Will Kanye West Spark a Christian Revival?

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted November 12, 2019

Few singers today have the global reputation that rapper Kanye West enjoys: He’s known everywhere, he’s often in the gossip magazines, and if he’s not yet a billionaire, it appears he’s well on his way.

But something happened this spring that may transform Kanye’s image from a hard-living rapper into a seeker after Jesus, and one who draws thousands of followers to the cross along the journey. His Jesus Is King album has already broken sales records.

West conducted one of his gospel music-themed “Sunday Service” events at the Coachella Music Festival, a rambunctious multi-day event in the California desert. During one song, West broke down in tears; afterward, according to a report in Christianity Today magazine, he declared that he had been “born again.”

A combination of West’s fame and raw musicianship is drawing many listeners who might otherwise never set foot in a church, the Christianity Today account noted: “While many are embracing West’s new God-centered music (some have even skipped their weekly church service to attend the event), others from non-religious backgrounds say that West is their first real exposure to Christianity. Pasha Esmaili has never stepped inside a church before but loves to watch the services online. “[Kanye’s] the only person who can make me like this kind of music. I’m not religious, but even him playing this makes me feel some type of way. It’s weird,” he says.

Not everyone is impressed, however: Brooke Leigh Howard of The Daily Beast savaged West’s Sunday appearance at an African-American congregation in the borough of Queens in New York City, noting that some at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral had walked out of West’s presentation: “Instead of a form of spiritual revival, it’s more akin to a high concept musical performance masquerading as religious—and all in the name of profit.”

“You Don’t Have to be Perfect”

And in Washington, D.C., West’s surprise service at Howard University, one of the nation’s best-known historically black colleges, drew negative reaction as well. New Yorker magazine music editor Brianna Younger, upset with West’s political stances, said it was “really gross” for the singer to show up “here at Howard where so much was done for the liberation of black people.”

Others were more forgiving, the Post reported: “He’s expanding people’s minds, that religion can come in all colors. You come as you are. You don’t have to be perfect,” Amanda Brundidge, 29, who came in from Alexandria, Virginia, told the newspaper. “And it’s beautiful.”

In September, West brought his Sunday Service to Cody, Wyoming, near where he and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, bought a ranch. According to the Billings Gazette, the hastily assembled event—a venue booked on a Friday for the following Sunday, with minimal publicity—drew visitors from across Montana, Wyoming, and Utah, and as far as Seattle and Denver. At least 3,800 people attended, local officials said.

“It was a very spur of the moment thing for literally everyone,” Levi Meyer, PR and marketing manager for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West told the Gazette. “With that in mind and thinking about how big the turnout really was, that just shows how much people wanted to see a special event like this.”

“The whole crowd was so positive and polite,” Meyer, who grew up in Cody, added in his comments to the newspaper. “I have never heard a musical sound so big in Cody, Wyoming. It was unbelievable.”

Two weeks later, West drew a similarly large number of people to a venue in downtown Salt Lake City—blocks away from where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was holding its twice-yearly church-wide session, held in a 21,000-seat auditorium. It’s not known how many, if any, skipped the Mormon event for West’s appearance. 

According to Christianity Today, West appears to be aware of the conflicting opinions of his recent actions: “I need prayer, not judgment,” West declared. “We need a chance to learn God at our own speed. We’re human beings trying our best, repenting from our sins and learning and growing every day. And we need your hands on us, your prayers on us. Pray for me.”

Reformation and Revival

Is Kanye West’s conversion genuine? Will he always foreswear rap songs for gospel titles? And will the thousands who are reported to have made professions of faith at his Sunday Service events flow into churches and become active members?

No one knows Kanye West’s heart other than himself—and God. We can’t and won’t pronounce his conversion genuine or illegitimate, other than to remember the standard Christian belief that all should be accepted at face value until demonstrated otherwise. Yes, some “wolves in sheep’s clothing” may enter in, but they generally reveal themselves quickly.

 The greater question, perhaps, is what conversion—some might call it reformation—and a subsequent revival mean for each of us. The literal meaning of the word “repent” as found in the Bible is to change one’s thinking, to “re-form” those thoughts. Instead of being self-conscious and scheming, the goal is to be others-focused, loving those around us and those in need.

That might be the greatest measure of West’s religious experience: How will it carry through in other areas of his life? It’s a bit early to tell, but at the same time it is unmistakable that West’s celebrity and global platform are bringing a Christian message, however slight, to people who might not hear it otherwise.

In one message, Pastor Doug Batchelor noted, “Repentance represents a sorrow for sin and a willingness to turn away from it. It's very important that if we have sinned, for one thing that we're aware, and the other is that if we are aware, we regret.” 

And for those seeking to live righteously, Pastor Doug’s message on “Defeating Demons, Devils, and Evil Spirits” offers insight on how God can help us walk as He would desire.

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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