Not a lot of people in Seattle, apparently, have heard of 22-year-old Jefferson (Jeff) Bethke. But since the local artist posted his YouTube video just three weeks ago, he's become an online sensation with his own line of T-shirts. As of today, a worldwide audience has clicked in 18 million times to watch and argue over the Mars Hill Church member's "spoken word" poem on "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus," below.
Those are fighting words to many. As he says in the vid:
What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion? What if I told you getting you to vote Republican really wasn't his mission?...I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches but fail to feed the poor?
He recently told the Washington Times that "When I see people upholding rules or regulations more than Jesus ...then it bothers me, because self-righteousness is essentially saying, 'we don't need your sacrifice, Jesus, we can do it on our own.'"
The native Tacoman's Facebook page has taken off as well, with 88,000 likes and loads of comments even if he's just chatting about shopping in downtown Seattle at Nordstrom Rack where the other day he found a great deal on "some fresh cheap kicks!" - a pair of Nikes. (His pictures of shoes drew 150 comments, including "You know Jesus promoted humility? Not material wealth.").
And, in the wake of instafame, of course there's a T-shirt deal: GratefulApparel.com is selling "Jesus>Religion" Tees for $20 in a partnership with the Christian poet.
But then there's no shortage of views on religion. When CNN recently ran an item on Bethke, it heard from more than 3,700 commenters debating the merits of churches (there were so many responses on YouTube that comments on the vid have been disabled).
Naturally, Bethke's argument prompted a swarm of video rebuttals, including "Why I hate religion but love Jesus, Muslim Version" and "Why I Dislike Your Poem, But Love God," which has gotten almost 500,000 views, and includes the line "I see where you're coming from but there's insanity in your vision."
One church Bethke doesn't take issue with is his own, Mars Hill, even with a pastor who claims yoga is "demonic." At Mars Hill, they preach what he practices, he told the Washington Post. It comes down to good religion vs. the bad religion that tries to justify "self righteousness, self-justification and hypocrisy."
Despite his 15 minutes of limelight, Bethke says, "I don't want to be famous. I don't want to be known. I want to be [someone] obscure who makes [Jesus] known and makes him famous."
Yes, that's Tacoma's Stadium High School in the background