Christian artist with viral poem on YouTube gains fame, scrutiny

(Facebook)Jefferson Bethke posted a controversial poem called "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" on YouTube in January, 2012. Since then he has been busy with media interviews, further YouTube videos, and public speaking. Bethke also married his fiancee Alyssa Fenton in October.

The YouTube video in which a previously unknown Christian artist performs a controversial spoken-word poem has rocketed him to fame.

Jefferson Bethke appears to be following the same path as pop star Justin Bieber, whose performances on YouTube led to a recording contract and the top of the music charts.

Bethke, 23, an American from Seattle, came on the scene in January, 2012 when he released his poem "Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus" on the free video-sharing website.

Expecting a couple of thousand hits, Bethke was shocked when the video quickly went viral.

The poem was viewed 16 million times in less than two weeks.

The number of views is now close to 25 million.

The sensation that Bethke created on YouTube led to numerous interviews in both the secular and Christian media during the ensuing months.


He moved further into the media mainstream in September, 2012 when he signed a contract with Thomas Nelson Publishers to author two books.

Thomas Nelson is thought to be the largest Christian publisher in the world.

Bethke has a full schedule in 2013.

He declined to answer questions from Ecumenical News, indicating that he was "not taking any media right now due to the busyness of my schedule."

According to his website, he is speaking at universities, churches and conferences in the United States and Europe through June.

Bethke is scheduled to do a book tour in October at the time of his book's release.

His poem created a stir right away, not only due to its popularity, but also because of its harsh statements against religion.

The poem includes statements like:

"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."

The poem also states that Jesus hates religion and came to abolish it. This content immediately incited criticism from the Christian community.

Father Edward Beck, a Catholic priest and contributor to CBS News argued against Bethke's words in a panel discussion on the network shortly after the poem went online.

Bethke was present at the time.

"Hate is such a strong word because if you say you hate religion it means you are also saying that you hate all the good religion does," he said.


Kevin DeYoung, a Michigan pastor and blogger, got into a polite exchange with Bethke when he questioned the truth of the poet's claims on his blog.

DeYoung's critique was lengthy, and the New York Times columnist David Brooks noted in the paper that the pastor had said that it is biblically inaccurate to say that Jesus hated religion.

Both Beck and DeYoung faulted Bethke for his interpretation of the term "religion" in the poem.

"Bethke sees religion as a man-made attempt to earn God's favor," said DeYoung."Religion equals self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy."

He noted, "Religion is all law and no gospel," while speaking of Bethke's interpretation of the term. "If that's religion, then Jesus is certainly against it."

"But that's not what religion is", he added.

DeYoung went on in his blog post to give dictionary and biblical definitions of religion.

"Unless we define the word to suit our purposes, there is simply no biblical ground for saying that Jesus hated religion," he said.

Both DeYoung and Beck pointed out that Jesus was a religious Jew.

Beck told Bethke that what he was really against was hypocrisy in the Church, not religion.

Humility has characterized Bethke's response to his critics.

He told the CBS New panel that "he has a good point and I agree with everything that Father Beck says."

Bethke also told DeYoung that he his criticism "hit me hard" and "I'll even be honest and say I agree 100 percent."

DeYoung in a follow up post praised Bethke for his teaching friendly approach and his humble response to criticism.


Brooks wrote in his column that the poet was convinced by the criticism he had heard from older theologians and agreed with them.

Bethke has said repeatedly that he is not a pastor or theologian.

In the introduction to his book he wrote that he wasn't qualified to write it and that he was "just a 23-year-old messed up guy."

Although Bethke is humble, he continues to echo the words of his poem in the upcoming book.

In the first chapter, made available on Facebook, he indicates that "my true religion, as it was with most of my American peers, was the religion of moralism dressed in Christian clothes."

He also writes that Christians have lost the real Jesus and that they have created a subculture that is "nowhere near the rugged, revolutionary faith of biblical Christianity."

The second chapter is entitled "Why I Still Think Jesus Hates Religion (And You Should Too)".

Bethke does have his supporters.

Well-known evangelist James Robison told him on his program, "I want you to know that you echoed what I believe every sensitive-to-God person knows in their heart."

Robison said he wrote a book 12-years-ago with a chapter called " Religion Can Be Dangerous."

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