Kanye West just dropped his album: “Jesus Is King.” We went to see his first concert post-album, which was at the Forum in Los Angeles, California. What we got was a hybrid of a gospel choir concert and a Billy Graham type of outreach.
My wife, Cherie, and I were getting ready to go to the event, and my YouTube suggested a video titled Kanye West: Jesus Is King, Sunday Service and Being Born Again, by Apple Music. It is a brilliant follow-up to an interview he did several years ago with the same host. We watched this video as we got ready, and it was both enlightening about his true conversion but also showed you that he is at the beginning of his salvation experience.
West still has some deep emotional struggles, which came across many times in the interview, like when he said, “I am unquestionably the greatest artist of all time.” Or that he still wants to run for president. I found myself cringing, not at him but at the fact that because he is a very public person in his inner process that Christians and others in the world might just discount the genuineness of what is really going on in his life and just place it in the mental illness category. He has been extremely passionate about many things in waves, and a lot of people both in culture and in Christianity are not buying his conversion.
People might even say after some of the more recent interviews that this is just another part of the mental illness the media has reported. After all, just a decade ago, West did claim to be the Messiah (see the article in Rolling Stone magazine in February of 2006).
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But West is having so many moments of true mental and spiritual clarity. Just over a year ago, he produced a new porn awards show called the Pornhub Awards. Now he is saying he is grateful his Christian friends had patience for him as he was walking out of something that was deeply painful for them. He left porn behind and he is having to have patience and grace for several of his other friends who are not out of this lifestyle yet.
West also shares about his major vices like the fact that a doorway opened up to him at the age of 5 when he saw his father’s Playboy magazine. Porn and sexuality became an addiction for him, and he began to use them to fuel his life. His awareness of his sexual addiction and how it changed after surrendering his life to Jesus who is teaching him to live in purity without shame is astounding, and yet to those of us who believe, is exactly what Jesus does for us.
West also shares about how he was addicted to influence. He is still overcoming this one and is learning the difference between God’s favor and man’s desire to be famous.
On top of this, his desire to bring about sustainability and community is coming out, such that he has purchased several thousands of acres in Wyoming to start a campus for his clothing and shoe brand where it goes from seed to market from one campus. His whole desire is sustainability as well as bringing jobs back to America. He, along with his wife, Kim Kardashian (who is studying law), want to impact the incarcerated community and help people to have opportunities when they get out of lockup. This type of compassion for the earth, for prisoners and for people doesn’t come from a man like West—it comes from Jesus, who is recreating that very man, and West is the first to admit that.
We got to the Forum in Inglewood, California, where West was doing his first conference post-release of his new album. Its bright blue theme highlighted everything as we met our friends who got us the tickets, who are connected to the 75-plus member choir. The choir director’s wife, Geneen White, whom we accompanied, along with our friend Steve Jones of Hollywood Confidential, wanted to sit up higher than the VIP section because they wanted to really see the show and enter the whole experience. So there we were with a wide-eyed view.
Walking into the Forum itself was stunning. It is a stadium with a large base floor, which was covered in thousands of live plants and flowers. It was a huge garden with a circle in the middle large enough to hold the 100-plus stage performers and band. Over the whole circle was a portal of light that matched its dimensions, which led to some very surreal moments in the concert with the sky appearing over the performers with different hues shadowing them. It was beyond what I expected.
The Sunday Service began about an hour later than planned, but when it started, it had a level of energy you don’t find in most church services. These people who were in the choir and band might consider themselves worshippers first, but they were definitely top-level performers who gave every part of their energy to worshipping. From the first song, it was all worship. There was no ego on the stage, no diverting from the message that Jesus saves and is worthy.
I looked around the room at the 10,000-plus people who had gathered in the rather full Colosseum. There were white preppy kids, hip-hop aficionados, Asians, Hispanics, the Bethel- or Elevation-looking worshippites, tons of African Americans—but not one racial group or gender dominated. Everyone from every walk of life was here. Children, grandmas and teens were speckled across the auditorium. Not only that, but the crowd itself was probably only half-Christian. Then there were the lovers of West and his career, people who love this style of music and a lot of people who just came because of the controversy and the interest. After all, tickets were scaled back in price, so it was extremely affordable.
From the first song, choir director Jason White shared the message of the love of Jesus in between every break, having the audience lift their hands in worship or receive a spirit of freedom through walking with Jesus instead of fear or bondage. Cherie and I looked at each other and thought the same thing: We are at church. Then halfway through, a preacher stood up who reminded me of Billy Graham or Joel Osteen and gave a beautiful and relevant salvation message where he went over who Jesus is, what He did on the cross and how we can be saved, reading from the book of John. Then he invited people to enter into the life of salvation. There was a prayer over us, but not a formal invitation at the time. But wait, there’s more!
At one point, West brought out Kenny G, the famous saxophone player, along with a guest rapper, to play his 10th track of “Jesus Is King,” and this wild and very unlikely duo worked seamlessly in the whole event. Just like the Sunday Service choir, West has the traits of a true creative genius. One definition notes that this kind of genius can be defined by seeing things that don’t normally work together synergize. We saw that at work here, and it was brilliant.
Finally, after we cried a few tears, got swept away in the beauty of the performances and got to hear an amazing new album done in full worship, the last song played. West himself sang over and over: “Jesus is Lord, every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, Jesus is Lord.” And he invited his adorable daughter on stage to sing with him, who repeated the words. “LA, put your hands up; this is our final song!”
Witnessing firsthand that West really does love Jesus was a phenomenon. It wasn’t just words; it was real to him. Knowing that he is in an industry that is adversarial to Christianity in many ways made us want to pray for him even more. He is at the beginning of his journey, and it can go many ways, depending on to whom he gives access. He needs spiritual mentors and fathers, but thank God some of the team we met who are around him are great spiritual voices.
Ultimately, he has a lot to grow through, and he is so public with friends who have the exact opposite values from those he is embracing, that I want to encourage you to also pray for him. Pray that God sends discipleship to him and through him because, if West gets his faith right, he will do what he has told the world he wants to do: Evangelize the nations.
Finally, as the choir director, White, ended the concert, he did the most shocking thing. He gave an invitation for salvation and did a full evangelical prayer of repentance and forgiveness, inviting people to pray with him. The whole audience prayed loudly, and it left my wife and me to wonder, Is this a new modern-day crusade model that just might change the world?