Friday 23 August 2013


Recently Rev Alice Goodman has been propelled into the public’s gaze with her rather unconventional bumper-sticker ‘wtfwjd’. 
Apparently the sticker has resided on her car for some time without causing too much of a stir, until Anonymous of Cambridge wrote to a local newspaper to complain.  The story was then picked up by the Daily Telegraph, and before you could say ‘Holy Sh*t!’ statements were being sought from Bishops and Archbishops in a media frenzy.
The fact is -  vulgar words are nothing new in Christian circles.
For example, Paul used a word which could properly be translated as ‘Shit’ in the New Testament.  Talking about the righteousness he used to rely on before he knew Christ, he describes it all as ‘skubala’ compared to the treasure of knowing Christ.  The strength of this word is hard to understate.   Although our modern translations sanitise the word by translating it as ‘rubbish’ or ‘garbage’, it is really ‘street filth’ or ‘excrement’.  The King James version comes closest translating the word as ‘dung’ but in today’s language it would certainly be ‘crap’ and probably ‘shit’.  Yet imagine the offence which it would cause if we read that out in church…
“What is more, I consider everything as loss, compared with the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… I consider all these things as shit that I may gain Christ!” Phil 3:8.
Then there was a famous Evangelist I worked with on a mission.  He was late for his opening address of the weekend.  Caught up in traffic, he arrived, hot, bothered and stressed, once the evening meeting had already begun.  He raced into the church and straight to the pulpit where he launched into one of the caricatures he used of a ‘man in the street’ to set the scene, but forgot to moderate the language, using the word “F*ck” as he laid the foundations for his address.  You could see people in the congregation, looking at each other as if to say “Did he really say F*ck in church?!”
And of course there is evangelical leader Tony Campolo, who has often begun speaking about poverty with 3 things he wants to say to Christians.
“First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation and 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.”
Which brings me back to Alice Goodman’s bumper sticker which (it seems to me) has been blown up out of all proportion.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t use the ‘F’ word very often, and when I do it is usually followed by a swift apology and silent request for forgiveness.  But there are more important things to get hot and bothered about.  There are bigger priorities for the church and the gospel than playing it safe all the time. 
And we do get things out of proportion.  If Paul can use the word ‘shit’ in his epistles to shock his hearers into taking his message seriously, then why shouldn’t Alice use another vulgar word to stop and make people think?  (Especially as most of the people who are likely to take offence would not know what ‘wtf’ meant anyway?)
Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, we all have the propensity to get our priorities so muddled that we miss God’s big picture while getting hung up on the wrong thing yet again.  
So I leave you with one more offensive item – the pictures and caption below.