On January 10, a spoken word poet named Jefferson Bethke uploaded to Youtube a poem about why he hated religion but loved Jesus. Sixteen million views later, I think we can safely say that it struck a nerve, particularly with younger Christians. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can check it out here:
The poem has a lot of good things to say about the nature of Christianity. It points out that Christianity is more than just a bunch of rules; it highlights the dangers of hypocrisy; and it reminds us that we do not earn our salvation. All of those points are very true and helpful, and they clearly resound in the hearts of people who have been disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the church.
What is unfortunate to me is that the poem talks about “false religion,” but calls it “religion.” Now, it’s a poem, and I know that there is such a thing as artistic license and whatnot…but there’s a world of difference between those two terms. Jesus did not come to abolish religion. His little brother, in fact, had some powerful stuff to say about religion, as a pillar of the early church.
That’s why I’m so glad that this guy (below) clarified the biblical nature of religion in his own video. (I tried valiantly to find his name, but had no luck. We’ll call him, “the priest.”) Even without his name, I loved what he said so much that I thought I’d put it under the “Kingdom Voices” section of my blog. Here is his response:
I posted both these videos on my Facebook page, but I decided to post them on my blog, as well, because there is so much to love about this interchange. This, this right here, is what the generations in the church need to be doing. We need to be talking to each other. Each generation has their own strengths to bring to the table. The burden of the younger generation is to remember to listen to and respect the older generation for their contributions. The burden of the older generation is to guide the younger without alienating them. This necessarily includes keeping an open mind when it comes to some issues of theology and ideas about the church. Also, it means that the older generation needs to be able to speak in a way that the younger generation can hear. I love the respect that is inherent in the priest’s response. For one thing, he responds in kind. I have read several good essays responding to the video, but this man went one step further and responded in the same language as Bethke. Also, you can tell that he listened very carefully to the poem because their are several call backs. Both poems, for example, use the imagery of an ocean to describe the church’s work; both use death as a metaphor; both use similar examples involving professional basketball. There are many more parallels, both subtle and obvious, and what they demonstrate is that the priest took the time to really hear the younger man and to mull over his argument. Also, while the priest is clear about his beliefs, his presentation is calm and compassionate. The even-handed tone softens the nature of the interchange; it doesn’t seem like a debate, but like a loving conversation between brothers. That’s how it should be.
Even more than the presentation of the material, I loved the second poem for its content. His biblical examples are right on, I think (even though the Judas one is a tad harsh). And on a practical level, I think that of course, Christianity is a religion. In terms of denotative, dictionary definitions, that is simply undeniable. The heart of Bethke’s attack, however, wasn’t on the dictionary, but on the church–particularly, on the flawed, often hypocritical people who make up the church. And I happen to be madly in love with the church. It is, after all, Christ’s body. It is the means through which He chose to bring His kingdom to this earth. Yes, it is also full–absolutely loaded–with hypocrites and sinners. I am one of them, for sure. And sometimes I even question the strategy of using a bunch of selfish, imperfect humans to spread the divine love of God…but then again, how can I question what is clearly God’s will? Yes, I have been hurt by the church. I’m sure everyone in the church has been hurt by the church, has been disappointed and disillusioned, probably many times. That’s what happens among groups of humans. But the church has also truly been the embodiment of Christ to me, time and time again. They have loved me, carried me, taught me, fed me, and soothed my hurting soul. I could never imagine walking away from it. Frankly, I owe it too much at this point. I owe it to both the church and to its Head to be the body part I was designed to be, so that I can love, carry, teach, feed, and soothe others. I could go on about it, but I think I will stop and simply share the lyrics from one of my favorite Derek Webb songs, “The Church.” You can listen to it here on Youtube. It’s a beautiful song, and even though some of the images on the video are a little strange, I would recommend hearing it with the music. Here is the first verse and chorus:
I have come with one purpose
to capture for myself a bride
by my life she is lovely
by my death she’s justified
I have always been her husband
though many lovers she has known
so with water i will wash her
and by my word alone
So when you hear the sound of the water
you will know you’re not alone
‘Cause i haven’t come for only you
but for my people to pursue
you cannot care for me with no regard for her
if you love me you will love the church
I especially agree with the chorus. And I know that Bethke ultimately says that he loves the church, and I believe him. But the responses I have seen on Facebook are very different. So many people have said that this video explains why they turned their backs on the church. I cannot tell you how sad that makes me. I don’t deny the hurt that these people have experienced, and I hate that they had bad experiences. My prayer, though, is that God brings them back into His body. After all, we need them! We need their hearts, their passions, their talents and skills and gifts to help us share God’s kingdom with the world.
That’s why I rank the words of this priest as a “kingdom voice,” even though he and I likely disagree on a host of other theological matters. I have found that I disagree with just about everyone on a “host of other theological matters,” and yet many of those same people speak truth to me about God’s kingdom. So I see the “kingdom voices” section as a highlight not of specific people, but of specific words those people have spoken. And the words of this priest remind us of the obvious fact that you can’t have a king without a kingdom, and that it is not finished here on earth. We Christians have a mission to live.
What did you think of the videos? And what is your view of the church?