Kirk Franklin is back with a bold new gospel album, Losing My Religion. The first single from first single from his 11th album, “Wanna Be Happy?,” is already breaking records he set four years ago, debuting at #1 and becoming the best first-week digital single in gospel music history.
But the iconic singer/songwriter/producer known for redefining contemporary gospel aims to do much more than break records. He wants his proactively titled LP to shake up the way Christians put their faith to work. EBONY.com caught up with Franklin to discuss why he’s “losing his religion,” and how other Christians can join him.
EBONY: On the title track to your new album, you express frustration with Christians focusing so much on the rules of Christianity and not enough on the love of God. What do you mean by that?
Kirk Franklin: Sometimes we can be so focused on the rules that our glory becomes that we keep the rules. And so your spirituality or your sanctification or your praise is that you’re a good rule keeper, instead of the praise being that you’re weak and you don’t have the power and you celebrate [Jesus], the One who fulfilled the rules for you.
And so that’s what Losing My Religion is all about, because I think that people don’t feel the love from Christians that they should. They don’t feel safe in the place of brokenness, in the place of grace or the place of need like they should. Get rid of this celebration of who’s the best rule keeper and, instead, help people. Get to the love of Christ.
EBONY: You’ve been an example of this practical Christianity through the vulnerability in your music—your openness with your struggle with depression on the Hero album comes to mind. But also when you and your wife went on Oprah to talk about your addiction to pornography. How can Christians get to this safe space of vulnerability and help others feel safe discussing their struggles as well?
KF: I was invited to come on The Oprah Winfrey Show because they heard my testimony about coming from a promiscuous past. I had been introduced to pornography as a kid, and I took that into my teenage years and younger years. When I became a Christian, I knew that was not a part of the life God wanted me to live. Getting married I thought would fix it. When it didn’t, I went to my wife the first year of our marriage and told her, “I really want to be a better dude and I still struggle in this area.”
Us going on the show was a part of that purpose, to show the weakness and show that I’m a flawed person. You can impress people with your accomplishments, but you transform people with your struggles. I transform people when I say, “This is who I was, this is what I did, this is how I hurt, this is how I heal.” And if I have a key that most people struggle with, are imprisoned with, why not use that key?
Some people may say, “Keep your business to yourself.” But that’s also the plight of Black people: we keep the doors closed and we never heal. I heal as I reveal. The more I reveal, the more the man of God I feel like I’m becoming.
EBONY: Not only do you reveal your struggles, you also provide some insight in your music as to how people can turn their circumstances around. Your new single, “Wanna Be Happy?,” isn’t just making gospel music history—it’s really instructive in a way for how people can be happier. What were you going through when you wrote that song?
KF: When God gives you a song, you’re just trying to communicate what’s in your heart to say. For “Wanna Be Happy?,” when the line “But if I keep on doing the things that keep on bringing me pain, there’s no one else I can blame if I’m not happy” came to me when I was at the piano, I was like, that’s a good line! I like that line for me. I think [changing your behavior]’s where the healing starts.
All I’m really trying to say is that happiness can’t just be what you wish for; it has to be what you work for. People don’t understand the amount of work you have to put in to be able to be a whole person. So that half-person keeps looking for other people to make them whole. So you’ve got a bunch of half-people running around never whole, so nobody can ever really connect. It’s not two half-people that make a whole. It’s two whole who create a new hope.
EBONY: So much of Losing My Religion is about hope and addresses so much of the frustration and heartache in the Black community right now. As you look to transform people with your struggles through music, what role do you think the Black church should play in addressing what’s happening to Black America and how we can heal?
KF: I look at it like this: When football players are on the football field, what makes them strong is the huddle. When we’re celebrating the touchdown and the run, that would never have happened if not for the huddle, that conversation about what that play needs to be. What happens with the 21st century church is that we huddle, but we never go out on the field and play the play. From the huddle, we’re supposed to go out and execute the play on Monday.
The [other] problem is whether you’re going to a huddle that is articulating plays. Sometimes we pick churches because that’s where their momma goes, that’s where the ’hood is, they have the best choir, they dress cute. But we have to make a choice: “If I want to be excellent at what I execute on the field, I’ve got to choose the right huddle to be a part of.”
I believe we have to be much more intentional about the churches we choose. In America, you can start a church in your bedroom if you want. But if you went to a doctor for your surgery and if he had his certificate in crayon, you wouldn’t let him do your surgery. You want to make sure he’s certified with the board, that he has some type of accountability. That he has to answer to somebody bigger than himself. That he’s studied, that he’s up to date.
We have to do that not only for our bodies, we have to do that for our souls. And I don’t think we do that enough—take time to examine the people that we sit up under to make sure we’re getting the right nourishment for our soul. Just because it says “church building” does not mean that it’s the church for your soul.
EBONY: You’ve redefined what gospel music is for a generation of people; your vulnerability in the media and in your music has started necessary conversations about depression, addiction and so much more. After 11 albums and history-making music, what do you hope your legacy will be?
KF: I’m just really humbled to be a part of people’s narrative in their journey of faith. When we were walking [to the EBONY office], there were some soldiers on the street who stopped and asked to take a picture with me, and one of them said, “Man, I really needed this today.” And I’m like, come on, are you kidding me? You defend the country, and the fact that somebody wants to take the time out to talk to me, that’s bigger than what people would ever really know. It blows me away that God would allow me to be a part of people’s lives in that way. So if that could be part of my history or whatever legacy, that the music God gave Kirk is the soundtrack to my faith, that’s an incredible legacy.