9 Truck Stops and Fashion Shows: A Case Study of the Discursive Performance of Evangelical Christian Group Affiliation on YouTube (3/4) – Social Media and Religious Change

In this extr act, jezuzfreek777 is cast in opposition not to other religious peo-
ple but against Jesus, who is presented as the ideal. Again, Yokeup does not ex-
plicitly align himself with Jesus (Yokeup is also critical of jezuzfreek777s appa-
rent lack of humility), the re-voicing of scripture in the extract above appears
to match the voice of Yokeup, in particular his marked use of the word aint,
which Yokeup doesnt consistently use. Although Yokeup doesnt describe him-
self as saved, by setting up the categories at the beginning of the video and fol-
lowing through a description of jezuzfreek777 in opposition not only to Christians
he sees as saved but to the ideal person, Jesus himself, Yokeup is able to implic-
itly align himself with Jesus and jezuzfreek777 with the absolute evil users on
YouTube.
I will now turn to the text comments posted on the video to investigate how
other users interact not only with Yokeups description of jezuzfreek777 but also
with the categories of religious and saved, and to what extent categorisations
are accepted by commenters.
3 Text comments
Before beginning analysis of the text comments, it is important to keep in mind
that the video producer (in this case, the user Yokeup on the yokedtojesus chan-
nel) retains control of who may or may not comment on his or her video. In the
case of Yokeup, his channel page features very clear rules for commenters, stat-
ing that he will delete comments that he feels to be inappropriate. To what extent
comments are deleted is only known by the channel owner, but it does appear
that Yokeup frequently deletes comments and blocks users. The absence, for ex-
ample, of atheist commenters and antagonistic comments seems to be a function
of Yokeups censorship of his channel, and the analyst must be aware, in looking
at the comments, that all have been approved by Yokeup, with the strong possi-
bility that others who may have hoped to comment were unable to. Moreover,
users whom Yokeup had blocked in the past would also be unable to comment
on the videos, which may explain why there are no comments from either jezuz-
freek777 or hislivingsacrifice, to whom the video is ostensibly ad dressed. At the
time the data was accessed, 18 months after the video had been posted, there
were 93 comments on the video and 2,426 views.
In the comments section, Yokeups saved and religious categories are both
recognised and engaged by other users, particularly by those who appear to be
Evangelical Christian users, but categorisation appears to be explicitly at issue.
Ele12957 writes:
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175
Jeff,
³
saved people can become religious and religious people can get saved. I dont doubt
Jesusfreek is truly saved, I may not agree with him on everything he says but I have listened
to him enough to know he has a relationship with God and have heard him talk about his
born again experience.
In this comment, the question does not appear to concern whether or not the de-
scription of someone as religious or saved is in any way inappropriate, but
that Yokeup has mislabelled jezuzfreek777 as not being truly saved (an addition
to the category that is not present in Yokeups talk) because he appears to have a
relationship with God. Rather than describe the same category-bound activity
that Yokeup has described, namely having a salvation moment, ele12957 under-
stands his perception of jezuzfreek777s relationship with God as being a sign of
true salvation.
Yokeup engages with the commenter, stressing a new category-bound activ-
ity of the saved, namely that saved people, like Jesus, do not condone sin or
compromise with sinners. Yokeup writes, [A]bsolutely, and YOU NEVER com-
promise Christ for sin [Y]ou never take the side of sin against Christ[.] JF
sides with the sinners, encourages their arguments, joins in on them, partakes
with them, doesnt stand outside of the sin, adding, [T]he lost need to know
that many posers claiming to have Christ are flat out liars and deceivers,
they need to know that the standards of Christ are not to be negotiated, or com-
promised EVER! Here, the religious category is conflated with a new category,
posers, which is extended to include liars and deceivers. The conflation of the
categories implicates jezuzfreek777 in much more serious negative behaviour,
i.e., lying and deceiving, without making a clear statement about jezuzfreek777
in particular. Rather than stating,
jezu zfreek777 is a liar, Yokeup is able to
imply that jezuzfreek777 lies through a series of equivalency statements about
categories and the category-bound activities members engage in.
