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Why Lecrae is Still a Christian (Transcript)

The last five or six years have been rough for many thoughtful faithful Christians. The embrace of Trumpism, ethnic nationalism, xenophobia, conspiracy theories and abuse scandals have rocked the church. Many have walked away in disgust. Some have spoken out and paid the price for it. Yet, rather than walking away, they have remained committed to Christ and his church. We wanted to sit down with a few of those who have cried out like voices in the wilderness and were consequentially who have attacked by the church they love, and yet, they still remain.

One of those people is Lecrae, an award winning hip hop artist and entrepreneur. Initially celebrated in white reformed evangelical circles, things changed when he began speaking out about racial justice. We sat down with Lecrae to hear his story and find out why through it all, he's still following Jesus.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. You can listen to the full interview here

Phil: You became very popular in white evangelical circles, and then that popularity got disrupted around 2016. When did you first know you were getting sideways with the part of the evangelical world that had been celebrating you?

Lecrae: I would say things like, “We got to take care of the poor,” and everyone would say, “Amen, brother.”

“We got to take care of the disenfranchised.” “Amen, brother.”

“We got to feed the homeless.” “Amen, brother.”

“And we should speak up about these unarmed black people getting killed in the streets.” And everyone was like, “Hold on, brother.”

And I was like, wait, what did I say? What did I say wrong? This is around Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and that era of time. I thought maybe I’m posting it wrong. Let me just say it verbally and I still got a lot of pushback. I posted a picture of me at the site of where Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson. I knew it was touchy for people, but I didn't quite understand why. I was compelled to say, “Hey, I'm here and I see the pain of people here.” I posted some pictures of the stuffed animals and the candles and people were up in arms over it, and I was like, “What is happening right now?”

Phil: What has the last five or six years of your life done to your impression of evangelicalism?

Lecrae: I had to do some serious, and I mean this in the healthy way, deconstructing. And when I when I say healthy, I mean that healthy for me was to step away from everything I knew about God. Now, I did an unhealthy version of that too, where I stepped away from Jesus as well, which was unhealthy for me, and I think it's unhealthy period. Don't step away from Jesus y’all!

But, I had to step away from everything because I couldn't understand what was a framework that evangelicals had built and taught me and what was the Bible. I had to kind of figure out which was which, and in that process I learned a lot. I learned that the term evangelical in today's time is more akin to a political stance than it is about wanting to preach the gospel to people. It became more of a culture war term than it did a term that says this is about Jesus. I kind of had to understand, “Hey, when you say evangelical, what are you saying? Are you saying you love Jesus or are you saying that you align yourself with a particular political party?”

I had to wrestle with some of those particular things and I found that by and large it does come down to where you grew up and the church structures that you came up under that may have filled your perspective. If you grew up in a diverse community you may have a broader perspective of your faith and how it works and interacts with culture. If you grew up in a very non diverse community, predominantly white, or maybe you're in the sticks like I was in the middle of Denton, Texas, where it may not be the most educated, then maybe there's a lack of understanding, or processing of certain things.

Those all became factors that I had to wrestle through to where I finally landed my plane. I love the Lord and I'm open to hearing where people are and not kind of lumping them in and homogenizing them, but I'm also not about to become a part of a diatribe and a part of a group think as it pertains to evangelicalism.

Phil: It sounds like you did come pretty close to leaving the faith and I think there are quite a few people in our audience that are standing at the back door of their church saying, just give me one good reason not to walk out. One of the things we try to do on the podcast is to tell them that they’re not alone. There's a bunch of you and us, and we've all had those thoughts.

So when you were close to walking away, what kept you in or brought you back? Was there a dark night of the soul where you said, all right, I'm done. This is nuts. I can't do this anymore?

Lecrae: It was kind of a mixture of things. I would say for me, it was a dark night of soul. At one point, I was like, "I'm done with this whole thing. I'm out of here." But if I'm going back to what I knew, I didn't know anything other than kind of like hedonism. So it was like, "Is this where I want to go?" There's only so much just throwing off your cares and drinking and masking your trauma with substances and self medicating you can do before you realize this is not helping. This is actually hurting me.

