When I read the May report of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s decades-long complicity in covering up sexual abuse, along with patterns of intimidation and retaliation against survivors and whistleblowers, I heard myself say, “Oh my God.”

That might have been the first time I’d said that, precisely due to my Baptist upbringing. My grandmother, a pastor’s widow, would wash my mouth out with soap if I said anything like “Good Lord!” or “I swear!” She would point to number three on her framed Ten Commandments, hanging on her wall just as they were in my Sunday school classroom: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

This led to a kind of Jesuitical lingo of a Southern Baptist sort—in which “Jiminy Cricket!” or “John Brown it!” was not “cussing” but the words they replaced would be.

When I once called my brother a “fool,” I received my grandmother’s rebuke. Jesus said, she reminded me, that anyone who called his brother “fool” was in danger of hellfire. I called him “idiot” instead; that was allowed.

I loved Jesus and didn’t want to say anything that might offend him, but I couldn’t help but wonder how the King of the cosmos was so limited as to only hear the words one could find in the concordance to the King James Bible.

This question isn’t as bygone as we might think. I recently heard of a debate among 14-year-olds as to whether texting “OMG” breaks the third commandment or if it just means “Wow.”

The third commandment does, of course, address speech and oaths. And casually invoking God’s name ...

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Onward
Russell Moore
Russell Moore is Christianity Today's editor in chief and the director of the Public Theology Project.
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