Why Did Prince’s ‘The Cross’ Become ‘The Christ?’
Prince's conversion to the Jehovah's Witnesses faith caused him to stop swearing and performing his most sexually explicit songs. For others, he simply changed the lyrics to reflect his new outlook, including the Sign O' the Times song "The Cross," which he changed to "The Christ."
Unlike other Christian denominations, Jehovah's Witnesses don't recognize the cross. For starters, they believe that Jesus wasn't crucified, but rather impaled on an upright stake, due to their interpretation of the Greek word "stauros" in the Bible. Furthermore, they feel the use of the cross as a symbol is a violation of God's word, that the earliest Christians didn't use one in their worship and that it has its origins in paganism.
Although Prince didn't become a Jehovah's Witness until the early '00s, in the years leading up to it he was discussing religion frequently with former Sly & the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham, who converted in the '70s. “We started studying the Bible on a regular basis,” Graham explained to the Star-Tribune in 2016. “And the more he learned, the more questions he had, like: ‘Why are we here? Where is everything heading? What’s the future for mankind, for the Earth?’"
Prince told Billboard, "the more he said, the more I realized the truth."
Prince – then going by "the Artist" – performed "The Christ" with Graham and Chaka Khan on the Essence Awards in 1998, introducing the song by preaching to the crowd. "Stauros: By definition, a wooden stake driven in the ground, used to cause torture or death," Prince said. "Stauros — perhaps someone lied about the way someone died."
The Rainbow Children, the first album after reclaiming his name, deeply explored some of Prince's new religion's themes. First wife Mayte Garcia, whom Prince divorced a few years earlier, was believed to be the "banished woman" in the 2001 record's title track.
Once his conversion was completed, Prince regularly attended services at the Kingdom Hall in the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka, Minn – a short drive from the lake whose waters, as he told Apollonia in Purple Rain, had purifying capabilities. He also frequently went door-to-door trying to bring others into the faith.
Prince was known to his other followers simply as Brother Nelson, and was remembered as a "mild spirit."