There you are, minding your own business, and someone starts cussing up a storm. Or they are walking by with a t-shirt that flaunts a profane image or words that dishonor God. Or they start bashing the Christian group at your school. Or, or, or...anything. These are always awkward situations to be in. In a public school or college, the food court at the mall, a neighborhood park, wherever—when you least expect it—someone will eventually do something that will deeply offend you as a Christian.
When you're not used to it, this can lead to a bit of culture shock. (I've been there myself!) But instead of reacting with anger and revulsion, try looking for the best way to go about responding to this environment.
There are a couple things to consider when figuring out how to address the problem of flippant disregard for moral standards from those around you. For one thing, you must ask yourself if you have the same problem. We have no right to judge or accuse someone of committing the same sin we are struggling with ourselves (Matthew 7:3-5). Not many people will listen to the words of a known hypocrite.
Next, you must honestly ask yourself if this is a battle worth fighting. My family likes to say, "Is that a hill you want to die on?" Sometimes it's better to let it go (Proverbs 29:20). We should be "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" because anger is no way to show the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20). Proverbs 17:28 says, "Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent."
If you do decide to say something, you will probably need to respond differently to different people, especially depending upon whether or not they also claim to be Christians. Finally, do you have permission to speak into this person's life? Is your relationship close enough that your constructive criticism would be well received?
If the person who has offended you is a believer and if he or she has given you permission to hold them accountable as a believer, then you can call them out on their moral decisions (in gentle love and with patience of course). The Bible talks about people who claim to be Christians but live a life that denies God. "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work." (Titus 1:16)
As fellow believers, we do need to gently confront them about the sin, but love must be our motivation—not harsh judgment or anger (Ephesians 4:15). Ephesians 4:29 says, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." Our goal should be to help them restore their relationship with God (Galatians 6:1). James 5:20 says, "Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death."
However, if the person with offensive moral behavior does NOT claim to be a believer, then sadly, your options are more limited. There isn't really a standard they feel accountable to, and different people will react differently to your rebuke—if you even get an opportunity to say anything. You can't hold someone accountable to a godly standard if they don't care about that standard in the first place.
If you are very good friends with this non-Christian (and you have permission to call them out), then you could bring up your concerns in a gentle, loving way. There's no guarantee as to their response of course. Some people will be snappy no matter how you ask them to stop, while others will graciously cease without too much argument. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to bringing these things up with people without causing an offense yourself. :-/
The best thing you can do in this situation, when you can't get away from it, is to remember who you are. You are a child of the Living God. Strive to remember that you are not of this world (John 17:14-15; Romans 12:1-2) and that you have a different set of values setting you apart (such as guarding your tongue from vulgar speech). Be slow to speak, slow to anger.
Remember, "God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7). If you are acting in true, godly love, they'll know. It doesn't necessarily mean they'll respond in what we would see as a positive way, but maybe they'll realize something is different about you. And whether you decide to rebuke them or not, keep in mind that "a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1).
If you're in a morally-corrupt environment constantly, be on guard that you don't pick up on the habits you're seeing around you. It's easy to get sucked into the world we're steeped in. Sometimes (not always, but sometimes), people will notice how you act—how you speak (or don't speak), how you treat others, how you handle stress and disappointment, etc.
Sometimes, for example, someone might notice that you don't swear and so ask if you'd rather they not swear; or they might notice you don't and pick up that you might not like it and stop on their own. Even better, sometimes people will ask why you do the things you do, and this can open up an opportunity to talk about your faith.
Whether you get a positive response or a negative one from your godly words and actions, I encourage you to remember the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). And even if you needlessly offend people on occasion (we all slip up sometimes), God can bring new opportunities, and smooth over even the most ruffled feathers if He so chooses. He's got this.
If the offender is a fellow believer, you can gently confront them about the sin, but love must be your motivation—not harsh judgment or anger (Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 4:29). If the offender is not a Christian, then sadly, your options are more limited. You can't hold someone accountable to a godly standard if they don't care about that standard in the first place. When you are offended, take a breath and remember that you are a child of the Living God, you are not of this world (John 17:14-15; Romans 12:1-2), and your values are different. Be slow to speak, slow to anger (2 Timothy 1:7).
September is an avid film nerd from growing up on weekend trips to Universal Studios Hollywood. She is passionate about the intersections of Christian spirituality, faith, and storytelling in popular culture. Outside of 412teens and digging up obscure horror flicks from the 2000s, she works as a freelance developmental editor and acquisitions consultant while comforting her clingy feline floof, Faust, from the anxiety of existence.