Clicking With Jesus

Internet-savvy Christians want to save their fellow man, one video at a time

January 13, 2008|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Sun reporter

Spend an hour on and you'll find that God is in the details of thousands of videos. He is benevolent. He is angry. He is forgiving. He is grief-stricken. He is ecstatic. He supports Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul, too. He is there for Britney Spears, and He wants to save gay people from unholy desires.

Created in the image of YouTube, the Christian video-sharing site presents a God of unlimited dispositions. "A Letter from Hell," a fire-and-brimstone drama chronicling the fate of a teen drunken driving victim, suggests a judgmental God. "Little Girl and Psalm 23," a home video of a toddler reciting the song's sacred words, argues for a God who meets cute. In "That's My King!" the late preacher S.M. Lockridge's cadenced catalog of deific virtues, God is praised as all of the above - and more.

Whether through fear, treacle or old-school preaching, it is evangelist Chris Wyatt's ardent wish that GodTube will lead you to His flock. Salvation by video is precisely what Wyatt, a former TV producer, had in mind when he launched the site in August.

Converting visitors to Christianity is the "Number One goal" of the Web site, says Wyatt, a 39-year-old student at Dallas Theological Seminary. "And secondly, to re-energize the nominal Christian who may not go to church any more in an increasingly secular society."

Since the 1920s, when Aimee Semple McPherson preached radio sermons, savvy evangelists have adopted worldly new technologies to ensure their own eternity. With GodTube, Wyatt is harnessing the Internet's global reach to serve his faith in the same capacity as a missionary who shares Jesus with villagers in a far corner of the earth.

"It's the most efficient and widespread means of being able to spread the Gospel around the world," he says.

Based in Dallas, GodTube is projected to draw as many as 5 million unique viewers this month. By comparison, YouTube drew more than 200 million unique users worldwide in October, according to marketing research firm comScore.

Mostly teens, young adults and stay-at-home moms, visitors can surf the 45,000 videos uploaded so far on GodTube, from sermons to political endorsements to intelligent design manifestoes. Wyatt calls the site a forum to discuss faith "whether it is hardcore evangelical Christian or whether it is very liberal Christian. We want to be the Switzerland of Christianity, if you will."

GodTube visitors can socialize on its networking site (250,000 have registered), petition on its virtual Prayer Wall and consult the site's virtual Bible. The first such Web site to bundle these offerings, GodTube was introduced with a marketing campaign pitched to mainstream and faith-based media, and the logo, "Broadcast Him."

"GodTube, like YouTube, is inherently more democratic," says Jeffrey Sharlet, associate research scholar at New York University's Center for Religion and Media. Its format is "a sign that a large number of people have caught on to the process of mimicking the culture, to creating a world that looks like the secular world but has Jesus as its foundation."

Skit has saving grace

In an affecting GodTube video, Jesus performs a pas de deux with a teenaged girl. To the mounting urgency of "Everything," a song by the Christian rock group Lifehouse, the smiling Savior introduces his disciple to a realm of spiritual wonders.

Then, the young woman is lured into an underworld of drugs, self-mutilation, prostitution and bulimia. On the verge of suicide, she struggles to return to Jesus and he struggles to return to her. Ultimately, they are reunited in a state of grace.

GodTube didn't exist yet when Tim Houston wrote the "Lifehouse Everything" skit at the Baltimore Dream Center, a former Brooklyn bingo hall where he is executive director of a bustling urban mission established by the Church of God.

The pantomime was originally performed before 30,000 teens and young adults at a 2006 church gathering in Tennessee. But since a video of the performance vaulted last year from YouTube to its Christian counterpart, the skit has been hailed globally as a catalyst for leading young souls to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One of myriad GodTube posts testifies to the skit's persuasive qualities: "This morning I came home from work and I watched this video. I got Saved by just watching it!"

"What a great medium to get across a message," says Houston, 44.

Some of GodTube's most popular videos are simple narratives such as "Lifehouse Everything" and "Logan, the Sky Angel Cowboy," an audio track of an extremely poised boy talking to a Christian radio DJ about God after the death of his calf. His perfect pitch as a little kid on the prairie has caused skeptical religious scholars and others to question Logan's authenticity.

For other evangelists, GodTube is also a godsend. When a friend sent her a link to the "Lifehouse Everything" video, Kristin Furr, 27, says, "I watched that, thinking, `Wow, what an incredible resource. What a great place to share your faith journey with other people."

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