A few years ago, who could have predicted that a flamboyant billionaire real estate developer from Manhattan could have turned politics in the United States upside down?
While the election of Donald Trump in 2016 shocked pundits both domestic and foreign, the message of taking on the establishment in Washington, securing the country’s borders and returning economic prosperity resonated with millions.
In October, Pew Research released a study on the changing religious landscape in the United States, titled “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.”
The pronouncement from Pew is from telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, in which 65 percent of American adults described themselves as Christians when asked about their religion. That sounds good until it is noted that the number is down 12 percentage points over the past decade alone.
What is astounding is the dramatic rise of the “nones” continues, that is, those who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated, describing their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” That number now stands at 26 percent, which is up from 17 percent in 2009, according to Pew.
No one has told the popular rapper Kanye West that spirituality in the U.S. is on the wane.
It appears that West is attempting to shake up religion like Trump shook up politics.
At a time when record numbers of people are abandoning Christianity, West is filling stadiums with tens of thousands of people around the theme, “Jesus is King.” According to Fox News, on Friday, Nov. 1, more than 1,000 people gave their lives to Jesus Christ during an altar call at the rapper’s “Sunday Service” program in Baton Rouge, La.
Since January, when West started Sunday Service, his group has traveled the country conducting gospel events that include a large choir, guest artists and throngs of supporters.
Curvine Brewington, an evangelical pastor from Lafayette, La., described the Baton Rouge event on social media as, “Tonight, worship was lifted, the name of Christ was exalted, the Word of God was preached, a multitude prayed together, the Gospel was clearly proclaimed, and an opportunity to respond was given. In a crowd of 6,000, people from all walks of life, all ages, and all races, I witnessed over 1,000 people respond to The Gospel by raising their hands to accept Jesus as their Lord & Savior!”
West is the rapper associated with famously wearing a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat during an impromptu appearance in the Oval Office of the White House with President Trump in October 2018. West used the moment to discuss an array of issues, including identity politics, his mental health, and slavery, resulting in the appearance being dubbed by Rolling Stone magazine as the “craziest oval office performance of all time.”
What exactly is going on here?
The conversion of West to Christianity is messy, seemingly unscripted and seen by some as dividing the Christian community, with some questioning his authenticity.
“He’s employed a choir of people who are not only singing his songs, but are all dressed in his apparel. Is Christ really at the center of this gathering?” Tobi Oredein wrote in Premier Christianity magazine.
Richard Smallwood, gospel singer and songwriter, said criticism and skepticism are expected.
“The traditional Christian church has always frowned upon anything that is new and innovative,” Smallwood told TIME. “He’s singing about Jesus Christ and God – and that, to me, is the bottom line.”
Others see West’s events as simply a new way to promote his new album, “Jesus is King,” which was released Oct. 25 and as of this writing sits atop the music charts.
Fox News sent a religion analyst, Jonathan Morris, to one of West’s church services held at The Forum in Los Angeles.
Morris interviewed numerous people attending the service about their motives to attend. A woman described the event as, “No matter what your intentions are for being here, God is still being glorified and someone’s life is being changed.” Conversely, a man attending said, in response to if the event is a catalyst in bringing people back to spirituality: “No, music, that’s all it is.”
Another young man attending, who said that he had never been to church, said, “I thought it was really transformative. It was just a whole new experience. I’ve never really kept God or religion in mind,” he said. “But I’m going to be more open-minded. That’s the key thing about it … and keep it in the back of my head in my everyday life.”
Whether West’s Jesus is King events are just a fad or have staying power remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, whatever the motives, God can use it for His ultimate glory according to Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News.
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