Archive for April 8th, 2008


Tongues tied

Anyone who’s seen the movie Borat (and it’s a fine film indeed but not something for the faint-hearted or easily offendedevery sacred cow gets mocked, two guys wrestle around buck naked and the language and jokes are crude…and that’s just for starters) will probably recall the scene in which the title character goes into a very enthusiastic Christian congregation and at one point “speaks in tongues” in what to the movie viewer is an obvious mocking of the practice (though people in the church didn’t seem to pick up on that).

Now, one could be offended by this if one were a fan of speaking in tongues. I, for one, am not. That is, I’m not offended and I’m not a fan of people speaking in tongues. Or, more accurately, I am not in favor of the way that most people who I have seen speak in tongues do it…and the way in which pastors and churches I have seen encourage them. Because most of them I’ve seen seem to be spouting meaningless crap and frankly, it’s an embarrassment.

Getting back to the movie Borat, before he starts flailing around and spouting gibberish in his quest to make a comedic point, we are treated to a scene in which an actual member of the congregation starts speaking in tongues. That wasn’t a joke; that was a person who theoretically really is speaking in tongues if we were to give him a lot of benefit of the doubt. What comes out of the Christian’s mouth can, to the best of my recollection, be described as something like this:

Boooga lugga booga ooga a la la la la la booga.

Now, I know that isn’t strictly speaking even close to verbatim, but I don’t have a copy of the movie handy. Suffice to say, though, what the man was speaking was every bit as silly sounding as that just was. Now, for those not in the know about “tongues,” there are two ways that speaking in tongues in described in the Bible. The first and most openly miraculous is when the apostles received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, shortly after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. They began to speak in languages they didn’t know. Or rather, people in the crowd heard their own languages being spoken. Thus, the Holy Spirit was acting as a sort of universal translator (Star Trek made this concept as famous as William Shatner’s overacting) and showing people a miracle of God at work, as a way to help illustrate that a new day was dawning for humans and that Jesus’ followers were to be taken seriously.

The second way the speaking of tongues is described is when Christians speak a Heavenly tongue that, more likely than not, no one understands but the folks in Heaven. Generally, the speaker doesn’t even know what he or she is saying. This can best be described, I suppose, as the person’s soulor perhaps more accurately the Holy Spirit inside that believerexpressing itself to God. Now, going back to my “booga booga” example above, are we really to believe that the speech of Heaven sounds like something more immature than a baby’s babbling? That God or His angels would speak in some spastic gibberish?

Now, without going into much detail this time around (maybe I’ll talk about it some other time), I do speak in tongues myself. Probably on the order of at least a few times a week, usually for less than a minute. And while I don’t know what I am saying, many words are often very similar from session to session and do seem to follow some sort of syntax and structure. But here’s the important thing: It’s not like some seizure that comes on me. It’s not some uncontrollable thing. Also, I almost never do it in front of another person and I never, never, never do it in a group, not even in church.

Paul was really crystal-clear in his writings in the Bible (in a couple places in First Corinthians chapter 14) that no one is supposed to speak in tongues in church or any other gathering unless there is someone else in the group who has been given the gift to translate tongues. Because in the absence of translation, all you are doing is speaking words that will confuse everyone else. It might soothe your soul and bring some sort of internal, unconscious understanding between your mind and spirit, but it ain’t helping one damn person around you to learn a thing. Paul himself, and this was one devout damn Christian, said he would rather speak a few words of truth and teaching than to speak a thousand words in tongues and thus not edify anyone.

And that’s what is so screwed up about the way people generally speak in tongues. They don’t control themselves and simply do it in private, even though Paul makes it clear we canand shoulddo so unless we know someone can translate it for everyone else.

In my humble opinion, most people who speak publicly in tongues without one of those very-rare-someones to translate are (1) delusional, (2) they lack any sense of control or propriety in using a gift they have actually been given, or (3) they are trying to get attention or look more pious. When very specific rules are laid out (as they are in the Bible) for speaking in tongues, and you violate all of them, your credibility with me is suspect. Hell, I even wonder about myself in those brief moments in private when I speak in tongues.

What’s even more messed up is when a congregation encourages this nonsense. And what’s freakin’ unbelievable is how some congregations (and I was in one briefly) actually tell you that if you never speak in tongues, you aren’t really born again and don’t really have your salvation squared away. But you know, Paul said that Christians may get one of many gifts of the spirit but almost never get all of them, and tongues is just one of those gifts you may or may not get and one of the last…and one of the least important he lists (see First Corinthians chapter 12, verses 27-31)but tongue-crazy pastors and congregations like to ignore than inconvenient little fact.

Of course, they also ignore a lot of other facts and twist a lot of biblical passages to support their assertion that all believers should speak in tongues. Rather than go on any longer right now, I think I will reserve some of my specific objections for another post, either tomorrow or some other time this week. Because I found a page that lays out all the biblical passages supporting tongues, and so many of them are taken out of context that I need a whole post to address them.

But here’s my take-home message: Speaking in tongues is good. Doing so without some sense of purpose and even restraint is not.

God wants to speak to our souls and to hear us. He doesn’t want His children running around sounding like a bunch of morons. And He sure as hell doesn’t say “booga booga booga.”

(Photo from


Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley


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April 2008

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