It's the poem about Jesus versus "religion" that's lighting up the blogosphere at a dizzying pace. "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" by spoken-word artist Jefferson Bethke has received more than 10.2 million YouTube views as of Saturday night since it was posted just four days ago, eliciting more than 100,000 YouTube comments and plenty of debate elsewhere on the Internet. You can check it out here:
Why all the hubbub? Its message—which Bethke wrote "to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion," according to its YouTube entry—is striking a chord with viewers. Love it or hate it or something in between, it seems impossible to not have an opinion about the controversial, hip-hop styled clip.
Here's more from the author on the YouTube page:
In the scriptures Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it's core Jesus' gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights my journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can't do your own list of rules and feel "not good enough" for God. With Jesus though you have humble confident joy because He represents you, you don't represent yourself and His sacrifice is perfect putting us in perfect standing with God!
There's plenty of praise for the piece. JacobAngieWard's YouTube comment ("I hear your heart and praise God he used you to bring hearts and minds to think about him") was common. But others ridiculed it, even adding spoken-word video replies.
Bloggers have posted mixed responses. Tony Jones, a theologian of note in many evangelical circles, didn't care for Bethke's line of reasoning:
It’s cool to be pissed at “religion” when you’re 20. I get it (though I can’t say I ever went through this phase). And then, as you age, you realize something: Religion is simply the social and psychological framework by which human beings organize their experience of the Divine...And it’s not bad that we do this. It is, Mr. Bethke, inevitable.
Others, such as Nadia Bolz-Weber, were more sympathetic:
I believe in participating in sacred traditions that have a whole lot more integrity than anything I could come up with myself. I believe I need someone else to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to me because I cannot create that for myself. I believe that Jesus is truly present in the breaking of the bread and that where 2 or more are gathered he is there. That’s religion AND Jesus. May God make us worthy of it all.
Bethke, a Tacoma, Wa., resident, has been following the frenzy and had this to say on his Facebook page Friday:
If you are using my video to bash ‘the church’ be careful. I was in no way intending to do that...The Church is Jesus' bride so be careful how you speak of His wife. If a normal dude has right to get pissed when you bash His wife, it makes me tremble to think how great the weight is when we do it to Jesus' wife. The church is His vehicle to reach a lost word. A hospital for sinners. Saying you love Jesus but hate the Church, is like a fiancé saying he loves his future bride, but hates her kids. We are all under grace. Look to Him.
The following is a transcript of Bethke's poem. What do you think?
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? I mean, if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches but fails to feed the poor? Tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce? But in the Old Testament God actually calls religious people “whores” Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice Tend to ridicule God’s people, they did it to John the Baptist They can’t fix their problems, and so they just mask it Not realizing religion’s like spraying perfume on a casket See, the problem with religion is it never gets to the core It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores Like, “Let’s dress up the outside, make it look nice and neat” But it’s funny, that’s what they used to do to mummies while the corpse rots underneath Now I ain’t judging, I’m just sayin’, “Quit puttin’ on a fake look” ’Cause there’s a problem if people only know that you’re a Christian by your Facebook I mean, in every other aspect of life, you know that logic’s unworthy It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey See this was me, too, but no one seemed to be on to me Actin’ like church kid while addicted to pornography See, on Sunday I’d go to church, but Saturday gettin’ faded Actin’ as if I was simply created to just have sex and get wasted See, I spent my whole life buildin’ this façade of neatness But now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness Because 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 ’Cause it doesn’t depend on me; it depends on him See, because when I was God’s enemy and certainly not a fan He looked down and said, “I want that man!” Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools Don’t you see it’s so much better than just following some rules? Now lemme 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 Now back to the point: One thing is vital to mention How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums See, one’s the work of God, but one’s a man-made invention See, one is the cure, but the other’s the infection See, because religion says “do,” Jesus says “done” Religion says “slave,” Jesus says “son” Religion puts you in bondage while Jesus sets you free Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans Religion is man searching for God; Christianity is God searching for man Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own Not based on my merits but Jesus’ obedience alone Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face He took what we all deserved; I guess that’s why you call it “grace” And while being murdered he yelled, “Father forgive them; they know not what they do” Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you And he absorbed all your sin, and he buried it in the tomb Which is why I’m kneeling at the cross, saying, “Come on! There’s room!” So for religion, no, I hate it; in fact, I literally resent it Because when Jesus said, “It is finished,” I believe he meant it