Kudos to Slate for taking such an unusual and fascinating approach to Serena Williams' tirade at the U.S. Open Saturday. I'm sure you know the back story, but, if not, here it is:
Williams was on the ropes against Kim Clijsters in the semifinals when she foot faulted on a serve. Williams didn't believe it and let loose on the line judge:
"I swear to God, I'm f---ing going to take this f---ing ball and shove it down your f---ing throat, you hear that? I swear to God."
Slate's approach was in line with the unique angles they often take. This time it concerned just whether Williams' behavior, particularly her swearing to God and cursing at another person, were congruent with her practices as a Jehovah's Witness.
The short answer: No.
Cursing, then, is a sin among Jehovah's Witnesses, but it's a "nonjudicial" one -- meaning it's not sufficiently grave to merit formal censure from Witness elders and cannot lead to "disfellowshipping" (expulsion from the congregation). Infractions for which you might be disfellowshipped include abortion, sexual abuse, adultery, heresy, and murder. The Sept. 8, 1989, edition of Awake! recommends that "if a fellow Christian lapses in his or her speech," the best corrective is "a kindly reminder -- not a lecture." Habitual cussing, however, may warrant a talking-to from a fellow Witness or some kind of disciplinary action from family members.
And that's why this feature is called The Explainer. I feel more enlightened for reading it.
But talk about a fault. Slate writer Juliet Lapidos ends with this paragraph that could not be more misleading:
Jehovah's Witnesses, of course, aren't alone in discouraging bad language. Other small, tight-knit Christian groups such as the Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, and Brethren strongly disapprove of curses, particularly those involving the words Jesus or God. They recommend substitutes, like goodness for God. Among Catholics, cursing is generally considered a venial but not a mortal sin -- so the foul-mouthed won't be automatically excluded from the kingdom of heaven.
Actually, I think it's more than just the Anabaptists who "frown upon" curse words. Plenty of Christians are prone to the occasional cussing -- especially when I play basketball. But I can't think of a single denomination that doesn't at least discourage cursing, if not outright teach against it.
I seem to recall this teaching:
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt[a] water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
That's from the Book of James, which is included in all Christian Bibles