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Changing The Face Of Religion : Other Spiritual Pieces Last Updated: Jan 14, 2020 - 12:07:47 PM

Kanye West, Fisher of Men
By William Sullivan
Nov 18, 2019 - 4:42:26 AM

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I'll be completely honest.  What little I've known about Kanye West over the years has often revolved around his notorious antics that have raised eyebrows and peppered news cycles.  You might remember his offhand, non-sequitur comment that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or his storming the stage to interrupt Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the Grammys in 2009, where he told the young starlet, "I'm really happy for you, I'ma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!"

Pretty shameful stuff, to be sure.  But right about the time of the latter incident, I vividly remember being very shocked and impressed by Kanye's response to a particularly hysterical episode of South Park, which is well-known for slaughtering the sacred cows of popular culture.  In the episode, Kanye was methodically skewered as an outsized national joke for his egotism and lack of self-awareness.  It was hilarious, but it was also pretty brutal.  Kanye immediately responded on his blog:

‘South Park' murdered me last night, and it's pretty funny.  It hurts my feelings, but what can you expect from ‘South Park?'  I have actually been working on my ego.  Having the crazy ego is played out at this point in my life and career.  I used to use it to build up my esteem when no one believed in me.  Now that people do believe and support my music, the best response is ‘Thank you' instead of ‘I told you so!'

I just wanna be a doper person, which starts with me not always telling people how dope I think I am.  I need to just get past myself.  Drop the bravado and just make dope product.  As long as I act like a b---h, this type of s--t will happen to me. ...I'm not actually a huge douche.  I'm sure the writers at ‘South Park' are really nice people in real life.  Thanks for taking the time to draw my crew.  That was pretty funny also.

Again, I didn't devote a lot of thought to it at the time, but I do remember being struck by that statement.  The statement allowed him to become something more than just larger-than-life celebrity and a caricature of a human being, in my mind.  Not only did I see him as a person, but as a person expressing some pretty outstanding qualities.

Think of all the qualities that are expressed in his statement.  Forgiveness. Humility.  Remorse. Gratitude.  And perhaps most of all, hope.  Not a hope that he can sell a billion albums and make a billion dollars, but hope that he can become a better person by "getting past himself," i.e., by becoming a more selfless person.

What does all of that sound like to you?  Aren't these qualities expressed in that response eerily fundamental to Christianity?

And today, ten years on, Kanye West could not be more public about his established and growing devotion to Jesus Christ and his teachings about the virtues of forgiveness, humility, remorse, gratitude, and hope.  His latest album, titled "Jesus Is King," blends gospel and hip-hop in a way that may transcend delivery of Christ's message beyond conventional church outreach initiatives.  And he is not shy about sharing his devotion to Christ.  In one recent interview, he was asked, "Would you consider yourself a Christian artist?"  "I'm just a Christian everything," Kanye responded.  I think it would be impossible for a Christian to craft a better response.

Kanye is scheduled to attend Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston on Sunday, and while there this week, he and a gospel choir made a surprise visit to the Harris County Jail, and worshipped with the convicts.  The video of the worship, though unconventional for many Christians, is extremely powerful.

It would be a huge mistake to dismiss the absolute power and value of Kanye's recent transformation and missionary efforts on behalf of the Christian faith.

We should be clear about one thing up front, though - this is not, and should not, be overtly about politics.  But as is often the case, religion blends into politics because both religion and politics involve a particular discernment of personal values.  Kanye's newfound devotion to the values of Christianity puts him on a definite collision course with the established dogma of progressivism and the politics of intersectionality.  Indeed, it already has.  Kanye has been very publicly excoriated for expressing his admiration for President Trump.  Progressive activists and pundits saw this as a sign of his ignorance, not an expression of his values.  "Kanye West is what happens when Negroes don't read," said Democrat Bakari Sellers on a CNN panel.

But again, this collision course was inevitable. As a Christian, Kanye will celebrate the virtue of humility, while the Left celebrates the sin of pride. Christians celebrate gratitude and ambition.  Leftists stoke envy and resentment.  And as far as party politics go, would it be any wonder if Kanye firmly disavows the Democratic Party in the future, which made a conscious effort to remove God from its party platform in 2012, and has only become more hostile toward Christianity since?

But the fact that Kanye might be a political ally against the Left's onslaught against conservative values is miniscule in comparison to the greater significance of what his larger efforts may do to spread the Gospel.

Consider this.  In chapter four of the Book of Matthew, Christ is walking by the Sea of Galilee when he spies two fishermen, Peter and his brother Andrew, casting their nets into the sea.  "Come, follow me," Christ tells them, "and I will make you fishers of men."  They drop their nets and follow Christ to spread the Gospel.

This verse encapsulates the Christian mission.  And yet, we struggle mightily to drop everything and spread the Gospel of Christ.  Most Christians will talk about the Gospel when asked, but they don't openly profess their faith without being careful about it, for fear of offending others.

When it comes to most Christians fulfilling the mission of becoming "fishers of men," you might say that many of us have lines in the water, and we certainly hope to catch something.  Kanye, by comparison, is casting a titanium net over the bulk of the Pacific Ocean.

Kanye making Christ the focus of his music, his life, and his message is a beautiful and courageous missionary act.  He knew that he would be persecuted and ridiculed by the media and popular culture for it.  He knew that it might cost him friends, money, and popularity.  But those outcomes have not deterred him from loudly proclaiming the virtues of the Gospel in an extremely powerful new way that may allow the blessings of Christian faith, and the joy of salvation, to reach millions who may never have heard or considered it without Kanye's efforts.  And whatever you may have once thought about the man, I think that Christians, of all denominations, should agree that this is a very, very good thing.

Image credit: Harris County Jail/KHOU via shareable YouTube // screen shot

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