Column: The damage of crude, lewd and rude talk |

Column: The damage of crude, lewd and rude talk

Jack Van Ens

Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at

Garrison Keillor pokes fun at his fellow uptight Minnesota Lutherans. He might consider my judgment of President Donald Trump’s coarse talk more straitlaced than his Lutheran folks’ reaction.

“So. We have a vulgar, unstable yo-yo with a toxic ego and an attention-deficit problem in the White House, and now we can see that government by Twitter is like trying to steer a ship by firing a pistol at the waves — not really useful, but what does it add up to?” asks the former “Prairie Home Companion” host in an Aug. 5 opinion column, “Garrison Keillor on Donald Trump: We will survive this.”

Does a potty-mouthed, acid-tongued president cause much damage with his rants? Keillor concludes, “Not that much, if you ask me, which you didn’t, but I’ll say it anyway.”

I disagree. Talk that demeans, threatens, chides and is laced with sexual slurs cheapens life. Such offensive language pulls us down and lowers the presidential office into a swamp of verbal slime.

After this past Saturday’s white supremacy groups turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Trump equated these white nationalists, who chanted, “Jews won’t replace us,” with what counter-protesters did. Where is the president’s moral vigor against racism in his harsh rhetoric?

Foul speech that’s crude, lewd and rude coarsens conversations. Such coarse talk goes beyond locker room banter. It pollutes appropriate language, much like loose cannon Uncle Harry going off at a Thanksgiving dinner or when President Trump delivered an inappropriate address to the Boy Scouts National Jamboree in West Virginia on July 24. Prior presidents gave speeches that lauded the Scout Oath. They complimented Scouts on their code of honor that squared with virtuous living.

President Trump gave a campaign rant to 24,000 Scouts. He raged against fake news. He praised himself for an exceptional Electoral College victory. He told how a wealthy friend, after receiving a bundle of cash for selling his business, indulged in a besotted life of wine, women and song. Every word of this speech may have been true, but it wasn’t appropriate for a jamboree of young boys preparing for manhood. It was coarse.

Republican commentator David Brooks remembers times when mainline Protestants, such as Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians, set an ethical cultural tone. When I started in ministry outside of Philadelphia, newspapers printed daily reports of what Presbyterian representatives said about world affairs and domestic policy at their annual two-week General Assembly. Through the 1920s, the New York Times on Mondays printed cuttings from Sunday Presbyterian sermons delivered at the Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue Presbyterian Churches.

Brooks in his Aug. 8 New York Times commentary writes that this “moral capital of the past” is now bankrupt. “A nation guided by that ethic (that mainline Christians espoused in the past) would not have elected a guy who is a daily affront to it, a guy who nakedly loves money, who boasts, who objectifies women, who is incapable of hypocrisy because he acknowledges no standard of propriety other than that which he feels like doing at any given moment.”

Evangelical Christians form the principal bloc of Trump’s voters. On Sundays, they recite God’s Word that Christians must “put to death what is earthly (coarse) in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Come Monday, these Christians overlook their president’s coarse talk.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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