Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Personal freedom and community responsibility Saturday morning I popped into Hernandez bakery for some breakfast burritos for the fam. A guy got out of a small pickup that said Hertz and walked in behind me. His shirt said in big, bold letters: "No beer, no f---in' work." I couldn't believe it. "Surely that isn't what it says," I thought. So I kept peeking around to make sure I hadn't mixed up a couple letters. That evening at the Rangers game I saw a guy proudly sporting a Big Johnson t-shirt that played off of oral sex--as do so many of the shirts they sell. It's also fairly common to see bumper stickers that are not "family-approved." My concern here isn't about language. It's about public responsibility. Should a guy be able to walk into a family restaurant with a shirt that has the f-word on it? You can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater if there is no fire. People might be trampled to death -- all because you thought it would be funny. This is a tough one, because who decides what t-shirts and bumper stickers are all right, which ones are risque but barely all right, and which ones are over the line? And yet, it doesn't take the Supreme Court to tell us that someone shouldn't be allowed to wear the shirt I saw in a family establishment. I've recently read an outraged letter that is circulating from a man who was asked by a Delta flight attendant to cover the t-shirt he was wearing because it was offensive to Christians. She undoubtedly shouldn't have added the last part. But that doesn't mean she was completely out of line. He's threatening to sue the airline if they don't fire her. (Note: earlier this morning, I posted the words from the t-shirt, but I've since decided to remove them. They are as blatant and more inappropriate than the phrase I mentioned in the first paragraph.) All in the name of personal freedom, right? He wore that shirt onto a plane and now he's incensed that he was wronged. He's probably outraged about narrow-minded Christians and the loss of freedom. And to be honest, I shutter to think of the ways many narrow-minded people might actually respond! ("Your freedom ends where my Smith and Wesson begins" -- a lovely sentiment I've seen before.) So what is the proper response? How do we combine freedom of expression with community responsibility? Who decides? Who enforces?


  • It is no longer a rare occurance to be out with the family at Wal-Mart or a restaurant and hear the "F word" said aloud. I hear people who cannot speak a sentence without inserting that word. Some movies (as Screen-it documents) have this word a 200 times in a 2 hour space. In a culture that is afraid to call something wrong and protective of one's right to the profane, it sometimes seems that the only liberty at risk is the liberty to live a life free from the filth.

    By Blogger JD, at 5/24/2005 04:28:00 AM  

  • Some might say it a chicken v. egg thing as far as which one we lost first, but I think that a society that does not instill or expect respect will, in turn, give up decency because people will not respect those around them enough to be sensitive to them.

    By Blogger Val, at 5/24/2005 05:20:00 AM  

  • My family and I were at a Detroit Lions/Green Bay Packers game a couple of years ago, and there were three college-aged guys sitting behind us. They were quite creative in their use of profanity with my kids sitting right in front of them. Finally I turned around and, in a nice way, said, "Hey guys, could you watch the language? My kids are right here." They all sincerely apologized and cleaned up their language for the rest of the game.

    I know this tactic doesn't always work, but it's worth a try.

    One question: You said your concern here isn't about language. Can you explain that? It seems to me that if we had more concern for our language and saw profanity for what it is -- offensive and inappropriate -- we would experience less of it in the public arena.

    By Blogger Jeff Slater, at 5/24/2005 06:00:00 AM  

  • There is a fine line between my freedom and your rights. I'm not sure how we converge the two and make everyone happy, but I do know that the more passive we become in accepting this, the more the moral decay becomes apparent.

    I was never allowed to see R rated movies as a young person and did not allow my teenagers to see them, either. But now, I even watch them with my kids! I justify that we can talk about it and decipher what is good and bad, which I think we can! My dad, on the other hand, will turn off the TV if one curse word is spoken in a show or movie. Sometimes, I think he is crazy and won't ever see a good show or movie because of it, but then I wonder if he has the right idea to stick to his convictions?

    I wonder sometimes if we have allowed freedom to soften our convictions and justify our actions? It is a hard call.

    Peggy in Texas

    By Blogger pegc, at 5/24/2005 06:07:00 AM  

  • We are going to a wedding in New York in August and my college age daughter has said "mom you will never make it in New York for a week because all you will hear is the "f" word from everybody" I have a habit of making a loud "swish sound" when I hear foul language in public. Like Jeff Slater says most of the time people usually lower their voice at the least and some apologize. If we are nice about it and DO NOT accept it, society will realize it is not okay. I am not sure what I would have done in the donut store that is a hard call.

    By Blogger owldog, at 5/24/2005 06:26:00 AM  

  • Jeff -

    That (language) isn't the topic of this post. At least, not per se. It's related, of course. But I'm not talking here about someone wearing this t-shirt in his own house or with his own friends. I'm not talking about language in R-rated movies.

    I'm talking about how freedom and community sit next to each other. I believe a film maker has the right to make movies with the F-word 1000 times. Others then have the right of going or not going, of taking their children or not taking their children.

    Someone has the right (at least in most communities) to strip in a local strip club. We permit that. But we don't permit them to strip in front of the local grade school.

    There are so many implications of this.

    E.g., should states be allowed to enforce speed limits, seat buckles, and helmets on motorcycles? Some would say no because it infringes on freedom.

    But what happens when personal freedom and community responsibility come into conflict?

    When you drive 100 mph, you endanger others. Plus you endanger yourself, and others (through increased premiums) will be paying for your thrills.

    You may not like to wear seat buckles or wear a helmet on a motorcycle, but what about community obligation? This is the community that will be paying for what happens to you.

    So . . . this guy walks into a family restaurant wearing a shirt that many parents don't want their children to see. What if the shirt had a racial slur? or a plea for violence against some group (gays, blacks, Christians, Democrats, Republicans, etc.)? or a picture of a nude person?

    Is he allowed to wear such a shirt just because it has the f-word rather than a picture? Is he then allowed to "express himself"?

