Kanye West is largely known for three things: his music, his ego and being married to reality television star Kim Kardashian West. But in the last year or so, West has seemingly reembraced his Christian faith. He holds weekly ‘Sunday services,’ which started out as an invitation only musical service without a preacher, and his latest album and accompanying film is called Jesus is King. It’s a strange evolution, but regardless of the theological basis of his faith it is encouraging to see a celebrity interested in celebrating his faith.
Christianity has always been part of West’s music. One of the first singles that West released on his debut album, The College Dropout, is “Jesus Walks.” While there is some clear profanity in the song, the lyrics are about how Jesus walks with both sinners and saints. In the chorus, West says, “God show me the way because the Devil’s tryin’ to break me down. The only thing I pray is that my feet don’t fail me now (I want Jesus). And I don’t think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs. I want to talk to God, but I’m afraid because we ain’t spoke in so long.”
While it is probably true that not everyone is interested in rap music, there are some definite truths in the lyrics. He also rapped, “To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers even the strippers (Jesus walks for them). … I ain’t here to argue about his facial features or here to convert atheists into believers. I’m just saying the way school needs teachers, the way Kathie Lee needed Regis that’s the way I need Jesus. … They said you can rap about anything except for Jesus. That means guns, sex, lies, video tape, but if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?”
For those in the music industry, the success of the song was a bit of a surprise. It isn’t every day that a hip-hop artist would reference Christianity so openly in his lyrics. West also did three different music videos for the song, which included a lot of Christian imagery. In the third version, a man played Jesus and followed West, seeming to direct him away from trouble and healing a sick family member. The song was even nominated for a Stellar, “the highest honor in gospel music besides the Grammy.”
It’s interesting, and not what you would expect from a hip-hop artist.
On the flip side, West is also known for his huge ego and thinking of himself as a god. In the album, Yeezus (a clear reference to Jesus), West has songs like “I am a god.” That’s why when word first came out that West was doing a Sunday service and seeming to embrace Christianity, it was met, at least by me and I’m sure many others, with a fair amount of skepticism.
In all fairness, some of West’s ups and downs could be attributed in part to his bipolar diagnosis. It’s a condition that is known for causing “unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” But regardless of his mental status, the Sunday services do appear to focus on faith, family and, in some instances, his support of the Republican party. In one particular tweet, one user identified Kanye’s emerging style as “Right Wing, Evangelical Christian Hip-Hop Music,” and in a video West himself argued that making a (voting) decision based on the color of your skin is a form of “mental slavery.” A clear reference to the criticism he received for his very public support of President Donald Trump last year.
“It’s honestly more like a healing experience for my husband,” Kardashian West told Elle. “It’s just music; there’s no sermon. It’s definitely something he believes in—Jesus—and there’s a Christian vibe. But there’s no preaching. It’s just a very spiritual Christian experience.”
Doesn’t sound like much teaching is actually happening, but the idea of services led by a rapper that focuses more on spirituality over “guns, sex, lies, video tapes” is better than what most others are doing. In addition to the initial invitation-only services, West has now performed his Sunday service for the young crowd at the Coachella Music Festival, a field in Wyoming and a church in New York. As a result of the interest in him as an artist, and his famous wife, people who would normally never set foot in a church service somehow find time to check out West’s latest venture.
Is it theologically sound? Probably not, but if it is getting people to take an interest in church then perhaps there is something to it. There were 50,000 people who attended his event at Coachella, which is about half the weekly global attendance for Hillsong services. That’s pretty impressive. It may be more spectacle than substance, but if the Gospel somehow can slip in here and there who knows what the end result could be.
Although honestly, the focus could still be entirely on Kanye. The invitation to one event does say: “A party dedicated to the music of Kanye West.” There is no way to know for sure if he’s genuinely about Jesus or Yeezus, but here at The Daily Citizen, we are trying to take a bit of an optimistic approach. If he truly is seeking truth, we applaud Kanye for doing so when many other celebrities are embracing depravity (à la Miley Cyrus). He just needs to stop calling himself Yeezus.