I got to the end of myself there where I was like, "Okay, what do I do?" Because I don't want to turn back to God because I'm so traumatized and triggered by the thought of that. Then there were some supernatural moments where I felt like the Lord was opening up my perspective and pulling me back home. Then lastly, I gave a christian therapist the chance and it was amazing. It was a very intelligent woman who was open to hearing my perspectives and walked with me step by step without casting judgement. All of those things consistently helped me get to a healthier place where I said, I'm still holding on to Jesus.

Phil: Was there a key moment with the therapist? Or was it the whole relationship over time?

Lecrae: If I'm being honest, it was the whole time, but there was an initial moment where, and this is a funny story - a rapper named David Banner, said he had a white woman as his therapist. And he said, “I found that it was intriguing Lecrae because she wasn't like a black woman, mothering me. She wasn't a black man, kind of brothering me. It wasn't a white man condescending me. It was a white woman trying to understand me.”

And he said, that was really powerful. And I said, "All right, I'm gonna try it. Why not?" And that was exactly my experience. It was this little white woman trying to understand me. She would say things like, “Explain to me where you came from. Explain to me your history. Explain to me when you say this, what does that mean? So how did Michael Brown affect you? And what is your perspective?” And I was like, wow, you really want to know, and she would come back the next session with research and insight and thoughts and I was like, you really are learning from this process and some of her suggestions were very helpful and beneficial.

Phil: How did that change seven years ago Lecrae to today’s Lecrae? How do you view your faith differently?

Lecrae: I've done a deeper dive on the Ancient Near Eastern roots of my faith, It's almost like a recipe, you know, your mother's Italian and she gives you this recipe that was handed down from her great, great, great grandmother in Italy, but over the years, people just keep adding things. And so it's like, stop adding…

Phil: You discovered that you're actually eating Chef Boyardee SpaghettiOs.

Lecrae: Exactly. I'm positive there’s something that’s been added. That's what I realized when I went back to the Ancient Near Eastern perspectives and just started there. I wanted to hear people who were only coming from that vantage point and not mixing in Western imperialism or exceptionalism.

Because of that I think I have a bigger bird's eye view. I'm way more gracious and not dogmatic as if this is it and you are wrong. I'm more like, "I see where you veered off here. Oh, you took an exit where you shouldn't have taken an exit. You added some ketchup instead of tomato sauce. I see what happened here." You know, it's it's a little easier now. I'm way more understanding.

Phil: When you look at the church, would you say it's similar now? You look at the church today a little more broadly, a little less American centric and a little more global historical?

Lecrae: Yeah, there was a pretty large group of us in Atlanta where I live who were all kind of disenfranchised and just frustrated. We started meeting together, trying to study Ancient Near Eastern Christianity, looking at Messianic Judaism, and we ended up going through this study done by an organization called Fruit of Zion. They call them Torah clubs where you read the Torah and they have them all over the USA. We just started gathering on Saturdays going through the Bible and it was so refreshing because everyone was contributing. Everyone was processing, praying, and singing. It felt kind of like a house church. It has been healthy for my family for a season.

Now we're doing that and we visit a church. We haven't joined it, but we enjoy the tomato sauce there. And I wouldn't have been able to go there five years ago because I would have been too busy looking at how the culture of America has influenced this, but now I can appreciate it for different reasons.

Phil: You’ve also got your kids. It's tricky to do a a spiritual crisis and parent at the same time. How have you managed that?

Lecrae: We have not done it perfectly. It's been hodgepodge for them, but we've been very intentional about pulling them into the process of us journeying. One of the things I try to communicate to them is to remind them that we are exiles, that all believers are exiles wandering earth until we can come home. This is not home, and so we are exiles gathering together, meeting together. If you lived in China, you'd have to gather somewhere where no one would know so we are privileged that we can go to this above ground meeting with stages and lights and guitars, and that's amazing, but it’s not the essence of what church is.