    I'm talking about this large topic that a democracy has to deal with: how do we sit freedom and responsibility next to each other?

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/24/2005 06:55:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    I understand.

    Given the present state of our culture, I don't know that this can really be enforced. As soon as someone tries to enforce such things, you will have the A.C.L.U. filing a lawsuit and citing freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Yelling "fire!" in a movie theater is seen as a public safety issue and is easily enforced. But using profanity in public is not seen (by some) as dangerous or damaging, so it is not opposed.

    I think we've got to start in our own homes. Being more sensitive and making it clear to our kids that such language and expression is very offensive and totally inappropriate.

    If we are using such language ourselves, ignoring it (or even laughing) when others use it, or justifying it through our entertainment choices -- we are sending the message that it is acceptable. And we are giving up our right to complain about it.

    If such "expression" became totally unacceptable in our culture, it could be enforced. That's the only way I see it happening.

    By Blogger Jeff Slater, at 5/24/2005 07:31:00 AM  

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    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 5/24/2005 07:41:00 AM  

  • Perhaps establishments need to add something to their "no shoes, no shirt, no service" slogan.

    If enough patrons go to enough managers and tell them that they will not accept bringing their kids to a place where other patrons are permitted to broadcast foul language on their clothing then maybe things will change.

    Consider the public smoking issue: Policy used to cater to smoker's rights, but not the non-smoker's rights. But, we now have a movement in this country that promotes smoke-free environments in college classrooms, many restaurants, air and ground transportation, etc.

    My point is that we can make a difference. If that same gentleman were have to shouted out loud in a family restaurant what was printed on his shirt, he could have been removed for disturbing the peace. If he had gone up to someone and said what was printed on his shirt at the ballgame, he could have been guilty of sexual harassment.

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 5/24/2005 07:44:00 AM  

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    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 5/24/2005 07:44:00 AM  

  • I see it as a matter of common courtesy. I was shopping at Target and said something to my friend about Santa Claus not existing - then realizing what I'd said out loud, I quickly looked to see if there were any kids around. It's not wrong to say that there's no such thing as Santa Claus, but it's nice to remember that there are people out there who believe he exists. I don't want to be the person some kid remembers 20 years from now who ruined it for him.

    By Blogger Little Light, at 5/24/2005 07:46:00 AM  

  • We live in a lost world. Is there a need to say anymore? We are surrounded by all sorts of filth and ugliness of which we disapprove, to varying degrees.

    First, there is a sense of nostalgia that lets us believe that this sort of filth wasn't here before now. Wrong. It's been here since the beginning of time. Read the old testament.

    Second, we enjoy certain rights and privileges that allow us to practice our religion, for instance. If we take those rights from others, we endanger our own rights.

    It is a difficult thing to consider but I've got to prepare my sons for a life in this world. They've got to know that not everyone holds their values. They've got to be prepared to deal with people who do not believe in God or live by any moral code. They've got to be prepared to live in the world, but not be of the world. It's a trite phrase and I hate to use it, but it's true.

    We are light in a dark world. Sometimes I'm thankful for the contrast.

    By Blogger Michael, at 5/24/2005 07:59:00 AM  

  • PS Being a school counselor in a junior high, I deal with a lot of kids who start rumors about the sexual orientation or actions of another student. They think that their speech is protected, especially if they are only repeating what they heard someone else say. I tell both the victim and the ones guilty of spreading the rumors that the action being committed IS sexual harassment. Labeling an action something like that in many public environments gets attention--believe me! AND I USE IT!

    There are "tools" at our disposal that we can use to make it inappropriate or at least socially unacceptable to wear shirts with vulgar messages in public places, especially in family oriented environments.

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 5/24/2005 08:03:00 AM  

  • Great question - but I think the only real answer would be to re-structure the entire society that the West has built for itself. How do you promote community thinking and values in a totally individualistic culture? How do you do community in the middle of a way of life who's purpose seems to be to destroy community? The way we do work/career, the was we do recreation, in some ways the way we do church (we can get talked to and sung at without participating), and the technology we use all emphasizes the individual over community. Ultimately, it's why our society is in trouble. We've got to value community more than ourselves...it's part of dying to self the Word speaks of. If I understand that caring for my community is a bigger value than my own rights...then problem solved. Yet...easier said than done.

    By Blogger Neal W., at 5/24/2005 08:08:00 AM  

  • i personally am thankful to be living in the USA. i don't think it's appropriate for the government to dictate and then enforce what is decent for adults to say, watch, listen to, experience, write, etc. i don't want to go back to a time that was "more decent" in some people's eyes. i want the freedom to choose to be a Christian. to me, the enforcement of "protection" laws is different, and has more to do with the potential burden to other people (which is also related to living in capitalism and democracy). i do think it's appropriate for a government to limit experiences for minors because they are not yet fully capable of making informed decisions. the very freedom that protects our right to make our own decisions is what allows us to be Christians without fear, and follow Jesus in public. they are the same, and you can't have one without the other. and that freedom allows us to approach someone else and have a conversation. it doesn't allow us to tell someone else what they should or should not do, but i don't really think that's what Jesus intended anyway. i think our responsibility as Christians, if that's the question, is to share Jesus with others. i don't think it has anything to do with trying to make the country we live in more "decent." and i think sharing Jesus means to share our lives with others.

    By Blogger Jenni Jamison, at 5/24/2005 08:17:00 AM  

  • Owldog--maybe you're just hangin' out in the wrong parts of New York...I see no difference in the level of profanity above my last post in Texas. Profanity is as ubiquitous in America as Starbucks and McDonalds.

    "Freedom without responsibility is like a ship without a rudder, promising the shortest path towards destruction. Responsibility without freedom is a like a ship hijacked by terrorists, promising a long journey into the night of slavery and fear."
    Paul Wong

    By Blogger James, at 5/24/2005 08:21:00 AM  

  • what if we bought the guy's meal, got him a sixpack and gave him a chance to tell his story?

    our vulger culture isn't worse than its ever been. abilene... sodom... san fran... gomorah... who can tell the difference?

    the difference comes in how we relate to our culture. maybe this guy is just vulgar. maybe he needs to hear Jesus ask, "do you want to be healed?"

    i am shocked by the lack of shame some people have... i am equally shocked by my own perverse lack of compassion!

