Religion vs. Jesus: An Age Old Debate, as Slammed by Jefferson Bethke

Last Wednesday, I was scouring YouTube for a video to use in my classroom for the students’ Watch It Wednesday do now assignment. Usually, the videos are news clips, but I wanted to switch it up a bit for entertainment’s sake, so I was looking up videos on controversial topics–spoken word poems on the purpose of compulsory education and standardized testing. While watching these videos, I noticed something in the “Suggestions” sidebar that piqued my interest, a poem called “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” by a young man named Jefferson Bethke.

The title is certainly a version of a phrase I have heard many times, a phrase heard from kids, teenagers, and adults alike.

Oh, I’m not very religious, but I believe in God. 

Oh, I believe in God, but I can follow him and pray to him from my house.

Oh, I don’t know how I feel about church, but I definitely believe in some kind of after life.

One could chalk up this sometimes apathetic, sometimes disgruntled, sometimes outright rebellious attitude to an overabundance of rules and doctrine in various churches. Speaking from personal experience, I know that Catholic church has what I consider to be very heavy-handed rules about birth control and family planning. I know several churches, especially Southern Baptist churches, have rules and beliefs about drinking alcohol. I understand that religions develop and share these rules as interpretations of the Bible and, therefore, connected to the word of God, but for someone who wants to believe or become involved with a church, but the blanket enforcement of what seem like arbitrary rules makes religion appear to be more a way to control people than to develop a close relationship with God.

As you watch Jefferson Bethke’s spoken word poem, he addresses these concerns by addressing contradictions between being a member of religion and being a true disciple of Jesus.

Bethke compares religion to a list of chores, suggesting that it’s a way to ensure believers behave the same way rather than focusing on their individual relationship with God. He iterates that churches should welcome the broken, those who don’t follow the rules because they are the ones who need guidance, and yet he recognizes these are the people who often feel most out of place and rejected by the “good” members of the church. He ends his poem by stating religion and Christianity are two different claims.

“Religion is man’s search for God. Christianity is God searching for man.” 

This is a powerful statement that makes clear God is looking to save. God is looking to help. It shows that organized religion may not share that same purpose at it’s core or that the mission has gotten too muddled with time and the human mind, an argument emphasized again in this word cloud of Bethke’s poem. Religion and Jesus are the largest words, most used in the poem, but Jesus is larger, which suggests that He is more than doctrine. He is more than religion.

Screenshot (36)

Now, I’m sure someone might think that by posting a poem expressing views on religion as Bethke did might suggest that he is not a true Christian, but it is important to remember that this single video has received, at this time, 29, 020, 448 views. His YouTube channel has over 500,00 subscribers. He actively posts videos about living a Christian life, mostly geared toward millenials. He shares views on dating as a Christian, living as a Christian when you don’t feel God, and problems or conflicts between modern American culture and Christianity.

He seems interesting and dedicated, proof that a person can question church, question religion, and still be a disciple of Jesus. He illustrates that there isn’t a one-size fits all religious life. I highly recommend checking out his channel and watching a few videos. Most aren’t longer than 7 or 8 minutes.

His slam poem was published to YouTube in 2012. It’s success inspired his 2013 book release, Jesus>Religion. I received my copy from Amazon yesterday, and I am looking forward to seeing what else Bethke has to say.

8 thoughts on “Religion vs. Jesus: An Age Old Debate, as Slammed by Jefferson Bethke

  1. This is an eye-opening and thought-provoking post, Lauren. it brings to mine the story of prodigal son in the Bible which has always imparted an empowering message for me. How can one ever know salvation if he or she has never turned his or her back on Jesus. Bethke has a streamlined, to the point take on Jesus’s purpose. I’ll hav eto chack out his youtube channel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elaine, thanks for establishing that parallel between the content of the poem and the prodigal son. I didn’t see it until you mentioned it, and it certainly is a great connection.

      I am actually thinking about doing another post on his Youtube channel because I’ve noticed quite a split in the comments (praise to extremely hateful), so I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about it if you check it out.


  2. Lauren-this is so powerful and thought-provoking. What people do in the name of Jesus and/or religion! We as Americans are horrified by seeing ISIS recruiting and training children, but we have these extremes going on in our own backyard. The Jesus Camp made my heart hurt. Bethke’s take and perspective is fresh and sincere without being preachy and his delivery is perfect. I was drawn in by the style, but also found meaning in the words. My favorite line: “If Jesus came to your church, would you let him in?” I have the distinct and heartbreaking feeling The Jesus Camp would not.


    • Kristen, I appreciate the fact that you tied the two posts together to see the bigger themes. I think as my research continues, it will be easier to put the ideas side-by-side and see contrasts and contradictions.

      I feel like it’s churches like that in Jesus Camp that cause believers to turn away from the church or be embarrassed by religion.

      My next post is going to look at non-believers or “nones” who don’t classify their beliefs. I think the juxtaposition will help shed even more light on the topic.

      Thank you for your comment!


  3. Great Post Lauren! I think often times Christians don’t realize that in a relationship with God, it’s Him that reaches out first. If we think that we are the ones who initiate our relationship with God, we fall into religion and we end up forcing ourselves to perform for Him when He takes us as we are. In fact, the Bible is a story about God’s redemptive work.


    • Excellent point, Steven. It becomes like Christian have to prove something rather than we have to listen, learn, and then share the lessons.

      Thank you for commenting and following my blog!


  4. Pingback: Pre-Interview Planning: Online Interview 1 | Lauren Addeo's Research Blog: Entrances and Exits

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