Let’s get this straight: Normally, I don’t care what Kanye West does.
I’m a 36-year-old father of two. I am not hip to the music of the kids these days. My oldest child is 4 years old; the only music he listens to is from “Jake and the Neverland Pirates.” I might earn some “cool” points by knowing most of the songs on the “Hamilton” soundtrack, but I lose those straight away given how often I have Huey Lewis on rotation. So, I don’t really follow every detail of Kanye news.
I did know he had a new album coming out, only because everyone in my Twitter feed couldn’t stop talking about the inane things he was tweeting. I was aware he was on “Saturday Night Live” last week because I’d read a recap about the Melissa McCarthy-hosted episode. I did not know that Kirk Franklin was there with him or that Franklin had said a prayer with the rapper as the SNL episode closed.
Apparently, however, others did. And they called Franklin out for associating with the “Jesus Walks” rapper, who claims that his new album “Life of Pablo” was inspired by the Apostle Paul — even if West uses some fairly unbiblical language on it. Some Christians were upset that Franklin would accompany a man best known for his cartoonish pride and outlandish claims. Franklin was quick to respond, writing the following on his Instagram account (which featured a picture of himself and West):
Kanye is not me. I am not him. He is my brother I am proud to do life with. No sprints, but Marathons; like most of us are on. Before one song was released, I was crucified because my brother asked me to take a picture. Again “no Kanye, you’re not good enough”? No. That is a dangerous message I believe we send to the world when our posture is they have to meet certain requirements before they are worthy to kiss the ring. It says people are not redeemable, forgivable or candidates for grace. That my friend is religious. I will not turn my back on my brother. I will love him, prayerfully grow with him. However long he’ll have me, and however long the race takes. To a lot of my Christian family, I’m sorry he’s not good enough, Christian enough, or running at your pace…and as I read some of your comments, neither am I. That won’t stop me from running. Pray we win.
Now, I don’t know the true story of Kanye’s faith. I don’t know whether he professes Christ as his savior or whether that profession is genuine. I have no idea about the inner workings of his heart and soul. I think the fruit of his life makes me skeptical, but I also agree with what Franklin (a man whose faith I believe is very genuine) says: at what point is someone “good enough” for grace? If West is someone who’s trying to have faith and learn more about it, then isn’t the best thing Franklin can do stick by his side and help him on this journey, even if it’s fraught with setbacks, pitfalls and moves at a snail’s pace?
I’ve met Christians (and, at times, been one myself) who have questioned others’ salvation because sanctification just doesn’t seem to be working fast enough. We look at someone who’s professing faith and lift an eyebrow because they still curse, get drunk or can’t get their life straight in a timely manner. And while there’s certainly the concern that faith without works is dead, we often overlook the growth that is happening. We pay no attention to the shifting attitudes, the increased desire to learn more, the small internal battles being won each day as they grow in holiness; growth that takes place in God’s time, not ours. No, we see the external struggles and conclude that growth isn’t happening at all, and we accuse them of never believing in the first place. We forget that dying to self doesn’t happen in our sleep. It takes years, lifetimes even. And some struggles will remain with us all our lives. We can’t let our picture of what a “good” Christian looks like determine who we walk alongside in their spiritual journey, because we can’t always see the internal spiritual battle being waged.
And what if West’s faith isn’t genuine? Should Franklin be associating with him? I can’t see any argument against it.
It’s common knowledge, even among the unfaithful, that Jesus was a friend to sinners. He didn’t just associate with the religious folk or those who were living righteous lives. He dined with prostitutes, cheaters and thieves. Many of them gave their lives to him and changed. But I’m sure not all did. Some continued on in their unbelief, and we aren’t told whether Jesus disassociated with them at that point or continued to allow them in his presence. I understand I’m totally guessing here, but if I believe in a God who goes to great lengths to save people, then I believe Jesus kept in their lives, giving them every chance to see his beauty and follow him. That’s why we don’t give up praying for and loving people who don’t share our faith. We want to keep showcasing this beauty so that they’ll see it.
Most of us know that, and we agree that it’s the way we’re to live our lives and navigate our relationships. It’s not our job to save people. It is our job to make Christ attractive to the world and continue to live in a way that gives them a chance to see that beauty. We’re to be in the world, not of it, as the saying goes. But when it comes to the world of entertainment, many Christians seem to advocate isolation.
The older that I get, the less comfortable I am with the concept of “Christian” art. I grew up listening to Christian music and I still appreciate much of it. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become concerned with us having our “own” art. First, it gives anything with the term “Christian” in it the appearance of safety, when it’s really nothing more than a marketing term. There’s also the fact that most “Christian” art is simply not good, a pale imitation of mainstream work that copies artistry and inserts theological catchphrases. But more than that, it further isolates us from the world. It makes us burrow into our Christian communities instead of going out into the world, loving others and working together. It’s why there’s very little “Christian” music I listen to much these days, very little “Christian” fiction I’m reading, and why the whole idea of companies like Pureflix and movies like “God’s Not Dead” make me very uncomfortable. Because Christians are not called to be isolated, nor are we called to be going into the world condemning and judging people. We’re to be living alongside nonbelievers, loving them, showing them grace and kindness. And, at times, collaborating.
I’m sure someone will bring up the concern that “bad company corrupts good character,” but I’m sure Franklin is well aware of the temptations that come with being around someone like Kanye West. But we forget that Franklin could also be used to spur spiritual growth and change in his friend’s life. That the simple act of being there and saying a prayer after a sketch comedy show can speak truth than writing a blog post decrying the foul language on Kanye’s albums. If West truly is searching spiritually, then I’m glad he has someone in his life like Kirk Franklin, who can pray with and for him. And if he isn’t a believer, I’m still glad he has someone like Franklin around him to model the beauty of Christ, to be there if questions do arise, and to love him where he’s at.