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Walking the walk, talking the talk

Gospel singer Kirk Franklin isn't shy about depicting his Christian journey, warts and all, on his new album, 'The Fight of My Life.'

December 25, 2007|Nekesa Mumbi Moody | Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Kirk Franklin has no problem reminding his predominantly Christian audience that he is not the perfect Christian.

His gospel tunes often reflect the difficulty of keeping the faith in trying times. He's talked candidly about past struggles with temptation. And asked if he wanted a relationship with his estranged father, he said: "You don't really want to know my answer -- because my answer is going to be very un-Christian."

Yet for all Franklin's admitted flaws, he hasn't strayed from his path to someday be that perfect Christian -- a journey he depicts on his new CD, "The Fight of My Life."

"I have a sincere desire . . . to really want to be that Jesus dude, not just to do the music but to sincerely, sincerely and passionately live every lyric and to be as close to God privately as I try to portray publicly," he said. "That is my greatest desire in life, to be a very honest, sincere and for real person about my faith."

That may be the greatest part of Franklin's success. Unlike other gospel stars who may seem above reproach, he makes it clear that he's much like his listeners: searching each day for new ways to find inspiration and sustain faith.

"Relevant and relatable is key," says Robyn Lattaker-Johnson, executive producer of the BET gospel talent search show "Sunday Best," on which Franklin recently served as the host. "He is human, he struggles internally like everybody else. He wants to be a better man, and he is open to sharing that with the public.

Music as therapy

Franklin has been a gospel superstar with considerable mainstream appeal for over a decade, selling millions of records -- a rarity in gospel music. Preaching over passion-filled R&B- and hip-hop-flavored songs (though he rarely sings -- leaving that to members of his choir), he says that by expressing his own vulnerabilities through song, he is helping to show others that it's OK to admit feelings of doubt as well.

"At the end of the day, this has to be therapeutic for me too, because if not, then the music sounds very false," said Franklin, 37. "I think that's the reason why a lot of people don't get gospel music, because it seems too unreachable. . . . It's like, 'They sound like they ain't never got no problems. They ain't never got no issues,' and it just seems way over here, and I don't want that. I wanted to be honest and real, and wherever it falls, it falls."

On "The Fight of My Life," Franklin's 11th album, songs like "Help Me Believe" touch on frustrations in faith -- whether prayers will be answered or troubled situations ever resolved. However, by a tune's end, the solution -- Christ -- is always made clear.

Franklin says the album was inspired by not only his personal conflicts but also by what he sees as a general malaise affecting the entire country, from the mortgage crisis forcing some into foreclosure, to the war in Iraq: "It seems like everybody is just surviving right now. . . . I just wanted people who listened to me to feel and to know that I'm in the fight with them, because I have my own fights."

He has talked about his fights openly. His 1998 autobiography, "Church Boy," discussed his abandonment as a child by his parents, being raised by his grandparents, dabbling in drugs and other dangers before turning to God (a biopic was in the works before the Hollywood writers strike). A couple of years ago, he revealed more of his "junk," as he puts it, by admitting to a past pornography addiction, even discussing the issue on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Though he got some criticism, Franklin says he received mostly praise for revealing a problem many others have shared.

"The only backlash I got is because of the culture," he said. "We are more comfortable with people getting busted and getting caught than we are people telling on themselves. . . . If God has given me a key, and he's changed my life, do I see all these men behind bars and not say nothing? Or do I let myself be a martyr and let the chips fall where they may and try and help somebody?"

Struggles with forgiveness

Franklin has also dealt -- and continues to deal -- with family drama. He talks about having relatives on drugs and suffering from other ills and has yet to resolve his bitterness toward his parents. He is particularly blunt when discussing his father: While he says he has forgiven his father for skipping out on his parental duties, Franklin has no interest in having a relationship with him.

"It's unfortunate that a lot of African American daddies have these freakin' babies and these boys have to try and figure this thing out, and their mamas trying to raise a man -- it's so unfair. It's so unfair, man. And it's like, I forgive that dude, but I haven't forgotten it," he said. "See, forgiveness is free. But trust is earned."

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