In the last 48 hours, this video “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus” by slam poet Jefferson Bethke has been cropping up all over the Internet:
I love slam poetry and I love the overall point that this video makes, which I think Bethke summarizes at 2:50 when he says:
“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, while Jesus makes you see.”
I need to be reminded of Jesus’ freeing grace on a regular basis.
Yet I don’t think I’ll be endorsing this particular slam poem too enthusiastically.
Why? Because my heart hates religion and loves Jesus…but my mind counters that the Jesus I know from Scripture, who perhaps hated religion, had compassion on religious people rather than hating them and sought to re-define religion rather than abolishing religion.
Emotionally, I’d be the first person to raise my hand if asked, “Who here hates religion and loves Jesus?” I’ve noticed many of the same problems with religiosity as Bethke has. I’ve felt the sting of being presumed a Republican just because I’m a Christian and presumed a “bad Christian” just because I’m not a Republican (I’m a moderate independent, just to be clear). I’ve felt the disillusionment of questions like this: “If religion is so great, why’s it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches but fail to feed the poor?” I’ve felt the shame of hiding my failures and sin from religious people.
To be honest, there are certain churches, ministries, and ministers that make me profoundly angry every time I think of them. Just a week ago, a ministry that once scarred me badly was fleetingly mentioned in an email I received, and I sunk into a couple days of resentment toward religion. Had I seen this video during those days I would have said, “Oh man, yes, I hate religion…but I love Jesus.” Through prayer and a talk with a wise friend, however, I realized the hate-religion-and-love-Jesus mantra was getting me nowhere. For years, it’s kept me in a perpetual cycle that goes like this:
1) wait till some negative aspect of religion crops up in your everyday life
2) notice your heart sinking and your dominant hand desiring to punch something
3) decide “I hate religion but I love Jesus”
4) return to step 1
This attitude is hateful…not healing. If I really love Jesus, who loves me regardless of the silly and sinful things I do, I hope that by his strength I’ll love religious people regardless of the silly and sinful things they do. If I really love Jesus, who said on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” then I hope that by his strength I too will forgive religious people who have hurt me. It will be insanely hard. But so is following Jesus. For crying out loud, he told us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27).
Besides being not beneficial, I think hating religion but loving Jesus is not quite biblically sound. According to James, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:26-27). If this is religion that is “pure and faultless,” then the problem is not with religion itself but with religion that is unrepentantly impure and faulty.
In sum, I may hate religion sometimes but I love Jesus all the time. And loving Jesus means loving and forgiving his people, complete with corrections and rebukes so that religion can be as pure and faultless as possible.