Kanye West has given his life to Jesus. The proof: his album Jesus Is King, West’s ninth studio album, of Christian hip-hop songs. More proof: His Sunday services. And further proof: He’s set to speak at televangelist Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston on Sunday.
But West’s fans and critics aren’t sure of West’s new devotion. Scroll through Twitter and laugh at memes about West’s non-Christ-like past — calling himself Yeezus for one. Then on the flip side, hear Christians praise him for his new direction in life.
Darryl Hall, pastor of Lifewell Church in Garland, is hesitant to celebrate West.
“From what I can tell, he seems to be sincere,” Hall says. “But this is a guy who obviously — according to his own testimony — has been through a lot in his personal life, and to keep him under the glare of the spotlight and keep that on him through these initial years — hopefully, it will be years — of trying to figure out what Christianity is all about and what that means to him, I think that is tough. That’s tough. It would probably be wise to give him some time outside of the spotlight to mature.”
Hall says he's heard some fellow Christians call West “anointed,” meaning God is behind him and what he is doing. Hall questions that.
“I’m going to watch the fruit, which means the long-term impact and there’s hasn’t been a long term yet, so it’s difficult to evaluate,” he says.
Travis Bailey, the college pastor at Indiana Ave. Baptist Church in Lubbock, is excited about West’s new proclamation for Jesus. Bailey preached a sermon titled “Kanye and Jesus” for his college-aged congregation the last two Sundays, and because a lot of the students in his college program are fans of West, he sees West as a perfect opportunity to connect to his students.
Bailey has watched his fellow Christians doubt West’s sincerity and says a radical transformation like West's can test Christians’ beliefs.
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“It’s almost like the church doesn’t actually believe that Jesus can change lives,” Bailey says. “But if you read the gospels, it’s really clear. If Jesus can heal a demon-possessed person, and he can make the lame walk and heal whoever comes to him, then why is it so shocking to us to see Kanye West change?
“Why do we think that can’t happen today? Why is it shocking?”
Even though Hall didn’t grow up a fan of hip-hop music, he says he has supported Christian rap in the past, specifically the Christian rapper Lecrae. He used Lecrae’s music as an outreach tool to kids living in mostly black neighborhoods. But Hall says it wouldn’t be likely that the worship band at Lifewell Church would play West’s music, mainly because they don’t play hip-hop, but Hall says he wouldn’t even play West’s music in the church.
Hall has a playlist he plays for guests as they enter the church every Sunday and he says he won’t add West’s music to it anytime soon.
“It’s just because I think the jury is still out personally and I have to be accountable before God for what I do personally, but I just don’t sense an anointing on those songs,” Hall says. “I’m not going to be playing those because it’s not my purpose to promote Kanye. I think we need to see what’s going to happen.”
Bailey laughs at the thought of his Baptist church’s worship band playing West’s music, but if they were able to pull it off, he would “absolutely” welcome it.
“I think the things he is saying — I like it. I don’t disagree with much of anything that he says on his new album,” Bailey says.
With viral videos and cheesy lyrics, Christian rap has struggled to be taken seriously in mainstream circles. And some church leaders have been slow to adopt the genre, but contemporary Christian radio stations don’t typically find a slot for hip-hop music. Adrion Butler, a Christian rapper in DFW, says Christian rap typically doesn’t fit into the mold of Christian radio.
“Christian rap is a subgenre of rap amongst other subgenres, such as trap rap, emo rap, hardcore rap, mumble rap, gangster rap, etc.,” he says. “The genre — up until Kanye's release — has not received many open doors in the Christian/gospel world, because those platforms usually see it as simply rap or hip-hop. This sound doesn't typically fit with their platforms and audience.”
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Mike Prendergast, program director for KLTY, a contemporary Christian radio station in DFW, says while he enjoys West’s new album, he doesn’t think it will play on KLTY.
“As of right now, I don’t hear anything that would be a fit for our station, but not because of who Kanye is or because of his past; it’s strictly a music format issue,” Prendergast writes in an email. “Like mainstream music stations, Christian music stations have certain genres they play. KLTY is a contemporary Christian music station; this also includes some modern worship music. I am a fan of Kanye’s music and the message with it, but his style of music does not fit our station format.”
Even though Bailey would like to hear West on Christian radio, he says he isn’t sure if that will happen.
“I think you gotta be able to take the lyrics themselves and you got to judge them based off of that, but I think a lot of people are going to go, ‘Oh, look at Kanye’s past,’ and it’s kind of like, well look at all of our pasts. If we’re going to judge someone based off their past, I think we’re all out.”