MOBILE, Ala. – A music video poking gentle fun at self-righteous Christians has landed three University of Mobile students on The American Bible Challenge, a game show beginning its third season May 22.
Worship Leadership majors Seth Brasher, Harrison Hughes and Kory Van Matre made a video for fun in February 2013. Titled “Thrift Shop – Christian Remix,” the YouTube video is a redone version of the popular rap song “Thrift Shop” by the artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. But instead of the original raunchy lyrics, the UMobile trio used the catchy beat to make a point that strikes a chord with Christian youth groups across the country.
“We’re making fun of Christians who boast about their good deeds instead of living out a life of faith,” explained Hughes, whose academic concentration in film was key to producing the video. With the tag line, “I’m an awesome Christian,” the video takes a tongue-in-cheek look at some of the more pretentiously pious ways people spotlight their good deeds.
Fast-forward a year later and the video has had over 858,000 views, including one by a casting agent for comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s Game Show Network (GSN) hit “The American Bible Challenge.”
The Los Angeles-based agent tracked Brasher down through Facebook, and called his cell phone. “I was a little skeptical,” Brasher said. When he received an email with the show’s logo and detailed information, he told Hughes and Van Matre, “Oh wow, this is legit!” The students were asked to audition in Atlanta for season three of the show, but their classwork and busy touring schedules as members of several of the school’s Center for Performing Arts music and worship ensembles made a personal appearance impossible. Instead, the casting agent arranged a three-hour Skype interview, complete with Bible trivia questions. The best friends were asked to joke around, show their personalities, and share their testimonies of faith.
Hughes taped the interview, which was sent to the TV show’s producers and edited into a highlights tape used to promote the show. The show’s producers had an image in mind for the students ¬– part Jonas Brothers, part cool college kids. It was part of clearly defining for the audience who they were, what they did, and why the audience should like them, Brasher explained.
The producers took a pass on Brasher’s idea for a group name – Boaz and the Kinsman Redeemers – and chose instead “Rhymz with Grace.” The name played off the group’s rap video, Harrison said, meaning that the students were able to make compelling rhymes by God’s grace.
As one of 18 teams competing this season, Rhymz with Grace would be playing to win money for a charity. They chose Home of Grace for Women, a Christ-centered alcohol and drug recovery program in nearby Eight Mile, Alabama. Harrison and Van Matre are members of the brass and percussion ensemble RamCorps that volunteered the past two years at Home of Grace, working on landscaping and cleaning as part of Project Serve, the university’s annual day of service. A video crew arrived on campus in early 2014, taping the team during a RamCorps outdoor concert, plus taping in-depth personal interviews.
During the next few weeks the team added to their already significant biblical knowledge, studying with Dr. Doug Wilson, dean of the School of Christian Ministries. Soon, they were in Los Angeles for a week-long experience that pitted them against other teams, most of which included pastors or other older, learned members. “We were the epitome of the underdogs. We were the youngest team – the oldest of us was 21. Everybody else had a pastor on their team,” said Brasher. As a three-time Bible drill champion in his youth, Brasher was the “Bible guru” of the team.
Other teams included former beauty queens, motorcycle-riding priests, police officers and Mormon moms, according to the network. With Foxworthy as host of the one-hour game show, contestants compete based on their knowledge of the Bible. Season three premieres with two back-to-back original episodes on Thursday, May 22 at 7 p.m. (Central) and will air new episodes every Thursday.
Grammy winner and multi-platinum-selling musician and producer Kirk Franklin is musical co-host. The American Bible Challenge has added new games that put the contestant’s spiritual and physical talents to the test with new categories that include “Christ or Klingon” in which contestants have to guess whether words are from the Bible or Star Trek’s Klingon language; “Curse You Autocorrect” where contestants must decipher a typed Bible passage that has been “autocorrected;” and “Nazareth Enquirer” with sensational Biblical headlines that could have appeared in a tabloid.
The UMobile team is scheduled to make an appearance in the June 5 episode. By contract, they can’t discuss the results of the competition until the season ends. Their biggest concern was in knowing that “we were representing the school, and we were going to do our best not to look like idiots,” Brasher said. Their most stressful moment came their first day when they were to perform an original rap song – they hoped it wouldn’t bomb. That moment turned from nerve-wracking to magical when Kirk Franklin was their beat boxer. The team said the unusual opportunity gives them a broader platform to share not only their musical talents, but something much more important. “For me, it’s God showing us through the smallest things that He can make the biggest thing come out of it,” Hughes said.
The video they hoped would reach 10,000 views has gained an audience from Alabama to California, prompted online dialogue between Christians and atheists, and launched discussions in youth groups about what it means to live a life of faith and not simply brag about good deeds. Van Matre said some Christians took them to task for the video, taking it as an attack on Christians instead of a commentary on false piety. “We want people to laugh at it and not take offense,” Van Matre said. “God has used it. We’ve heard that the video is being preached on in youth services. A church in Texas asked if they could use it, and a college in Idaho.” The impact goes beyond appearing as contestants on a game show, they said.
“We don’t see this as a game. It’s an opportunity, first and foremost, to share the Gospel, and secondly to provide for those ladies at the Home of Grace in a way we never could if not for the show,” Brasher said. “We have a mission, and it’s nothing to do with the game show and everything to do with Jesus Christ.”