For a while now, being a Kanye West fan has felt like living in a really beautiful, really earthquake-prone area. Instability punctuates the beauty, and there’s always this sense of “things are great for now, at least.” So when I heard that Kanye had become a born-again Christian, and was putting out an album focused on faith, I was as skeptical as you could be. After spending the weekend with Jesus Is King, I think I had it wrong.
I’ve been listening to Kanye since around 2005-2007 (Late Registration/Graduation album era) and between now and then, there seems to be this pattern where every new Kanye release is accompanied by some sort of self-destructive publicity stunt or controversy. Whether it’s snatching the mic from Taylor, calling slavery a choice, or publically supporting one of America’s most divisive figures… If you didn’t know any better, you’d call the creation/self-destruction just part of the dude’s process. The problem is, Kanye’s platform doesn’t begin and end with music. He’s a household name. When he takes a stance on something, for better or worse, we listen. And this guy’s had some insanely flawed views that he hasn’t been shy about sharing.
So what happens when somebody with a platform like Kanye’s, in an age where all mistakes and missteps are forever recorded, says that they’ve found Jesus?
I think we’re finding that out right now.
Jesus Is King has been out since Friday, October 25th, and there have been no shortage of opinions surrounding the album, the motivation behind it, and whether or not Kanye’s conversion is “the real deal.” I don’t know the guy, so I can’t say. I can empathize with the confusion a lot of people are going through right now, but I want to point out that this isn’t unprecedented.
I’ve listened to the album probably a dozen times (like I did for his other albums on release), and to me in this moment, this story has God written all over it. This looks like God taking a person I had written off as “lost to the culture” (Saul, Rahab, Noah) and transforming them into a kingdom worker. Who am I to have prayed for our culture, for people to see the light, and then have the audacity to tell God “oh, but You can’t use HIM,” or my cynical favorite that I’ve been seeing on Christian’s social media: “well let’s wait and see” (“wait and see” what? That he won’t ever make a mistake again? What are you waiting for?).
Jesus Is King sounds like a new believer celebrating what God has done in their life. Kanye, energized with all of the enthusiasm and zeal of a new convert brings us a truth-proclaiming album, and “Follow God” is sitting at #1 on Spotify. I’m not sorry for not wanting to find ways to undercut this. If not for this, what have I been praying for?
In his past, Kanye has said and done some incredibly problematic things. Does faith and a public Christian life automatically free him of all the consequences for his actions and words? No. I can understand that if for some, Kanye has crossed a point of no return. All I know is that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), and that applies to Kanye, just like it does to me, and to you. God’s love and forgiveness doesn’t only apply to the people I feel should deserve it, or have “done enough work” for it.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, a baby Christian has one of the biggest microphones in the world right now. Will he nail it every single time he opens his mouth to talk? No. Will he disappoint us if we elevate him to a messianic figure status? Obviously. But right now, he’s just released a (good) album, and has millions of people in our increasingly post-faith world typing “Jesus Is King” into the search bar. To me, in this moment, that’s enough. I’m trying to shake my cynicism-if I can’t believe that others can find the truth, what am I working towards?