    God help us not to withdraw from the battle for the heart. help us to storm the gates of hell... they will not prevail!

    he did not come to bring peace but a sword.


    By Blogger miller, at 5/24/2005 08:27:00 AM  

  • The community responsibility is just that - the responsibility of the community. So it all depends on the community. If the community is "society" (Western/American) at large then we can forget it. We've come a long way from Ozzie & Harriet to the Osbournes and we still have a long way to go. I just read this article today about a soft porn fast food commericial:

    Bottom-line is that we are swimming up stream. Yesterday at I had to go to Abilene High to give Laura a check for her Eagelletes uniform and I was there no more than 10 minutes. I heard at least 20 F-words, saw a girl allowing a guy to touch all over her breast in the hall with hundreds of teens walking by. I heard about a "sexual victory" over the weekend (boy) and about a girl who will give oral sex to anyone who asks. This was in 10 minutes in Abilene, Tx.

    We can't "control" society anymore. You can't. Dr. Dobson can't. I can't. But we can share our faith. I am reminded of what Don Miller says in Blue Like Jazz:
    "Tony the Beat Poet says the church is like a wounded animal these days. He says we used to have power and influence, but now we don't, and so many of our leaders are upset about this and acting like spoiled children, mad because they can't have their way. They disguise their actions to look as though they are standing on principle, but it isn't that, Tony says, it's bitterness. They want to take their ball and go home because they have to sit the bench in humility and turn the other cheek like Gandhi, like Jesus We decided that the correct place to share our faith was from a place of humility and love, not from a desire for power."

    I know you are not about power any more than I am, Mike. It is sad. I hope and pray that someday I will be moved to "move" and not just be sad. I want to share my faith more and more and bring the gospel to the guy who wore that offensive shirt. Because to God, I truly believe, the shirt or the community's lack of responsibility is less offensive than the lost heart of the guy who wears it.

    My concern here isn't about language. It isn't about public repsonsibility. It is about my lack of conviction. My abscence of passion. My sin problem.

    I confess.

    By Blogger Joel Quile, at 5/24/2005 08:27:00 AM  

  • Great comments. Keep them coming.

    I like what you said, Michael. That rings true with my "in the world, not of the world" focus that I believe and have blogged about often.

    I'm asking how a community of diverse opinions addresses such an issue. We've thought through it on strip clubs (legal -- but only in certain areas), smoking (legal -- but not where others have to gasp), speed limits, online pornography (legal, unless it involves children), etc.

    We all have a limit to what we'd tolerate. E.g., if he came in naked, I doubt that anyone would suggest that we just sit down and ask him about his life story. That would be one of several good things to do (along with calling the police).

    I guess I'm not asking in this blog how I as a follower of Christ can make a difference in this man's life. That's a good question. A better question, even.

    I'm asking the civic question: how do personal responsibility and community obligation relate?

    I'm not making sense, am I? :)

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/24/2005 08:44:00 AM  

  • Here's my OPINION:

    We are aliens to this planet, Earth. Our allegience is to the homeland, heaven. We have no rights in this world. What the natives do is NOT for us to come in & conquor them, but to gently convince them that there is a better place to live. If we try to change all their ways, they will not be willing to hear the Good News we have for them. So.....my opinion is that we let people wear what they want, say what they want, unless we see a member of our own kind doing that - then we can say "shame on you". We work on changing the native's hearts 1 by 1. We MUST remember that we are in the world, but not of it. We are here to rescue people from the Dark Lord who rules this world, not try to take it over. Christians, unite!

    OK - I'm either crazy, or I'm still stuck in Star Wars mode!

    By Blogger Beaner, at 5/24/2005 09:14:00 AM  

  • i think the two are one... my personal responsibility is my community responsibility... isn't it? isn't that what we are arguing that this guy should realize? that he needs to exercise personal responsibility on behalf of the community?

    we have compartmentalized our areas of responsibility. i believe those compartments are false.

    as far as what we would do if the guy walked in naked... sure, call the police, if you are in Abilene... what if you are in denmark? what if you are in australia or canada?

    but the truth is he didn't walk in naked, he walked in wounded. (and this response isn't about you Mike, its about me... its about us!) i don't see the wounded heart because it is so well camoflaged by his appearance. my sensibilities are offended! Jesus' sensibilities seem to have been far more offended by the good religious people than they ever were by the broken sinners.

    why am i not more offended by my own hardness of heart than i am by his lostness?

    God help me...


    By Blogger miller, at 5/24/2005 09:15:00 AM  

  • I agree with Miller that we have compartmentalized our areas of responsibility. All life is lived before God.
    This is just another example of the naturalist worldview that not only permeates our society but sadly is so prevelant in our churches. If you believe Rousseau's social contract theory that we are all good then surely you must believe that good people do good things (like wear t-shirts with profanity in public). We need to cultivate a bibical worldview and return to living all life before God. After that we need to let our lights shine - Matt 5:16.

    By Blogger Ryan, at 5/24/2005 09:53:00 AM  

  • Ok, Mike. You have all sorts of faith responses, and spiritual responses ... now let me give you a legal response.

