Faith Matters

Kanye West is on a mission to 'turn atheists into believers'

There is nothing ironic or sarcastic about Kanye West calling his latest album Jesus is King. It is, says Diarmuid Pepper, an unapologetically Christian piece of work whose evangelistic potential should be welcomed by people of faith

Diarmuid Pepper

Kanye West's latest album Jesus is King has confounded both his fans and critics with its overt Christian themes. Picture by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

FOR those who may not be fully up to date with popular culture, Kanye West has released an album called Jesus is King.

No, it's not satirical or tongue-in-cheek or sarcastic. It is a genuine expression of his newfound zeal for Christianity.

A man who is married to Kim Kardashian and who raps about sex and drugs has brought out an album in which he implores people to accept Christ as their king. How can this be?

Take his aforementioned marriage to Kim Kardashian. Kim K is currently studying to become a lawyer.

She was also an integral part in getting Cyntoia Brown out of a lifetime prison sentence. Brown was imprisoned for killing the man who sexually trafficked and enslaved her.

Kim Kardashian also speaks passionately and eloquently on the Armenian genocide. Around 1.5 million Armenians are said to have been killed by the Ottoman Empire between, during and after the First World War.

Only 31 governments recognise these events as a genocide and Kim was vital in bringing global attention to this tragic chapter in history.

If a sex tape or a TV show is all that springs to mind when you think of Kim Kardashian, you need to take a look at yourself in the mirror.

But what of Kanye's own past? Well as the saying goes, "every saint has a past and every sinner has a future".

Indeed, claims of hypocrisy are something that Kanye anticipated on this album. On the track Hands On Kanye raps: "Told people God was my mission / What have you been hearin' from the Christians? / They'll be the first one to judge me / Make it feel like nobody love me."

In this line, he deftly pinpoints a major problem with a lot of Christendom.

Christ calls for us to be always forgiving. On the cross, he said to his executioners: "Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do."

In Matthew's Gospel, he asks of us: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

Instead of judging the adulterous woman, Jesus challenges the baying crowd, saying: "Let he amongst you who is without sin cast the first stone."

Yet too often, Christians are the harshest of judges.

Fewer than half of American millennials are Christian. In this context, Kanye West can be the saving of Christianity in America and perhaps parts of Western Europe.

Think about it for a second. In the western world, where religion and religious expression is ridiculed, the world's foremost rapper just brought out an album which finished with the famous words: "Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord."

Young people will now be clamouring to wear merchandise which is emblazoned with "JESUS IS KING".

People may not like that Kanye is being put forward as the face of modern Christendom, given things he has done in his past, though this is something he has anticipated.

On the aforementioned Hands On, he raps: "Nothing worse than a hypocrite / Change, he ain't really different / He ain't even try to get permission / Ask for advice and they dissed him."

Kanye is far from a hypocrite for his about-turn which now sees him rap about bowing before Christ rather than sex and drugs.

If Saul can have a Road to Damascus conversion and become Paul; if Dorothy Day can have an abortion and still be a 'Blessed Servant of God'; if St Peter can deny Christ three times and still possess the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and become the first Pope; then Kanye West can bring out a Christian rap album without being labelled a hypocrite.

In the western world, where religion and religious expression is ridiculed, the world's foremost rapper just brought out an album which finished with the famous words: "Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord" 

Also, Kanye has been rapping about Jesus and religion for well over a decade.

Indeed, his 2004 debut album The College Dropout featured Jesus Walks: "God show me the way because the Devil tryna break me down / The only thing that I pray is that my feet don't fail me now."

He has recently updated Jesus Walks, as seen on a segment of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden.

The lyrics used to go: "I'm not here to turn atheists into believers."

His revised lyrics state: "We're here to turn atheists into believers."

In between The College Dropout and Jesus is King there have been numerous allusions to religion, none more so than on 2016's The Life of Pablo.

This album opens with the track Ultralight Beam, a track in which Kanye raps about a "God dream" and implores throughout: "Deliver us serenity / Deliver us peace / Deliver us loving / You know we need it."

Moreover, the album title pointed to a very different direction Kanye was headed in.

Pablo is Spanish for Paul, as in St Paul the Apostle who was previously Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of Christians.

Paul famously travelled all over spreading his message, and likewise Kanye uses his music to spread his evangelical message.

And he is not the only rapper to do so. We are living through a rap religion renaissance.

The two biggest rappers in the world are arguably Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar and the latter raps extensively about religion also.

In 2015, he brought out the album To Pimp A Butterfly.

One of the tracks was called How Much A Dollar Cost and was President Barack Obama's favourite song of that year.

The song is a wonderful modern-day retelling of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. In this parable, Jesus talks about what will happen when the Son of Man comes back in glory to judge the living and the dead.

He will say to those on his left side who are condemned: "For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'"

In Kendrick Lamar's modern-day retelling, he refuses to give a homeless black beggar a measly dollar whilst touring in South Africa.

At the end of the song, the homeless man who Kendrick accused of "panhandling" says: "Know the truth, it'll set you free / You're looking at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the higher power / The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit / The nerve of Nazareth, and I'll tell you just how much a dollar cost / The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss - I am God."

Closer to home, Stormzy is also well-known for having released Blinded By Your Grace, in which he raps: "Lord, I've been broken / Although I'm not worthy / You fixed me, now I'm blinded / By your grace, you came and saved me."

In a world wherein a majority of young people are turning away from religion en masse, Christendom should celebrate and promote the work of these artists all they can.

Yes, some past lyrics - and often current lyrics - are more than questionable, but every saint has a past and every sinner a future.

As Kanye raps on Use This Gospel: "The road to heaven is hard."

More and more people are turning away from religion, yet the foremost artists in the foremost genre are rapping passionately about Christianity.

This is something all people of faith should welcome and embrace.

Read more: Kanye West ‘in service to God not fame and money'

Kanye West released a short film, featuring biblical quotations, to accompany the Jesus is King album

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