The world's best selling Christian music artist KIRK FRANKLIN played sell out dates in Wolverhampton and London in July. Mike Rimmer spoke at length to the gospel star.
He is late and the TV crews are distinctly fidgety. In UCB's modern studio complex in Stoke-on-Trent a swarm of journalists, broadcasters and media people await the delayed arrival of the world's biggest selling Christian music artist. When Kirk Franklin finally turns up I'm struck by the star's hat (the sun is blazing), his diminutive size (almost Prince-like) and his willingness to patiently do the stuff for the media. After the press conference, I get a one-on-one with Kirk and, suitably geared up by Admiral Cummings, kick right in with the hard questions.
Mike: The book Church Boy inspired me because you were
completely messed up and God used you.
Kirk: "It's funny how God uses the worst of us and it seems that every man he's chosen had junk. Whether it was Paul or David, whoever, they had junk. I believe that God does that because when he pulls you out of the junk, you realise that there's no one but a loving Saviour who could do that. I still have junk that keeps me cemented, that keeps me very humble and very vulnerable to the voice of God because I know that there are areas that I want him to have total victory in. Sometimes my songs are birthed out of darkness and I believe that God wants to get his Bride ready for the return and for a new revelation of who he is. He wants us to experience the joy that comes from the grace."
Mike: To experience the joy you have to sort out the
righteousness issues first. You had a problem before your marriage
with promiscuity while still making Gospel music. You were sleeping
around and yet playing gospel. How could you possibly reconcile this
Kirk: "You can't reconcile the two. The flesh will always try to justify what it does. We didn't even know what sin was until the law and the Lord pointed it out. The first step in the deliverance over the sin is to realise that I am fully loved child of God because when God sees me he sees the face of his Son and in that there's the healing. Paul said it greatest, 'The things that I desire not to do, I do.' Not to justify the sin but he said, 'I realise it's no longer only me but the sin nature in me,' and even though we are paid for with a price we still live in this body that is tormented with this nature. You have those times when you go to God, lord I am sinning, please forgive me so I can minister to and do this.' There are times when you've jacked up and you've asked for forgiveness and at a concert that night the move of God is so incredible that you feel even more condemned because he blesses me and misses my junk. I don't want to live like that and I thank God for the grace because we realise, 'There's no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.' I'm learning more about who I am in Christ. I can't blame it on any preacher or on any religious institution but I can say we're not taught much about who we are in him."
Mike: You say that your pastor never confronted you about your
sexual behaviour. I find that hard to believe!
Kirk: "I wasn't confronted by my pastor on the issue of sexual sin because it wasn't one of the big ones in the eye of the church, unlike homosexuality or some of the other things. It was something that is normal for young boys and it was just passed over. I was 15 at the time and I never grew out of it. I grew more into it and as quiet as it is kept I believe that that's an issue of the church. To think of the church as a sin free institution is foolish. My experiences have motivated me in my own ministry to address those issues for young people. To help them in those areas of sin. I need to be transparent with my life. I've wrestled with everything from pride to pornography - with my other buddies looking at stuff as a child. There are always things I believe I must share with people because we are overcome by the power of our testimony as the Scripture says and there is somebody who will listen to me and say 'him too. When I was in church I felt like I was the only person going through some of the things I was going through because it's not an open discussion for people. But we're all hurt people that need the healing that can only come from the Christ. To get that we've gotta confess to the hurt. When you go to the doctor the first thing the doctor says is 'tell me what hurts.'"
Mike: And the pain still continues for you because of the
criticism of your music by some segments of the Church community. That
Kirk: "The criticism must hurt? Oh yeah! My friend Jess will tell you we will never forget the summer of 1997 and New Orleans For The Gospel. We went to a church conference and as soon as we had checked into the hotel we got word from friends of ours that the night before there was a preacher that had stood up in the conference that had 40-50,000 people in the audience. He spoke about my music. He said, 'This is not of God, this is boom, boom, boom, etc. It was a very painful area and I went to my room, lay on the floor and cried. God allows it. Why God allows the rain some people don't understand. We as people who have seen the flower after the rain realise why the rain has to come.
"There is a danger in trying to be more determined in continuing in the path that I have started because of the persecution. It's easy to become a self-proclaimed messenger. There's pride in that. You can be so caught up in working for God that you can end up being out of his will and still feel you are working for God. I guess the best example is David. When David built a temple for God. God never asked him to build a temple but his buddies were probably saying, 'That was nice David.' It is so dangerous but so easy to be caught up in the idolatry of what you are creating, a new form of gospel music and you end up replacing God in it. I believe that is what has happened to a lot of religious leaders. You're so caught up in the message. The message so easily becomes you. In my experience of God's grace I realise that what I do is the music. The music is not who I am. I'm a child of God, the music is what I do and I had to learn the separation because if the music wasn't successful I felt like I wasn't successful. If the music wasn't light, I felt like I wasn't light. Even after coming from 'Stomp' there was this self-imposed pressure, there was industry pressure of creating another 'Stomp' because there were so many worldly benefits that came with that song. The flesh is always going to run after that. Even though you're saying Jesus, even though you're lifting your hands and shouting, you are just running -after the things of man."
Mike: You had success with "Lean On Me" which featured Bono,
Mary J Blige and R Kelly. When I was in America some radio stations
played a version that only featured Crystal Lewis. Why?
