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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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Wyatt has been surprised – and delighted – by GodTube's rapid growth. After the website's official launch in August, media-intelligence provider comScore ranked it that month's fastest growing US website, with 1.7 million unique views. But those first clicks aren't enough: Wyatt hopes that after watching videos, people will return to the website and "ask questions about heaven and hell, and drug abuse and divorce."

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The neologistic inspiration behind GodTube is obvious. But this isn't just a Christian YouTube. Unlike Facebook or MySpace, GodTube views each of its videos before putting it up and checks people's backgrounds – aiming to exclude sexual or violent criminals – before giving someone a profile. Fourteen seminary students act as the viewing board for the 40,000 videos posted by individuals, ministries, and other organizations.

That's not to say the site is all sweetness and light. Alongside a video of a little girl in a pink "princess" T-shirt reciting the 23rd Psalm (viewed 5 million times) is one attacking Mormonism. Alongside 17-year-old Felicia in an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt praying for her friend John is a video on the rapture. It includes clips of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and war in Iraq followed by nonbelievers' confusion as spouses, children, and strangers disappear from earth.

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.

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.

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