Shane Claiborne is the author of “Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.
Well, the new Kanye album “Jesus Is King” is all the buzz. It’s expected to sell 65,000 to 85,000 copies this week alone, and a quarter of a million by next week. Pretty much everyone has an opinion about it, even the people who are writing about why they don’t have an opinion about it. Kanye is a talented artist and a complicated one — touring with the Confederate flag, wearing a MAGA hat in his meeting with President Donald Trump and saying things like “slavery was a choice.”
But recently he announced that he has had a spiritual epiphany, a born-again conversion that is changing everything … or at least his lyrics.
In the spirit of repentance, I want to say that I am not going to be quick to judge Kanye or his wife, Kim Kardashian, or call their bluff on this religious conversion. I want to hold out the hope that the Holy Ghost really is moving.
Here’s why: Kim recently used her voice and platform to try to stop the executions of two people I care about, Rodney Reed and Julius Jones, both of whom I believe are innocent of the crimes for which they are facing execution.
Secondly, Kanye donated $1 million as a birthday gift for Kim to a bunch of groups doing a lot of good when it comes to criminal justice reform, including to the incredible people at the Equal Justice Initiative. To that I say, as my Pentecostal friends often put it, “More, Lord, more.”
Kanye’s income was about $150 million in 2019, according to Business Insider, so even the low-bar of a traditional tithe (and not counting Kim’s income) would be $15 million a year. Forbes magazine, meanwhile, says that Kanye’s net worth is around $250 million. So one does have to wonder how his new discipleship of Christ will affect his bank account. Is Jesus king of Kanye’s finances?
The same Jesus who said we need to be “born again” also commanded his disciples to “sell everything and give it to the poor.” This is the one who said it is easier to fit a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
In the radical economics of the early Christian church, it was said that God doesn’t look at how much you give, but how much you have left. They went so far as to say that if a Christian keeps more than they need while their neighbor has less than they need, the Christian is a thief. If we have two coats, we’ve stolen one. Or as the apostle James put it in the New Testament, “True religion is caring for the widow and the orphan and keeping ourselves from being corrupted by the world.”
When asked by Jimmy Kimmel if he is a “Christian musician,” Kanye replied, “I’m a Christian … everything.” I’ve always thought the word Christian makes a bad adjective, so I like that answer. But Kanye went on to say that since his recent conversion, “We’re in complete service to God, and the business is thriving.” In fact, he even put it like this: “God is using me, and using the choir, using my family to show off.”
Wait … Did Kanye just grab the mic from Jesus?
I confess, I think a lot of “Christian music” is not all that good and is sometimes a poor imitation of its secular counterpart (with a few exceptions: I’m looking at you, Rend Collective). There are plenty of artists like Bono from U2 and Chance the Rapper who are Christians but not “Christian musicians.” You can see how their faith influences their art, but also how their faith influences what they do with their money and their power.
One of my favorite musicians, the late Rich Mullins, once noted that Christian artists often say, “God gave me this song.” Rich went on, saying with a laugh, “And then you listen to it, and you know why God gave it away.”
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Source: Religion News Service