Fundie Fridays, the sarcastic critic of conservative religious zeal, faces YouTube termination

(RNS) – A young couple sit in front of a webcam trading commentary. Today’s topic: their feelings about a particular set of conservative Christian influencers. Together, Jennifer Sutphin and James Bryant recount their concerns about a popular internet Christian couple, Paul and Morgan Olliges, who could very well be described as the mirror image of Sutphin and Bryant.

While the two couples foster a devoted online following through long-form YouTube content, they represent wildly divergent values ​​and lifestyles. The young and preppy Olliges subscribe to a literal interpretation of biblical gender roles. Sutphin (she/they) and Bryant (he/they) have fluid ideas about gender identity. Les Olliges emphasize the gospel tradition, Sutphin and Bryant ask: what happens outside and after a life of religious submission?

The comparisons are stark and, judging by the comments section of the video, well taken. As one commentator put it, “you and James are playing so well.” The comment received 2,300 likes.

“We wanted to show a good relationship,” Sutphin and Bryant replied in a follow-up comment, alongside two laughing emojis.

Jennifer Sutphin, left, and James Bryant record a Fundie Fridays video together. Video screenshot

Their channel, Fundie Fridays, is empowering to some, confusing to others, always evocative. Each of the channel’s 90 videos functions as an episode of Reddit’s reigning leaders r/fundiesnark’s video counterpart. R/fundiesnark, a subreddit with at least 75,000 users, is a forum for those wronged by fundamentalist Christianity. As the name suggests, the discussions lean towards humor, albeit with an often caustic tone.

A subculture within that subculture, those who watch Fundie Fridays are the “best of the fundiesnark community,” Sutphin insists.

Friday as a new holy day

Fundie Fridays is a YouTube channel in which Sutphin, 28, sometimes with the company of their partner Bryant, 33, posts weekly video essays – usually compilations of clippings from sermons, TV shows, Instagram Reels and other public content, with Sutphin’s sardonic commentary layered at the top. Often, she prepares herself in front of a mirror along the way. A trademark line begins most of the videos: “Here on my channel, I talk about different aspects of Christian fundamentalism, while doing my makeup.”

Since its inception in July 2019, Fundie Fridays has racked up more than 30 million views and 280,000 subscribers — whom Sutphin affectionately calls “Jennonites,” a cheeky nod to the Mennonites, an Anabaptist group. The religious allusions do not stop there. Members of the public sometimes refer to Bryant as “King James”, alluding to the Scottish-English king who commissioned a new translation of the Bible in 1611. Sutphin jokes that his fan base gives him a “god complex”.

Today, Sutphin and Bryant are full-time content creators. The two are now engaged and have six pets. With the revenue they generate from Patreon subscribers and merchandise, they post videos about famous Christians, ranging from internet sensations like the Olliges to reality TV darlings the Duggars and television evangelists of old, such as Tammy Faye Baker. The channel also covers politics (covering a conspiracy theorist and a politician Marjorie Taylor Greene) and followers of other faiths (including Jewish conservative influencer Abby Shapiro).

An intro from the episode of Fundie Fridays.  Video screenshot

An intro from the episode of Fundie Fridays. Video screenshot

“The people in our videos all have the same fundamentalist, dogmatic bigoted spirit,” Sutphin said during Fundie Fridays’ vetting process for potential subjects. As part of a personal project, Sutphin has been trying for six months to define fundamentalism.

“I’m not quoting Clarence Thomas, but I don’t know how to define fundamentalism, however, I know it when I see it,” Bryant said.

RELATED: 100 years later, Fosdick’s question: “Will fundamentalists win?” still resounds

The context of computational coping

The couple live in Mid-Missouri, a state with cross-Midwestern and Southern sensibilities, firmly held by the Bible Belt. More than three-quarters of Missouri’s population identify as Christian, according to Research bench. Despite the homogeneous religiosity of their surrounding communities, the two were not raised in one religion. But, thanks to the couple’s peripheral contact with conservative zeal – both religious and political – they conducted research in their spare time on fundamentalism. “Just for fun,” Sutphin said.

Since neither has a religious background, they adopt an anthropological perspective. The chain is the result of Sutphin’s tangential exposure to faith, a fascination with fanaticism and a particularly brutal “quarter-life crisis”.

“In the vast ex-fundamentalist world, we are extraterrestrial archaeologists,” Bryant said.