Metaphor also plays a role in categorisation, as in the video Yokeup claims
that jezuzfreeks decision to hang out with the atheists was also wrong, as Jesus
never hung out with sinners. Attempting to clarify this activity, MrTh1rteen
writes, He did continue to hang out (Dont think thats an accurate phrase,
sry 4 using it) while they were in sin because they were Always in sin. He
never once condoned any of their sins. The fact is Jesus preached to ALL, he
didnt keep himself away from people who were demonic. MrTh1rteen recognises
the difficulty of employing a description of a users actions as hanging out, be-
Yokeups real name.
Text comments often contain typographical errors. All comments in this chapter have been
reproduced as they are found on the video page.
176 Stephen Pihlaja
cause what does or does not constitute hanging out is ultimately ambiguous.
Although the metaphor is identified at this point, Yokeup and MrTh1rteen contin-
ue to employ it in their exchange, with Yokeup responding, Amen, and what did
Jesus do when He hung out with them? care to share those details did Jesus
condone their sins, continue to hang out with them for years while they lived
in sin? well, did HE?, and MrTh1rteen responding, Jesus hung out with tax col-
lectors, who at that time were not highly thought of. When questioned he re-
sponded, its not the healthy that need a doctor He didnt hang out with the
pharasis (sp?) in fact he criticized the men of god at the time. Although the
metaphor has been flagged by MrTh1rteen as being potentially too ambiguous
to be useful, both continue to employ it, negotiating some shared, pragmatically
applicable definition that appears to be mutually acceptable.
The text comments show that debate between users that Yokeup is happy to
include on his page (rather than delete) includes categories from the video which
users seem happy to accept, but that users are unhappy with Yokeups decision
to categorise jezuzfreek777 as religious rather than saved. To contest this rather
than reject the categories, the users reject elements of Yokeups categorisation,
often made possible by the ambiguity of the language that Yokeup has initially
employed. Yokeup, in response, posits new categories and new categorisations,
expanding on what is said in the video in some cases but also appealing to new
ways of describing jezuzfreek777s actions in others. In doing so, he is able to
continue to hold his position that jezu zfreek777s behaviour is unacceptable, re-
gardless of the categorical label applied to it.
4 Discussion
Based on the analysis of the video and comments, I would like to draw together
three main points of discussion to consider what Yokeups categorisation of jez-
uzfreek777 might tell about how affiliation and opposition are performed on You-
Tube.
1) Unlike traditional church denominations, the categories and categorisa-
tions in the video and video comments were user-dependent.
Rather than employing categories that might be easily discussed in terms of
what a user may or may not believe, in this video, Yokeup uses the categories
saved and religious only in relation to how he perceives certain users behaving
on the site rather than the particular beliefs they hold. In the dataset, users did
not, in most cases, present their denominational affiliations. Although I have
employed the term Evangelical, it is an analysts term, as no user in this
video, the video comments or the whole of the 24-video dataset uses the term
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Evangelical. Rather, there seems to be a particular aversion to denominational
labels for most of the Evangelicals, and when a denominational label does ap-
pear in this video (in Yokeups reference to the Baptist community), it is used
in a negative way. Although there is an aversion to using denominational labels,
the term Christian does not appear to be sufficient for the users on the site, re-
quiring users like Yokeup to appeal to different descriptions of Christians that are
not based on the particular beliefs that another user holds (especially when
other users whom one perceives as different from oneself claim to hold identical
beliefs), but rather on how Yokeup perceives their actions on the site aligning
with his own.