    We live in a free society, one that thrives on a person's rights. The right to work where you want, to worship where you want, to have freedom of speech and say what you feel. However, the lawmakers in our country have seen fit to see the difference in having the freedom to say what you feel vs. infringing upon the rights of others to not be exposed to language and things considered to be obscene or foul. Exactly what language is "infringing upon rights" is debatable, but the courts have given us some guidelines over the years. As an officer, if I hear you say certain words or language in a public place, and someone is or could be offended, then that is deemed to be against the law. I can and have arrested many, many people on the charge of Disorderly Conduct for that exact thing. My police experience over the last 26 years had taught me what words can be considered illegal. One of those is definitely the word in question on that shirt. I have raised the exact same question as you ... what is the difference in uttering that word, and wearing that word on a shirt for all to see and be exposed. I see no difference, and I have visited with the municipal judge in Abilene to see if he agrees. I can't speak for other cities and municipalities, but in Abilene, if you wear that type of language on a shirt in a public place you are subject to arrest for disorderly conduct, just as if you had uttered the same language in a public place. I raised that question after having seen a shirt much like you describe, and I was wanting to take enforcement action but was not sure I had the legal ground to do so. I will tell you now, if I see such a shirt from this point on, the person will either promptly remove it or will be arrested ... and I'm going to have to wait till I'm confronted with that situation again to know which way I will go. I have already given notice to a family who had a bumper sticker along those lines that they should remove the sticker or face enforcement action, and they cut if off of the car on the spot. I know your post probably had much deeper issues that could be addressed, but the face issue of wearing that shirt is one that has already caught my attention as well as that of other officers. Maybe after a few people get arrested the public will get the idea.

    By Blogger Sarge, at 5/24/2005 10:08:00 AM  

  • On the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Center) last night they were talking about how young people were now wearing hooded sweatshirts and it has become a problem because of crimes being committed by hood-wearing perpetrators to hide their identity. In some places they are outlawing them so many kids are angered sighting discrimination. One store had posters in the window that banned hooded sweatshirts inside. I wonder if as a customer you might have complained to the store owner about the offensive t-shirt in a ‘family restaurant’. If they heard from enough customers they too might post a sign in the window similar to “No shoes, no service”. How about something like, “If your clothing has offensive language on it then you can go on down the street with it, or Bad Words, No Service.”

    By Blogger Faye, at 5/24/2005 10:25:00 AM  

  • the question, how do personal responsibility and community obligation relate? to me, this depends on what community you refer to. i definitely think there is and should continue to be a difference between community at large and Christian community.

    i believe the community at large (government, society, etc.) is obligated to protect people from harm from others, and provide for the needs of the poor (not because Jesus said to love others, but because it strengthens society). but i don't believe the community should dictate moral values. this is an ever-changing community with ever-changing systems, because the basic focus is human life. so, to me, personal responsibility in this context is to support the "rules" (not the best word, but i can't seem to find anything else) set forth by the community at large, of which each person has had a voice.

    the Christian community is different because the basic focus is Jesus. it is faith based. the community obligation is not to establish rules, but to support sub-communities and individuals in faith. in this context, personal responsibility is to support the values that Jesus brought - love. and this circles back to Christian community, and to community at large.

    i don't know if all this really addresses the original question, i think i'm going to have to think some more about it.

    By Blogger Jenni Jamison, at 5/24/2005 10:52:00 AM  

  • Whose voice made it illegal to be naked in public? Whose voice introduced the movie rating system? Whose voice ended segregation? We, as followers of Christ, may not like the response, but it seems that it comes down to the voice of the people. That's extremely simplistic I know, but seems that's what we do in a democracy. We then must trust our courts to interpret it. That's where we pray fervently for our leaders.

    I'm reminded of some words you shared about 4 weeks ago at Highland from I Peter and our alien status. It doesn't do us much good to bemoan the values our culture holds up. I don't see Jesus doing that. I simply see him making a difference in lives. And as you said weeks ago, it didn't lead him to political power, but to a cross. So, what is my responsibility? Maybe to articulate in all humility that which I find offensive in this particular instance, and be active in my community as a living expression of Jesus Christ.

    By Blogger Chad, at 5/24/2005 11:18:00 AM  

  • I remember being told I couldn't wear my "Hard Rock Cafe" T-shirt to an area-wide youth event because my dad knew one of the other youth ministers who was going to be there was adamantly opposed to rock music. Different people consider different kinds of things to be offensive -- that's part of what makes these issues so difficult.

    If I had been at the bakery that morning, I probably would have covered my child's eyes and glared at the guy. Those mommy glares can be fatal, you know.

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 5/24/2005 11:18:00 AM  

  • Here's the irony: today my slight disagreements are with those whom I most likely would agree with 99% of the time. On issues like our alien status, Christian isolation, and morality, I think we'd find ourselves in the same camp.

    And yet . . . even with all the compassion in the world and all the desire to help wounded people . . . it's also true that our society/government has to protect our children from harm.

    We do it all the time. We don't permit certain things on television until "after hours." We allow pornography, but not child porn. We'll let you be naked around other people -- but not in front of a children's museum. It's a false dichotomy -- IMHO -- to say that we are to prevent harm but not deal with morality. Some harm with children comes from immorality.

    I'm not mad at Hollywood for its language. I'm not mad at the guy for wearing the t-shirt. I try not to get mad at people for failing to follow the Way of Christ (unless they claim to be one of his followers!). Lost people tend to act, well, lost.

    But there is still a need for a society to protect the weaker, younger members. There is a need to sit personal responsibility alongside community obligation. I think in the beginning, that was the topic of this discussion. :)

    And no, my hope isn't in government, in America, or in democracy. Readers of this blog know that. I'm not counting on American government to teach my children the way of Christ. (Thank goodness!)

    But just because our hope is in the Way of Christ and the countercultural movement known as the People of God doesn't mean that we don't accept any opportunity possible to protect the young.

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/24/2005 11:19:00 AM  

  • Well said. Thanks Mike. I agree. This isn't really an issue about Christian values vs secular values. It seems my responsibility is to take every opportunity to voice/express or do whatever it takes to protect our young. At what point do I, as a citizen of my community, say that I'm willing to put my personal freedom aside for the sake of others? That is so complicated because not everyone would draw the line at the same place.

