind of.

It was published today by the Burnside Writers Collective:

(original here:

Watching Our Fucking Mouths
by Jordan Green

Some weeks ago, Dylan Peterson published a post on our old blog entitled “The Cost of Blasphemy (Priceless)”.

Dylan was new to our site. He is a talented writer who’s work has appeared in Killing the Buddha, Relevant, and his blog, which also features a piece on the “Top 10 Basketball Moves“. Dylan is the sort of writer we love, with courage and skill.

The writers invited to write for our blog have a high level of freedom. They were able to post whenever they liked (this is not the case any more, but solely because we want to be able to schedule our content, and edit more heavily for formatting and typos). I saw Dylan’s post a few hours after it had gone up, scanning it quickly. I flipped out a bit. I pulled the post as quickly as I could, and called John Pattison to discuss it.

The post was a comedic piece regarding Google Ads. Dylan was frustrated by the cheesy nature of the ads Google was assigning to his blog, and wondered how he could avoid links to sites offering Bible degrees. He figured posting a number of offensive phrases would do the trick, and listed them in order. After I read it more in depth, I better understood its point. It was a very funny post.

However, the post contained a number of words and jokes not usually associated with Christianity, as well as an image of a sculpture featuring a chorus line of naked Christs (from the film Clockwork Orange). If you are not easily offended, you can view that post here. Do not go there if you are bothered by such things.

Before I pulled the post, it received a considerable amount of feedback through comments and emails Dylan received directly. Here’s a sampling (all quotes sic’d):

“…a couple days ago, maybe a week, you wrote a post about adsense on your blog. and you said some other things. im just curious, whyd you say the things you did? out of comedy? or just because? or out of anger? venting? you post got deleted as well. why did it get deleted? its not something i would expect to be on bwc either. but what do i know.”

“I was just reading your blog post on Burnside Writers blog entitled Blasphemy and I thought it was hilarious. Did they take it off the side because it was too vulgar? I don’t think there was anything wrong with it because it was hilarious.”

“Umm . . . yeah. I think we need someone to start editing the blog. But maybe that’s just me.”
“This is the funniest blog I’ve read on Burnside for a while… and that’s saying something. I envy your humorous blog writing skills.”

And, from Dylan’s former pastor: Dylan, what’s going on with you, my old friend? These words don’t seem appropriate to who I know you to be. And they disturb the heart of a friend who feels attacked by their vitriole and passion.”
My guess is, we’d get these similar responses across the board: some who love it, others who are hesitant, and the rest who are flat offended.
I asked Dylan what he thought, and I think this summed it up nicely:
“I guess what’s really shocking is hearing a Christian reiterate stuff like that. When you become a Christian, you’re taught that you’re supposed to suppress those things that don’t attribute to your most holy appearance. I just don’t buy that. I think it sometimes takes the vile and discomforting powers of immorality to make the clearest point about real morality.

But more than anything, yes, it was trying to make people laugh.”
This post and its feedback raised a number of questions about Burnside and how we censor articles.

My guess is our editing is on the permissive end of the Christian media spectrum. In the past, we’ve freely allowed words like “damn,” “hell,” and “ass,” (though, to my knowledge, we’ve never allowed “hole” as a suffix). We’ve allowed the word “shit” on occasion. We have even, once or twice, published the contextual use of the f- and c-word when it was a direct quote and we felt its use was warranted. The latter two were never permitted in any comedic sense.

I doubt it’s surprising to say I, personally, have a liberal view of profanity. The Bible has a number of verses pertaining to language (many of which you can read about here). To me, though, these verses address what is being said as a whole, not individual words. The closest analogy might be sex. Sex is not a sin, but there are circumstances under which sex is a sin. Another might be the word “God,” which is beautiful and powerful, but becomes sin when not used for His glory.


Some words (the f-word, for instance) are extremely difficult to contextualize.

A few years ago, a close friend was killed in Iraq. Many of his family and close friends attended Imago Dei with me. That same week, Rick McKinley, our pastor, had a friend who was shot and killed by his own son. On Sunday, he saw me in the foyer.

“How are you doing?” he asked.

“Not so good. You?”


“The world is fucked up,” I said.

“Yeah, it is,” he replied.

It’s possible this was sin, but I didn’t feel convicted, even in church. Maybe my heart is hard, but it felt an appropriately strong word, a time where “messed up” and “fallen” did not convey the sadness I felt.

Many words, like “shit” and “ass” are far less innocuous, especially for post-Boomers.

For many of our readers, discussions of profanity preach to the choir. I’ll admit my own language can, on occasion, fall certainly on the wrong side of the line. The boundaries between my close friends, or old Army buddies, have been blurred over the years. I’ve made jokes in my private life I’d never post here. Partly, this is because Burnside is public: anyone from family to potential employers can look back through our archives…my gestating daughter will likely have access to what I’ve written decades from now. Mostly, though, it’s because there are things I’ve said I’m not proud of.

My guess is, I’m not alone. Especially when it comes to the readers of this site.

Further, when deciding Burnside’s policy on censorship and profanity, we have to remember potential advertisers. We have to remember we’ll be linked to from any number of more conservative sites. We have to remember children might stumble across our pages. Regardless of our personal beliefs on profanity, it’s simply considerate to remember these things, as well. At the same time, this is still our site, and we want to be honest about ourselves and our communication. We like pushing the boundaries of typical Christian media, of being able to say things and address topics other sites can’t.

I think that’s what the readers who supported Dylan’s post are hoping for: a different voice in Christian writing. They feel, as we often do, bound by legalism. On the other hand, if we don’t write wisely and with our faith at the forefront, we also run the risk of being bound by sin.

Beyond profanity, there will be writing on this site readers don’t agree with (Dan’s review of Mark Driscoll’s book sparked some of that). There will be times we are unwise, and rash, and hypocritical. There will be times we err on the side of permissiveness, and times we err on the side of legalism. We want to be as thoughtful and as measured and as wise as we can be in our writing, but I think we, as a site, would rather err on the side of unwise honesty than hold our tongues from fear of judgment.

This is the tightrope each of us toe on our Christian walk. It’s refreshing to remember we’re ultimately safe whether we fall one way or the other.

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