Why I Love Jesus *and* Religion Part 1

Jefferson Bethke has recently launched himself into the spotlight because of a YouTube video in which he stars. The video has gone viral, with over 12 million views (pretty good, considering it’s been up less than a month). From the title, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” you can pretty much guess what it’s about.

I admire Bethke for taking a stance, and being a witness of his beliefs. Certainly standing for something means standing against something else – you can’t pick up one end of the stick without picking up another – and that takes courage.

That being said, there are some serious theological missteps in this video. I’ll admit, I do agree with some of what Bethke says; yet, most of his comments are representative of a popular (and dangerous) sub-cultural movement in Christianity, and as such I thought they merited closer examination. While I can admire Bethke for taking a stance, I cannot admire his theology (which he wraps up emotionally in rhymes, fancy direction, and moving music). Bethke wrests the scriptures to fit his meaning (2 Peter 3:16). His thesis, that Jesus came to abolish religion, is a wild claim that he fails to substantiate.

Did Jesus come to abolish religion? We’ll look at (Part 1) some important guiding principles to keep in mind while discussing the poem; (Part 2) some of my own thoughts; and (Part 3) some thoughts of others who have responded to this video.

Guiding Principles

  • Jefferson Bethke
  • A False Dichotomy
  • Two Lines of Communication
  • Love and Law

Jefferson Bethke

I don’t mean to slander Bethke at all. Any “dirt” I have on him is self-disclosed in the poem he wrote. Still, it’s important to look as closely as we can at the author in order to understand what he said.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he has a chip on his shoulder. A friend of mine, a minister at an evangelical church in California, told me,

“[This] is sort of a sub-culture for people who have been hurt by the ‘church’. If they’ve been hurt by the ‘church’, it automatically goes to this whole thought process of, ‘I love Jesus, I just don’t like the other people that love him’.”

Is Bethke someone who was hurt? Perhaps. One strong theme of his poem is against judgmental Christians. Bethke admits to have been addicted to pornography, having had premarital sex, and having done drugs. With that kind of behavior, it’s unfortunately not unlikely that Bethke ran into someone judgmental, someone who soured his ‘church’ experience. This souring comes through in so many of the lines of his poem.

Again, I must emphasize that don’t mean to put Bethke down; it seems he is doing a fantastic job overcoming his personal demons through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and in that I rejoice with him. Still, this view of Bethke’s likely experience can help us understand his poem better.

A False Dichotomy

false dichotomy is a logical fallacy where only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there is an acceptable gray area in between extremes. For example, consider this argument in favor of abortion:

“What is better – an unwanted, unloved child who is neglected, or a fetus that is rejected quickly and likely painlessly before birth?”

Can you see the fallacy? Clearly, there are many more choices than only the two presented.

What is the choice that Bethke leaves us with? Why, it’s that we side with either Jesus or Religion. He picks Jesus. But the problem, as with all false dichotomies, is that there are many choices beyond the two that he gives us.

Two Lines of Communication

A gem from Dallin H. Oaks comes from a General Conference talk about the two lines of communication we each have with God. He teaches,

“Our Heavenly Father has given His children two lines of communication with Him—what we may call the personal line and the priesthood line. All should understand and be guided by both of these essential lines of communication.”

The personal line Elder Oaks talks about is akin to how many think about “Jesus” or “relationship“, and the priesthood line is akin to “religion“. It’s true that clinging to just one or the other will be to our detriment, but it’s also true that both are essential to our salvation. Oaks concludes,

“We must use both the personal line and the priesthood line in proper balance to achieve the growth that is the purpose of mortal life. If personal religious practice relies too much on the personal line, individualism erases the importance of divine authorityIf personal religious practice relies too much on the priesthood line, individual growth suffers. The children of God need both lines to achieve their eternal destiny. The restored gospel teaches both, and the restored Church provides both.”

There is not a better summary of what happens when we focus too much on either “Jesus” or “Religion“.

Love and Law

Bethke stresses tolerance and condemns judgmental Christians, even asking rhetorically, “If Jesus came to your church, would they actually let him in?” The insinuation is that heartless religionists or legalists would keep out the very Savior they presume to worship, just as they keep out the other dregs of society.

Is this true? Of course not. But the question can still be asked, what is the balance between tolerance and love for our fellowman, and adherence to the gospel that the Savior taught? In another General Conference, Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk that helps answer this question. He says,

“The love of God does not supersede His laws and His commandments, and the effect of God’s laws and commandments does not diminish the purpose and effect of His love…. If a person understands the teachings of Jesus, he or she cannot reasonably conclude that our loving Heavenly Father or His divine Son believes that Their love supersedes Their commandments.”

Elder Oaks then gives us some examples of this principle. Consider the following:

  • When Jesus began His ministry, His first message was repentance.
  • When He exercised loving mercy by not condemning the woman taken in adultery, He nevertheless told her, “Go, and sin no more.”
  • Jesus taught, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

As with the principle regarding two lines of communication, balance is important between “love” and “law”, between understanding the frailty of men and adhering to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Tolerance in the name of the love of God does not trump the importance of keeping the commandments and inviting others to do the same, just as the mistakes of others does not trump our duty to reach out to them in love.

“Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” Transcript

What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?
What if I told you voting Republican really wasn’t His mission?
What if I told you “Republican” doesn’t automatically mean “Christian”?
And [what if I told you that] just because you call some people “blind” doesn’t automatically give you vision?

I mean, if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?
Why does [religion] 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

Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice
[They] Tend to ridicule God’s people – they did it to John the Baptist
They can’t fix their problems, and so they just mask it
Not realizing religion’s like spraying perfume on a casket

See, the problem with religion is it never gets to the core
It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores
Like, let’s dress up the outside, make it look nice and neat
But it’s funny, that’s what they used to do to mummies while the corpse rots underneath

Now, I ain’t judging, I’m just saying, quit putting on a fake look
Cause there’s a problem if people only know you’re Christian by your Facebook
I mean, in every other aspect of life you know that logic’s unworthy
It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey

See, this was me too, but no one seemed to be on to me
Acting like a church kid, while addicted to pornography
See, on Sunday I’d go to church but on Saturday getting faded
Acting if I was simply created to just have sex and get wasted

See, I spent my whole life building this facade of neatness
But now that I know Jesus I boast in my weakness
Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean
It’s not a museum for good people; it’s a hospital for the broken

Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin
‘Cause it doesn’t depend on me – it depends on Him
See, because when I was God’s enemy I was certainly not a fan
He looked down and said I want that man

Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools
Don’t you see so much better than following some rules?
Now let me clarify: 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?

See, remember he was called a glutton and a drunkard by religious men
But the son of God never supports self-righteousness – not now, not then
Now back to the point, one thing is vital to mention
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrum’s

See, one’s the work of God, but one’s a man made invention
See, one is the cure, but the other’s the infection
See, because religion says “Do”, Jesus says “Done”
Religion says “Slave”, Jesus says “Son”

Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see
And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans
Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man

Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgivemess is my own
Not based on my merits, but Jesus’ obedience alone
Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face
He took what we all deserve – I guess that’s why they call it grace

And while being murdered, he yelled “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you
And he absorbed all your sin and he buried it in the tomb
Which is why I’m kneeling at the cross saying “Come on, there’s room”

So for religion, I hate it; in fact I literally resent it
Because when Jesus said “It is finished,” I believe he meant it

“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5)

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