    By Blogger Chad, at 5/24/2005 11:25:00 AM  

  • absolutely right Mike.

    we must protect our young. and, as you said (or what i heard), legislation isn't the answer.

    the answer is in trying to bring lives together. it won't work even most of the time... but it will work more than legislation will.

    the other thing is this... what is protection? is it making sure they are never exposed to the word f... probably shouldn't take them to any football games... or A high or franklin or taylor or church legue softball games.

    what is protection? i've heard words spoken among brothers and sisters in Christ that are far more dangerous than the f word.

    what is protection?

    i don't know the answer... so i love everyone i can as hard as i can as often as i can. my only hope for a safe community is in safe people, people that at least respect me.

    what is protection for the children of poverty in abilene? bosnia? sudan?

    my apologies Mike, i just see things differently. no offense intended!


    By Blogger miller, at 5/24/2005 11:37:00 AM  

  • It is the responsibility of those who govern to "provide for the common good". I would suggest that not allowing the verbal or visual usage of proafe language in public places would be for the common good.

    The problem lies in who gets to decide where the line that should not be crossed is.

    I know where I would draw the line but I don't get to do that for everyone else. To me the wearing of the obscene T-shirt or using foul language in public is at its root an issue of irresponsibility.

    By Blogger Ryan, at 5/24/2005 11:42:00 AM  

  • The answer of course in censorship. We have it, we need to enforce it. The fact of the matter is that "community standards" define what is acceptable and what is not, and we (as a community) need to enforce those standards. That means confronting the guy (in a non-obnoxious way) and asking him to refrain from wearing such a shirt in public. It may mean getting poked in the nose, but if we do not confront such behavior, it will continue and get even worse.

    You may object that censorship is un-American; it is not. We will not allow a sex act to be broadcast on network television (at least not yet), along with a host of other things that are not allowed. Censorship is a good thing - an American thing. Somehow the word has taken on a pejorative meaning, probably because of the lack of love that was demonstrated in enforcing community standards.

    I know that we as Christians are not primarily called to be the sheriff - but don't we have some obligation to preserve good when we have the ability to do so?

    The prophets declared to the disobedient the areas of life that needed change. They did it with love (well, except for Jonah), and imho, we need to do the same.


    By Blogger jds, at 5/24/2005 11:46:00 AM  

  • I commented earlier and now wish to append that thought.

    Our communities set the standards for decency and apparently, in Abilene, the "dirty shirt" that Mike saw is outside the law. Great.

    I wish to add the thought that making something illegal does not make it go away. We have an ongoing, terrifyingly expensive War on Drugs. Drugs are against the law but, every 10th grader in our town knows where to buy illegal drugs.

    Pushing something outside the law doesn't make it go away. It makes the illegal behavior become less conspicuous. It pushes it underground. It allows those who don't wish to believe it to convince themselves that it doesn't exist.

    This guy in his $8 t-shirt has the audacity to tell us how he really feels and we're shocked. If he were not allowed to wear that shirt would it make him a different person? Probably not. Appreciate his honesty.

    Makes you want to buy a couple of Jesus t-shirts doesn't it? Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing.

    By Blogger Michael, at 5/24/2005 12:17:00 PM  

  • Hmmm. No a guy shouldn't be able to walk into a family restaurant with a shirt that has the f-word on it.

    [He should be able to hobble out after I have instructed my nine-year-old daughter to kick his kneecaps for being so foul-shirted.]

    Naw, strike that. Then I'd have to explain to her what the f-word is and means. And he might try to kill her.

    Here's another question, though: What will the world use for foul words when it has used up all the foulness of the current foul words?

    You know what I mean. Words lose their power to shock after awhile. We need to have words that shock.

    There's little shock value to "pornography" any more, but thirty years ago it was a whisper-only word. You can think of lots of others.

    Of course, believers wore out the shock value of some words by shouting them, too. Words like "sin" and "hell" come to mind.


    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 5/24/2005 12:19:00 PM  

  • William Faulkner, in a speech given in New Orleans back in the 1950s made the following comment about American society:

    "We have lost that one thing, lacking which, freedom and liberty and independence cannot even exist.

    That thing is the responsibility - not only the desire and the will to be responsible - but the remembrance from the old fathers of the need to be responsible."

    Wonder what William Faulkner would think about American society today . . .

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/24/2005 12:25:00 PM  

  • Wow, what a thought-provoking topic. The number of comments just goes to show that this is a question worthy of asking and of seeking answers to.

    I'm only halfway through the comments, but I really appreciate what Serena and Michael wrote...

    By Blogger Jana, at 5/24/2005 12:46:00 PM  

  • I met a guy in an Abilene supermarket that had "F--- You!" tattooed on the back of his neck. I had the same thought, what kind of world do we live in?

    By Blogger Trey Laminack, at 5/24/2005 01:32:00 PM  

  • I think we should really be more concerned (if we're talking about protecting our young people) with the fact that some young girls in Africa are STILL having their clitoris' removed in an awful procedure - we should be concerned that in some tribes in Africa, men who have AIDS are raping babies - BABIES - kids under the age of 2 because they believe it is a cure. Now put into perspective how uptight we are about the F-word on a shirt. COME ON! So you explain it to your kid - I would much rather explain to my kid what the F-word means & still be able to wear ANY shirt I want (if you can't wear certain shirts then you KNOW that Jesus shirts will be out the door next - they ARE offensive to some!)

    My point is this: Mike is right that we have to protect our youth - but WHAT are we protecting them from? The world is pretty crappy - why not prepare them at a young age so they can deal with it & give them the survival skills they need - don't shelter them & have the shock of the reality of the world hit them later!!!

    By Blogger Beaner, at 5/24/2005 01:54:00 PM  

  • I've heard people in certain political camps say, "You can't legislate morality." I say "phooey!". Of course you can legislate morality. MOST of the laws on the books have to do with "moral" issues: stealing, murder, abuses of various things, injuring someone. The gray area is WHAT and HOW MUCH do we want our government to legislate in the areas of morality. I guess that comes full circle to the ever famous question about what the role of government really is. What a can of worms!

