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R. Kelly’s conviction for sex crimes should be a wake-up call for black churches

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Justice has finally come for the R&B Flute Player, R. Kelly. We can now expect that the musician who had an R&B No. 1 hit in 2003 with “Step In the Name of Love” will now enter a prison cell in the name of justice and two steps in. darkness.

Not even nine convictions reach the depth of Kelly’s depravity during her more than 25 years of preying on underage black girls and women.

Accused of being a serial abuser of girls and young women, Kelly was sentenced Monday by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, to one count of racketeering and eight counts of violation Mann’s law, which prohibits the transport of people across state borders “for immoral purposes”.

However, not even nine convictions reach the depth of Kelly’s depravity during her more than 25 years of preying on underage black girls and women. So why was he able to avoid censorship of so many members of the black community, especially black religious groups? How could he have used song about God and spirituality to distract from his crimes against black girls and women?

Because there is a way patriarchy and Christianity combine to make male sexuality illicit – and even rape –redeemable just as he makes women Jezebels who make men sin. Kelly was able to play on this trope with precision. By cultivating a bad boy character who also sang with strength and longing about redemption and God, he was able to float above the rumors that had been written about him for years, especially by Jim DeRogatis from the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I Believe I Can Fly”, her greatest success, was sung ad nauseam by gospel choirs and (at least before he was sent to jail to await trial) was played endlessly in high school graduation ceremonies. His album “Happy people / U saved me”Was a combination of dancing wellness tracks designed to make both steppers happy and gospel tracks that appealed to the church people. This religious crowd relished the sinner-turned-holy tale in “U Saved Me,” a song about a drunk driver rescued from alcohol addiction.

Kelly’s education as Baptist altar boy helped him understand early on how to use the evangelical language of sin and forgiveness to hide his abuses and claim to seek redemption from God.

Despite reports that he married 15-year-old R&B singer Aaliyah because he feared she was pregnant and wanted to escape prosecution, despite numerous sordid stories by Kelly pick up teenage girls To Mcdonalds in Chicago, despite the videotape that prosecutors said in his 2008 pornography trial showed him with a young girl, Kelly not only avoided conviction in that case; he also largely avoided criticism from black churches. That started to change in 2019 when dream hampton released a six-part series called “Survive R. Kelly”On Lifetime TV.

Kelly’s education as a Baptist altar boy helped him understand early on how to use the evangelical language of sin and forgiveness.

Candice Benbow, a black theologian who was interviewed about Kelly after this series, told NPR that the black church “told us to pray for Robert, to understand that no sin is greater than the other and that we are all short of the glory of God”.

It was this ostensibly repentant R&B bad boy – torn between God and illicit sexual desires – that the black religious community embraced and apologized for. This community evaded the seriousness of the accusations, and Kelly exploited it, as predators do. Accused of having victimized others, he made himself the victim. In their oral argument on Thursday, Kelly’s defense attorneys leaned so low that they compare Kelly to Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s bad enough that black church leaders didn’t pay attention to the young black girls who said they were jailed, raped and trafficked by Kelly, but it’s still a tragedy. larger than the voices of this community have called these girls “fast” meaning hungry for male attention. In the black community, especially in the church, young girls and women who mature physically earlier than their counterparts have often been called upon to fast. Rather than being protected, they are often accused of wanting to attract sexual attention and, as mentioned above, of playing the Jezebel.

It’s one thing for black girls to go unprotected in the streets. It’s another thing for them to see that their church doesn’t seem interested in protecting them. In 2002, Kelly was convicted of pornography allegations in the case that led to the 2008 acquittal. Within hours of posting bail, he was at the Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, attending a ceremony. ceremony headed by its then spiritual advisor, the Reverend James Meeks.

Kelly now faces life imprisonment, but what about those who have allowed it? What about the black religious community who embraced him for so long and sang and performed his music? For some pastors, this affair is the end of R. Kelly. Reverend Anthony Evans, president and founder of the Black Church Initiative, said this month that the black community should not listen to Kelly’s music during the trial. This is notable because in 2017 pastor and gospel singer Marvin Sapp, who partnered with Kelly in 2017 on a song called “Listen,” despite already well-known allegations about Kelly, decided not to to remove Kelly from the song and forbade working with him.

Kelly’s conviction is therefore also a conviction of black religious life and popular culture. For years radio stations have played his music and the steppers have spent many blissful nights on the dance floor, and over the past 30 years many of us have banged his music in our cars. I also listened to his music, but I quit in 2002 when he was first charged with child pornography. Since then, as a jury decided on Monday, more and more young girls and young women have been abused by him. It is not enough that he is condemned, frankly. Those who helped him in this life of treachery and perversion should also be prosecuted.


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