In recent years, Kanye West has been the target of criticism due to his bipolar disorder. Many remember his delusional rants at a Los Angeles concert in 2016 that sent him straight to the hospital. Others recall controversial statements made during his 2020 presidential campaign. The media never ceases to cite manic episodes in both his public and private lives.
Sadly, many Christians are often the attackers of the celebrity and execute harsh judgments against him. They look to his crazed actions as justification for slander and gossip within church communities. Some even call this kind of backstabbing holy and righteous. Kanye West, although championed in 2019 for releasing Jesus Is King, is quickly turned upon when he falls beneath godly expectations. Evangelical circles throw stones at the rapper and attack his faith, claiming it is illegitimate.
My own bipolar gives me a unique lens through which to view Kanye. While believers may be angered by his various antics, understanding fills my spirit. I think, “If I had billions of dollars and fame to boot, I would do the exact same thing.” Although we have different sets of struggles, I see where he is coming from. Even though I haven’t walked where he’s walked, I have quite literally felt what he’s felt in manic highs and depressive lows.
I first began to see bipolar in my life when I was seventeen and had rededicated my life to Christ. A passionate small group lead showed my peers and I videos of teenagers preaching in their schools. Whether in the cafeteria or in the hallway, a massive crowd would form to listen. He would relay the Gospel message and watch everyone give their lives to Christ. My grandiose dream had been awakened inside me.
In this way, The Great Commission had become an unhealthy obsession that I latched onto. I was ready to win the world for Christ even though I didn’t understand His grace. I loved Him even though I didn’t get what His death on the cross meant. Mental illness had created a religious bond to evangelism that pushed me to see the whole world converted. My super-spiritual, charismatic church had only fueled the fire.
The Evangelism Illusion
Manic highs soared on a regular basis as I walked through Walmart. I always remember feeling ecstatic pressure to start preaching where I stood. I envisioned a crowd of people surrounding me as I delivered the Gospel with a fiery passion. They would be pierced with guilt and turn back to God like those kids on the video. I would do anything to achieve this radical dream.
Every day would be consumed with thoughts of evangelism as I drove through my developing neighborhood. Foreign construction workers were always building houses and they were sinners that needed the Good News. I saw myself shouting from street level to pause their work and tell them about Jesus. This fantasy stuck with me on a daily basis for over a year. Only fear and common sense kept me from following through.
I would compare myself to crazy street preachers you find at football games or anime conventions. They are the guys breathing condemnation and shoving the Gospel down your throat. They are convinced they are following the leading of the Spirit and doing God’s work. Sinners are opposed to the Gospel by nature, which justifies abrasiveness in their minds. In reality, they are the lost ones, bound by illusion.
Depressive lows found me when I was too afraid to evangelize. In the heat of the moment when I was geared up to convert an entire grocery store, reason would return to me. I considered social boundaries that would be crossed in order to communicate my message. Shoppers would be offended by my methods just as I have been turned off by street preachers. Once I weighed the consequences, I told myself I couldn’t evangelize in such radical ways.
Whenever “the Spirit” came upon to preach in Walmart, I would shop faster and bolt out the door. Once I made it out of the store, I knew that these surging emotions would stop. My shopping experiences were like riding a roller coaster down its peak over and over again. At one point, I refused to go to grocery stores altogether. I couldn’t handle uncontrollable emotions every time I needed a loaf of bread.
Speeding through my neighborhood streets, I forced myself not to look at the construction workers. Once I made it through the front door, I could relax and forget they were there. But until then, crippling anxiety and condemnation would flood my soul. They would tell me that I deserved wrath for acting in fear.
I would turn to pornography and masturbation to medicate guilt from “disobedience.” Looking at explicit images in isolation only multiplied my shame. I would feel crushed by what I had done and consequently move further into addiction. The vicious cycle was fueled by this repetition and would feed into itself.
As I look back, my salvation at the time was dependent on my sexual purity. Giving up in the face of temptation meant I was destined for Hell. My good works and attempts to reach moral perfection were never enough. Bipolar disorder had only amplified these feelings like a drill sergeant in a microphone.
My emotions had drowned me at the bottom of an ocean and I would spiral out of control. I couldn’t function as a person with the weight of Hell on my back in addition to mental illness. Strip clubs became soothing places to medicate my pain. I wanted to do anything to escape God’s judgment, even if it meant forgetting it existed.
Back to Kanye West
I relate to Kanye’s ambitious attitude and grand vision. Those ignorant would scoff at his arrogance, but I know it’s a normal part of bipolar. People tell him to think big and he thinks even bigger, more than they anticipated. In many cases, it fuels the entrepreneurial and creative genius that is Kanye West. Look at all the amazing things he has done as a rapper and businessman.
He often falls into passionate rants where he talks nonsense from large idealism or paranoia. These I find to be true in my fixations on evangelism. Bipolar people are not thinking about what makes sense and what is logical: they are fixated on whatever that one thing is. Even if he is wrong, he is going to keep his mouth moving as manic highs sweep through his body. In those intense moments, it’s almost impossible to resist.
I have attempted with sharing my story to bridge the gap between Kanye West and believers. People who are ignorant about bipolar disorder and don’t know any better. But there is only so far my testimony can reach when someone’s heart is closed due to pride. Understanding my experience will not necessarily stop Vanity Fair from slandering his name or Christians for that matter.
My final plead to release judgment from Kanye West is this: he has been saved by grace. The rapper is just as loved and treasured by God as anyone else. Jesus was nailed to a cross and took His final breath for him. He was spit upon, whipped, and scorned as payment for everything he has done. If God had to send His son again to bear Kanye’s sin, He would do it in a heartbeat.
How much patience did God have for you as you wandered far from His love? How much love did God have for you as you tried to sin your way out of his grace? How much grace did God have for you as you self-righteously judged others for mental illnesses you cannot fathom? As God did for you, so do the same for Kanye West, our brother in the faith.