Kanye West released “Jesus Is King” on Oct. 25, an album showcasing his reconnection with Christianity. Though it may seem like a newfound dedication to Christ, the reality is that the project is a commodification of Christianity. In addition, it is a part of a larger trend in the United States of normalizing the teachings of the prosperity gospel, and the effects of the religious fringe on both the culture and politics of the country.
This commodification is most directly shown in Kanye’s merchandise. In a collaboration with AWGE — A$AP Rocky’s production company — he sold streetwear consisting of crewnecks, sweatpants, hoodies, shirts and more for prices ranging from $20-$260. Almost all of them have a depiction of Jesus and some of them have Bible verses. Kanye’s use of Christian references is clearly a way to make a profit on religion, and the absurd price tags on some of his items are just further proof of this.
It is fair to say that many of Kanye’s beliefs and actions reflect the ideas of the prosperity gospel, which argues that faith in Christ is directly linked to material wealth and success. By commodifying the Bible and the face of Christ, Kanye follows directly in line with this kind of thinking, as both Kanye and the theology both place profit-making central to their ideas.
Further proof of the artist’s connection to this profiteering ideology is seen in his meeting with Joel Osteen, a popular prosperity gospel televangelist. At Osteen’s Houston megachurch, the two discussed topics like Christian media representation, Kanye’s new album and worshipping fame and money. The irony in this encounter, though, is the fact that Osteen seems to only reflect Christian values when it attracts dollars. In the aftermath of the Houston flood in August 2017, the pastor refused to open his 16,000-person capacity church to victims struggling to find shelter. Osteen only reluctantly opened the building after receiving backlash on Twitter for his decision. Additionally, the pastor has a net worth of around $40 million and makes $55 million a year through book sales. His preaching and supposed belief in Christ is clearly just a front to promote his brand and profit off of religion. Kanye’s connection to Osteen further reveals the artist’s conversion was more of a business decision than anything else.
This kind of thinking is entrenched in both the culture and politics of the U.S. Politicians like President Donald Trump, former President George W. Bush and Mayor Pete Buttigieg have always used Christianity to further their political positions. This has become more apparent, though in November, when the Trump Administration hired Paula White — a famous prosperity gospel preacher — to work in the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative. Soon after starting in her role, White sent her supporters an email saying they had to pay her $229 in exchange for instructions on how to defeat their enemies. This is one of many instances when prosperity gospel figures have used religion as a financial transaction. False prophets like Ephren Taylor and Jim and Tammy Bakker have always been powerful North American televangelists. Clearly, a line can be drawn from the political manifestations of the prosperity gospel shown by Paula White to the faux-piety of Kanye. It shows distinctly the role of religion in the U.S. today and how the Christian faith can be manipulated for political or financial benefit.
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