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Christianity, Culture and the Resurrection of Kanye

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

The world is talking about Kanye West. The world is saying 'Jesus is King' every time they mention Kanye's album. Many of the loudest voices in evangelical Christianity are discussing the album. Kanye's rap in Hands On has the line, 'What have you been hearin' from the Christians? They'll be the first one to judge me.' Whether that judgement is positive or negative there is judgement. I've been a part of it. I've shared on my Facebook feed the interaction with James Corden and Kanye in airpool Karaoke with the heading that 'Jesus still changes lives'. I'm sure all my non-Christian friends are about to convert now because of it. Though I stand by what I post, I am very aware that there are many who are not in the white evangelical community looking on with suspicion at people like me sharing Kanye's new album - weren't we the people (yes, we are a collective with a label whether we like it or not) who were shunning him or at least ignorant of him even within the last year? Kanye was dead to us but now he is alive and we want him to represent us.

As I, and other Christians share and promote Kanye's transformation (I don't listen to any of his other albums - is it R&B or Hip Hop? Didn't Snoop Dogg do a gospel album recently? Why are we silent about that or did I miss the fanfare?) maybe we need to slow down and work out if it is our story to share. It is a chance to celebrate someone who seemed so lost becoming found. I'm all up for celebrating salvation. Despite that, maybe we need to reflect on how we celebrate celebrity conversion especially when it is someone our community has rarely shown any love for even in the recent past.

Being a white Christian comes with some cultural baggage that I'm not sure many in the UK recognise. Even though I've grown up in multiple churches in multiple countries I've only recently discovered that I've absorbed a certain [white] culture within the way I think church should operate. I'm not convinced I have figured anything out in terms of a solution, or even clarified the problem, but this post is me processing through some thoughts, feel free to read on - it might not be as structured as other posts.

There isn't as clear a cultural divide between white and black culture over here but I am certain there is a divide. There are a lot of UK Christians who lap up white American evangelical preaching and all that comes with it. Given that American Evangelicalism comes with a heavy dose of a certain political flavour, I'm wary of how much of it we absorb. We can often think Western (or majority white) practices are the ONLY way of doing things. Aside from the points of core Christianity as seen in the Nicene Creed, a lot of what we say is orthodox is actually cultural perspective.

In the UK, our cities are multi-cultural but often churches have a single culture - be it in ethnic background or practice. Those of us leading a church with any one majority need to start listening to the minorities and looking for ways to bring unity in diversity without forcing conformity. Looking at most of the top Christian albums at the moment, it doesn't take much research to see which culture is the majority.

Many who have engaged with other cultures or lived outside their own cultural perspective have had to assume a posture of humility and learn from the culture they are in rather than forming a Western church in a non-Western context. Unfortunately this awareness of cultural influence doesn't necessarily translate to those who have grown up in a single culture context. Much of the population in white evangelicalism has not lived or experienced another Christian culture which can lead to a very narrow understanding of Christianity. Because of this, efforts to reconcile or recognise diversity come with expectations that the non-majority culture will conform. Conformity is definitely the easy route, it means that fewer people are made uncomfortable.

The Christian life isn't one of comfort though. The Christian life is one of sacrifice and service for the other, though this isn't always practised well - it isn't easy! A start on the road towards diverse unity is when the majority (who are probably in leadership positions) listen to those in the minority. In humility, the majority then allow the minority to teach them what their differences are. I have only had my faith deepened by hearing different perspectives from different cultures. Cross-cultural teams take an extra level of commitment, humility and energy but the image of a diverse but united church is worth working for. We need to hear from, care for and love the multiple cultures within each context so all are included and none are squashed or moulded into a representation of the majority.

Me, a white Christian, sharing Kanye's album as the poster boy for converting to Jesus, says a lot more about me than it potentially does about Kanye. Kanye is controversial. Kanye is controversial even amongst the black community. Turning up at the White House, wearing a 'Make America Great Again' hat and seeming to support Trump is a white evangelical thing to do. It is making people question what kind of Christianity has Kanye converted into, even if they are willing to accept that he is now really walking with Jesus. Despite this controversy, he has just made a profession of faith that has been listened to several million times. We should celebrate the clarity of the gospel in his lyrics but be wary of expecting Kanye to conform to our specific cultural background.

There are some major challenges to the evangelical church in the UK given that rappers like Stormzy openly profess their faith in Jesus to millions, singing openly about God's grace, even while many in church pews condemn him for saying naughty words. If there was a revival happening in the UK, I'm not sure it would be happening in the pews around the country (or cinema seats if you are a plant like my church). In fact, a revival could well be happening already in the culture that people like me don't have any clue about or direct contact with. As rappers like Chance openly read scripture on social media to 1000s of fans, with many responding in faith, we can either damn them or pray for them and I reckon it is a better place to be if you go for the latter.

I'm trying to listen to perspectives I haven't heard before. Listening to 'Pass the Mic' podcast (thanks to my sister in law for plugging me in) shows a collective of black Christians in the States working out what reconciliation between white and black church looks like. They are leaders in churches and have had to unpick what is white culture and what is Christianity and they have big things to say about how the church is responding to Kanye. I don't agree with all of the views shared through the podcast, but it is so refreshing to hear them and begin to work out what a truly diverse church could look like. I'm reading and listening from people who have lived, worked and are born in minority cultures as well as those who have a better understanding of the culture that Jesus lived in and spoke into.

I'm stuck with being in the majority culture but I keep coming back to the verses of Isaiah and Revelation (and others) which point to all nations and races being welcomed before their creator. I believe it will be such an amazing redemption of all cultures. I also believe we can, if we remain humble and be ready to learn from those outside of our own culture, can begin to see a glimpse of heaven in our churches.

I'll keep listening to other perspectives, engaging with different cultures and love the challenge of trying to unpack why we do things the way we do. I will also try and do this humbly. I might have it wrong and I might need to change. I hope that in this journey I can at least point people to the one thing I am certain of - that Jesus lives and he changes lives. I am certain that he continues to redeem people like me whose first reaction is to second guess people like Kanye West.

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