This past week there’s been a lot of ink spilled in the Christian community about Kanye West and his apparent conversion, as demonstrated by his new album, Jesus is King. As a Christian, of course I’m happy when sinners come to Christ. If Kanye West is following Christ now, then praise the Lord. That’s amazing.
But you know what’s more amazing than proclaiming the name of the Lord? Living like you believe it. I’m not passing an indictment on West’s behavior; I am not in a place to judge him or whether or not his life has been transformed. But in this country, about 75% of the population proclaims they are Christian. Maybe that means they never attend church, but they are still identifying with the faith. As much as I see people claiming that they know West has had a full conversion because, “He would never risk his career like this,” I gotta say, proclaiming yourself to be a Christian is actually an incredibly low-risk move. No one’s career would be in jeopardy over this. Literally millions of people claim they are Christian in this country every day. Anyone can declare they are a Christian and continue living however they like.
What is risky is actually living like a Christian. Selling your possessions and giving the money to the poor, as Jesus commands us to do, is risky. Loving your neighbors as yourself and praying for those who persecute you, as Jesus commands us to do, is risky. Forgiving others 70 times 7 times, as Jesus commands us to do, is risky. Standing up against injustice and hypocrisy, helping the disenfranchised, and empowering the marginalized, as Jesus did… that’s risky.
I was thinking tonight of one of the last times a song really moved, really convicted me. It was another well-known black rapper’s unexpected hit: “This is America” by Childish Gambino, an absolutely chilling indictment on racism, police brutality, mass violence, and injustice. As far as I know, Childish Gambino’s alter-ego, Donald Glover, doesn’t claim any particular faith. But it still rang more profoundly Christian to me than all the hollow “boyfriend Jesus” songs that the Christian music industry can manufacture. I felt more convicted listening to Glover’s song than I have a “Christian” song in ages. All Christians with ears to hear should have been.
As much as I can and do admire those who praise the name of the Lord publicly, any charlatan can do that much too. Being a Christian is about more than Jesus making you feel good and singing songs about him being the bestest boyfriend in the world. When push comes to shove, faith is work. If you truly have it, then your works will show it. And while we have a large portion of the population ready to claim it, there sure doesn’t seem to be a proportional amount of people willing to live it. If that same 75% of Americans who claim to be Christian really lived like they believed it, I daresay no-one would die because they couldn’t afford their medications and no kids would be kicked out of their homes. Women and minorities certainly wouldn’t have to fight for equality, and school shootings wouldn’t be a commonplace event, and there would be no homelessness or poverty or kids going to bed hungry or afraid. We wouldn’t have to march for anything, because our brethren would provide what the government can’t or won’t. But… as we can see if we take a step back, that clearly isn’t the case. Christians there may be in abundance, but Christ followers seem to be in short supply. And with that in mind, it’s hard for me to get excited about someone else who talks the talk.
So no, I don’t believe making a record that merely says, “Jesus is King” is a risk. What’s risky is living like you actually believe Jesus is king. And I sincerely hope Kanye West does. I hope one day, we all do.