Mark 14:66-72 (ESV)
And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came,  and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, "You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus."  But he denied it, saying, "I neither know nor understand what you mean." And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed.  And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them."  But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, "Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean."  But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know this man of whom you speak."  And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, "Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept.
“But he began to invoke a curse on himself and swear.” The other day it seems, Santorum cussed while speaking to a reporter. Many mistook this for cussing at. In addition news paper articles and commentators accused him of cursing and swearing. All for using a slightly harsher term than Bovine Scat, which happens to have the same initials as well as meaning. I find it a bit funny. I love when people accuse me of cursing and swearing when all I have done is cussed, and I can be quite artful in my use of cuss words. There are differences between all three of these things. Two of them are forbidden in scripture, one of them is a form of language prophets and apostles have been known to use in scripture, though you’d never know this reading a sanitized English translation.
Peter invoked a curse and swore. Most often these things don’t even phase a listener of modern English. It used to be that when I’d show up at the Ice Skating rink in Staples MN. I’d be greeted with a sign that said "No Cursing, Swearing or Cussing.” I found it curious that the three should be listed, as even at that time the man guarding the warming house knew nothing of the difference, and they could have accomplished their purposes by just saying no cussing, which is really all they wanted people to avoid. The “F Bomb” was absolutely forbidden. Vulgar terms for scat might be tolerated. Any word that might be used in a curse such as damn, or hell was given no attention whatsoever. Should one use God’s name, Minnesotans, trained in Luther’s Small Catechism as they were, were prone to put the best construction and assume you were actually praying. Swearing was reserved for your mother’s grave, alive or dead, sometimes to God. None of this was seen as uncouth. But never should you use perfectly good Saxon terms to describe what you were going to do to your opponent in the next hockey game or wrestling match, you might have to end your sentence with the preposition “up”, this would be necessary to distinguish bloodying his nose from violating his anus, or as similar obscene terms in the Old Testament are translated “Ravaging him.” You didn’t fight with girls, though sometimes you might think of “ravaging” them snow suits and all.
Cursing is the act of calling down God’s wrath upon a person, or perhaps putting a hex on them. These are things Christians don’t do. Swearing is the equivalent of taking an oath. This is permissible in some settings, marriage is an oath that is appropriate. Unfortunately most often given about the same amount of respect and thought as that which kids are prone to make on their mother’s grave. Yep. The Bible tells us to let our yeses be yeses and our no, no. We shouldn’t have to “give our word” or any other such thing. Keep oaths sacred as it is, don’t use them. See I was curious enough by that sign to go home and figure out exactly what it was that was forbidden, that way I could break it more cleverly under the nose of the man guarding the warming house, and accuse him of not being even handed when he might try to scold you for using the same words you’d hear him use while delivering papers to his favorite bar. (I do wonder if the paper boy would be able to walk into Scotty’s Pub today.)
Over time, I’ve often thought it quite odd that Christians get all up in arms over cussing, and don’t bat an eye towards cursing and swearing. Perhaps I’m as guilty. Growing up it seemed a do as I say and not as I do sort of thing where my own dad was concerned. I somewhat respect him for that policy. One of my earliest memories is of him pacing back and forth in a trailer house in Juanang, Botswana explaining to my mom between puffs on a cigarette that when his letter got back to synod, the “scat” would hit the fan. Six months later we left because of the stand he took. I guess it did hit the fan. My seven year old brain thought that brilliant imagery. I imagined it hitting the fan at different speeds and angles, wondered what a ceiling fan might do to that substance. Somehow I knew not to repeat the phrase, I think my sister clued me in on that.
I say I respect my dad for that policy. Lately controversy seems to have blown up about pastors using such course language. I’ve even been told that men who do such things aren’t pastors despite their ordination. Life, I guess, has taught me a bit differently. I don’t use it in some circumstances. I won’t use it from the pulpit. That is where my dad’s training has been very effective I guess. Every once in a while I have found it has offended an old lady or two that either heard me utter a vulgarity, or heard that I had uttered one. Sorry, I’m just not a landed gentleman of the upper class. Then again those I have known don’t tend to be offended by the language. I’ve learned to turn it off. But at heart, collar or no, I’m at home with the blue collar set. I don’t really care to put on airs, and play into the game. It’s not that the distinctions seem arbitrary, and socially constructed, (you can’t defend the forbiddance of vulgarities from the Bible, quite the opposite it seems from my study.) it is that the whole thing smacks of Phariseeism. It seems a quite convenient way to separate oneself from others, and act holier then them. And the only people ever offended seem to be other Christians, or, in the case of Mormon’s, wannabe Christians when another Christian cusses. In fact the non Christians, in my experience, are more offended by one’s refusal to speak language they understand, and trying to make themselves holier for their use and none use of words God has never forbidden or commanded. (Certainly there are ways of using them and contexts in which God is displeased, but you can displease him using other words just as well when used that way and in those contexts.) I mean, I remember a Nazarene (to this day I despise the church of the Nazarene thanks to this man) in the Air Force who thought he was witnessing to Christ by chastising others for “uncouth” language, even as he knew every Ned Flanderism in the book. I’m offended by seeing a grown man say "fudge" in front of other grown men when the scat hit the fan, as if he was a two year old in front of his nanny. So were they. His witness tempted them none to enter a church door and put on a mask where they’d hear a pastor encourage them to act in the same childish ways.
Of course, my dad used to farm me out as slave labor to others in the congregation, men he’d have coffee with on a regular basis. Grunt labor as I got older. And every once in a while those men would stop to tell me how they respected my dad because he didn’t put on those masks. He was “down to earth” as they’d say. More to the point they could talk to him, they felt open enough to talk to him, and they started going to church because of him. All the sudden they realized it wasn’t about playing some stupid game pretending to be someone you weren’t. It was about being forgiven in Christ, just as Christ forgave Peter for the curses he invoked and the oaths he swore against him. It wasn’t about playing holier than thou. I liked those men. They taught me more about life than I ever learned in Sunday school. I think they would have identified with Peter too. But none of this false righteousness. This isn’t even civic righteousness. It’s just a sham.