Phil: I think it’s really rich to let your kids into that journey because the alternative is to have a journey that's messy and try to hide it from your kids. But when they get to a similar place in their lives, they'll have no idea that you went through the same thing. I think you're giving them a leg up on their own journeys and hopefully they’ll remember that their mom and dad went through this and they came out okay. Let's do what they did.

In the midst of all of this do you still consider what you do a ministry?

Lecrae: I think that ministry is where your feet are. Ministry means to serve. When I was working at a call center, that was ministry. I was teaching people how to steward their finances.

Oftentimes I think Evangelicals over the last hundred years or so have been putting this massive emphasis on one aspect of the books we call the Gospels, and that aspect is just the death and resurrection of Jesus. The attitude is, “you gotta tell somebody about this right now or you have failed as a Christian”.

But Jesus didn't do that. Jesus didn't walk around saying, “Hey I'm going to die and come back. And if you guys don't pay attention, this is over.” It was far more robust.

As I'm studying the gospels, I see that this is the news about a future kingdom, about a kingdom that's on earth. The Gospels say, “Repent now for the kingdom of God is at hand.” What does that mean for me? If I'm a part of this kingdom, I'm demonstrating the fruit of that kingdom, the fruit of the spirit. No one else can do that except believers. No one else can demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self control in the way that the Spirit enables us to do. In the gospels you see Jesus fleshing out the fruit of the Spirit every single day.

Obviously his death and resurrection play a massive role in it all, but for me, everywhere I go, I'm hoping that the fruit of the spirit is being exemplified. Whether I'm on a microphone, or I'm painting, or I'm talking on a podcast, whatever would have you, I'd hope that that is service unto God and to people.

Phil: You bump into 25 year old Lecrae. And things are taking off, and it's like, “This is happening, man. I am so popular with these people." What do you tell yourself?

Lecrae: It's a catch 22, right? Because on one end of the spectrum, would I be as useful for those people who have come out of dark places? Would I be as empathetic? I hate the thorns that I've accumulated over the years. I hate the shrapnel that has gone into my body.

At the same time, I don't know if you have a healthy version of me today without me having gone through that because I'm coming from so much historical trauma. The only thing I could say to me then that would have been hopefully beneficial would be, “Hey, It's okay to pause and go sit in therapy and really unpack these things.”

I didn't know that I was embracing and hanging on to every word of these evangelical pastors and leaders, because I did not have any semblance of a father in my life. I didn't know that I was thinking that they're right, not because they scrutinized the text and came to that conclusion, but because they're white and white is right. Look everywhere you live, the white people live in a better neighborhoods than we do. The white people have the better schools. They go to Harvard and so they must be right. The class system just works that way.

So I don't know if I would have been able to scratch or peel those layers back. I would need healing. It took all that trauma to see these things now to see the classism that exists in America, to see the caste system that exists here, the theological caste system that exists. I just, I don't know if I would have seen it.

Phil: It sounds, sounds like, um, you believe that you, you don't resent your journey.

Lecrae: I mean, obviously I hate that I have a limp now that I'll never be able to get rid of. When I say that, I mean literally because I've always been an anxious person, but I triggered chronic anxiety through those years that now I have to manage for the rest of my life. Some of that's my own doing. I could have closed Twitter and not worried about all that stuff. I could have declined sitting down with Louie Giglio and talking about Black Lives Matter.

I could have done so many things differently, but I didn’t so a lot of that is my missteps, but I think it's made me better. I think it's made me healthier. And though I'm scarred for as long as I walk this earth, I think those scars have made me whole internally and spiritually in some ways.

Phil: What can you say now to the kid who's at the back door of the church that you couldn't have said 20 years ago?

Lecrae: I would say, I totally understand why you want to walk out that door. It actually makes sense why you want to walk out that door. But what if you can stay there on that foundation and we push these walls down all around you and we build new walls. Just stay on that foundation. The problem is not the ground you're standing on. It's the asbestos in the building. So let's work on pushing these walls down together and reconstructing something that is healthy and whole. But that foundation is everything.


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