To be sure, one of the most influential contemporary Gospel artists of our time is Kirk Franklin. Like Thomas Dorsey, Andraé Crouch, The Edwin Hawkins Singers and The Winans Family before him, Franklin’s innovative style has pushed the limits of Gospel music.
As is the case with other Christians in the “industry,” Franklin has collaborated with various secular artists. The list includes the rapper Salt of Salt-N-Pepa, Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly and Bono. For this, Franklin has drawn some criticism. However, news that Franklin appears on the new album of hip-hop artist Kanye West has drawn the most passionate criticism Franklin has faced during his career.
So, the question is, are any of the criticisms levied against Franklin warranted? To address this question, I believe we need to begin with how Kanye West has portrayed himself publicly, and end with how Franklin has responded to his critics.
In 2013, West was interviewed by Kris Jenner – who is now his mother-in-law. In this televised interview, West declared, “I’m a Christian.” Some Christians will see this statement and say something like, “Praise God! He may not be the best role model, but at least he’s saved.” Others will point to West’s song, “Jesus Walks,” as evidence of Christian faith.
But, wait a minute. If a person says, “I’m a Christian,” does that make such an assertion true? No. In fact, Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Anyone can profess to be a believer, but only a true follower of Christ possesses the gift of salvation. Further, whenever people say, “I’m a Christian,” we need to determine how he or she defines the term “Christian.” Their concept of Christianity may very well be a departure from the true Christianity presented in the Bible.
There are two statements West has made about Jesus that I find to be particularly problematic. First, in the lyrics to one of his songs, West states, “My Jesus likes sex, so he didn’t die a virgin.” Such a statement is clearly antithetical to Scripture. West also said, “I believe in Jesus as an icon, but I don’t feel I need to take responsibility for my own successes or failures.” Jesus is no “icon,” He is the Son of the living God.
In keeping with his controversial persona, West appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone with a crown of thorns on his head and blood streaming down his face, thus making a mockery of Jesus. Additionally, West’s sixth studio album is called “Yeezus.” On it, there is a track titled, “I Am a God.”
On numerous occasions, West has been seen wearing jewelry that depicts a pagan deity, and he has openly displayed occult imagery. Conspiracy theorists have even claimed that West and other entertainers are a part of the Illuminati. That notwithstanding, there is much about West that ought to concern every Christian.
In an interview with Big Boy radio, West made the following statement about Franklin’s appearance on his new album: “When I was sitting in the studio with Kirk, Kirk Franklin, and we’re just going through it. I said this is a gospel album, with a whole lot of cursing on it, but it’s still a gospel album. … The gospel according to Ye. It’s not exactly what happened in the Bible, but it’s this story idea of Mary Magdalene becoming Mary.”
So, how has Franklin responded to his critics? In an Instagram post, Franklin said, “Kanye is not me. I am not him. He is my brother I am proud to do life with.” Franklin continued by saying, “To a lot of my Christian family, I’m sorry he’s not good enough, Christian enough, or running at your pace, … and as I read some of your comments, neither am I.” In another statement, Franklin said, “Don’t judge me for working with Kanye.”
Essentially, Franklin is saying that no one has the right to tell him he’s wrong for connecting with West in this way. That is a rather prideful position for any believer to take when engaged in questionable activity.
Franklin’s appearance on the track, “Ultralight Beams,” sends the message that he is comfortable with the lyrical content of West’s entire album. Yes, it is true, Jesus ate with sinners. However, He never publicly or privately endorsed their sinful practices.
Franklin doesn’t seem to understand that Christians in the public eye are to be held accountable for how they use the platform God has given them. This includes preachers, politicians and musicians. Apparently, Franklin’s fellow Gospel artist, Kierra Sheard, also lacks understanding in this area. Upon learning of Franklin being in the studio with West, she said, “I was super inspired. … Kirk Franklin was chilling on the wall. … He did nothing that let his good be evil spoken of. It was perfect.”
By virtue of his influence within popular culture, Franklin’s affiliation with West will likely lead many impressionable and immature Christians astray.
If I could say something directly to Kirk Franklin, it would be this: Kirk, it’s one thing to minister to a celebrity, but it’s another thing to associate yourself with his music that twists Scripture and blasphemes the name of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:33, it says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”
I would also say to my brother: Please don’t take Jesus’ discourse on judging in Matthew 7:1 out of context, like so many have. Jesus was speaking against judging others wrongly; not against judging altogether. In fact, later on in that same chapter, Jesus encourages His disciples to make sound judgments by discerning the difference between true and false prophets.
In closing, I would say: Kirk, I have examined the fruit Kanye West has borne throughout his career, and I have judged it to be rotten to the core. While God is the only One with the prerogative to condemn, I do have an obligation to inspect another’s fruit. Since I have people who follow my leadership, I, too, am not exempt from fruit inspection.
So, are any of the criticisms levied against Franklin warranted? Of course they are. Let’s pray he gains much-needed discernment concerning those with whom he chooses to collaborate. Let’s also pray that souls are not misled because of this lack of spiritual discernment.
The Rev. Joel A. Bowman, Sr. is founder and senior pastor of Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Louisville.