Great religions, like great art, can be interpreted in multiple ways, and Christianity is no different. In contemporary America, there’s even a highly political form of Christianity often mentioned in news articles about Republican presidential caucuses.
Then there’s the Christianity espoused by Jeff Bethke, who says he wants to “to carry the life changing Gospel of Jesus Christ to the inner city.” Since there’s so little overlap between “Republican voters” and “inner city residents,” it’s probably no surprise Bethke’s latest spoken-word video, “Why I hate religion but love Jesus,” starts out by criticizing Republican-style Christianity:
Posted January 10, the video has already been seen 2.4 million times and people on Twitter and Facebook apparently also approve.
“What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion? What if I told you voting Republican really wasn’t his mission? What if I told you Republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian, and just because you call some people blind doesn’t automatically give you vision?”
Bethke maintains that style throughout the four-minute video: the rhythms of natural speech, overlaid by the rhythm-and-rhyme schemes of classic poetry (except Bethke usually has an irregular number of syllables between rhymes).
He quickly segues from politics to urging his audience to espouse a more Christian life. However, he offers little concrete advice on how to do that: the only specific details he mentions are “avoid pornography” and “don’t get wasted.”
“Now I ain’t judging, I’m just saying, quit putting on a fake look, ’cause there’s a problem if people only know that you’re a Christian by your Facebook. … see, this was me too, but no one seemed to be onto me. Acting like a church kid while addicted to pornography. …. Acting if I was simply created to just have sex and get wasted. See, I spent my whole life building this façade of neatness, but now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness.”
Bethke urges more people to go to church—especially pornography viewers, single mothers, drug users and others he mentioned previously—while simultaneously urging churches to make such people feel welcomed rather than disdained::
“If grace is water then the church should be an ocean. It’s not a museum for good people it’s a hospital for the broken. Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin ….Let me clarify: I love the church, I love the Bible, and yes, I believe in sin. But if Jesus came to your church, would they actually let him in? See, remember, he was called a glutton and a drunkard by religious men, but the Son of God never supports self-righteousness, not now, not then.”
The Daily What made Bethke’s video its Discussion Topic of the Day. Though it generated little discussion on the actual site: one potentially spammy comment, edited by a moderator, urging people to buy digital watches.
But Bethke generated plenty of buzz on Twitter. Many Tweets simply linked to the Daily What post, while other Tweets indicate Bethke clearly has fans beyond the newbies who only discovered him via the What.
Some Twitterers shared their approval of another Bethke video, “Sexual Healing.” Others shared various Bethke one-liners with the world: “You’re not just a body, you’re a soul – Jeff Bethke. Represent your soul by respecting your body. #Rehabtime”
On his Facebook page, liked by over 22,200 people, Bethke says “I love Jesus, I'm addicted to grace, and I'm just a messed up dude trying to make Him famous.” Bethke’s wall posts indicate surprise at the popularity of his “Why I Hate Religion” video:
“Wow!!!!! 69th most video viewed on the web today!! God is good!!! Thats true regardless of how many views though. Hoping to make Him famous through it all! Ps i love how it still says 301 views cuz it hasn't updated haha”
One woman, Sheila Rivera, later corrected him: You should check it again, that video is #6 now! Just goes to show you how powerful words can really be.
Others posted comments thanking Bethke for his work. “I just watched your video about Why you hate religion and it helped so much you have no idea. I am going thru the most difficult point in my life now but I have not lost all hope. Your video helped me.,” Santosh Abraham wrote.
Still others had a more cynical outlook. “Great job in delivering an completely generic poem and pretending that it is counter-cultural,” wrote another Facebooker. “Looks like the masses are eating it up.”