Although one might expect users from different denominations to argue
about doctrinal issues, this drama episode is less about issues of faith and
more about the behaviours of individuals on the site. Yokeups argument against
jezu zfreek777 and Paula is ultimately a behavioural one, questioning whether or
not they have become too close to atheists on the site and whether or not they
are as eager as Yokeup to aggressively speak what Yokeup believes to be the
truth to others on YouTube. Although Yokeup does not explicitly cast himself
as the model Christian, his positioning in contrast to the religious suggests
that he views not only his beliefs about God to be the best, but, perhaps more
importantly, he views his behaviour to be appropriate and the ideal expression
of Christianity, fighting evil and proclaiming the truth. His denominational affili-
ation is inconsequential in relation to this.
2) Categories seemed to be rooted in standardised Christian discourse, but
the categorisations of users were dynamic and contextually dependent.
The notion of religious and saved Christians is not absent in offline Evan-
gelical Christian discourse, and it seems, as evidenced in the comments on the
video, that both categories are accepted by the viewers. In Evangelical discourse,
saved and religious categorisation can be seen in discourse surrounding the
notions of religious works rather than salvation by grace. From this Evangelical
belief, as seen in Bebbingtons definition given earlier, the only way one can be
saved is by believing through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God pro-
vided a way for the forgiveness of my sins. The religious, on the other hand, are
shown as believing that one must also do some amount of good works to be
saved. Evangelicals root this teaching in Jesus Christs own teaching against
the Pharisees throughout the New Testament and can be particularly critical
of forms of Christianity (particularly Catholicism) which include some notion
of good works in addition to salvation by gr ace.
In the video, however, although Yokeup draws on this standard narrative in
Evangelical Christianity, the two users he singles out are both also Evangelical
Christians who appear to hold the same belief as Yokeup in regard to salvation
178
Stephen Pihlaja
by grace alone. The categories that he uses, religious and saved, then carry
with them not only the negative value he ascribes to them in his talk through
the descriptions of the negative category-bound activities attributed to the cate-
gory religious, but also fixed notions of religious Christians that users may al-
ready have. By employing the category as well as his own desc ription of catego-
ry-bound activities, Yokeup is able to link what appears to already be a
stabilised, negative evaluation of certain kinds of Christians by Evangelicals
with his own mobilisation of the term, built on categorisations that are emergent
in his talk. The result is a negative evaluation through a category that is both sta-
bilised and remade in the context.
3) Metaphor provided the affordance of ambiguity, creating more flexible cat-
egorisation that did not include empirically verifiable descriptions.
What is particularly interesting about Yokeups use of the fashion show
metaphor in describing Paula and Paulas church is the inability to precisely
identify when a church would be behaving in this way. Unlike statements of be-
lief in which clear, canonised disagreements might be identified (particularly be-
tween denominations), its unclear what empirical criteria might be applied to
distinguish religious churches and people from saved people. The fashion
show church is contrasted with the truck stop church. Although the church
does meet in a truck stop, the description of it as a truck stop church suggests
a different environment than a fashion show, with different members from differ-
ent class backgrounds. The difference between the two is both readily accessible
in the metaphors used, provided the viewer has a basic knowledge of both the
fashion show and the truck stop concepts, and fundamentally obscured, even
as Yokeup goes on to describe the members of his own church. Yokeup says
that attendees of his own church are hungry for the word of God, another met-
aphorical description that is also not explicitly described. Rather, the categorisa-
tions seem to be built on his impressions of both churches and groups of believ-
ers rather than observed doctrinal differences.
The difference, however, is performed by Yokeup as he stands in his front
yard in a sleeveless t-shirt, having just returned from working out and with
his heavily tattooed arms clearly displayed. By tying himself to the truck stop
church and presenting himself as not caring about outward appearances, Yokeup
is able to distance himself from the religious, both in his description of his own
church and his appearance. In performing authenticity in this way and describ-
ing his religious experience in terms of listening to the word of God, he suggests
that his interpretation of Gods word is more accurate because it is more authen-
tic, particularly as he hasnt done anything to present it or himself in a false way.
He, in contrast to jezuzfreek777 and in the sam e manner as Jesus, doesnt care
about the perception of others, only about listening to the word of God. Yokeup
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