Although many unwilling to accept more imaginative, trendy, and inclusive approaches to gospel music find Kirk Franklin’s Losing My Religion an affront to the genre, this album has already expanded gospel music’s influence in America and across the globe. Released in November 2015 by RCA Inspiration and Fo Yo Soul Recordings, the album’s early success is evident. Losing My Religion debuted at #10 on the Billboard 200, peaked at #1 on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart, and reached #3 on the top R&B/hip-hop albums chart. This demonstrates the great diversity that comprises Franklin’s audience and how wildly popular this album is. 35,000 copies of Losing My Religion were sold in the first week of its release, which is a noteworthy accomplishment for any artist and album of any genre.
With this album, Franklin candidly defies limited notions of what gospel music is and should be, and the multi-Grammy Award-winning national recording artist, producer, and songwriter renounces allegiance to any religious viewpoints imposed by human beings and abandons religious communities’ expectations. The artist makes a solemn vow to concentrate on an authentic personal relationship with Jesus. On Instagram, he offered insights about the title of his album and gives his thoughts about the concept of religion: “In the beginning religion created a mask…for generations church was where we went to go hide…rules without relationship is empty. There’s room at the cross for everyone, even me…religion is a prison, but truth sets us free.” The gospel star further added that “The next time you think America,please include me. The preacher isn’t God, religion’s first mistake…I’m losing my religion, thank God…Helping you lose yours is my job.”
For Kirk, religion must be replaced with relationship with Christ. He seems to suggest that this relationship with Jesus should lead one to advocate for economic, social, and racial justice. On BET’s recent Celebration of Gospel, the gospel legend and his fellow singers ended their performance sporting shirts with “Black Lives Still Matter” on them. When one juxtaposes his “The next time you think America, please include me” with the intentional participation in the Black Lives Matter Movement, one begins to see a developing political consciousness in his art and public self. Also, his previously mentioned words and actions evoke “I, Too,” a poem composed by Langston Hughes that critiqued white Americans who were averse to embracing racial diversity and who opposed substantively integrating blacks into the social, intellectual, political, cultural and economic fabric of America.
On a recent episode of BET’s Lift Every Voice, hosted by Derrick Watkins (better known as “Fonzworth Bentley”), Mr. Franklin asserted that the reason numerous people aren’t attracted to Christianity is the improper teaching and preaching about righteousness that often takes place. In his view, too many preachers and religious folks desire to impose an Old Testament view of righteousness on people, which is all about what a person does to be made righteous. Franklin, however, advocates for a New Testament reading of righteousness, based on individuals being made righteous by what Jesus has already done for them at the cross. Losing My Religion is the gospel music legend’s vehicle for offering the world a more liberating message about Jesus, righteousness, salvation, and Christianity.
“Wanna Be Happy?,” the lead single on the album, encapsulates the artist’s frustration with living the life others want him to live. With this song, Franklin makes a public declaration and promise to do what pleases him and Christ. People across the country and globe apparently “wanna be happy,” as sales of the track are historic: 11,882 digital units have been downloaded, making the song the most purchased single in gospel music history. In a statement to The Christian Post about “Wanna Be Happy?,” Franklin stated, “Every human being was wired with the desire for happiness. And we will try different things all in pursuit of that feeling. With this song, I am saying, if you really want to be happy, you have to start with the originator. My goal is to try to lead people to the manufacturer of their souls.”
Without question, Kirk Franklin has expanded gospel music’s audience across the world. He continues to challenge the status quo in religious communities and gospel music. Losing My Religion is bold, honest, personal, provocative, passionate and timely. Many are waiting to witness what the gospel music legend will do next.
—Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels
Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels is a Research Associate in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He blogs regularly for his cultural commentary blog, Revolutionary Paideia. His works have been featured widely in academic journals and popular online publications, including Mused Magazine, The Black Man Can, and Healthy Black Men Magazine. He’s a Writer for Lunjeal Music Group, featuring gospel music star Jekalyn Carr. Follow him on Twitter at @paideiarebel.