    By Blogger Amy Boone, at 5/24/2005 02:05:00 PM  

  • Beaner -

    Good thoughts -- most of which I know you know I agree with. The issues of justice around the world capture my soul much more than this one. That's why I write about them 100-1 over this.

    But, really, is this an either/or? "If you care about this, you don't give a flip about kids in Africa who are suffering?" Isn't it all right that some of us--even those of us who believe in having our kids live in the real world--don't want this to become part of what's plastered on bumper stickers, t-shirts, billboards, etc.

    How would you feel about someone standing outside your child's grade school screaming "f-you." Or a bunch of men and women doing nude erotic dances across the street from their school? If that would bother you, does that mean you no longer care about the kids you mentioned and their deplorable conditions?

    My guess is that if pressed we all have some limits. There are all kinds of things I expect to be legal that I don't want to happen in the presence of small children. It's not because I want to hide kids from the real world. It's not because I'm unaware that there are much more horrific stories in the world. It's not that I'm not involved in the REAL ministry of helping impoverished children in Abilene. But shouldn't we try to protect the smallest and most vulnerable among us from an R-rated world as much as possible?

    By the way, I also think I may disagree with you about the Jesus-shirts (which I'm also not fond of -- but that's another story). I think we might find that community standards of decency would be in favor of limiting nude dancing to strip clubs; I don't think that means that prayer before a meal at a restaurant is in danger. I think we'd also find that community standards of decency would also favor keeping shirts/billboards/bumper stickers like that out of public places. But I don't think community standards would censor shirts with Jesus, Mohammed, etc.

    You always offer your comments in an uplifting, encouraging, on-fire-for-Jesus way, so please take this as kind rebuttal instead of reprimand. :) As you know, I think we view the Christian life very similarly.

    Maybe I'll wake up in a week and think, What was I thinking? Did my asthma problems put me in that mood?

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/24/2005 02:32:00 PM  

  • Beaner,

    I agree that things are very bad elsewhere especially in Africa. However, just because things are worse elsewhere does not mean that we need to ignore issues over here. Things are not relative. Wrong is wrong. We may not have Africa's problems but we do face our own such as the moral decay of our society. Our problems should not be viewed compared to others but rather on their own.

    By Blogger Ryan, at 5/24/2005 02:33:00 PM  

  • I skipped to the bottom after about half of these responses, so I hope didn't miss anything that would make my comment redundant or old.

    I would have been personally offended less by a naked man than a man wearing a shirt that had the F-bomb on it. Mainly, because no one walks around naked unless for a political statement, art (in which case they usually want to get their clothes on as quickly as possible after the photo or whatever's beeen taken) or because they're crazy. Any of these reasons I can forgive. But the shirt thing is offensive to me because (my opinion) someone has said, "I don't care what anyone else thinks or says, I'm going to wear my shirt." To me it displays a lack of respect. This is what offends me. I suppose this could be a naked person's motives also. My point is that lack of respect offends me, and someone who blatantly wears a shirt like this is displaying a lack of respect for anyone.

    Rather than get angry at this I agree with many who have said that this is simply a by-product of our society, and probably of the individuals experiences in life. Perhaps he feels neglected by the world, particularly the world or "family friendliness" and so he just says "forget politeness, forget respect, I've never been shown respect, so why should I show someone else respect." I teach high school students and most of the time a student who is disrespectful on a regular basis has this mindset.

    As a Christian it is certainly my duty to be the light to this guy and people who feel this way. As a community member the responsibility lies, within the jurisdiction of the local business. Many establishments have signs that say "No Profanity" or a dress code. Sometime an unspoken dress code. I do think that our liberties, the ones that you and I hold dear are perhaps offensive to some. Maybe even honest Americans, and therefore let's not work to restrict personal rights when they aren't really hurting anyone. (Does the F word REALLY damage you and your children for life? Come on) Instead let's work toward creating a community of mutual respect and civility. Not everyone will follow, but the impact will be evident even to those who don't choose to adhere to it.

    By Blogger Kyle, at 5/24/2005 03:18:00 PM  

  • Actually, freedom of speech is pretty important, even if it offends you!

    By Blogger surferseth, at 5/24/2005 03:34:00 PM  

  • Yes, freedom of speech (including on T-shirts and bumper stickers) is VERY important, but it definitely has its limits.

    As an attorney, I've been thinking all day long in reading the post and all of the comments about the Constitutional issues involving the 1st Amendment and all of the 1st Amendment cases we studied in Constitutional law in law school.

    Probably the most famous one, as far as what most people in this country know and remember is the phrase [while I cannot define it] "I know it when I see it," which appears in Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's concurring opinion in "Jacobellis v. Ohio" (1964), dealing with pornography. In that case, and in many, the Court considered a "community" standard, which would vary, obviously, from community to community.

    I definitely think that as individuals (Christian or not) we have a personal responsibility with regard to the community and society as a whole. But, that being said, the highest Court of this land and lower courts, in numerous cases, have struggled for decades to define and set forth a standard when it comes to obsenity and pornography and matters such as those. Their degree of success in solving such problems in society depends on who you talk with.

    We should do everything in our power as individuals to shape the limits and standards of our community and in our society, especially with regard to the young and innocent who cannot defend themselves. But at the same time, I'm with Michael and Mike in believing that ultimately, we are "in" this world, but not "of" this world and MUST teach our children to understand that and live within those paremeters, while at the same time protecting them from all that we can that is wicked and repulsive and evil, T-shirts or bumper stickers or TV or movies or whatever.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/24/2005 04:19:00 PM  

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    By Blogger Deb, at 5/24/2005 04:41:00 PM  

  • Kenneth ... Kenneth Pybus, are you out there? This post is all yours. I know we discussed this in Comm Law, and it's not that I don't remember everything exactly (of course I do ...), I just want to hear you address it again. And you could bring up that case that I'm not forgetting, it's just not coming to mind ... of the guy with the f-bomb jacket in the courtroom ... I want to hear what Prof Pybus has for us!

