I was raised in a Christian family; my mother is Catholic, and my father is Methodist. I still on occasion go to church with them, but after studying religion in college, I’m a bit jaded when it comes to the subject. So when I discovered Epic Christian Memes, an Instagram page with more than 300,000 followers that uses pop-culture references and meme formats to point out some of the absurdities that come with participating in Christianity, I was a bit hesitant. I’m wary of proselytization, and assumed this page was a new way to spread pro-Christian messages in hopes of convincing potential converts.
But as I scrolled through the page, I found myself chuckling. There was no talk of a vengeful God or the incoming apocalypse. Instead, there were Dragon Ball Z characters and pictures of celebrities like the Kardashians, used to explore topics such as middle-aged pastors’ ill attempts to be relevant, neverending sermons, and disinterest in reading the Bible. There were even some non-Christian memes as well that expressed love for waffle fries and used a half-naked Seth Rogen to depict the pleasure of cutting wrapping paper. (Kind of basic, but it’s Instagram; how deep are you really looking for?)
The page is by far the largest meme page devoted to Christian themes on Instagram, surpassing other popular pages like Edgy Christian Memes and Deutoronomemes, which hover around 100,000 followers. There are other pages with Jewish and Muslim themes, as well as Buddhist, Hindu, and other popular world religions; with the wide-world of internet memes, it’s pretty easy to find a meme about anything. What is difficult to find is a meme page that creates memes that aren’t weighed down by jargon or esoteric references, but can attract a widely diverse fanbase.
The page’s bio states that Epic Christian Memes is run by two pastors, people who, in my experience, have always been out of the loop. So I reached out via DM and asked if they were really telling the truth. Josiah, one of the pastors, quickly responded and told me yes. In fact, he’s run the page since its inception in May 2015.
At first, Josiah was reluctant to chat, telling me that he’s the leader of a large congregation with 2,000 members and would like to stay anonymous because sometimes “Christians are some of the most uptight people on earth,” and might not appreciate the irreverence of the page. As he told The Outline, his page isn’t meant as a form of outreach or proselytization; it’s more of a therapeutic process for him to work through some of the contradictions that devotees to most religions face. Sure, his page spreads some messages that are Christian-centric, but it also pokes fun at a form of culture that people more often than not take far too seriously. Maybe that’s why the page’s followers include anything from pious Christians to, well, people like me who aren’t as keen on the actual religion, but appreciate this relatively new format with which it can be critiqued and explored.
How did the page start?
In 2014, I and the other pastor I started the page with were doing youth ministry together We were at a camp, and had just started discovering Christian memes. There were probably only about five or six different pages on Instagram. One of them did a contest for who could come up with the best Christian pickup line meme, so while at the camp, we came up with a couple really fire ones, and sent one in. They didn’t pick it; they picked this one that had circulated many times already.
We were so mad, and were so petty that we were like, we’re just gonna make our own page, ours will be better. And we said that for about six months [laughs] and didn’t do anything. We didn’t expect anything other than we’re just gonna have some fun, and make jokes. We hit about a thousand followers in the first month. A couple big pages kind of took me under their wing and then we exploded from there.
Do you have a specific audience in mind?
I think pretty much anybody. I’ve thought about making a non-Christian page. I realize it would take more work because I’m a pastor’s kid, I grew up in church. I worked at a very traditional Presbyterian Church. I was a worship leader, I was a youth pastor, now I’m a lead pastor, so I have held pretty much all the positions in a church. I’ve seen the best in church, I’ve seen the worst in church. I have so much content in my own brain and it’s the way that I detox my mind at the end of the night. I just make memes. It’s weirdly therapeutic.
For sure, the page was made for Christians but it definitely wasn’t made for crappy, uptight, Christians, even though they do follow me too and get mad. I guess it was made for more jaded Christians that aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves and laugh at our religion and laugh at where we fall short. I’ve got followers that are atheists, people from other religions, agnostics, and I’m sure so many kids that have left the church. I might be their one tie to God right now, which is kind of terrifying but I try not to think about that too much [laughs].
Has anyone reached out to you about the page?
I’ve gotten a couple DMs of people saying they’re an atheist or Jewish or this or that or the church hurt them, and they say they really appreciate my page. And then I get people that say, “God isn’t real and your page is stupid.” I get the whole gamut of different people. I also get Christians who don’t appreciate the page. I woke up this Monday to a DM that said, “Delete the page or God’s wrath is coming.” A great way to start my week.
Is that why you’ve decided to stay anonymous?
I think that is the main reason and the biggest reason. Really, the bigger reason more than anything is that I’m married and I have kids, and Instagram is just full of psychopath, crazies, even crazy Christians telling me that judgement is going to come and I’m going to go to hell because of the memes I made. I don’t want any of those people knowing what my kids look like, knowing where I live, anything like that. When our church went through a transition and I ended up taking over and our mother church kind of took over, we pulled our faces off [the page] because we were like, I don’t know if they’re going to be happy about this. And as the page grew bigger and bigger, we were like, it’s better this way and with the prominent position that I have, some people don’t find memes endearing or funny, they find it angering and blasphemous.
Tell me a bit about your meme making process.
I’ve got about 70 stored on my phone right now. and I only post one original one a day, and then do reposts and stuff like that. I’m a hoarder, I’m a squirrel and I just wanna have a lot of backup until the well runs dry, but it hasn’t run dry. My vault has gone from 30 for a while, then 40, and now we’re up to 70, so I need to be less greedy [laughs].
Do you see the meme page as an extension of your Christianity?
When we started the page, it was never meant to be any kind of outreach. To do the meme stuff, I just enjoy humor. Even the way I preach, I often use humor. I do believe the Lord gave us humor as a means to break down walls and as a means to lighten up and get religious sticks out of our butts. The page was never created for evangelism. I never made it because I thought I would get this huge following. It was honestly made just to have fun.
Over time, I discovered that it became this weirdly therapeutic thing for me and then because I’ve posted multiple times a day every day for about four years now, that it’s become a weird part of me. I got locked out of it the other day for a couple hours, and I felt like I lost one of my kids at the mall. I didn’t realize how much it had become a part of me until I couldn’t get in.