5 Ways Prince's Faith Influenced His Life and Music | Sojourners

5 Ways Prince's Faith Influenced His Life and Music

thierry ehrmann / Flickr
Photo via thierry ehrmann / Flickr

I'm in love with God, he's the only way / 'Cause you and I know we gotta die some day / If you think I'm crazy, you're probably right

—"Let's Pretend We're Married"

Prince Rogers Nelson, the artist known as "Prince," has died. The music icon passed away at his home in suburban Minneapolis on Thursday, according to his publicist. He was 57.

Know for his flamboyant stage presence and innovative blend of funk, rock, and R&B styles, Prince released 39 albums over the course of his life, winning seven Grammys and an Oscar. His album Purple Rain, created for a film of the same name, is ranked among the greatest albums of all time, and includes the hits "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy."

While Prince's musical and theatrical talent is widley regarded, many may not know Prince was a deeply spiritual and religious man. Here are things to know about his faith life:

1. Prince grew up Seventh-day Adventist.

Prince, who was born Prince Rogers Nelson in 1958 in Minneapolis, used to be Seventh-day Adventist. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is similar to many Protestant denominations, though their observance of the Sabbath on Saturday, as well as their vegetarianism and healthy diets, distinguish them from other Christians.

2. Prince later became a Jehovah's Witness.

While Prince may have started out as a Seventh-Day Adventist, he later embraced the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Back in 2003, a Minneapolis woman reported answering her doorbell to find two men offering her pamphlets and asking to come inside to talk about the Bible. One was Prince — whom she immediately recognized — and the other was Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone.

In addition, according to The Guardian, Prince may have foregone a much-needed double hip replacement because it would have required a blood transfusion. Jehovah’s Witnesses are forbidden from having blood transfusions.

3. A faith-inspired activism pervades his music.

Prince may have sung a lot about sex, but he also sung about justice.

In 2015 Prince wrote "Baltimore," a song addressing the injustice surrounding the death of Freddie Gray. The lyrics repeated the refrain of many organizers: "If there ain't no just then there ain't no peace."

His 2010 song, "Compassion," similarly resisted the effects of racism, including the lyric, "Whatever skin you're in / we need to be friends / black and white and yellow, we can all be friends."

And in "Dear Mr. Man" — a song that quotes Jesus' sermon on the mount — Prince bemoans the deleterious effects of war, environmental waste, and oil obsession, calling instead for greater attention to welfare, AIDS, and affirmative action.

Cornel West once praised how the music legend's spirituality and passion for justice intersect throughout Prince's performances: "His political evolution, which is grounded in a spirituality, but also connected to fundamental concern and care for poor and working people, positions him as an exemplary freedom fighter ... How rare it is that you see the best of both musical genius and freedom fighter in that way," said West.

4. Prince didn't think either political party embodied God's word.

Prince didn’t think that either the Republicans or the Democrats had the Bible figured out.

“So here’s how it is: you’ve got the Republicans, and basically they want to live according to this,” Prince once told The New Yorker, pointing to a Bible. “But there’s the problem of interpretation, and you’ve got some churches, some people, basically doing things and saying it comes from here, but it doesn’t. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum you’ve got blue, you’ve got the Democrats, and they’re, like, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ Gay marriage, whatever. But neither of them is right.”

5. Much of Prince's music was deeply Christian.

And perhaps most importantly, given Prince's own career as an artist, is his music itself.

“The amount of discussion of sex is this much,” said one of Prince’s biographers, Touré, while holding his hands about one foot apart. “The amount of discussion of religion and spirituality and God and Jesus is this much,” Touré said, doubling the distance between his hands.

When listening attentively to Prince’s music, it’s easy to see what Touré means. For example, in “Dear Mr. Man,” Prince even cites Matthew’s gospel:

Why poor people keep struggling
But you don't lend a helping hand
Matthew 5:5 say, "The meek shall inherit the Earth"
We gonna be down that way
But you been trippin' since a day of your birth

The song “I Would Die 4 U,” contains numerous references to Christian themes like forgiveness, God’s ineffability, and as the title suggests, dying in someone else’s place:

I'll never beat u
I'll never lie
And if you're evil I'll forgive u by and by

U - I would die 4 u, yeah
Darling if u want me 2
U - I would die 4 u

I'm not your lover
I'm not your friend
I am something that you'll never comprehend

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