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Sunday, January 12, 2014

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Profanity makes me very uncomfortable.

An irreverent youth left me with a mental dictionary of colorful phrases that I have sought to erase from my mind. I quickly realized that I couldn’t do much about people who curse in my presence. But I could take steps to control what entered my ears and eyes from the Internet and the News Media. The issue became personal when I took charge of the profanity policy at the news organization where I work.

Many news media have no problem with obscenities, often in direct quotes and sometimes in first-person narratives. Some newspapers publish the first letter of the offensive word, followed by a series of dashes.

My news organization didn’t have a policy. But I figured that I couldn’t be the only person seeking to repeat after Solomon: “All the words of my mouth are with righteousness; nothing crooked or perverse is in them” (v. 8). So I borrowed the policy of The Washington Post—a ban on obscenities in a regular written article and the replacement in brackets of the obscenity in a direct quote.

Initially the policy proved difficult to maintain. A few journalists insisted that their stories lost clout without the profane words. But I stuck to my guns. Then the Russian government stepped in. In an effort to protect children, legislation was passed that required media organizations to rate their content. We opted for a rating that made it illegal for us to publish profanities.

It can be easy to forget that all profanity, rumors and dirty jokes are evil. But we are cautioned by Solomon: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate” (v. 13). To love God is to hate evil words.

It is nice to have the Russian government agree on my tighter profanity policy. But it’s even better to be on the same side as God.


Andrew McChesney

Journalist in Russia

Columnist for the Adventist Review