Jefferson Bethke, who has now become a household name thanks to his viral video hit "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus," said in the beginning that he was only seeking to make Jesus famous — and now he may have finally found the platform, as the 22-year-old online evangelist has been appearing more and more in the mainstream press to share his faith and bring Jesus front and center.
Appearing on CBS' "This Morning" for an interview with Charlie Rose, Erica Hill and Gayle King Monday morning in New York City, Bethke sat center stage with the Rev. Edward Beck, a Roman Catholic priest and contributor to the program. The Mars Hill Church (Federal Way) congregant was immediately asked how it all happened — how a video uploaded one day manages to attract more than a million views in 24 hours.
Bethke, whose spoken word video is described by "This Morning" as "a critical look at organized religion, filled with rhymes that differentiate Jesus from the constructs of the church," expressed that he had no idea how the video became so popular.
"I wrote the poem just because I love Jesus and wanted to share the message," he said. "I think when you put it on YouTube and you have the strong language I use, it fires people up and [elicits] either positive or negative [responses]."
He revealed the he and his roommates originally though the most views the video would get would be a few thousand in 24 hours. As of Monday afternoon, "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" has attracted more than 16 million views since it was uploaded Jan. 10.
Beck, asked for his take on the young evangelist's message, dished it in rap, saying: "Yo, Jeff, let me give you a holla from the collar. I don't think it's religion you should be dissin', I think it's the nuance that you're missing."
Dropping the rap act, the priest preached to Beck, pointing out that "hate" is a strong word and that using it in reference to "religion" can put all of Christianity in a bad light. Bethke expressed his agreement with the clergyman, but emphasized that "religion" is cast both in a positive and negative light in Scripture, and that what he was simpy aiming for in "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" was to point people back to the root of the faith — truly living a transformed, Christ-like life.
Noting that Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City have used a similar "shorthand" reference to religion the same way he does in the video, Bethke explained to the CBS "This Morning" hosts that he was not speaking "against the institution" known as the church, but instead the hypocrisy that many of its members have exhibited.
In addition to his CBS appearance, Bethke's video was recently referenced in a National Public Radio program discussion on Christians in their 20s leaving the church.
Bethke, who has described himself as a "messed up dude addicted to grace," previously warned viewers against using his poem to "bash" the church, noting that Jesus uses the church as a "vehicle to reach a lost word." With the amount of press the 22-year-old has been getting, it seems his wish to be used by God to share the good news has come true.
"Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" has also been discussed extensively on mainstream news sites, pastor's blogs, Facebook pages, and has even attracted response videos on YouTube, showing that indeed Bethke may very well be succeeding in his quest to "make Jesus famous" — or at least putting him in the national spotlight and on Americans' minds.
The St. Auburn, Wash., native and political science major is a 2011 graduate of Pacific University and also a contributor to Chisel Season – a website that provides "spiritual encouragement, education, and conviction."
Jefferson Bethke's "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" video appears below: