Kanye is in the news. It’s exactly where he wants to be. His gospel-rap group “Sunday Service” provides a devotional church-styled event each Sunday, somewhere in the USA. In October he released an album called Jesus Is King, which has soared up the charts.
As a generational concession, I will grant that I know more about Marvin Gaye and Sade than Kanye. I have impressions but recognized I needed to consult younger persons. I asked my sons, David, Matthew, Jared, and Christian, all in their thirties, what they were thinking. I also consulted my youngest brother, who was born when I was 15 years old.
Kanye’s denunciation of abortion has won him the enthusiastic support of Evangelicals and, notably, Donald Trump Jr., who recently tweeted, “Kanye West is cracking the culture code. @kanyewest’s new album #JesusIsKing is the epitome of fearless creativity and ‘dangerous, unapproved’ ideas. Leftists always try to silence those who are speaking truth. They’re waging a war on our family and culture.”
A year ago, Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson said support for President Trump by black Americans like Kanye West is a form of “white supremacy by ventriloquism.” I can easily identify Kanye’s brand of Christianity as stylistically African-American but ideologically white. The black church has always valued dignity, justice and freedom. Many of them see the prioritization of abortion as an issue as diversionary. They see an attempt to distract people from the our country’s historic racism.
My kids grew up in the home of a minister, which brings both benefits and baggage. I am pleased that they are part of a generation that questions everything. While I love it when I discover how they are living in community, I prefer they avoid any church, any collective, that can’t be questioned. In fact, I prefer they consort with people who welcome questions.
When it comes to Kanye West’s latest act, my sons are not buying it. Matt thinks Kanye is a genius on the order of van Gogh. He said Kanye might cut off his ear because, in his view, Kanye is a showman. He says, “Kanye gonna do Kanye. Hasn’t changed since the beginning. But he’s always said he’s a Christian. I think now he’s more active because of his kids.” And, “He definitely knows how to grab attention. People say he’s crazy and hate him, but I think he’s a genius and will be remembered for lifetimes like former artists.”
Jared agrees: “I think people forget Kanye’s #1 agenda is more fame. It’s always been his entire career. Old Kanye and new Kanye were always about attaching themselves to the most popular person.” And Christian unambiguously tells me, “I feel like things are gonna end badly for him if he doesn’t get control of his sanity.”
My brother Darryl tries to be generous. He argues that Kanye’s religious experience could be good. He tells me, “Kanye was so lost. Maybe this new encounter will help to ground him.”
More people know Kanye than know Kirk Franklin. While Kirk, too, is younger than I am, we share some similar experiences. Kirk has won Grammys, GMA Dove Awards, BET Award, and Stellar Awards. He declared a week ago that he will boycott the GMA, the Dove Awards, and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the world’s largest Christian TV, until “tangible plans are put into place to protect and champion diversity.” Franklin is fed up with being edited.
At the recently held Dove Awards, Kirk Franklin won “Gospel Artist of the Year.” In his acceptance speech he generously stated, “A young girl by the name of Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed in her home by a policeman, and I am just asking that we send up prayers for her family and for his, and asking that we send up prayers for that 8-year-old little boy that saw that tragedy.”
Atatiana Jefferson was the 28-year-old African-American woman shot to death in her own home. Who can argue that Franklin’s speech was as generous as could be? Those words were unfortunately edited out of the televised show. Franklin said that when they edited his speech, they “edited the African-American experience.” It was not Franklin’s first experience with being edited.
I am another African-American who knows well the experience of fruitlessly contending for understanding and respect within the American Evangelical and Pentecostal world. For years I heard the promises of progress. There were enough conferences and books that apologize for racism, but power is hard to relinquish. I gave up long before Kirk Franklin did, but I still share his hope for something better. We have determined that we don’t want a seat at someone else’s table. We want to participate in the construction of a new table.
While we need to show him love, we also need to be aware that Kanye has uncovered a new market for himself. If I had a chance to talk with him, I would point out that African-American artists have been inspired by and shared their faith for generations. This is what Aretha did. This is what Stevie does. The practice of marketing one’s conversion experience, however, is not of the black church. It plays into the hands of Evangelicals. I, and now Kirk Franklin, agree that it means playing into the hands of white supremacy.
Dr. David Moore Jr. is the pastor at New Covenant Worship Center in Santa Barbara.