    By Blogger Melanie Knox, at 5/24/2005 05:06:00 PM  

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    By Blogger Deb, at 5/24/2005 05:06:00 PM  

  • Well, this comment might seem like it's totally out of concert with all of the above.

    But I ask myself about 'community' every time I see a child at church acting inappropriately and the parents are just standing around totally oblivious to the rude and inconsiderate actions of their little darlings. Where are the boundaries? They obviously are not being practised or applied in a loving and consistent manner.

    If I step in and break the spell in order to gently correct the child's behaviour, I'm not sure if the parents will give me dagger looks and threaten to take legal action or thank me for caring about their child. They're child is acting out and screaming for attention, but they are upset with me, or perhaps another caring member of the church community for taking the responsibility for their child's actions.

    I don't know, but until we can learn to compassionately confront, nurture and care for each other with respect and thoughtfulness within the 'safety' of our own church communities, we have no business confronting non-believers who are repugnant to society.

    Children today are getting so many mixed messages on social behaviour from Christian adults, as well as non-believers. Within a church of, say, 2000 members, there are a variety of different ideas and practices on parenting. Some children are given boundaries, and others are not. Until the adults can show some common ground on supporting each other in raising the children of the church, then transferring those practices and supportive measure onto the rest of society will be a tough nut to crack.

    For example, two Sundays ago, two of our young teenage boys from our church saw me see them share some fags (what we call cigarettes in the UK). I’m close with one of the mothers. I saw her after church, and gently asked her if she new her son was ‘experimenting’. She shared that this has become a great concern, and if I ever saw this happen again, she wanted me to go up to her son and personally yank the thing out of his mouth. I waited until the next Sunday to approach the other lad (who is quickly and sadly descending into our ‘yob’ culture). I took his face in my hands and explained to him how much I loved him, and that I was concerned for his health, etc. He smiled sheepishly and hugged me. He knows I know he is struggling with some things right now. His parents are weary, and others of us need to now enter his journey and walk alongside his parents for support.

    Last Sunday, a row of teens were playing games on each other's mobile phones, and texting each other right before communion. They stayed seated and slouched insolently while the rest of us were preparing our hearts and minds for communion. Some had their baseball caps glued onto their heads from the week before. As we all stood to sing, I walked over to them, looked them in the eyes, and with a big smile, asked them to please show some respect and join the rest of us in worship. Well, shock of all shockers, they smiled back (no smirks!) and complied POLITELY! I was then worried about being confronted later by parents for trying to engage their kids in worship. But to my and my husband's surprise (and relief), four couples came up to me and congratulated me! Gave me their full support. (But why did it have to be me?) And I so want these kids to remember me twenty years later as a woman from their church memories who loved and cared for them, not caused them to seek therapy for regaining self-esteem.

    If we focus on our own children and families, as integrated as we all are in our secular society, non-believers will observe how we react and respond to those we are in close fellowship with. We must have faith in God's power and the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

    It’s not an easy answer, but it’s a start …

    By Blogger Deb, at 5/24/2005 05:23:00 PM  

  • By the way, my Christian stay-at-home moms group has been looking for a motto. Can you find out where that guy got his T-shirt?

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 5/24/2005 05:26:00 PM  

  • What a topic!! Just the other day, my children and I were at a convenience store getting gasoline and we were all shocked (thank God) at seeing a large hand silkscreened on the front of a mans shirt holding up the middle finger, with "f---you.com"printed big and bold on the back of the shirt.

    Well I am here to give my opion now I suppose. Here goes...

    I have been born again for 8 years now. I was once a vulgar, violator and offender of all that is righteous, good, real, true and pure. Christ is always seeking to save that which is lost. I know that with one touch, He will roll away the stone that holds mens hearts and those who will repent, will weep and mourn over they're dark hearted sins. It was Christ's mercy and love, His "touching" the lepers that accepted them as they were, but...THEY did not want to remain in that awful condition, no more than He wanted them to. We are now Christ's body on the earth. We are his hands and feet and eyes and heart and mind. We may not be able to know all the workings of God, but we can have the mind of Christ (which is God's wisdom and love revealed to the world). We have freely received, now we can freely give.
    Making people obey a law is good, but it won't change the heart.
    So, I do see several things that have also been covered in several comments:
    1) To let YOUR light so shine before men that they may see YOUR good works and glorify YOUR Father which is in heaven.

    2) That unless OUR righteousness EXCEEDS the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, YE shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

    3) Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

    4) The vulgar profanities that are revealed through language and lifestyle are simply the obvious fact of an unregenerated heart and unrenewed mind (a spirit void of new birth from above). We should not be shocked (although it's hard not to be), that the world would hate us, it hated Christ too. But like Daniel, Joseph, Christ, Paul, and so many others who have believed God and obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine they received, (it even says that "righteous" Lot was vexed daily", we are to be in the world, but not of it. We are the ones making a difference. What they wear on their t-shirts is not acceptable, but neither is unbelief. John the revelator mentioned several things that were damning, the fearful and unbelieving, the abominable, murderers, whoremongers, sorcerers, idolaters and ALL liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

    So, the real concern and reality of it is that we are talking about most of these people who are walking dead, subject to the second death if they don't repent. The real issue isn't "language".

    But, I do believe that if they can set things in motion to modify and "publically" bring someone into accountability for such things, thats great. Not only for those who are offended, but even for the offender, even though they don't know it and don't care.
    Because if we could get guidelines that would restrict such content from being allowed in public places, then the offender wouldn't look near the idiot they don't realize they look like when they wear such things.

