Godtube.com puts Christian worship online
Entrepreneur Chris Wyatt draws millions to GodTube.com, a website with Christian content that features prayer walls, video clips, and social networking.
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The use of fear, violence, and virulence has drawn criticism from some quarters. "There are many Christian theologians who would disagree on using fear as a tactic," says Ann Pellegrini, professor of religious studies at New York University. But, she adds, the use of fear, theatricality, and aspects of secular culture to win over the "unsaved" goes back hundreds of years.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, many of GodTube's videos rely on secular culture instead of condemning it. One series parodies the Mac versus PC ads, but here the cool guy is a "Christ-follower" and the nerd in a suit is a "Christian." The Christian listens to Christian music, has Christian bumper stickers, and wears a WWJD (what would Jesus do) bracelet. The Christ-follower, although not against any of those things, says, "I just try to follow Christ in the way I live my life." The video, says Dr. Pellegrini, is an attempt to rebrand followers of Jesus as being "cool outsiders."
Among the latest additions to GodTube are the virtual Bible (searchable for quotes) and the "prayer wall": On a set of stone tablets in a grassy canyon, users can type out their prayers or light candles for others. There are the usual misspellings, emoticons, and cryptic prayer headings (from "desperate" to "my relationship pt. 2"). Mothers pray for their sons to accept religion, grandparents pray for custody of grandchildren, a child prays for a straight-A report card. One man prays for success in an interview, and there are dueling prayers for the campaigns of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney. Ethereal music underscores the tranquility: It's a supernal scenic outlook on the Information Superhighway.
With features such as the prayer wall, and with space for user comments below each video, "GodTube provides a venue that is more democratic than televangelism was," says Lynn Schofield Clark, a professor at the University of Denver and editor of the book "Religion, Media and The Marketplace."
But will GodTube win converts?
"They say, 'Someone will stumble upon us and be converted to Christianity,' but sociological studies suggest otherwise," says Dr. Clark. "It's through social networks – friends, family, marriage, even prison – that people adopt beliefs." In that sense GodTube is like televangelism, says Clark, because it's more likely to reinforce people's beliefs than to change them.
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Comedian Michael Right, who goes by the stage name Michael Jr. and typically performs at nightclubs and churches, is one who uses GodTube. He has posted a few performances online. Mr. Right doesn't preach in his act but hopes to "bring levity" to the audience. "GodTube shows how thirsty Christians are for good content," he says. "There's so much negative stuff on YouTube that you almost have to be shocking to get some attention."
Chris Bradley wasn't aiming to shock, either. But he's an atheist – a rare breed on GodTube – and wanted to explain that atheists aren't by definition unkind and immoral. Mr. Bradley posted a few videos and received mostly polite replies. But then one day, his posted video about the relationships between religious leaders (including Jesus and Muhammad) and their governments wasn't uploaded. He hasn't tried GodTube since.
For now, GodTube has yet to turn a profit. Its investors, according to Wyatt, are "high networth [people] who happen to be Christian." Additionally, 50 of the groups that have put up videos on the website – Christian colleges, medical companies, singers, authors, and others – are in a partnership with GodTube for a few years. GodTube posts their videos (and collects advertising revenue), and in return, those groups have a page on the site where they can solicit donations, sell products, and collect e-mail addresses for their mailing lists.
Although other Christian websites exist, like MyChurch and Conservapedia, there isn't a Christian video site like GodTube. Currently, says Wyatt, GodTube's competition is chiefly MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube. Those sites "are great for what they are," he says, "but it's not the forum to discuss religious material. I don't think you want to hold a theological discussion on a website that has objectionable content."