By Fr. Matt Harlow
Kanye West is the convert of the year, the flavor of the month, the soup de jour. A megastar A-list musician who has decided to follow Jesus in the midst of a unique and successful career. If that doesn't sound familiar, paging Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan, line 2, please.
Kanye has proclaimed, in all apparent sincerity, that Jesus is King, that Jesus has brought him closer to his children and family, and that Jesus is his savior. This glorious witness is tempered by the fact that he is also contemplating changing his name to Christian Genius Billionaire, which has me thinking of a name change of my own: Christian of Modest-Intelligence, who is an occasional Thousandaire. Admittedly though, it doesn't have the same ring.
Yes, Kanye speaks of himself with great reverence. It is easy to see he holds himself in his own highest esteem. It makes you wonder if, when the first hiccup in his Christian journey occurs, the first trial is crossed and failed (and we all face them, and we all fail them), he won't throw in the towel and proclaim with Louis XIV, "Has God forgotten all that I have done for him?"
Another red flag is with whom Kanye is choosing to keep company. Joel Osteen isn't a paragon of orthodoxy. Osteen doesn't preach Christ Crucified as much as Christ Monetized. Seeing Kanye and Osteen sharing the stage at Osteen's megachurch certainly sends mixed signals about which Gospel Kanye is following, that of Prosperity, or that of the Cross. Kanye may have tipped his hand recently when he gave thanks to his Lord and Savior for the gigantic tax break he received, presumably for becoming a non-profit. Banderas rojas galore!
So what is an Anglo-Catholic to make of all of this? Our first instinct might be to criticize Kanye for his self-serving promotionalism — something Kanye seems to anticipate in his song "Hands On," where he raps:
What have you been hearin' from the Christians?
They'll be the first one to judge me
make me feel like nobody love me.
Can we even conceive that God would use Rap or Hip-Hop to spread the Gospel? Wouldn’t a genuinely converted soul perform exclusively in the Gregorian chant? Why not chant in plainsong his new track, “On God,” antiphonally:
How you get so much favor on your side*accept him as your Lord and Savior I replied.
Thou shalt love thy neighbor, not divide*I'm a ride, that's on God.
His light shine the brightest in the dark*single mothers know they got my heart.
But surprisingly to this Gen X Anglo-Catholic, Kanye's original musical arrangement for "On God" is...well, not bad. Maybe God has blessed him with a unique talent? And maybe God has blessed him to use a specific medium (in this case, hip-hop) to at least introduce people to Christ. God has undoubtedly done Stranger Things (TM Netflix).
It is within God's providence (who is to say it is not?) to use Kanye's conversion to bring about some form of revival or mass conversion to the Church. The wind bloweth where it listeth.
If evangelism is what Kanye intends, evangelism must point people to the Body of Christ. Life is in the blood, and the blood is in the body. Evangelism must lead to where Christ objectively is: in his blessed Sacrament, and in the hearts of his faithful people.
By virtue of his baptism, Kanye is our brother in Christ. We can cheer him, pray for him, but be circumspect — the whole wise as serpents harmless as doves thing. Trust but verify. Does his ministry produce the fruits of the Spirit? St. Paul, upon his conversion, went into the desert for three years. Kanye is claiming a conversion, and a call to ministry, but is he ready to be a leader in Christ's Church? Does his home life reflect the scriptural standards for a leader in the Church, if he purports to be a leader, and to what discipline and authority does he submit? We would be wise not to be penciling in "The Feast of the Conversion of St. Kanye" on the Ordo Kalendar just yet. There is a reason the Church doesn't canonize someone until they have passed this mortal coil. Does Kanye have the staying power to complete the race he has begun?
I think it is a reasonable thing, and even our Christian duty, that we should uphold Kanye in prayer. Because of Kanye's prominence, he will attract the fiery darts of the devil at a level many of us will never experience. There is no denying that Kanye has a unique platform that is available to him.
Time will tell if Kanye is the real-deal Holyfield. We should pray that he is. And our prayer should be that God can use the imperfect, self-serving, impious, fallible, and infantile words of Kanye to glorify Christ and bring people closer to Him. After all, God does that every day when he uses our imperfect, self-serving, impious, fallible, and infantile words to bring us and others closer to Him.
I think St. Paul has the right idea (doesn't he always?) when he writes concerning the uncertainty surrounding the motives of certain preachers: "What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice."
In as much as Christ Crucified is being preached, and Christ Monetized is being rejected, we can rejoice that a new audience is being reached. One soweth another reapeth. We, the Church, must be ready to reap with love, and to nurture, instruct, and disciple those who are hearing the Gospel for the first time, even if they come to us from the Christian Genius Billionaire.
Fr. Matt Harlow lives in Middle Georgia where he is the Rector of Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, Warner Robins.