The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston announced July 19 sanctions from the Vatican -- including taking away…
Kanye West proclaims ‘Jesus Is King’; to that, I say, ‘Amen’
Growing up, I wasn’t necessarily a heathen, but I wasn’t far from it.
I was baptized Catholic to parents who had drifted from the Faith. They divorced when I was 4 or 5, and depending on whose weekend it was, Sunday mornings were spent in a Lutheran church or in bed. I preferred the sleep. Church camp every year was fun, though. I memorized books of the Bible and can still smell the campfire smoke when I hear “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” I was confirmed Lutheran in the most passive way possible, but my attendance faded soon after.
In high school, many of my friends went to the local Missionary church, and so I tagged along for the social events. There was always food at the youth group meetings, and the band was good. At a youth conference when I was maybe 15, the speaker asked who among us was ready to dedicate their lives to Christ and accept Jesus as their personal savior. A few of my friends walked up, and I joined them. I was sincere about it at the time. And while I never prayed or cracked open the Bible (apart from joining the Bible quiz team), I was saved, apparently. It seemed like a great deal — the Christian version of the no-money-down, get-rich-quick scheme. I had somehow managed to do the least amount of work possible to attain the greatest reward.
In my early 20s, with my ticket to heaven already punched, I met an amazing Catholic woman whose faith was central to her life. She took me to Mass most weekends, and I didn’t protest. Other than brownie points with a woman I was trying to woo, I got little out of it. It obviously worked. After we were married — in the Church! — I continued to go every week except on the rare occasion that I’d fake a stomach bug or a headache, but those weeks were few and far between, and that didn’t really matter anyway, because I wasn’t really Catholic. Plus, I had already attained salvation, and while I didn’t major in theology, it didn’t seem likely that going to Mass every week would make me more saved.
Once our oldest daughter got old enough — and smart enough — to realize that I wasn’t taking Communion like her mother, I decided that I should probably take care of the paperwork and actually become Catholic. The RCIA classes weren’t great, but there I stood at the Easter Vigil: an official card-carrying Catholic.
My true conversion, when the Faith did start to take root, didn’t come until years later, and I still feel like an imposter at times, but it’s why, almost more than anything, I love a good conversion story. And perhaps we’re seeing one of the most intriguing ones in recent memory play out in front of our eyes.
The cynics say that rapper-turned-evangelist Kanye West is duping the world with his sudden conversion to Christianity, and maybe they’re right. As an artist, he’s reinvented himself more than once, and for more than a decade his music has pushed well past the bounds of good taste. His lyrics have been misogynistic and hedonistic — even sacrilegious — throughout his career. Years ago he released a song called “I Am a God” on an album he titled “Yeezus” — not exactly on the church campfire playlist.
Last week he released his newest album, “Jesus Is King” — a collection of gospel-infused hip-hop tracks that would be welcome at any tent revival — or any Catholic youth group meeting. He addresses the skepticism about his conversion in the song “Hands On”: “To sing of change, you think I’m joking / To praise his name, you ask what I’m smoking / Yes, I understand your reluctancy, yeah / But I have a request, you see / Don’t throw me up, lay your hands on me / Please, pray for me.”
Statistics show that young people are leaving Christianity at an unprecedented pace, and while I’m not sure that Kanye preaching the Good News will make much of a dent in getting young people back in the pews, we should applaud anyone who is willing to use their public platform to proclaim that Jesus is king, regardless of their past.
I can attest that conversions happen every day. And while Kanye as an artist up to this point might have been offensive, he’s never been irredeemable. None of us is.
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.