There has been an overwhelming response from the masses (particularly white evangelicals) to Kanye West’s new album Jesus is King. I think it symptomatic of one of the more crucial weaknesses in American Evangelicalism
And to be honest, I'm worried about Kanye.
I am worried that evangelical leaders will come out of the woodwork trying not to disciple him but to claim him as a disciple, and the two are quite different. I’m worried that Kanye will be invited to all the conferences and stages to give his testimony of how he was once blind and now he sees. I’m worried, That the force that is American Evangelicalism will overtake him. I can only hope that Kirk, Chance and Lecrae get to him before Jerry and John do.
I've been watching Kanye.
This is not the first album of his that contains ballads and bars about hope, desperation, the need for salvation, and love for God. All his albums boast of the pilgrimage of progressively drawing nigh to Christ of longing for light in darkness. Honestly, I think Kanye's story is biblical. His journey reads like he’s a modern-day Nebuchadnezzar.
You know, Nebuchadnezzar, the arrogant king who erected a statue of himself and expected the world to bow? Over the last few years Yeezy appeared as a deity in the Power music video and called himself a God on Sway. He asked us to watch the throne and spazzed out on Ellen’s couch about his own genius. He blasted his own best friends live in concert and called slavery a choice. The whole time, God was at work.
Just like Nebuchadnezzar Kanye came back from the mental breakdown proclaiming, "Jesus is King” and hosting Sunday services. But, right now Kanye is really vulnerable.
I fear that he may soon find himself trapped in the expectations and the vice grip of the white Evangelical Empire. I'm nervous that he will join the ranks of those who have gone before him. You know those who fail or frustrate the realm and are tossed away, slandered, and dismissed. Exiles like Mark Driscoll or Marty Sampson or the late Rachel Held Evans.
The Empire doesn't tell you that you're a character in a game, and that means you're disposable. I think of moments like these as something like a video game, and when a celebrity makes the right move, the game controller's get to power-up.
And in that way, Kanye West might become a banana.
In Donkey Kong, when a player finds a banana, they level up. Which means they get more power to aid in the ultimate goal of conquering the jungle. I fear the empire will very soon be seeking to devour Kanye's authenticity like Pac Man devours pellets just to be bigger and stronger.
This is a crucial weakness that we must address.
While I am geeking off this album like I did off College Dropout, I am also struggling with the outpouring of support from fair weather folks who never listened to Ye before now. It’s petty, I know. I just had to say something.
Some will say, “well as a Christian, I couldn't endorse the lyrics of a man like that”, but we all know that's not true because he rapped about sex with porn stars and grabbing p*ssy and Christians don't really care about that. Well, at least 81% of them don't.
And to be honest, that's why I‘m worried.
I don't want Kanye to be a pawn until he decides to post a picture about what his family was doing on the Fourth of July or decides to kneel at the wrong time or becomes the main character in what his mentor Jay-Z calls the Story of OJ.
So, I am praying for Kanye now, more than ever.
Jesus told a parable one time about a group of laborers who needed work. They all arrived at different times, and this led to them working different amounts of time. At the end of the day, the wages were the same. Often this story is used to reflect the grace of God and His generosity and it should. Yet, still, as I think about Kanye and the success of his album, I can‘t help but feel a little bit sad.
I’m Sad that (like in the parable) those who arrived late have only a shallow appreciation for the work that has taken place in Kanye's heart over time and several albums. It is a beautiful thing to have witnessed. I’m sad because the church is usually late when it comes to things like this. I’m sad because American Evangelicalism continues to perpetuate a lie that a person must believe in order to belong, instead of the other way around.
Kanye West has not just NOW become one of us, he has been one of us because he is made in the image of the Creator. I suspect a good bit of heartache could’ve been avoided if he’d really believed that.
I can only hope that as God continues to work in Kanye and Kim and their family, that God would protect them from the evil aspirations of an empire that is thirsty for power. I pray that God will keep them connected to the unconditional mercy and love of God that has been with him since the day he woke up, spent his life on a necklace, then told God he'd be back in a second.
Welcome back, Kanye.
* In the Asian American community, the term "banana" is a pejorative used against Asian Americans who aren't "Asian enough." It means you're yellow on the outside but White on the inside. This use of the term was not at all what I meant to communicate. I want to make that abundantly clear and apologize to my Asian American readers and friends who may have been triggered by the title of this blog post.