When controversial rapper Kanye West posed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine as Jesus, many people were shocked and dismayed, but few were surprised. West is, after all, no stranger to controversy.
Let's take a brief look back at some of the highlights of the Kanye West story and see if this is about raising awareness of issues or raising awareness of Kanye himself ...
- "Jesus Walks" - at first glance, it looked like the man was trying to take his faith to the streets. The story behind the song was perfect. "They" said you can rap about sex, drugs and violence but you can't rap about Jesus and get radio airplay - so he set out to prove them wrong. However, once he won a Grammy for the song, it seems like Jesus got the boot. In his acceptance speech for winning he said, "I plan to celebrate and scream and pop Champagne every chance I get because I'M AT THE GRAMMYS, BABY!"
- 2004 American Music Awards - When he didn't win the Breakthrough New Artist of the year award, he pitched a well-publicized temper-tantrum, saying, "I feel I was definitely robbed. I was the best new artist this year. I don't know if I'll be back at this award show next year." He then tore into Wilson's music backstage, labelling it "bulls**t". Apparently it was too much to bear for a man who feels as if he's "carrying the whole of hip-hop itself, the state of music too," to not get recognized as the Saviour of the genre' that he sees himself as.
- The AIDS virus - On July 2, 2005, West appeared on the Philadelphia end of Live 8, using the global platform to comment on "man-made diseases placed in African communities," endorsing the idea that AIDS was created by the U.S. government to exterminate Africans Americans. The funny thing here is that regardless of where I looked, I didn't find anywhere that even mentions that Kanye West has donated a penny of his money or a moment of his time to help fight the AIDS epidemic.
- Political Insensitivity - While at Live 8, West also accused American politicians of insensitivity, claiming they "...ride home in their Benzes and Bentleys while poor Africans starve." Apparently he feels more like an American politician than anything else because he isn't exactly riding in a Pinto or taking the bus. Then there is the reproduction of the Sistine Chapel ceiling that he reportedly has in his dining room. I'm betting that the money he spent on that could have fed more than a handful of families.
- Racism and President Bush - No one on the planet will ever forget West's response to Hurricane Katrina. Did he ...
- Donate $25,000 and host a radio show asking for others to donate like Fat Joe?
- Donate $50,000 and host a different radio show to raise money for survivors like T.I.?
- Form his own charity to sponsor events to raise money as well as donating his own like Master P?
- Donate a half a million dollars to relief efforts like Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter and Sean "Diddy" Combs?
No - he simply announced that "George W. Bush doesn't like black people" on the NBC Concert for Hurricane Katrina.
After a career more centered on controversy than talent, posing as Jesus on the cover of Rolling Stone was just more of the same.
Some Defend Kanye WestSome fans have come to his defense, claiming that he was trying to re-emphasize his religion. That might have been believable had the article itself gone into how great having Jesus as his Savior has been, instead of how great Kanye West thinks that Kanye West is. If this was about faith, you would think that he would have mentioned it.
Other fans have come to his defense, claiming that this is simply a racial issue and if it were someone like Brad Pitt as Jesus, no one would have a problem with it. It wouldn't matter if the person on the cover were pink, purple or polka-dotted. Posing as the Savior of mankind to sell magazines is wrong no matter what the color of your skin is.
Who Will Speak Up & Speak Out?When I saw the cover, I was outraged. My first thoughts were, "How dare he?" and "Who does he think he is?" Jesus is more to me than just the central figure of Christianity. He's my personal Savior. The one who died for my sins. The magazine cover mocked that and was a slap in the face to me as a Christian.
I immediately started contacting Christian and Gospel artists, Pastors and others in Christian leadership. Much to my dismay, while several people out of the 50+ that I contacted were willing to comment "off the record," calling the magazine cover everything from "heresy" to "offensive" to "blasphemy," only five people were willing to comment on the record. This was as hurtful to me as the magazine cover itself. Upon examining my reaction, I found myself in a situation of not "practicing what I was preaching." I had taken the line between shepherd and flock and turned it into "those with opinions who matter" and "those who don't." The reality is that we all matter. Just because I don't lead a 10,000+ member church doesn't mean that my voice is any less important than someone who does.
We, as Christians, are quick to complain amongst ourselves that making fun of our religion is a popular past-time. Yet we sit quietly by while people do it - keeping our mouths shut so we don't sound "too Christian" or fanatical. While I don't condone violence or riots at all, I think it's well past high-time that we start to speak up. God gave us voices - yet we won't use them. We are much like the watchmen in Isaiah 56:10-11 - "His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter."
The five artists and industry professionals that spoke out all did so knowing that they could draw fire for their comments. They all realize that standing on your own convictions can make you unpopular to some, yet they're all willing to be unpopular in order to be true to themselves. I respect that immensely.