Kanye West’s Sunday Service | A perspective on Celebrity Culture, Idolatry, and the Church

As the uproar continues to mount concerning Kanye West’s Sunday Service (and more recently, the Pop Up Service), I think there is something more glaring that we should talk about.

Now, before I dive far into this, my strongest take isn’t really about Kanye… but I will address some elephants as it pertains to this moment.

Let me first acknowledge that historically, Kanye has done some blasphemous stuff. I was among the many shaking my head when he put those thorns on his head and called himself Yesus. However, when I think about his life at the time, I tend to lean toward calling a lot of that behavior breakdown because of the loss of His Mother. I recognize that many people have struggle with their Faith in God as they sort through grief— especially for someone of great importance in their lives at such an unexpected time. At that point he was just a person who was celebrated because he did music professionally, yet navigating an emotional breakdown (I also personally think that He is on the spectrum and although genius, very much ASD. That’s not provable just my POV.)

Let me also say that I have no knowledge of Kanye’s repentance, commitment to Jesus, or His Church. All we have at this point is music. This could be a healing and restoration period that he is expressing through his profession, skill, and realm of influence within the industry and culture. That’s what I would expect to happen. A person most often uses their platform to express things that are important or currently happening in their lives.

I pray that Kanye is and continues to have a real encounter with Jesus. I only pause and hope that this isn’t a play to pander to win back the affection of the black community after the whole Trump situation. I also hope that it’s not a jump to merchandize the saints. The rest of it can be worked out in the wash. For all I know God could really be drawing him and he’s doing what he knows how to do in response. To echo Paul, rather in pretense or in all sincerity, Jesus is being lifted up and He can do a lot with that for His name sake and for the sake of the people.

Ok so now that I’ve said that, I want to talk about what really needs addressing. This next point isn’t about Kanye. It’s just that the reaction to Kanye points to something else. It’s a problem that I’ve seen for years now.

We, American Christians, are too immeshed in celebrity culture. I mean we salivate over a famous person mentioning us like that validates us in some newfound way. Worshipping Jesus is cooler now because they are doing it? We suggest that because a celebrity has a concert and mentions Jesus, that it now validates The Church to people who are perpetually against it. (Let’s be very clear… Jesus validates and affirms His own.) We crowd spaces, yes, even a sanctuary or place of worship if we think we can get close to a celebrity. Jesus has been drawing us the whole time. Yet, we will walk and step over Jesus to satisfy this need to be with the in crowd.

This is true of leaders too. If there are biblical prerequisites and protocols for people to be in the church leading a service or to have a voice (authority), why abandon those things to accommodate a celebrity (of any realm)? Are you no longer a watchman of your house? Do you no longer have the responsibility to pray and discern? Does someone’s celebrity status expedite their qualifications to be a biblical leader? (Or exempt them from their adherence?) Should they get to step into priestly functions without any discipleship or vetting to see where they are spiritually? This is quite disgusting and downright idolatrous. We are warned in scripture against partiality and being a respecter of persons because of status. (See James)

We have people who have given their lives to worship and serve Jesus. They have been creating music and productions to that end. They are of good reputation , they know the word, they have integrity, and are filled with the spirit. Yet, they don’t fit the bill for our celebrity fetish so we pretend that every time a celebrity does something (that’s been done forever) , it’s the best thing since cooked food. We have to stop wanting to be loved (by the world) so much that we overlook the true lover of our souls and those who have faithfully given watch for decades.

This is true of celebrity preachers, musicians, singers, or whomever. We have got to stop or we are begging to be ravished by wolves. Our eagerness makes us move with the kind of naïveté that people prey on.

I Repeat: This isn’t just pointing to secular artists. We have made idols of preachers of a certain ilk. No person is meant or made to be the object of worship. When we put this level of esteem on a Human mind, they cannot handle it. Eventually it will corrupt or pollute their hearts, thusly leading to all manners of evil being done. We invite them into our churches to draw a crowd not realizing that we have corralled a room full of their potential victims.

God isn’t pleased with this. We can look in the Bible and see that Israel was just the same. They had the best thing going but they wanted to be liked and be like the cultures that surrounded them. They would often overlook the beauty of what they had because of the Idolatry that was found among them. It never went well.

We have to move to a space where Jesus is the main attraction no matter who is in the room. If a celebrity is in our midst, their celebrity will mean little when we all gather to celebrate Jesus. We want as many to come to Christ as possible. We need to create a space where a person can lay down who they are in the world in the presence of our King. We need to be able to honor God’s servants without looking to them to be everything that God should be. It’s too much. (It literally sends people into insanity or depression and suicide.)

I pray that we can learn to honor and celebrate people righteously and Keep Jesus on the throne of our hearts. For in that, there is safety for all of us.