    5) We are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. We can pray for them, do what we can to institute such guidelines in a way that doesn't even need to target people in a "one on one" confrontation. Jesus said the children of the world are wiser than the children of the kingdom, and I believe that He expects us to change that fact by using God's wisdom, love and power, through prayer and seekiing God's help to do things His way. After all, Christ said "ALL power has been given unto Him in heaven and in earth". I believe therein lies the answer. God is creative and so can we be. Let's get creative, keeping peace, and standing strong together in the Spirit. Things will change. One heart at a time.

    As Christians, our votes matter most, our decisions matter most, our actions matter most, our love for one another matters most, and if we do nothing, much will still happen, but if do Godthings, not even the gates of hell can prevail against it.

    I'm ready, where do we go with this and who is ready to pray, write, organize, pray, send, reply, pray, love, say, speak, pray, stand, and get something done while loving them all like Jesus!!!???? Let me know.

    By Blogger Joy Williams Martin, at 5/24/2005 06:04:00 PM  

  • I guess to start you would have to realize that our nation's majority is a bunch of reality-tv, Jerry Springer,WWF Pro wrestling loving idiots.
    Just because the masses do somthing, or even vote for someone does'nt mean they are correct. Which brings me to the topic at hand. Its all in upbringing. Anyone who would wear a vulgar shirt would find it justified to kick your ass if you questioned it. Also I am in NYC, and I lived in Dallas in the 80's. The foul language there was just as bad.

    By Blogger anti-hero, at 5/24/2005 06:35:00 PM  

  • I think you found a soar spot Mike!
    Last week in WalMart my son and I were looking through the Star Wars toys. Two teen guys were also there. One kept saying "That's so F---in cool!" I looked him in the eye and with a smile on my face said "Little ears are listening to you."
    Much to my suprise his buddy said "Yeah you know not to say that in front of kids and ladies."
    The boy apologized to me and leaned down to Rhett and asked him about his favorite Star Wars character. They talked about Anikin and Chewy with and then said "You be good little dude" and went on their way. I think there is hope for society. I don't know what the answers are, but I don't think we will find them unless we talk about it. Thanks for bringing this up Mike!

    By Blogger SG, at 5/24/2005 07:54:00 PM  

  • A new book you might want to check out -- Home Invasion:protecting your family in a culture that's gone stark raving mad.

    I read her book last night and heard her speak this morning. Very powerful stuff!

    By Blogger David Michael, at 5/24/2005 07:56:00 PM  

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    By Blogger Grant, at 5/24/2005 10:46:00 PM  

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    By Blogger Grant, at 5/24/2005 11:50:00 PM  

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    By Blogger Grant, at 5/25/2005 01:07:00 AM  

  • What did Little Light mean by "Santa Claus not existing..." (Perhaps this explains why Amy's never gotten a Christmas present in the 16 years we've been together. I just figured she'd been a bad girl. Sorry, hon.)

    Back to the guy at the bakery. I disagree with his judgment but can only applaud his ability to knock out a plurality of the seven deadly sins with one article of clothing. (And I must say I've also had days when I felt that way about both beer and work.)

    As is usually the case, perspective rules the day on this issue. Profanity is most offensive to people who don't use it. On the other hand, I have a lot of friends whose speech is sprinkled with what I'd consider curse words but isn't intended by them to offend.

    Mike, you and I are admitted pot-stirrers, meaning we occasionally (and proudly) offend. I remember you taking some heat after you showed a video during a worship service a few months ago of a modernized and somewhat ribald account of Jesus meeting a prostitute. I recall your argument then when some suggested you should've "protected" young ears was that you shouldn't gloss over the often rough-and-tumble stories of Scripture just to appease those of the Sunday-go-to-Luby's crowd expecting to have their ears tickled.

    That video didn't offend you but did others. This guy's shirt offended you but not him. Some in church that day felt blindsided by the video. While you certainly weren't expecting to see the f word on a t-shirt...especially in English...at a Mexican bakery. (Please tell me you haven't learned curse words in your Spanish classes.)

    Where was I? Santa Claus. Beer. Prostitution. I forget. Oh, yes. Perspective. What this proves conclusively to me is how large the bubble over Abilene really is. Fifteen years ago, vendors at Candlestick Park were proudly and prolifically selling "F*** the Dodgers" t-shirts. One town's cash cow is another's misdemeanor.

    By Blogger Grant, at 5/25/2005 01:13:00 AM  

  • What is offensive? I had a t-shirt that showed a Viking holding a monk by his hair, about to chop off his head. It read: "Vikings: Killing Christians Since 793 c.e."

    No curse words, and it was historically accurate, but now and then I'd get a nasty comment from some myrmidon.

    Was I wrong?

    By Blogger Mr. X, at 5/25/2005 06:56:00 AM  

  • OK, here's a good example. I have a friend who wears a t-shirt that says "jesus loves porn stars." He is a student at ACU and gets nast comments all the time. Personally, I think the shirt is terrific. One of my friends who disagrees with me commented that the shirt seemed to make light of sin and that Christians should stand firm on sin. In my experience, the church does a good enough job standing up for sin, but a less good (oooo bad grammer) job proclaiming Jesus' unconditional love. I'm still debating about getting the shirt, just so I can engage some of the people who object to it in some tough theological thinking.

    By Blogger Jared Cramer, at 5/26/2005 07:29:00 AM  

  • I guess I find myself wondering about the fact that the poor guy needs a job.

    And, I understand the beer part--a good expository sermon is nestled in Proverbs 31:4-9. Might be a good text for a message the Sunday before Mother's Day when we all take out Prov. 31:10ff--:).

    No doubt about it--I have been here too long--what mind I have is slipping away! It is not that my ears no longer "hear" the word on the shirt. It is that I understand the frustration and cynicim of the crude retort spelled out for all to see. No job, no beer. . .what's a guy to do??? Many of my friends live where this guy seems to be.

    I saw a bumper sticker the other day that may fit just here--hope to cause no offense but it read,

    "Religion: the only reason the poor don't murder the rich."

    By Blogger Larry James, at 5/26/2005 04:53:00 PM  

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