Mania is King: How the Church Has Manipulated Kanye's Bipolar Disorder

I spend an inordinate amount of time watching Sunday Service videos. All summer, it’s been rolling around in my head as an example of what church might look like if we put people with mental illnesses in more intentional leadership positions.

I think about Kanye a lot. He’s the most prominent person who has disclosed his bipolar disorder. In recent years, he’s talked about it on albums and in interviews. I’ve written lots of things about him, all conscripted to the “don’t ever post this” folder. Kanye is hard to write about, and it’s why everything has ended up in a trash bin.

In 2018, Kanye released ye. At first, I felt like it was a nightmare. It explored the darker contours of bipolar disorder – the anger, the suicidal ideations, the delusions of grandeur. But the more I sat with it, the more thankful I was for it. So much of my time is spent hiding my energy, trying to make my bipolar disorder palatable. And ye was this really honest expression of one person’s experiences.

What I’ve been left wondering for a few days is where y’all were when Kanye released ye and it wasn’t the version of mania that made you comfortable?

If there’s one thing that’s clear in any of this, it’s that Kanye is currently experiencing some mania. For those of you who don’t know what that means – it can mean a lot of things. At it’s base, mania is heightened energy. It includes heightened creativity, grandiose thinking, increased activity, hyper-religiosity, increased irritability and impulsivity.

Mania is when people like us the most. It’s when we feel the best, when we’re the most confident, when we stop taking our medicine.

The evangelical church is designed for people who are manic. They seek our innovation, our creativity, our high energy. Mania is valuable to the church. It brings in people, it makes programming better. But when we get stable, or we hit a depression the church isn’t there to support us.

Y’all don’t want Kanye. You want manic Kanye. You want hyper-religious Kanye.

As someone who is bipolar, I have never felt fully seen in the evangelical church and here’s why: because when I (or Kanye) does something that doesn’t fit into your Christian morality, you won’t value us anymore. Because we’re only worth what we can produce.

When Kanye finds himself scorned by the church, he’ll still make money. He will still have fans. But y’all do this to people in your community, people you know personally, all the time. When you don’t take the time to educate yourself about the things that people are living with. When you don’t listen to our stories with empathy.

What happens when our mania tends towards overspending? Drinking? Bad decisions?

What happens when we can’t create anymore?

What happens when we’re depressed?

When we don’t feel like smiling or shaking your hand?

What happens when we tell you that your church is toxic for those of us with mental illnesses?

Can you love us when we take medicine?

Can you love us when we don’t?

David Letterman interviewed Kanye recently for his show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, and at the end of the interview Kanye talks about the intentionality of his Sunday Services. He’s removed the 808’s, changed the tuning, used different lighting techniques, etc. to make the services calmer. I’m always struck by the way that Kanye has crafted something that feels uniquely comforting.

It reminds me of what the church can look like when you let people with mental illnesses design spaces that are accessible and calming.

Letterman includes this really beautiful clip of Kanye singing “Ghost Town” and there is this moment where he sings “I’m still here.” And it’s beautiful. Because we will always be in your churches, but Jesus is King is just another tool for your manipulation, unless you allow it to encourage you to open up space for more people in the church.


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