The popularity of a new video by Jefferson Bethke called “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” has a number of religion writers, including our pal Nicole Greenfield and The Scoop‘s Laura J. Nelson, wondering from whence this animosity against religious affiliation came. It could be argued that the faithfuls’ “hatred” for organized religion is a long, old tradition, perhaps reaching back to the Radical Reformation.

For me, and many others of my generation who were doing the born-again thing, separation of church and Jesus goes back to 1977 when Scott Wesley Brown sang, “I’m not religious, I just love the Lord.”

You can go to church every Sunday and think it’s kind of neat

But the good Lord wants your love full time, seven days a week

You can give away everything you own, even give it to the poor

But listen my friends, in the end, you gotta love the Lord


You can look real pious, even spiritual, dressed up in your pride

But religion’s just a mask you wear and God sees who you hide

Acting like a pharisee, pretending you’re a saint, fooling everybody you know

God don’t need your stained-glass faith, He just wants your soul

Don’t go to church before  you go to Jesus

Wesley Brown, a Philadelphia native, was a Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) sensation who sang alongside other stars of the era like Sandi Patty and Petra (and my favorite, Mylon LeFevre, after Larry Normal, the CCM godfather) at popular Christian music events like The Creation Festival.  It’s no wonder that the overthrow of denominations for a personal relationship with Jesus resonated in my home county of Lancaster, PA, where the Creation Festival was founded in 1979 (about a mile from my childhood home), and where Anabaptists–those who believed in adult baptism, a consensual relationship with Christ–had been living since the early 1700s.

Wariness of organized religion has long, deep roots among the Amish, Brethren and Mennonite sects of the state.  Oddly, the “Jesus music” popular in the mid-to-late 1970s jived with the Mennonites I was kicking around with.  Writes Greenfield of “Why I Hate Religion” fans:

By repudiating religion, they establish themselves as subversive, as anti-establishment, as empathetic and educated and culturally savvy. Religion is full of rules and prohibitions; Jesus accepts you as you are. Religion represents the uncool collective mainstream; Jesus represents the hip individualized counterculture.

Much like the Anabaptists two hundred years before, Wesley Brown and his fellow musicians were making faith in Jesus cool.  A mission Jefferson Bethke might share.