Well-known for her no-filter potty mouth, her barely there fashion choices, her stone-cold confidence—and her chart-topping debut album, Invasion of Privacy—female rapper Cardi B doesn’t exactly appear to be what Christians would call a godly woman. Instead of dismissing her outright, however, what if we considered Cardi B alongside another provocative figure: the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus’ attitude toward the Samaritan woman provides a model for those of us trying to learn the subtle art of extending grace, while still upholding the teachings of the Bible.
Fred Rogers once said, "Frankly, there isn't anyone you couldn't learn to love once you've heard their story." Only six years ago, Cardi was a teenager who had been kicked out of her parents’ house and was working at a grocery store to put herself through college. When she was let go from that job while living with an abusive boyfriend, a desperate Cardi found herself working as an exotic dancer. She went from stripping to becoming an Instagram star, which brought the attention of producers for the reality television show Love & Hip Hop: New York. After two seasons on TV, two mixtapes, and a full-length album, she is now a Grammy-nominated rapper and household name. But her fame and popularity comes at a price, as she has drawn critics like moths to a flame.
“Get Up 10,” the opening number on Invasion of Privacy, is a fiery, explosive ode to these haters (“I say we gon' win / Knock me down nine times but I get up 10”), while also a recounting of Cardi B’s rags-to-riches story (“Only person in my fam to see six figures”). The joyous and triumphant “Best Life” (featuring Chance the Rapper) continues this theme ("Went from small-a** apartments to walkin' red carpets / Pissy elevators, now every dress is tailored"). She also calls out her critics’ desire to bring her down (“That's when they came for me on Twitter with the backlash / #CardiBIsSoProblematic is the hashtag / I can't believe they wanna see me lose that bad”).
In “I Like it,” Cardi B celebrates her Latin roots by reworking the 1967 Pete Rodriguez hit “I Like It Like That” into a catchy, salsa-inspired summer anthem, transporting us to a New York City block party. Offering a more playful tone than “Get Up 10” and “Best Life,” Cardi’s self-confidence grows despite the naysayers. Here she’s just having fun, being comfortable in her own skin—admittedly in a non-filtered way that might make Christians cringe. (Fair warning: strong, sexually explicit language appears on almost every song on the album.)
Besides calling out the haters, Cardi B also upbraids the womanizers and cowardly men who refuse to treat women with dignity. On “Be Careful,” “Ring,” and “Thru Your Phone,” she uses mellow beats and R&B hooks to get heartfelt and personal. In the scathing “Be Careful” she tells her cheating lover: “Be careful with me / Yeah, it's not a threat, it's a warnin' / Be careful with me / Yeah, my heart is like a package with a fragile label on it.” We live in a time in which the dating scene makes excuses for men who lack loyalty in relationships. Sometimes women are tempted to lower their standards or question their self-worth (“You even got me trippin', you got me lookin' in the mirror different / Thinkin' I'm flawed because you inconsistent”). Cardi B is not about to let that slide; she uses her own vulnerability to exhort women to understand that they deserve better.
So perhaps there is more to Cardi B than her appearances, which are admittedly brazen and explicit (yet, in my opinion, also goofy and charming). From her language to her dress, Cardi B appears irredeemable. Seemingly so far from spirituality, should we even bother with her? Jesus would have.
Cardi B doesn’t exactly appear to be what Christians would call a godly woman.
Cardi B is a lot like the Samaritan woman at the well. Jews and Samaritans did not interact, yet he chose to address her. What’s more, in a patriarchal Jewish culture, men were discouraged from speaking to women in public, especially a woman, like this one, with a promiscuous reputation. Still, Jesus asked her, “Give me a drink.” His own disciples were shocked at the sight of Jesus speaking to her, yet Jesus chose to look past outward appearances to see a woman made in the image of God, innately worthy of being valued and loved.
This is grace at work. Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz, while referring to his well-documented friendship with Justin Bieber, once described grace this way: “I tell people grace and acceptance does not mean approval. ...I can accept you as a human being and not approve of your actions. That’s how we’ve been loved. We love because we were first loved.” Cardi B, by virtue of being a human made in the image of God, deserves a bare-minimum level of respect. And so, when I encounter someone I’m tempted to judge, I can do two other things instead: make an effort to understand their story and offer prayer.
What if we focused not on Cardi B’s apparent list of sins, but rather prayed she would have an encounter with the living God? As Christians, let’s not forget our own hopeless position before Jesus saved us. Salvation is a gift, not something we accomplished for ourselves. Remember: it is God’s job to judge and to save. Our job is to love and to pray.
One of my favorite theologians, Oswald Chambers, reminds us to pay close attention to how the Spirit of God is working in us, to see the everyday ways in which God works to sanctify us from our own faults and shortcomings. Otherwise, “we see where other people are failing, and then we take our discernment and turn it into comments of ridicule and criticism, instead of turning it into intercession on their behalf.”
I need to remind myself of these wise words the next time I am tempted to hastily judge a fellow human being, “problematic” celebrity or not.