“He’s fashionable, he’s reaching a lot of people who weren’t going to church, and he sits with people who have diverse opinions.”
I’ve heard a wide range of thoughts about Kanye West’s latest artistic project Sunday Service. Some people love it, and some people believe it’s heresy. I’ve been asked more than a few times over the last week about what I thought, so I decided to process those thoughts with you.
I’ve refrained from writing or talking publicly about the “revival” Kanye is leading, because I have had conflicting ideas about the movement.
When I first heard about Kanye doing a Sunday morning service, my response was similar to my reaction when I heard that he said slavery was a choice.
I initially felt like this was a stunt “Yeezus” was using to center himself and, therefore, I was extremely cynical. But when I looked deeper within myself, I found that part of me was jealous that Kanye was creating the kind of faith communities I long to organize myself.
All that being said, here are my musings about Kanye West’s Sunday Service movement. They are in no particular order, and as I already said, some of them are probably contradictory. I feel tension within myself about it.
I don’t trust him.
I would personally never ask Kanye West for spiritual advice, and I imagine based on everything I’ve seen about what he’s up to these days that he wouldn’t give it to me if I asked. He doesn’t seem to want the title or responsibility of spiritual advisor.
My belief about spiritual leadership, which he is now positioned as whether he wanted it or not, is that the people we look to for spiritual leadership should be trustworthy in matters pertaining to divinity. Which also carries with it the expectation of high moral character.
He’s by all accounts genuine.
I believe the countenance of those closest to us reveal our character. Kanye’s wife has been quoted as saying Kanye has had a genuine experience with God, and that is enough for me to at least look at what he is doing with less skepticism.
People who have been in the space where Kanye has led Sunday services have said they believed the worship environment was authentically spiritual. I’m reluctant to dismiss the experiences of so many people who claim to have been touched by what they heard and saw.
If God uses Kanye West, who I have been angry with over claiming to be “Jesus” and cooning for Trump, then what does that mean for the faith I’ve grown up believing? My Christian roots, which I have am in almost daily conflict with, are unsettled by the idea that someone as weird as Kanye would be God’s agent of evangelism.
I am confronted with the idea that God can and does use people I don’t like or would not choose all the time. This movement Kanye has started has me looking at the man in the mirror, revealing that God does indeed use “undeserving people” every day.
His celebrity drives his influence.
It’s been over a decade now since the first time I was in a large audience listening to a prominent Christian speaker. I remember when she took the stage and a friend we attended the gathering with started crying. The speaker hadn’t said a word yet, but her mere presence moved my friend to tears.
I also remember that she opened her message by showing a video of a debt being canceled. The entire room exploded into cheering and clapping. I can’t remember anything about the content of what she shared about God or humanity, but I remember what if felt like to be in the room.
Her personality and fame gave her content more juice than it would have possessed had it been presented by someone with less cache.
Kanye is the natural progression of celebrity church culture.
Over the last 20 years or so with the emergence of Christian television and social media, we have seen a rise in pastors and preachers who are every bit as rich, powerful, and famous as any other celebrity. TMZ is as likely to stop them in the airport as they are Justin Bieber. (Often because they have been seen out with Bieber or another celebrity)
This pedestal we’ve created makes us believe that these men and women are more qualified to be God’s agents than the people who preach at and pastor small faith communities in urban and rural contexts all over the world.
The celebrity culture isn’t evil. It is a reality of the era we live in. The pastors featured by “Preachers ‘N Sneakers” aren’t phonies or false prophets. They are the human byproducts of our desire for larger than life figures to point us toward God.
They say things in a way and with a style that moves us. We believe that swag invites “outsiders” to see what God and faith are all about, so we are happy to point our friends to the latest videos and tweets of famous preachers saying ordinary things in creative and flashy ways.
How is he different?
I bet you thought the first quote in this piece was about Kanye West. It wasn’t.
It was how a friend of mine articulated why I should be careful in my criticism of what I perceived as a well-known pastor’s lack of theological framework.
Those are my thoughts. What are yours?
This article originally appeared on Corey Evan Leak’s blog.