“After everything that guy has said and all the selfish, power-hungry things he’s done, you expect me to believe he’s a Christian?”
“Seems awfully convenient for him to claim to find religion now… he still needs to answer for his past.”
“Plus, his political history makes it hard to believe this religious conversion is authentic. It’s probably just another ploy of an egomaniac …”
Celebrity conversions aren’t easy to navigate. In fact, the ongoing reaction to reports that Kanye West has been born again, is serious about his faith, and is even considering seminary, all in association with the title and content of his much-anticipated music project “Christ is King,” sounded more than vaguely familiar to those of us at the Colson Center.
After all, our founder also had a celebrity conversion over four decades ago, and while I don’t expect much of anything else about Kanye West to remind us of Chuck Colson, the reactions to this week’s news were, shall we say, familiar.
Still, of the many celebrity conversions we’ve seen over the years, this one seems different to me. Maybe it’s because it would be hard to identify a bigger, and more notorious, celebrity today than Kanye West. Or maybe it’s because part of his notoriety is due to a string of publicity stunts. Is it really that hard to believe that this is just another one?
No, it’s not. And therein lies the challenge. It wasn’t hard for Colson skeptics to note the suspicious timing between his conversion and the Watergate scandal, either. In fact, the Washington Post felt obliged to note their skepticism of Chuck Colson’s conversion over thirty-five years later, when they were reporting on his death.
There’s a world of difference, of course, between a skepticism that comes after three decades of faithfulness, and the concern many of us feel right now for the reputation of Christ and His church. This is definitely a time to be “wise as serpents” and “harmless as doves.” So what might that look like?
First, we should be hopeful. No one, no one, is beyond the reach of the Gospel? Any of us concerned about lost friends or family members pray like we believe that’s true. And here’s why we have this hope: The headline of the Kanye conversion story, and any conversion story, is not the convert but the converter. Not Kanye, but Christ! At the end of the day, I believe Christ can save Kanye for the same reason I believe Christ can save me.
Second, we should be grateful. As St. Paul wrote, even if Christ is being proclaimed by someone of whom we are skeptical, Christ is still being proclaimed. And, in this case, it’s being proclaimed across popular culture in a way we’ve not seen in our lifetime. The message of Christ carries its own inherent strength and is not dependent (thank God) on the strength or stability of the messenger.