Why Kanye West is America’s “pervasive Christian traditionalist”

Embracing a newfound focus on family and fatherhood

December 10, 2019

One of the most noticeable effects of Kanye West’s highly publicized conversion to Christianity has been his newfound dedication to his family. This has been observable in a number of ways:

In his new Jesus Is King album, songs are liberally accented with a pro-family message.

He told late-night interviewer James Corden that at night, after putting his kids to bed, he reads his Bible. He’s retreated from the hustle of Los Angeles to Wyoming, believing it to be an easier place to raise a family.

He’s made headlines for expressing frustration at how his wife, Kim Kardashian, dresses too sexually provocative. 

In an interview on Beats 1, West said he regrets how he’s allowed his young daughter to wear make-up at too young of an age, and how he does not think it right to allow his young daughter to dress in ways that mirror celebrities.

In the music video for “Follow God,” West is seen driving around his Wyoming compound with his father. The lyrics to the song give voice to a formerly fractured relationship with his father, while the video gives evidence of reconciliation. 

And now, in a video released last week for “Closed on Sunday,” maybe the album’s most overtly family-centered song, West’s video features him in prolonged montages with his immediate and extended family. The message of the song is very clear: The family is where joy and a sense of self-orientation to the world are to be found, and West is taking up the charge to be the leader and protector of his home. 

A man free to pursue God’s calling 

In the song, West speaks clearly to the need to take charge of his family, protect its purity, and to stand alone in doing this if necessary. This is a message of righteous defiance: West understands that his calling as a Christian husband and father is to stand up for its innocence and integrity. He wants a home of prayer, not Instagram likes. He wants to protect his children from corrupting influences; to train his sons to be righteous. Considering the rate of family dissolution and culture’s hyper-sexualization, nothing could be more countercultural than West’s message.

The lyrics, to quote the deservedly-mocked New Yorker profile of Chick-fil-a, promote an unmistakable “pervasive Christian traditionalism.”

So Kanye West has become something of modern-day Edmund Burke, the 18th-century political theorist who wrote of the family as the “little platoon” of society, the “first principle of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed toward a love to our country, and to mankind.”

All of this, West says, is because as a Christian, he sees things differently now.

Far from the caricature of it being harshly patriarchal or grounded in a 1950s’ vision of moral traditionalism, Christian thought insists that the differences between men and women are God-ordained, grounded in creation, and to be applauded and upheld because they are good.

Critics of Christianity accuse the religion of being staid and restrictive in its understanding of gender and gender roles. In West, however, a portrait of a man freed from worldliness emerges, and in that portrait, a picture of a man free to pursue God’s calling on his life. And it is the family and home which men understand as their highest dedication and vocation. That undertaking, in his own words, is not one of domination, but service. The idea of the husband laying down his life for his family echoes a biblical message.

All of this stands in stark contrast to the world and its objection to the man, husband, and father as a sacrificial leader and protector. All of this, we’re told, is simply rebooted patriarchy coupled with oppressive traditionalism. The progressive zeitgeist seeks to strip a man of his uniqueness and calling, telling him that he’s no different than a woman, and if he dare assert protectiveness, boldness, and leadership, he’s acting on unrefined caveman impulses that our betters inform us need refined and made gender-neutral.

So now we have Kanye West, America’s throwback family man, a man seeking to acknowledge the different ways that God has made men and women and the respective capacities each is designed for. And he’s not apologetic about it. 

Far from the caricature of it being harshly patriarchal or grounded in a 1950s’ vision of moral traditionalism, Christian thought insists that the differences between men and women are God-ordained, grounded in creation, and to be applauded and upheld because they are good. West is echoing this sentiment, as the newly converted Christian man will not become a feminist, but a man on fire.

As I wrote previously at National Review, it’s important that Christians not make West an avatar or hood ornament for their own cultural insecurities or desire for cultural triumph. Rather, let’s let him be a disciple of Christ, someone learning to conform himself and his home in the way of Christ. While West is tremendously influential, we should not look to West as a late-stage Constantine-like figure who can restore the glories of Christendom. Rather, in seeing West demonstrate such overt acts of male leadership and protection, he reminds us that the progressive and egalitarian spirit of the age is not so victorious that it can suppress what comes natural to men.

Between the symbolism of the family’s centrality and the message on defending his family’s purity from a parasitic culture, West is communicating a more confident, joyful portrait of gender difference than some Christians who are embarrassed that Christianity teaches such gender differences at all.

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. Read More