Kanye and Kim Kardashian West recently joined the small community with long streets that we call Wyoming. Their purchase of Monster Lake Ranch also coincided with very public activity in the Christian community.
On Sept. 22, 2019, Kanye gave a Sunday service to the community of Cody. Two weeks later, his equally famous wife took the children to Armenia. There, the three youngest were baptized into the Armenian Apostolic Church, the faith of her late father, Robert Kardashian.
The worship services that Kanye hosted in Cody and those attended by his family in Armenia could hardly be more different. But their faith is unified in that both worship a first-century Jew. Since worship is reserved for God, alone, the worship of Jesus names him creator of all matter and every force in the universe.
Jesus holds legitimate authority over the universe and has the power to back it up. Both worldly and demonic forces hate Jesus for this reason. They have declared war on Christ and Christianity since the rulers of Jerusalem first found him guilty of being “King of the Jews.”
But for those who embrace Jesus as King, there comes an overwhelming desire to serve him, a desire driven by an unshakable conviction of his goodness. Love for Jesus radiates to every person and thing in all creation. All of it is from God and for God.
This worldview permeates Kanye’s newest album, titled “Jesus Is King.” I admit that until yesterday I had never listened to any of his music. Still, I was drawn to give it a listen. I hoped to understand his heart through his own words and music. I was not disappointed.
From the opening chord of “Every Hour” to the abrupt end of “Jesus is Lord,” West’s album is a monument to a new king. For Kanye, Jesus is not some insipid metaphor for worldly love. “Jesus is King” proclaims one who fearsomely rules political power and demonic forces alike. To fear him is to find wisdom (Psalm 111:10).
In that newfound wisdom, Kanye also finds the all-merciful God. The album exudes the joy of one who deserves nothing from Jesus but has it all by pure gift. “That’s on God,” as he puts it in the fifth track. “Selah” refuses to treat this mercy as one flavor of religion among others. He says, “Ain’t no wantin’, no, we need it.”
Unlike many celebrity conversions that hardly affect their public life at all, Kanye’s newfound faith simply cannot be sequestered from his art. For him, it is personal.
But it is not private. More than a celebrity conversion, it was a family conversion. That Kim and the girls were baptized in Armenia does not mean that they were off doing their own thing. The names of the youngest two children, Psalm and Saint, make one wonder if the conversion has been in the works for several years.
Speculation aside, his fourth track, “Closed on Sundays,” puts family at the center of the Christian life. “Get your family, y’all hold hands and pray / When you got daughters, always keep ’em safe.” “Raise your sons, train ’em in the faith / Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake.”
The refrain, “you’re my Chick-fil-A,” invokes the restaurant chain that has been vilified by the anti-family cultural forces since CEO Dan Cathy talked about “the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.” Against that culture, West says, “Watch out for vipers, don’t let them indoctrinate … Follow Jesus, listen and obey / No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave.”
In “Hands on,” West addresses Christians. “Said I’m gonna do a gospel album / What have you been hearin’ from the Christians? / They’ll be the first to judge me … If they only see the wrongs, never listen to the songs.”
Well, Mr. West, this Christian writer knows about your wrongs. Still, I listened to your songs. What you have learned of Christ is true. His crucifixion is for you. (Please don’t judge me for my lame attempt at hip-hop.)
Speaking as one Christian to another, I certainly don’t judge you. Your Christianity is not measured by anything but Jesus’ redemption of your life. Neither your strength of faith nor your weakness, neither your understanding nor your spiritual achievements can make you a Christian. God does – and, apparently, God has. That’s on him! The new life and righteousness that Jesus freely gives will never be denied anyone who renounces the old and seeks Jesus. Never.
Forgive me if hip-hop doesn’t replace Chris LeDoux on my “favorites” list. But, musical tastes aside, I know I speak for countless goodhearted citizens in extending a big, Wyoming welcome to you and to your entire family.