I like Drake as much as the next geek, but the video “God’s Plan” troubled me from its first frames, which state “The budget for this video was 996,631.90, we gave it all away.” So, the crew was not paid? Of course they were. So why not skip making the video and give the remaining half million away?
Sure, this is vulgar self-promotion. After all Drake, tried to trademark “God’s Plan.” But worse is the video’s silence about poverty’s systemic causes. Instead, we sob at “a poor person” given an oversized check. The wads of bills and shopping sprees connote the same crass commercialism mocked by The Lonely Island. The video’s message suggests the prosperity gospel of Fred Price or T.D. Jakes: one might call it Black Calvinism.
In contrast to this theology of individualism, consider James Cleveland’s “Where is Your Faith in God.” (By the way, I like King James as much as the next nerd, but why–when I search James Cleveland on Amazon–are there over 200 books about LeBron and no bios of Gospel’s King?) Here Cleveland does not set himself apart from the marginalized but instead identifies with them, parallel to Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46. And despite financial success, Cleveland certainly recognized wealth could not erase racial discrimination nor the oppression he likely felt as a closeted gay man. (Worth noting, both Price and Jakes preach homophobia).
The response to suffering with “faith” does not mean passivity. Cleveland, who played piano for C.L. Franklin and mentored Aretha, fits in the black theological tradition that views God on the side of the oppressed. This means that, like Job, amid suffering the faithful must still live righteously. Righteousness in the U.S. means fighting institutionalized racism and inequality. Let’s make more videos about that.