The Problem of Ye

It’s hard to keep up with current controversies. But I want to pause and zoom in on one controversy in particular. It’s an issue that raises important questions about culture and discipleship.

In October, Adidas officially ended its partnership with musical artist Ye (formerly known as Kanye West). The split followed a series of explicitly antisemitic comments in interviews and on social media. This all comes just three years after the release of Jesus Is King, an album through which the artist boldly proclaimed a newfound Christian faith.

If your kids and teens have encountered this news, hopefully we can provide some good starting points for discussion. But this controversy touches on themes that go well beyond sneakers and pop music.

 

1. The Question of Celebrity

As Christians, whom do we platform? Or, to put it another way: To whom do we grant spiritual authority in our lives?

When Ye announced his faith, many Christians rejoiced. And why not? Here was a celebrity with real clout in culture, now proclaiming the gospel. Ye already had a prominent platform to share the truth. In the minds of some Christians, he became a spiritual mouthpiece to the pop music world.

With Ye now mired in controversy, that excitement has soured. It might even feel like Christianity’s voice in popular culture has somehow become tarnished. We don’t just feel the loss of a man; we feel the loss of a platform.

But maybe if we’re focused on a platform, we’re focused on the wrong thing.

Popular culture determines influence by marketing metrics. How big is your platform? What do you produce? What marketable skill do you have? How many views? How many followers?

If we’re not careful, we begin to determine spiritual authority by those secular metrics. We put our spiritual development in the hands of the pastor with largest congregation, the teacher with the most book sales, the worship leader with the most Spotify streams. The size of a platform retroactively becomes evidence of spiritual authority. We end up with a market-driven church culture.

If Kanye had a spiritual platform, it came from those secular metrics. His current controversies shouldn’t surprise us more than the fumblings of any other new Christian. But because of his platform, they do. By all appearances, his celebrity launched him into a realm of authority his faith wasn’t prepared for. The same happens over and over again, not just in pop culture, but in the Church.

When we allow voices of spiritual authority in our lives—and into the lives of our children—we should stop to ask a simple question: What gives this voice authority? Does this voice carry the authority of a life lived faithfully? Or does this voice simply carry the authority of a million followers on Instagram?

With that awareness, we can train ourselves to look instead to the leadership metrics of God’s kingdom, which aren’t really “metrics” in our modern industrial sense at all. Rather, they are the fruits of a well-stewarded life.

We can train ourselves to look instead to the leadership metrics of God’s kingdom, which aren’t really “metrics” in our modern industrial sense at all. Rather, they are the fruits of a well-stewarded life.

2. Christianity and Antisemitism  

If your kids have followed the downfall of Ye, they’ve also encountered the cultural dialogue around antisemitism.

Recently, I wrote about antisemitism in WORLDteen, for a news byte about the anniversary of Kristallnacht. In the case of Nazi Germany, we saw the horrific lengths to which antisemitism can go. But if we’re not careful, we can think of antisemitism as something confined to the past. Or we might look at antisemitism today and think, “Well, it’s not the Holocaust. How bad could it be?”

Then we’re reminded of 1 John 3:15: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” We might also recall the Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ expands the commandment against murder to include anger and insult.

Today, antisemitism plays a major role in conspiracy theories—the sort of dark rabbit holes that especially target young men on the internet. Online, you can find communities of those who believe in a Jewish cabal secretly pulling the strings of culture. These theories inevitably work themselves into a hatred of Jewish people in general. Such conspiracies appear to be the main source of Ye’s antisemitic comments regarding a “Jewish agenda” and a “Jewish media mafia.”

Russell Moore sums up antisemitism succinctly: “If you hate Jews, you hate Jesus.” He wrote this blog post in response to a 2018 mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. He reminds us that Jesus was Jewish, and that Jesus is still Jewish. He still exists bodily, in the flesh, at the right hand of God. He is still the son of Mary. He still comes from the tribe of Judah.

“Indeed, much of the New Testament is about precisely that point,” writes Moore. “Jesus is a son of Abraham. He is of the tribe of Judah. He is of the House of David. Jesus’ kingship is valid because He descends from the royal line . . . . As Christians, we are, all of us, adopted into a Jewish family, into an Israelite story.”

When we encounter antisemitism—whether in the news, on social media, or even in our own hearts—we can turn instead to basic biblical truths. God created all people in His image. We are called to love our neighbors. We serve a God who became a Jewish man and preached His gospel to the Jewish people first. And we’re part of that story by the grace of God alone.

When we encounter antisemitism—whether in the news, on social media, or even in our own hearts—we can turn instead to basic biblical truths. God created all people in His image. We are called to love our neighbors.

3. Shepherding Young Believers

Lastly, the Kanye controversy raises a question of discipleship.

Converting to Christianity entails a complete reordering of priorities. It involves figuring out how to live as a Christian in regards to belief and personal conduct—but also in regards to culture, politics, and the news. It’s a process of figuring out a completely new way of being in the world.

That’s one reason why discipleship—not simply evangelism—is essential to the Christian mission. One-on-one discipleship doesn’t call it quits when new believers come to faith. It shepherds them through the transition and helps them live out their faith.

But what happens in the absence of that discipleship process?

It’s possibly never been easier for a Christian to go through life without experiencing true discipleship. Many believers today attend church online. Many more attend churches so large that congregants can file in and out without ever forming a human connection. In other words: It’s easy to treat Christianity as a consumer product. You can’t be discipled by a product.

Except that you can.

Something will always disciple you. Something will serve as the model you follow when living out your faith in today’s world. If that model doesn’t come from other believers—believers with a mature faith and teachers with true wisdom—it will come from somewhere else. It will likely come from some facet of media and culture, Christian or otherwise.

Something will serve as the model you follow when living out your faith in today’s world. If that model doesn’t come from other believers—believers with a mature faith and teachers with true wisdom—it will come from somewhere else.

This discipleship vacuum opens the door for all sorts of voices. It leaves an opening for voices of extremism and anger. It leaves an opening for voices of unbiblical sexuality and do-what-feels-right morality. In the case of Ye, it left an opening for antisemitism and conspiracy theories.

As a side note: the evangelical church has an abundance of resources to shepherd believers away from the extremes of left-leaning secular ideologies. These are good and needed resources, and they can help believers bolster their faith against some of today’s most prevalent temptations. But in my experience, the evangelical church has far fewer resources to shepherd believers away from the extremes of secular ideologies on the right, like those now espoused by Ye. Sometimes these ideologies can offer an even greater temptation than others, because they purport to be compatible with Christianity.

We’ve been talking about new believers. But kids in the church go through a similar transition. They come to a time when their faith truly becomes their own, when they assess their beliefs and figure out how to live them.

But the kids in your life have one-on-one discipleship built into their experience. They have you. They have parents, teachers, and perhaps even grandparents to guide their journey.

To disciple them well, we can start by asking: Who is discipling us?

 

We have a great comfort. We’re not doing this alone.

 God walks with us through this process. He has grace for our clumsiness. Ultimately, our faith—and the faith of our children—doesn’t hinge on our success or failure in discipleship. It rests in the work of Jesus Christ, which He declared finished on the cross.

This shouldn’t make us lazy in the work of discipleship. Instead, it should energize us. It should fill us with assurance. We go into this work with a power that is not our own.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. — Romans 15:13

Jonathan Boes

Jonathan Boes

News Coach

Equipping for Cultural Engagement

Thank you for subscribing!