Kanye West is one of the most influential people in America today. The hip-hop artist has sold 140 million albums worldwide. He has won 21 Grammy Awards. And his influence expands further through his fashion labels and his marriage to reality TV star Kim Kardashian. Kanye, also known as Yeezy, is notoriously controversial, including storming the stage and taking over award shows when he believes someone else (usually himself) deserved the award. Although he has incorporated gospel sounds and references to God and Christ in his music over the years, these acknowledgements have been outweighed by his expletive-laced tributes to intoxication and easy women. In recent years he has even begun to refer to himself as a god, releasing an album called ‘Yeezus’ with himself on the cover with a crown of thorns on his head and women sitting on his lap.
And now he says that he has been converted to Christ. His newly formed faith has been expressing itself through a series of Sunday Services across the nation in recent months. The Sunday Services have the feel of a southern black church service, complete with organ and choir, though they include less preaching. The music includes classic gospel music as well as some of Kanye’s original gospel music and live remixes. Kanye’s wife and kids often join him in the front row of the participatory concert. Most people in the audience of the Sunday Services, instead of responding to the invitation to join in the worship, spend their time recording the concerts with their phones, content to capture on video whatever Kanye might do or say next.
For several million Americans, especially young people, Kanye might be the primary expression of Christianity that they are exposed to. If his name is on the gathering, it will attract hundreds of thousands of viewers. Is this something to rejoice in? Is it something to mourn?
We live in a celebrity culture in which a small number of people, through social and visual media, enact a huge influence upon our society. Their pictures and posts and words are instantly consumed by millions of people. For some Christians, to see one of these powerfully influential celebrities turn their lives to Christ is a wonderful chance for the Christian faith to move into a place of prominence and power. The thinking goes that now many more people can hear the Gospel that Christ came to bring salvation to those that trust in His death for their sins. And maybe for those that feel insecure in their faith there is a level of validation. If Kanye is a Christian, then we can feel good about following Christ in today’s world.
On the other hand, there are those that are understandably skeptical. Kanye, like many celebrities, is bombastic, and his profession of faith might just be the latest cultural splash that he is making. Wait a few months and he will have found some other way to get his name in the headlines. This way of thinking says, ‘don’t celebrate his conversion, because soon enough he is just going to embarrass the faith and those that sided with him.’
I’d like to propose a middle way in our reactions to high profile conversions. First we need to remember that God wasn’t hurting for witnesses before the latest celebrity came to faith. A celebrity isn’t the great Christian hope for our culture, in fact, God more regularly likes to work from the unexpected margins. Just look at God’s selection of Mary to bear Christ as one example. And in this regard, we shouldn’t put too much hope in a celebrity conversion. For one, it puts too much expectation on a young Christian.
And in the case of Kanye, it is important to remember that he has a history of intoxication and of struggles with depression, anxiety and even paranoia. These struggles don’t vanish when someone gives their life to Christ. Not to mention there are strong social and spiritual attacks that will certainly come for high profile Christians. Just like any new believer, he needs prayer.
And it would be wise for us to be patient to watch for fruit in his new life of faith. It is easy for someone in a high profile position to stumble, and before we proclaim him to be the next great champion of the Christian faith, we need to give it time, lots of time. The years will show if he was able to overcome the trials ahead, and continue in the life of faith. May God help him to do so.
Together in the Journey,
Fr. Cam Lemons