Kirk: "There were a lot of Christian stations that didn't want to play the song because of the secular artists on it. I have my own personal feelings about that but I'm not going to speak anything negative about anybody. I just allow a lot of people to do their thing. I never get caught up in trying to battle for my own beliefs and feelings because you end up battling for yourself sometimes. So a lot of times I just stand still and allow God to do that process.
There are so many mixed messages. I think we sin in Christendom. It's okay for secular artists like Leanne Rimes to do a whole Christian album and she'd be at number one on the Christian charts. But when the traffic goes the other way they protest! There are so many mixed messages. At the same time those people at the radio stations are my brothers and sisters and I'm going to allow them the room to do what they think is best because whatever God's agenda, it's for me and not in the hands of one man. So I sit back and rest in it."
Mike: What about the biblical concept of being unequally yoked
with mainstream business?
Kirk: "You always have mixed feelings about this because there's no chapter in the Bible that talks about selling albums. There's no direct point of reference. Like some people have trouble with men with earrings or tattoos. We can all go to places in the Old Testament to justify our feelings and our beliefs but we all know, even the theologians, that there's not one Scripture that spells some things out. We have so many interpretations. That is why we have so many denominations. Every believer has a place in the Kingdom and I thank God for my place. I'm not saying these things are wrong, what I am saying is it's so easy for us to get caught up in our interpretation and our feelings of what things are. The safest thing to do is to realise is that we can't figure it out. The thin line is too thin for us to figure out. How can we maintain the integrity of Christ and yet make this a profit? It's gonna always come with its temptations. How do you do this? I now realise that I can't do it. If I try to do it I mess up and to just allow the Holy Spirit to express himself through me and when it's time to do interviews to believe the Scripture that when it's time to speak he will speak through me, and to really trust in him."
Mike: You have the white CCM scene and you have the black
gospel scene. Is this good for the industry?
Kirk: "I believe that racism is such a strong demonic attack that it can't even hide in the Church. It is so real that even those of us that speak in tongues and fall on the floor and run around and scream hallelujah can't hide the fact that it's real. Just like a few years ago, you remember in the Catholic church when they had challenges with priests and young altar boys being molested. It was a big story in the media. Whatever is in the dark is gonna come into the light. I think it's very unfortunate that if you go into Christian bookstores in America you go into the back and Gospel music is labelled Black Gospel. It says Black Gospel. I believe that's very unfortunate. The Dove Awards are all white, the Stella Awards all black. You must have a desire to allow God to break it down. Only by the grace of God can it be broken. I believe it can be broken if we are honest about it and I still believe we are not totally honest about it. White people have different cultures. Black people like different foods, the way we dress and talk is different but in our worship of Christ you would think that we would be willing to at least allow the differences to have their place. It's almost even in our worship we don't want to allow it. I mean the most segregated day back in the States, and I'm quite sure here in the UK, is on Sunday. White people go to white churches, black people go to black churches. It is true that more white people are into black music than black into white music and I believe that sometimes black people can be more racist than white and some black people don't like other black people. We have a lot of issues in our own culture and some of it is understandable because you have a group of people who still don't know who they really are. We are the minority in so many ways. We've just been treated as human beings back in the States for just 30 years now. I mean think about it, 35 years ago we wouldn't be having this conversation and so it's not a long time. Only by the grace of God can it change."
Mike: You are in the middle of a high profile legal case about
the success of the God's Property album and "Stomp" single. What's
your perspective of what's happening?
Kirk: "I honestly believe that this lawsuit doesn't have so much to do with money as it does to do with power but they are also affiliated with each other. Power, money and sex, they are so affiliated. My feelings on the whole lawsuit is that in the end, the things that God wants to happen are going to happen and I pray that everybody - other people from the God's Property camp, the record company, myself -gets treated the way they want to get treated. I've learned that to try to fight my own battle makes me fall in the hole even deeper. A lot of times I've been very vocal in the media about my feelings on different things. A lot of those things have come back to backlash me but that happens when you're very energetic and very passionate about what you do. I'm very passionate about what I do because when I first started doing Christian music for a living and recording music I wanted to make about $24,000 a year. God's honest truth. That's all the money I wanted to make. I never got into this for money; I never got into it for the crossover. With that there's always going to come battles. Lawsuits are part of the business. We are in the business and only those who are going to allow God to be head of our lives in the business are going to sustain.
"I do see these things as spiritual attacks because we realise that we
are not ourselves, we don't belong to ourselves. We are really just
tools that God uses for whatever. It's easier said than done. It can
be painful, it can be challenging. With more success comes more
challenge for that person to start thinking secularly because once
you've tasted success it's always a temptation. I've been guilty of
it. I've had my struggles in it and I just thank God for the grace
that he's given me through his Son, to not allow my mistakes to be my
end but to be my growth.
"There are always desires to have people around you and people that work for you to live the way that you want to. On the way over here from the States I was blessed to fly first class. The whole way I was wishing that the people that work with me could afford to be that comfortable too. You want the people around you to experience the things you experience, so you try. Sometimes you can go almost broke doing it. And so with money comes all the other things and I admire and always want to learn from people. People like my pastor at home that pastors the annual budget of five to seven million dollars a year but still lives in the same house right around the corner. It's not a very rich neighbourhood and he lives happily in Christ. That's where I want to be. I believe the different temptations that I've had that John Wesley didn't have are that I've been exposed to a more secular way of thinking. John Wesley didn't hang out with John Wayne so that he didn't think like John Wayne. He didn't have the temptations that John Wayne had."