Exvangelical TikTok worship parodies bring unexpected healing

Using troubling quotes from the Bible, Prezleigh and Joshua Colburn write worship parodies under the name 'Trysten & Sayge.'

Recent TikTok posts by Prezleigh and Joshua Colburn, who write and record worship parodies under the names Sayge and Trysten. Screen grab

(RNS) — If you’re an exvangelical who has been scrolling through TikTok lately, you may have stumbled across a duo singing what sounds suspiciously like evangelical worship music.

Until you hear the lyrics.

“Anyone who is captured will be cut down and run through with a sword,” they sing in harmony, guitar strums in sync. “Their little children will be dashed to death before their eyes.”

Using exact quotes from the Bible, Prezleigh and Joshua Colburn write and record worship parodies under the names Sayge and Trysten. A former creative arts pastor (Joshua) and music pastor (Prezleigh), they departed their respective churches in 2019 over issues they say include the exclusion of LGBTQ folks, inadequate responses to mental health and the doctrine that non-Christians go to hell.

Since releasing their first worship satire video in November under their “originalsinfluencer” TikTok account, they’ve written more than 30 parodies, some of which have earned 600K-plus views. Three of their songs are now on Spotify.

When they aren’t writing satire, they’re mining crystals, bee keeping and documenting Prezleigh’s journey with chronic lyme disease — she stings her spine with bees as part of her treatment — on a separate TikTok account. RNS spoke to the couple about the story behind the satire. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you come to write satirical worship songs?

Prezleigh and Joshua Colburn write and record worship parodies under the names Sayge and Trysten. Photo courtesy of the Colburns

Prezleigh and Joshua Colburn. Photo courtesy of the Colburns

Joshua: I was listening to that One Direction song “Story of My Life,” and I was like, I’m having the same feeling inside, listening to this song, as I did when listening to worship songs. One of our friends came over, and together we led the song like a worship song. It was really funny to us. And we thought, there’s this verse, Deuteronomy 25:11-12: “If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.” And we wrote this kind of hymn-ditty using that verse.

Prezleigh: We filmed it, I improvised the harmony and the set up.

Joshua: And it blew up. Someone on TikTok had mentioned Ezekiel 23:20, “She lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.” We recorded that song that night, and it was even bigger. Our account went from 2,000 people to basically 20,000 overnight.

Prezleigh: A lot of people are having the revelation that there could be a specific chord progression, a specific tempo, a specific note that is creating this Holy Spirit movement. That feels blasphemous to say, but it’s just one perspective we want to offer.

Why use exact quotes from the Bible?

Joshua: As much as we were just trying to poke fun, it’s also a rebellion against people who use this book as a weapon. Let’s stop destroying lives over these texts that we don’t really understand.

Prezleigh: It also gives us validity. We’re not telling you what we feel. We’re just quoting the Bible. Hillsong and Bethel, they take these verses out of context and add their own words to them to create these tags that end up being very emotionally manipulative. All we want to do is show that you can take other parts of the Bible and do the same thing, it’s just the part that no one wants to see.

What is your response to the critique that you take Scripture out of context?

Joshua: It’s easy to answer. Either they are proving our point for us, or we can say, in what context is this okay? In what context is 42 children being mauled by two female bears okay? (See 2 Kings 2:24.)

A recent TikTok post by Sayge and Trysten. Video screen grab

A recent TikTok post by Sayge and Trysten. Video screen grab

How is pointing out the lack of context proving your point?

Joshua: A lot of Christians take the clobber passages in Leviticus and Romans out of context to say being gay is a sin. So what we’re doing is taking verses about women being silent in church, for example, and intentionally taking them out of context. That’s the whole point. A lot of these verses have been taken out of context and painted in a different light by pastors.

How did you develop the personas of Trysten and Sayge?

Prezleigh: They are based off of a combination of very real people we either know personally or see on social media. Also, as a woman in a church, I’ve lived as Sayge, being seen as a weaker vessel who needs to submit to my husband and dress modestly.

When it comes to the character of Trysten, I’m coaching Joshua. It’s coming from real life experiences. Trysten’s character has a white savior complex. His ignorance, arrogance and misogyny comes out because he is programmed to be head of the household. He thinks he’s fulfilling God’s will by shepherding everyone else in his life.

Joshua: Both Trystan and Sayge are oblivious to this dynamic.

Prezleigh: The characters also let us remove ourselves. It’s a lot easier for us to create as an alter-ego, because we do get hate, but it’s hatred for Sayge and Trysten. The distinction also helps others play along. We’ll get comments like, “Sayge’s wrists are showing!”

Who are you trying to reach with these videos, and what messages do you hope to convey?

Joshua: Our content is for a broken group of people who are trying to re-find their way or have found their way again and want to reflect back on some of the crazy that they were part of.

Prezleigh: We wanted to do something that was action-driven. We can hear the stories of folks who are marginalized and let them know they’re not alone. Our content is for exvangelicals, especially people of color, especially the people in the LGBTQIA community. We’re two people saying, hey, we were in on it. We did believe in it. We learned from it and now we’ve got to put this into action.

Joshua: And there’s definitely some “I’m sorry” in this, too.

Have you found healing through creating these videos?

Joshua Colburn records at his home studio. Photo courtesy of Colburn

Joshua Colburn records at his home studio. Photo courtesy of Colburn

Joshua: The first time I was ever asked to lead worship, I was 16 years old, and I hadn’t even been in church long enough to know what it meant. And from that moment on, the church gave me a voice and a stage to play on. They also took advantage of me a lot. The funny thing is, I’ve never liked worship music, but it became this huge part of my life. I realized that I didn’t ever deal with any of that religious trauma that came from my “calling.” Worship music became really triggering to me. Now, I’m going into the songs, and I’m singing these horrific words like “dash your children on the rocks” set to these really familiar tunes. And it’s healing me.

Prezleigh: It shows that you aren’t as crazy as you may have thought.

Joshua: Yes. Suddenly I’m allowed to move around the problem rather than just look at it head on.

Prezleigh: We both went through a period of time where we were done with music. And this is coming from a place of being told we were anointed with the gift of song. Now, I am using the same skills. We have freedom to take ownership of our hard work and talent and creativity and not give it to someone else. It has nothing to do with religion or the rules that Christianity wanted to hold me accountable to.

Joshua. Also, it’s all just really f—ing funny.

Prezleigh: We are having a lot of fun with it. We think there is a huge power to just laughing.

What feedback have you received from viewers?

Joshua: That was what was most surprising. There was an outpouring of exvangelicals and people who are deconstructing that are going, “Oh my God, this is healing my religious trauma.” It’s been absolutely overwhelming and absolutely unexpected. It’s what gives us the gas to keep doing what we’re doing.

Prezleigh: It’s giving them a tool that can open up a conversation, and that’s ultimately the goal. To have a healthy conversation.

How would you describe your spiritual worldviews today?

Joshua: We don’t know. But we also are OK with not knowing. At least today, what I believe is there is some sort of creator out there that maybe set things in motion, but it’s a creator, and it’s not a perfect creation.

Prezleigh: Creation was done, and that was it. We agree that we are so small. Why would we be able to comprehend what a god is? Or why would it be a singular God?

Joshua: Once I let go of the Bible, suddenly everything became so much bigger. Whatever is out there, I have more access to it now than ever before.

Prezleigh: We really do feel that it’s our responsibility as humans to connect with and take care of the environment and the world. And that probably sounds like a very “hippie dippie” thing to say, but we really for the first time fully believe that’s the key to it.

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