By Rev. Julian “J.Kwest” DeShazier
Wanna learn how to start a fire in religious circles? Pay attention: Jefferson Bethke is an Eagle Scout. Watch the video below. For the lyrics, CLICK HERE.
His most recent video, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”, opines over the lack of authenticity in religious leadership, calls into account the dangerous compound of faith and politics, and berates the self-righteous (Amen!). But in making a few good points, Bethke may have thrown the baby out with the bath water.
If you’ve ever played the “Blame Game” before (who hasn’t?), then you know how this works. Something goes wrong Someone gets blamed. This literally takes on “biblical” proportions when you think about the scapegoat and its origins. As long as humankind has existed together in community, it’s been someone else’s fault. Why do we always need something to execute?
Wars have indeed been fought in the name of God. Priests, vicars, monks, nuns, and pastors have lied, cheated, stolen from and exploited the innocent. Politics and Religion do make strange bedfellows, and the Religious Right does have a “special” (almost impressive) way of loving Jesus while ignoring the ethics of the Gospel. Bethke is right, there are huge churches that fail to feed the poor, and condemn single mothers: a huge mess. But “spraying perfume on a casket”? One day he’s gonna want those words back.
Besides the conflation of terms (“RELIGION” is not a monolith); or the tautology of using scripture (a RELIGIOUS text) to argue against religion; or quoting scripture in irresponsible ways (God does NOT call all religious people “whores” in Jeremiah 3); or…there’s more???…grandiose, ReTweetable statements like “Religion is man searching for God/Christianity is God searching for man.” Almost sounds like Rabbi Abraham Heschel; instead it sounds like nonsense. There’s no need to maliciously pick everything apart; it is quite clear that Bethke has good intent. He wants people of faith to have more integrity; for their ethics to match up with their jibber-jabber; for our theology and praxis to align. Is this not also what God wants?
Bethke’s goal has also been the aim of good faith practice since we started ritualizing our history and burying the dead (the beginning of “religion”). *vast generalization alert* One arc of the Hebrew Bible rails against folks who have become too loyal to law and ritual to connect with YHWH. This is what Jesus comes to do: reorient humanity to the Law, not abolish Religion. After all, did he not then come back and use young Peter to start a CHURCH!?!
And here is the whole point. Jesus came back and created community. Didn’t start a new religion, but simply said, “Here’s a better Way to live. Now go out and create communities of people who can try better together. Create disciples of this Way.”
Religion is ALL ABOUT COMMUNITY. If you’ve ever stood in a circle and shared prayer requests together, you know this. If you’ve ever been to a funeral, you know this. If you’ve ever sat around and shared old stories with your family; if you’ve ever felt the warmth and comfort of being around other people…these are religious impulses, and they are so ingrained in our daily experience that we cannot avoid them. It’s a messy world, and religion finds a way to still create community. Better than any other institution or worldview. And I believe that nothing has more potential to foster genuine, loving, ethical, Beloved Community like Religion. That is why I am a pastor.
Jefferson Bethke is focused on the problems; I am consumed in the potential. He sees the dirty water and calls for a cleansing; I see the baby in the tub. For all the woes of this world, and the many ways our faith has caused them; there yet remains hope in the gathering of a few who believe in something greater than humanity. For all we’ve done, for all we’ve ignored, for all we’ve hurt: God still calls us together. God still loves us.
Jefferson Bethke certainly does hate religion: his video contains no community and breathes no hope. But in doing this, I’m not sure he loves Jesus.