What are your teens saying about the viral video that critiques Christian hypocrisy? We offered our youth a chance to share their thoughts and the results definitely surprised us.
This past Sunday we engaged our senior high youth in a spirited discussion of Jeff Bethke's viral video "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus." Most of them had already seen it (and some even responded to the video in writing as part of my essay on the video at Patheos). Our leader Jenn set up the discussion by printing out different sections of Bethke's spoken word poem and posting them at various places around the room. After viewing the video, the teens divided into small groups and took time to move about the room, reading the words and jotting down on the posted papers their reactions, underlining ideas they liked, or adding comments to lines or phrases they found confusing or troubling.
Afterwards, we gathered together simply to discuss where we thought Jeff got things right and where he may have misrepresented the Christian faith (or, at least, our understanding of the faith).
To our surprise, these progressive Christian teens -- the kind often criticized for having a "believe whatever you want" attitude about religion -- demonstrated real passion as they shared both what they liked and what really rubbed them wrong about the video. They collectively agreed with the video's assertion that saying you are a Christian is very different from actually living like one. They also had no trouble accepting that there is plenty of religious hypocrisy in the Church. But they felt that the video's assertion that Jesus was anti-religious was simply wrong and a misreading of scripture and history. They argued that the poet fell into the trap of overgeneralizing to make his point. Is the Church messed up? Sure. Has wrong been propagated in the Church's name? Yes. Are there phony Christians? Plenty. But these are all critiques of how we practice Christianity -- not the religion itself (And, in all fairness, I don't think the poet was criticizing the faith but rather how people practice it but his words were painted with too broad a brush and thus easy to misinterpret).
Where our youth really felt Jeff missed the mark was in his focus on personal salvation without concluding with any talk of what it means to live as a Christian. Where, they wondered, was the part of the poem that proclaimed that our freedom in Christ inspires us to live lives of practicing justice, working for peace, helping the oppressed, speaking out against intolerance, and welcoming the stranger? Where was the part about what we should be doing as Christians? Had the video been less focused on personal salvation (a sort of "me, me, me" Christianity) I think Jeff would have had more fans in the room.
Christian apologetics are about as scarce in a progressive Christian youth groups as civility in a presidential debate. But last Sunday night that's just what our teens were doing, whether they knew it or not. So what happens next? Well, our youth decided they wanted to make their own video. Not exactly a response to the "Why I Hate Religion," video but more their own message about what faith means to them and their lives. I think, perhaps, this is the sort of response Jeff Bethke was hoping for all along -- to get people talking about Christianity in ways that matter.
One final note: Jeff has received much support and a great deal of criticism for his video. I think some of this is owed to the slick production values. Had he simply shot this with a web cam in his bedroom, it would likely have gone unnoticed by the masses. He recently shared his thoughts on the debate surrounding his message and offered a humble response to what he was attempting to accomplish and what he might do differently were he to remake the video.