It was only a matter of time before Kanye West would bring back his celebrity-friendly Sunday Service. But many were left slack-jawed when the rapper decided to mark its return this past Sunday (on Halloween no less) by having Marilyn Manson at his side nodding along as Justin Bieber prayed over the service.
Already West, who recently changed his name to Ye, was widely bashed over the summer for choosing to align himself with Manson, real name Brian Warner, when he decided to collaborate with him for the song “Jail Pt. 2” on his latest album Donda. The shock rocker has been publicly accused by at least 15 women of sexual assault, sexual battery, emotional and physical abuse, torture, as well as other disturbing behavior.
The 52-year-old is also still under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Warner has denied all allegations of abuse and assault.
The controversy surrounding West choosing to prop up Warner and fellow rapper DaBaby, who was also featured on “Jail Pt. 2” shortly after his homophobic rant at a music festival, all but died down over the past few weeks, as West picked up press elsewhere for going on coffee dates with Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen and wearing bizarre prosthetic face masks.
West’s decision has engulfed him in criticism yet again, only this time it’s drawn the ire of some Christians, many of whom already felt his Sunday Service was more of a spectacle for himself than an occasion for any real worship. Since the launch of the invite-only service in 2019, West has had a choir turn his own music or other contemporary songs into gospel tunes and hawked expensive merch tied to the events, such as $225 sweaters and $50 “church socks.”
So, to bring out Warner, who is currently in the midst of a PR crisis, and who has repeatedly torched Christianity as a religion and was even given an “honorary priesthood” by the Church of Satan’s high priest, seemed like a mockery of their faith.
“Christians love a big redemption story,” Blair Preston, a devout Christian, told The Daily Beast. “So, if Marilyn is going down that path of, ‘I need to get back in the public’s good graces,’ Christians are going to be in a frenzy over that, like, ‘God converted Marilyn Manson.’ Or Kanye West converted Marilyn Manson, because right now, there’s a lot of publicity about Kanye getting him there in the first place.”
“Consider all the claims made against him and now Christians already saying, ‘Well, if he’s seeking forgiveness, then we have to forgive him.’ So, is that a way to get this massive base of people on his side? Many Christians are very vocal, so if they’re going to put Bieber on a pedestal, they put Kanye on a pedestal, why not Marilyn, especially if Kanye and Bieber are endorsing him now? I’m sure what’s next will be some statement by Bieber or Kanye that Marilyn’s being saved.”
Aaron Miller, an outspoken Christian, has been very vocal in the past about his disdain for West’s Sunday Services, believing they are more about West showboating rather than a true gospel service. “I’m much more cynical than your liberal [Christian] folks on the issue,” Miller says.
“I have seen celebrities do this type of thing for a little while, coming out as Christian, coming out as a Trump supporter, and it’s funny because you don’t really hear much else from these people after the fad fades. I believe it’s the church's fault. I think that we have set the bar very low. There’s just certain things that you could not get away with,” Miller explains, saying that to become a Christian, people must change their lifestyle and renounce their wrongdoings.
“If it’s been genuine repentance, you’d see a change,” Preston adds.
Both Preston and Miller say while Christianity is based on the concept of forgiveness and that the church welcomes everyone, no matter their past, it doesn’t mean they deserve a get-out-of-jail-free card—they still must be held accountable for their actions.
Yet by Warner wordlessly attending the service alongside West and Bieber in the vein of appearing to align with Christianity, he’s somehow afforded the privilege of acceptance and forgiveness by Christians without any public acknowledgment of what he believes or condemning statements and actions from his past.
“Part of the controversy has to do with the fact of the allegations against Marilyn, aside from all of the other Marilyn Manson stuff,” Christian radio host J Love offers. “My position is obviously if he’s guilty, whatever the penalty is for that is, then absolutely you should pay that. Forgiveness doesn’t mean lack of accountability.”
But Love believes that seeing Warner up on stage alongside West and Bieber, nodding along as Bieber prayed about casting “out any demonic presence on this day” is only a good thing, although he admits that time will tell if Warner is being sincere.
“It could be just for show; it could be a really great publicity stunt,” he says. “Because we know both him and Kanye are great at publicity stunts. But even if I’m being naive right now, for the hope for humanity, I’d love for this to be a genuine moment.”
But how genuine can a moment be, Preston questions, when it’s tied to West making money off his new albums, his merchandise, and charging $10 to stream the service on Triller and the Fite TV app?
Isaiah Henderson, a youth pastor in Nashville, says while he thinks Marilyn attending Sunday Service is a “beautiful thing,” West was in the wrong for charging people to tune into the service.
“At no point in time should you charge people to come in… if there is a transaction to come to the gospel, that is 100 percent wrong and incorrect, and that’s where concerns arise. I pray that Kanye West learns from that, and he stops charging people.”
Both Love and Henderson admit that in times of crisis, many public figures have turned to the Christian church as a way to get back in society’s good graces, such as R. Kelly, O.J. Simpson, and Michael Jackson, and it’s something to bear in mind.
“We always have to be wary; we always have to be on guard,” Henderson says. “But do we come out and attack him and start bringing up his past and saying, ‘Oh, you’re doing this for that?’ No, because someone could say the exact same thing about you when you really truly are sincere.”