Last Tuesday, a video was uploaded on YouTube that has gone crazy. In barely three days, “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus” has registered almost 5 million hits. If you haven’t watched the video yet, you’ll likely see it in the next few days. But if you’d like to see it now, click on the video (or video link) above.
The video is so popular that in a two minute period, I observed 250 comments added to the YouTube page. At that speed, only a few people would be able to read anyone’s comments. The few comments that I did read were overwhelmingly positive.
What’s causing the buzz?
In the video, Jefferson Bethke goes on a four minute rant about religion. He criticizes religious practices that are based on “good” appearances and hypocrisy, and calls for authentic Christianity that is based on grace.
For the most part, I agreed with his overarching message. He defines the Christian faith as mutually exclusive of any political party or persuasion. He invites people of the Christian faith to show compassion for the poor. He confesses his own faults, admitting that he was once addicted to porn. He exposes dualistic faith—going to church on Sunday but living like hell the rest of the week. And, I agreed with his explanation of salvation based on Christ, not our good efforts.
Does The End Justify The Means?
But at the same time, his video stirred some pretty strong feelings inside—the kind of feelings that would arise within me if someone attacked my wife. Granted, I fully realize that my wife isn’t perfect. I know her dark secrets (and she knows mine). But even her most egregious deeds would never deserve a beating.
The first half of the video, I felt like I was watching a man beating his wife. Mr. Bethke says he loves the church, but strikes her with merciless blows over and over again. I’m not convinced that will change her.
If Bethke defines the church as a place for the broken, then why is he condemning the church for her brokenness? He allows for certain sins (sex addictions) but not others (legalism). While criticizing self-righteous people, he inadvertently becomes self-righteous. At one point he says “I’m not judging…”—but he is!
In his opening words, he says “Jesus came to abolish religion.” Back in the day, I would have agreed with him. Interestingly enough, the word “religion” doesn’t even appear in the four books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that tell the story of Jesus’ life.
Jesus did say, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17 NIV). Did you read that? Jesus wasn’t trying to abolish Judaism, a religion!
Is Religion Bad?
Religion isn’t bad. Bad religion is bad. Here’s an example of bad religion: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
On the other hand, here’s an example of good religion: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). To be sure, Jefferson Bethke would approve of this kind of religion.
Last of all, he says that the church fails to feed the poor. While some churches are so inwardly focused that they fail to help people less fortunate than themselves, this isn’t true of all churches. Christians by and large are the most generous people in the world!
In his rant, Bethke takes the seamy side of Christianity (hypocrisy, judgmentalism, religious violence, ignoring of the poor) and makes it normative—then uses it as an excuse to beat her up. As he admits, we all have seamy sides. Because Bethke has struggled with an addiction to porn doesn’t mean that it defines him. Nor does the church’s many failings.
How Does Jesus Deal With Bad Religion?
In Ephesians 5:25–27, Paul offers this encouragement:
Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
How did Christ love the church, his bride? He laid down his life for her. He didn’t beat her into submission.
If you love Jesus, then love his bride.
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7
That’s my take of Bethke’s video. Please jump into the conversation and let me know what you think!
Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’s thankful that God doesn’t beat him into submission.