Spring 2008, Vol. 11, No. 1

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From the Editor:

Sally Gets Religion

God and Mammon on the Web

Off with their Head Scarves

Playing Godless

Letter to the Editor


God and Mammon on the Web
by Reid Vineis

Over 80 million Americans surf the web for faith-related reasons, according to a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life project. Many of them are evangelical Christians.

Want a daily Bible verse on your desktop? Information on what movies you can safely take your kids to? For the savvy Christian consumer there are myriad sites designed to meet a wide range of needs. How about an eight-question quiz to test your piety? (The present author tested straight into Hell.)

Most of the popular Christian sites offer niche products that appeal only to, well, Christians. The search engine Biblegateway just doesn’t attract much attention from the secular set.

The biggest of these niche players today is YouTube knock-off, Godtube is full of wholesome content—no inappropriate comments or uncouth images are permitted into its rosy world of spiritual uplift, Christian rock, and cats playing with balls. In late May, its most popular video was “Lifehouse Everything Drama”—a musical pantomime in which a young woman is assailed by all the temptations of this world until she is rescued by Jesus or possibly her youth minister.

Godtube also hosts a variety of churchly content. Sermons, ministerial blogs, worship services, and church homepages are all just a few clicks away.  The site enables users to chat, share videos, and make GodTube friends. It even features a virtual rock wall where users can post their prayers for all to see.

GodTube was launched last August by Christopher Wyatt, a former CBS producer and a member of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. Wyatt had become frustrated with the state of morality in America and, as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, been made aware of a sharp decline in American church attendance. Determined to evangelize youth, he set out to create an alternative to monotonous Sunday morning services.

The site does not make faith a criterion for joining. Good evangelical that he is, Wyatt encourages non-Christians to log on. But when you register for all the benefits of membership, GodTube tries to screen out the violent and the criminal. Would Jesus have done that?

When it comes to content, there are very few Internet sites that screen as rigorously. The Plano, Texas-based company employs its own “video police”—14 theology students who monitor all uploaded videos. Users themselves can flag content as inappropriat. Rudeness, cursing, pornography, or violence are all verboten.

GodTube also markets itself as a social networking site where pious young people can meet each other, check out ministries, or just chat. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor February 6, Dmitry Kiper called it a “supernal scenic outlook on the Information Superhighway.”  

Lynn Schofield Clark, a professor at the University of Denver, remains skeptical about the ability of sites like GodTube to convert non-believers. “They say, ‘Someone will stumble upon us and be converted to Christianity,’ but sociological studies suggest otherwise,” she told the Christian Science Monitor’s Kiper.  

GodTube was the fastest growing website in the world in its first month of existence, drawing 1.7 million viewers and prompting Wyatt to portray the site as “the next-generation television network.” Those numbers have dropped off significantly since then however, leaving the site a distant also-ran behind the social giants Facebook and MySpace. Still, New York Times business reporter John Metcalfe was able to report May 12 that GodTube had won a $30 million investment from GLG, a London-based hedge fund. This would, wrote Metcalfe, bring the site “one step closer to building a kingdom on earth.”

Thus far, to build a true earthly kingdom, a Christian site has got to have crossover appeal. The most significant example of such secularizing success is Designed to be the Rolls Royce of Internet dating sites, eHarmony boasts that it actually does bring its clients true, long-lasting marital relationships. It does, indeed, have one of the highest success rates in the industry.

Before starting eHarmony, founder Neil Clark Warren was a mere evangelical Christian psychologist with an M.Div. from the Princeton Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. After years of counseling frustrated couples in private practice, he paired up with his Web-literate son-in-law to attack America’s high divorce rate at the source: by building unbreakable marriages from the start.

“My agenda is to do two things: change the World and build a business,” Warren proclaimed to Salon’s Rebecca Traister in a June 10, 2005 interview.

eHarmony doesn’t guarantee wedding bells for all subscribers. And gays and lesbians need not apply. Warren asserts that he’s not discriminating against same-sex relationships. It’s just that he finds the issue too divisive and refuses to encourage his clients to undertake a relationship that is against the law in almost every state of the Union. “We don’t really want to participate in something that is illegal,” he told Janet Kornblum of USA Today May 15, 2005.

The secret to eHarmony’s success is its “personality test.” Users answer an exhaustive list of questions ranging from “How important is your match’s age?” to “How bossy are you?” Subscribers are also asked to identify their religion, their preference among other faiths, and what specific denominations are kosher for companionship. Hopefuls can ask for matches with Baptists, Catholics, or Mennonites but not Quakers.

Those who aren’t religious should probably seek other ponds to fish in. While eHarmony does not declare outright that it is only for Christians, there is a certain preferential option for them.

“A couple of years ago, one disgruntled visitor to the site went on Good Morning America and complained that he had been rejected by eHarmony because he wasn’t spiritual enough,” Christopher Palmieri wrote in an article on the site in the February 20 issue of Business Week. “Warren says that he took one look at the guy’s body language and concluded that he was depressed, which would explain why he flunked the personality quiz.”

This is not an isolated incident; many would-be subscribers have complained that eHarmony has denied them a match because of their lack of faith.

Today, eHarmony boasts obtaining over 1.3 million members a year. And while Warren won’t disclose income numbers, the site is widely regarded as an industry leader. But he wasn’t always rolling in dough.

How did eHarmony get to where it is today? For many years, it languished in obscurity, foregoing advertising in favor of word of mouth to spread its particular gospel.

Then, in 2004, James Dobson’s flagship evangelical radio show Focus on the Family decided that eHarmony was A Good Thing. Dobson, who Warren has called his “biggest supporter,” also started out life as a licensed psychologist and professor (of child development). He plugged the site between his espousals of evangelical family values.

Warren went on to publish one of his books, Finding the Love of Your Life, through Dobson’s publishing company.

Dobson’s relationship with Warren seemed like a match made in heaven until Focus on the Family took a harder political turn during the 2004 election cycle. Growing uncomfortable with his buddy-buddy relationship with the now pre-eminent figure of the religious right, Warren distanced himself from Focus, even buying back the rights to three of his books so that the organization’s name did not appear on the cover.

“I have a lot of respect for a lot that goes on in Focus on the Family,” Warren told Salon in 2005. “Where I get nervous is when people think we’re political like Focus on the Family.” Today, Warren spends about $80 million in television ads that avoid any indication of his Christian background.

Many have remained skeptical about the break-up. “Is [Warren] a moral man who has begun to question the narrowness of the Christian right, especially their position on gays? asked Salon’s Traister. “Or is he a savvy opportunist looking for a bigger market share?” Whatever the case, Warren has reaped great rewards after the divorce.

More secular than it used to be, eHarmony is now the 1,000th most popular website on the Internet, according to To be sure, it is still no match for its much less wholesome rival,

Created by Gary Kremen, the former owner of, Match teases viewers with partners up front, then quickly prompts them to pay up. Match now rates among the top 100 websites. 

But eHarmony is leaps and bounds ahead of GodTube, and the reason is not hard to find.

“We’re not chasing cool,” GodTube’s Wyatt told Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today December 17. “Our demographic is religious.”

“I think there is something very incredible about Jesus,” Warren told Janet Kornblum of the same paper. “I don’t back away from that. At the same time…the public we want to serve is the world.”


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