Episodes on the Fundie Fridays Youtube channel.  Screenshot

Recent videos on the Fundie Fridays Youtube channel. Screenshot

Sutphin grew up as an only child and became interested in the family dynamics of fundamentalism as seen on the TLC show “19 Kids and Counting”, chronicling the life of the very large – and very independent – Baptist family. Duggar. Sutphin originally bought a laptop to play “Sims” at work. Instead, she learned to edit pictures. Soon after, Sutphin created the channel. Bryant has a background in social work and left his previous corporate career for Fundie Fridays in early 2022 and plans to start his own YouTube channel.

Backlash from ‘Rising Bates’

More recently, however, the couple have faced repercussions via threats of lawsuits. Lawson Bates, a musician and one of Gil and Kelly Bates’ 19 children, best known from “Bringing Up Bates,” a “big religious family” genre reality show, has hit Fundie Fridays with three copyright lawsuits. author between June 18 and June 24 for creating a cover of his song in a parody. Members of the Bates family are evangelical and conservative Christians, known for their “shuddering” ideology, an approach to the family that encourages having as many children as possible.

In response to Bates’ copyright strikes against the channel, YouTube blocked publication of Fundie Fridays and the channel remains on hold, pending final review of the Fundie Fridays counter-notifications.

James Bryant records an episode of Fundie Fridays.  Video screenshot

James Bryant records an episode of Fundie Fridays. Video screenshot

But Sutphin and Bryant aren’t nervous, saying their video falls under fair use. Additionally, their fanbase is unwavering, with some even emailing Bates on the couple’s behalf, expressing their frustration at the channel’s suspension.

“We can’t stop our people from expressing their displeasure at something that is clearly abuse,” Sutphin said. Monday, June 27, the couple was waiting to know the next steps in the legal process.

Fans first and the future

Fundie Fridays skillfully juggles Discord, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube to build a deeply loyal connection with fans, many of whom have experienced religious trauma.

One subscriber, Emily Walters, a 24-year-old hairstylist in Minneapolis, started watching Fundie Fridays a year ago. Walters said she enjoyed the parasocial connection innate in Sutphin’s conversational style. Walters grew up living with his maternal grandparents, who were “intensely Roman Catholic.”

“It probably has something to do with growing up in a religious family and then becoming a non-religious person as an adult, but watching helps me have empathy and perspective,” said Walters. “I don’t think it (religion) suited me; it mostly has to do with the fact that I’m a woman and we usually have the short end of the stick when it comes to religious structure.

another fan, Emilie Garcia Lopez, a master’s student in Germany, said the content made her feel seen. Lopez, 28, said she was raised in a “fundie-lite” non-denominational evangelical environment, which included participating in anti-abortion protests at Planned Parenthood and disavowing jeans, anime and cutouts. short hair for girls.

“Watching Jen and James separate aspects of fundamentalism in a lighthearted and respectful way is therapeutic for me on my journey of deconstructing faith,” Lopez said. “Growing up f—-fundamentalism with you—but Fundie Fridays is a safe place to talk about those experiences.”

Radical collective reform of religion

The “deconstruction of faith” is a term that has more and more been used in evangelical circles, especially in digital spaces. Google searches for “deconstruction” have increased 140% in the past year, according to Google Trends.

Jennifer Sutphin is recording an episode of Fundie Fridays.  Video screenshot

Jennifer Sutphin is recording an episode of Fundie Fridays. Video screenshot

For members of the new generation, digital deconstruction is rethinking what they have been told about God, the Bible, and what it means to be a follower of the faith. Although the practice seems inherently serious, digital deconstruction can take many tones. Sutphin said the use of humor can be effective in overcoming religious harm.

“Digital deconstruction can mean using TikTok to say, ‘Look how mean I was to gay people, it’s funny because I’m gay now,'” Sutphin said.

Except for poking fun at fundamentalists’ hair, most fundiesnark conversations focus on reconciliation and well-being. Although people may begin their journey of deconstruction feeling ashamed of who they were and what they believed in, forgiveness is a key facet of this digital community, Bryant said. Fundie Fridays is a channel within the larger fundiesnark context. The fundiesnark community is a “movement in its own right,” Sutphin added.

“I’m not one of those people who think, ‘Trauma makes you stronger’, but now that it’s happened, what can we do about it? says Bryant. “Whoever you were in your past life as an evangelical, that shame dies when you deconstruct the trauma.”

“Irony!” Suphin said. “It’s like when you become a Christian, you die to your old self. But now it’s the other way around. »

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