Over sixteen million hits on his YouTube video "Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus" have provided over sixteen million people with an opportunity to see the palpable hypocrisy of Jefferson Bethke and his poetry. Unfortunately it's likely that the same misguided thinking has kept many more millions away from the church, Bethke's straw man. He claims the church starts wars, builds huge churches while failing the poor, and equates establishment Christianity with support for the Republican party. His verdict: "It never gets to the core; it's just behavior modification like a long list of chores."
He claims that God calls religious people whores, and charges them with hypocrisy ("acting like a church kid while addicted to pornography"), because they are "self-righteous."
No doubt it would be easy to find churches that fit this description, in part for the simple reason that there are so many offerings on the smorgasbord, but here's what struck me. While going on this rampage without making any distinctions, and writing religion off in some of the most wildly descriptive judgments imaginable, he makes this outlandish disclaimer: “Now I ain’t judging. I’m just saying quit putting on a fake look."
"I ain't judging"? Friend, if this ain't judging, then what is?
Here's the whole trouble, actually. He shouldn't be judging, because his judgment is grossly unfair; he's not equipped, and he doesn't provide the evidence. It's the same worn and tired complaint that it's religion that starts wars. What religion started the Nazi regime? Or the Viking marauders? Or the Huns? And as for religions that do start wars, well, let's see: there's Islamofascism, but I don't think that's the religion Bethke has in mind. What he's probably thinking of (though one can't really tell) is the Crusades. There's a lot of misunderstanding afoot about the Crusades, but even we grant that the Crusades were stared in the name of religion, it's doubtful that Pope Urban was the religious type Bethke has in mind, and to say the papacy in that day was an exemplar of the religion prominent in today's American churches is a hard sell. My guess is that Bethke knows next to nothing about the Crusades.
In the end, he's another self-styled, self sent preacher, who conveniently chooses to forget that the apostles were "in the temple" praising God, and that Jesus stood up to preach "in the synagogue," as was his wont, and that those who preached his name in the New Testament were sent by him to do so. "How can they preach, except they be sent?" The result of such self-crafted preaching is that while it may be partly true--and on the basis of its partial truth it gains adherents--its overall message ends up being a lie.
"Pure religion and undefiled and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." And that reminds me of one of the important duties laid upon the ministers of the Gospel, whom God has sent.