Social media is buzzing about Kanye West, his album “Jesus is King” and his newfound faith in Jesus Christ. Along with that has come his request that those working on his album abstain from premarital sex and that his wife stop wearing revealing clothing. To some it may sound weird but I went on a similar journey 16 years ago.
The year was 2003. It was Lent, an important season on the church calendar. My best friend (who would go on to become my wife) and I started asking God questions. Are you real? If you’re real then_________. One by one we started to get the answers we were looking for. By the end of Lent we were convinced the God we had heard about all those years was real and we became born again Christians. No sermons. No calls to the altar. Soon after I threw out or gave away all my hip-hop CD’s, threw away some of my clothing, abstained from sex, stopped wearing earrings and stopped hanging out with my closest friends. I was a new man. (I’ve since put back in my earrings, got back some of my music, and reconnected with my friends).
Eventually I became a leader in my church, sat in the coveted front row and eventually even got ordained as a minister, priest collar and all. I learned some great lessons that still serve me today. Although my ministry days are long behind me, faith is still a very important part of my life.
One of the things I learned during my heavy church going days was that many Christians have an awkward, if not antagonistic, relationship with the world around them. I remember the comments about Beyonce and her alter ego “Sasha Fierce” and how demonic it was. Then when she featured on fellow Destiny’s Child bandmate Michelle Williams’ Christian song “Say Yes” the judgment continued.
Since getting into the entertainment industry myself, I’ve been on the receiving end of this judgment. Since starting SHIFTER we’ve received private messages, “prophetic words”, from well meaning Christians. We received a few “I was praying and God told me you’re not supposed to be reviewing non-Christian movies” remarks. When I recently visited a church and told them I had a hip-hop radio show at the time on a non-Christian station I received blank stares and puzzled looks. And when I embraced the name “KB The Boss” ahead of getting my show there were whispers and comments from Christians I knew and respected, “Kevin doesn’t need to do all that. What is he doing?”
The church often complains about being hated by the world, but let’s be honest – the feeling is mutual. The same awkwardness, if not hatred “the world” has for Christianity, many Christians have for the world as well. Talk to a lot of Christians steeped in Evangelical culture and an “us vs. them” mentality will soon reveal itself. Personally, a lot of Christians have trouble figuring me out because I spend more time with “them” than “us” and it’s partly for this reason that I no longer go to church. Many Christians don’t understand or embrace people like me.
Although the Bible speaks of those who are called to the Gentiles or “the uncircumcised” alongside those who are called “the circumcised”, the church today doesn’t know what to do with people who are called to be out in culture. We’re often treated like second class citizens in the church. “Carnal Christians” who are in rebellion and need to “come back to God”. Assumptions are made about our faith or the supposed lack thereof. The reality is it takes more faith to be out among people who don’t believe what you believe, and to love and respect said people, than it does to spend all your time in church.
Now back to Kanye, it’s important to note there are two groups of Christians in this matter. The judgmental Christian and the non-judgmental Christian.
The Judgmental Christian
This group actually disgusts me. They’re what the Bible calls “Pharisees”. They think they’re so close to God but they’re actually the furthest away. They’ve created an image, a golden calf, of what the perfect Christian is and nobody except them can live up to it. These people are the reason a lot of people stay clear of church. In the song “Hands On” Kanye says, “What have you been hearin’ from the Christians? / They’ll be the first one to judge me / Make it feel like nobody love me / They’ll be the first one to judge me / Feelin’ like nobody love me”. He was talking about these people.
The Non-Judgmental Christian
I’m happy to say a lot of social buzz I’ve seen has fallen into this category which I wasn’t anticipating, but I still have some concerns. Like their judgmental counterparts, this group also seems to have an image of what the ideal Christian looks and sounds like. Artists like Beyonce and Kanye West have been speaking about their faith for years but they never fit the image of the ideal Christian so they were never accepted.
In a 2013 interview, Kanye told Ellen Degeneres his three role models were Jesus Christ, Steve Jobs and his dad. This wasn’t the first time he talked about his faith.
I appreciate this group; they give hope to people like me. But I wonder if Kanye West has only been accepted by this group because he now fits the Evangelical image of what a Christian is; he’s now expressing his faith in a way that they understand. My fear with this group is that Kanye will become a token, paraded around from conference to conference. This group has embraced Kanye for now, but what happens if he disappoints them again? Will they distance themselves from him or continue walking alongside him?
Although the Bible says, “God so loved the world…”, a lot of Christians believe God only cares about the church and it’s flat out wrong. Here’s a story to prove it.
Back in 2007, my wife and I were working for a court reporting and transcribing company in Toronto. One day I was assigned to gather testimony in someone’s home a few hours outside of Toronto which was peculiar because I had only gone to courthouses to gather testimony. When I got there it was a small townhouse with large, black SUV’s in front with Texas license plates. When I got inside there were a few white middle aged men in suits present. I set up my recording machine and got started recording the testimony of the homeowner.
At the time I was already an ordained minister, and spent a lot of time in church, but I was a huge Entertainment Tonight junky. After a few minutes I realized I was gathering testimony for the Anna Nicole Smith trial. Yes, that’s right. I was following the trial religiously so I pieced together what was happening. The homeowner was a witness in the trial and I was sitting at the table with Larry Birkhead’s lawyers. During the break they talked about Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter Dannielynn and what was being reported on Extra and Entertainment Tonight. It was an “Okay God, what’s happening and why am I here?” moment.
It’s only now, 12 years later that this experience makes sense. First, it foreshadowed my own calling to the entertainment industry. For all the judgment and puzzled looks I’ve received from my fellow Christians over the years, whenever I’ve questioned myself and what I’m doing, I remember that I was once a part of the Anna Nicole Smith trial; the trial of the decade for the 2000’s. It’s a not so subtle reminder I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
Second, it’s a reminder that God doesn’t just love Christians; he loves the world. We often think God only cares about issues like human trafficking and adoption or about holy people who spend all their time in church, but he also cared for Anna Nicole Smith, a Playboy playmate in the porn industry.
So my message to the church is stop treating those of us who are called out into culture – the pre-”Jesus is King” Kanyes, Beyonces and KB The Bosses like we’re second class or in need of fixing. Stop seeing us as people of lesser faith. Stop accepting us only when we fit into nice Evangelical boxes. Stop dismissing what we do and treating our work like it’s not viable ministry. Stop making assumptions about our relationship with God because of what you see on the Gram. Acknowledge that our callings are viable callings because the one we worship has already accepted us. Try to understand what we actually do and why we do it before judging and whispering about outer appearances. Maybe then I’ll come back to church.