COMMENTARY 765.5: Controversy – Young Christian Says He Hates Religion but Loves Jesus

I recently posted a commentary about religion in America and additional data based on a massive study by the Pew Foundation.

Today I want to seek your opinion on a passionate controversy ignited by a You Tube video posted by a 22 year-old named Jefferson Bethke.

The video, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”  is in the form of a rap and has had an incredible 20 million views. It has also stimulated scores of response videos.

Bethke is not an atheist. To the contrary, he calls himself a born-again Christian and a devout believer in the teachings of Jesus. He goes to church regularly and has ambitions to be a pastor himself someday.

I hope you’ll watch the whole video and some of the responses but these excerpts might provoke your response.

The rap starts out with a line he has since retracted: “What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion? What if I told you voting Republican wasn’t his mission? Or that Republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian.  And just because you call other people blind doesn’t give you vision.”

He adds, “If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches, but fail to feed the poor?”

He concludes, “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?”

Though the poem focuses on the Christian religion, it clearly has broader implications for all organized religions as he claims that the core teachings of his religion are ignored, distorted or contradicted by the concept of instutionalized religion.

Mr. Bethke sees a wide gulf between Jesus and the church, and says that “Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums.  See, one’s the work of God, but one’s a man-made invention.”

Bethke’s rap is filled with assertions and opinions that resonated with tens of millions of people. Much of  the “religious community,” however, had a negative reaction and quite a few scholars and many passionate Christians disagreed — sometimes respectfully, sometimes not. Bethke himself was respectful and humble in his reactions to the firestorm he generated and has largely backed off of many of his claims, including the claim that “Jesus came to abolish religion.” Still, the discourse generated  is interesting and healthy. What do you think?

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.


See the original video that started all
See an interview with Mr. Bethke on ABC
See Jefferson Bethke’s Facebook Page

Just three of the better response raps:

One response
Catholic response 
Another response

This blog by Kevin de Young reveals a humility and commitment in Mr. Bethke that even his most ardent critics acknowledge:

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Comments 12

  1. Pingback: COMMENTARY 765.3: Religion in America

  2. I feel that the Bethke video and the Pew study are really powerful messages. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that he raps but I think humanity has come to time to ask questions, start conversations and really explore what Jesus, and all the others that have shared a spiritual path, really wanted our souls to learn. We are at a time of great change. I hope for a time when that relationship with one’s God, from which love and compassion stems from, supersedes any religion. And so it be- Amen

  3. I agree that devotion and organized religion are two separate things, even opposite in nature. They may not go together, yet they cannot be apart or exist without each other. Love of God or devotion brings faith, compassion and responsibility. With responsibility and caring, you want to give knowledge, wisdom and love. That is when institution happens. So, institution happens because of devotion. In the neophyte stages of devotion, one is unable to appreciate this fact.

  4. Kevin DeYoung followed up with Jefferson (the writer) and shared that on his blog at the Gospel Coalition. I think for the best perspective on this situation, you should read through his concerns, and then Jefferson’s response to his concerns. When we talk about character, Jefferson’s humble acceptance of criticism seems to be the most important story here. And not as many are talking about that.

    Read this blog by Kevin. It shows that Jefferson is a genuine person wanting to build up the church. He hates some of the aspects of religion without heart, but has a love for the church and the faith. Take a minute to read this – it is so worth it.

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  5. It is my opinion based on years of study, that the Bethke video is more truth than fiction. After years of study in Christian schools, ordained and then patoring a church, it has become my opinion that most churches are social clubs and not houses or worship. They alienate and in some cases insulate themselves from the community that they should serve. My experience spans issues like the first black family asking for membership in a congregation. Churches moving to more affluent sections of town to attract the “right” members. Now don’t get me wrong I understand that sometimes building is necessary. But I’m reminded of Dr Peter Marshall who pastored the 7th Avenue Presberterian church in Washington DC. I visited that church recently and they were open, friendly and working with the inner city people that most needed it. Christ came saying I’m not the “king” you think I am. He was the prince of peace. Counselor! Confidant, friend.

    I remember back in the 70’s there was a t shirt that I got that had Jesus in the front row of a church asleep. The point being that there was no spirit in the church. Not sure that has changed much. In the book “In His Steps”, the congregation is challenged to ask the question, “what would Jesus do?”.

    I submit that is this young mans frustration. As people of faith we should ask what would “Jesus” do? Would he start a war? Would he come closer to helping the poor, downtrodden, weak, the least among us? All religions should do these things. I fear that they do not more often than not. I also suspect that those that protested this video are the very people the video and my commentary are directed at.

    1. Just an editorial note. I should proof read my material when I use a handheld device or tablet to write a comment. My sincere apology for the typos and grammatical errors.

  6. Michael,
    Re your rquest for opinions: I find it gratifying that Jefferson has been able to think for himself and discern the difference between the content and meaning of Jesus’ original teachings and the dogma and organizations that that the ‘priestly’ caste has since created (as in all religions) to manipulate and control people and thereby gain power (and often riches) for themselves. And his rap video was certainly a creative and engaging way to present his views. I hope he doesn’t come to harm for his outspokenness. I also found it interesting that he, a born-again Christian, should come to what appears to be essentially the same conclusion as I have, a committed agnostic, to wit: Organized religion has very, very little to do with God. And God, if it exists, has nothing to do with religion. No offense intended toward anyone.

  7. I am encouraged to see young people thinking seriously about their faith journey and using creative ways of initiating a dialogue. The video presents an alternative to sometimes dry print materials that church SS classes and groups have as bases for discussions. It also challenges those of us Christian theists of an older generation to reflect on Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and the tendency of disciples (to paraphrase him) to “cheapen grace” by treating our faith as a role to play when convenient rather than the essence of our self-identity and, therefore, our moral GPS.

  8. Jesus encountered a fire-storm of opposition from religious leaders when he was found to be spending time eating and drinking with publicans and sinners. Jesus pointed to one publican who very publicly confessed his sins and his need of a savior. That man found forgiveness and a cleansed conscience. Contemplating the degree to which I fall short of God’s holiness is not a pleasant exercise, but very necessary. Hopefully many people who viewed the rap will be challenged to do some serious contemplating of their personal (not institutional) need for a savior.

  9. The ‘good intentions’ of the ‘Jesus only’ crowd will easily collapse western freedoms. These freedoms, native to the western civilizations provide the ability to have intellectual discourse and disagreement. Simply, Organized Christianity has battled humanists and secularists and cultists since the beginning.

    Organized Christianity, through the establishment of liberal universities, writing, literature, music and the often overlooked credos of forgiveness and “free will”- has done more to advance individual freedom than all the world’s governments combined. As evidence, this reality suggests that the influence of Jesus on Organized Christianity permits human expression.

    Of course there are human excesses, yet in the Jesus based society the correction of these excesses can- and has- occured. Not so in other human or cult led societies.

    If it wasn’t for Organized Christianity, the reality of the Jesus only mantra is that while I may accept Jesus as my personal savior, without organized religion to confront institutional evil and mal-adaptive leaders who use the institution of government to crush “free will”- there would literally be NO western civilization.

    Easy to understand and easier to forget by Americans and Europeans.

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