It’s time we have a Come to Jesus meeting about R. Kelly.
I know R. Kelly gave you the soundtrack to conceive your babies with 12 Play. I know he gave the Saints and Preschools all over the country an enduring graduation anthem with I Believe I Can Fly. Yes, I know he even gave us the best parts of early 2000s Isley Brothers’ revival with Contagious. Most of all, though, he’s given us every reason in the world to cancel his ass for good. Yet, like roaches after a can of dollar store brand Raid, R. Kelly remains standing in the hearts and auditoriums of many across the country.
Last week Jim DeRogatis, the Pied Piper watchdog of 20 years, released a rollercoaster Buzzfeed expose of R. Kelly’s latest predation: a sex cult. The piece alleges that Kelly has been keeping at least 6 women hostage in his homes between Atlanta and Chicago. Kelly [allegedly] controls everything for these women, from their attire to their speech. He [allegedly] trains them to please him sexually and isolates them from all outside contact, restricting their phone usage to contacting only him. Parents of one woman have made appeals in the media only to be met with denial from their daughter.
It’s a sordid tale, but only a mere escalation in years of predatory behavior from R. Kelly. Still, the common sentiment among the parents of these women is that they “trusted” R. Kelly with their daughters. Since he’s still being celebrated and compensated by audiences everywhere, I suppose it’s difficult to not trust him. Despite never having been found guilty, Kelly has a long trail of predatory behavior that should give any person enough cause for pause.
History of Abuse
Kelly has been sued numerous times for statutory rape since the inception of his career 25 years ago. In 1994, Kelly married 15 year old Aaliyah with a falsified marriage certificate [Kelly’s never acknowledged it but it’s never been denied either]. In 2002, the internet was filled with copies of the infamous videotape of Kelly urinating on a teenage girl. In 2006, R. Kelly wanted to talk semantics when asked about his pattern of statutory abuse, responding “when you say teenage, how old we talking?” In 2008, he managed to shirk child pornography charges (if you saw the video, you know damned well that R-rah in there).
And now here we are again in 2017 with a Kelly-led sex cult that dates back to at least 2015. At what point do we accept R. Kelly for who he’s shown himself to be? At what point do our daughters matter more than the nostalgia of Step in the Name of Love or Your Body’s Callin’?
Bishop Eddie Long, a Juxtaposition
Frankly, R. Kelly’s continued ticket and album sales with relatively minimal controversy tells me that the general consensus is “fuck our daughters,” pun intended. With little Black girls being seen as fast, hot in the ass, and naturally less innocent than their counterparts, I don’t expect Kelly to ever be held fully accountable as long as his victims continue to be young women and girls. Unless Kelly points his pipe in the direction of young men and boys, the Black community will continue to overlook his misdeeds. Case-in-point? The Fall of Bishop Eddie Lee Long Sr.
In September 2010, the mega pastor became the center of a national sex scandal. He stood accused of molestation of multiple young men who were participants in his mentorship program. New Birth, Bishop Long’s ministry, never fully recovered from the fall out. Criminal charges were never pursued and civil settlements were eventually reached. The reaction was polarizing to the Black church and the community at large, but he was indisputably cancelled by the Black community. Until and even after Long’s death, he was regarded as the scourge of the earth for “fucking little boys.” Yet, you’d be hard pressed to find that as the majority rule in our community concerning R. Kelly. The difference? Well, only the gender of the victim if you ask me.
While I refuse to continue the myth of higher prevalence of homophobia in the Black community, we do have a tiny problem with heteronormative patriarchy. The defining of what it means to be both a man and masculine in our community is so often based on the fragile foundation of what is done with one’s genitals. Coupled with our other tiny problem of misogynoir (both internalized and socialized), we have a piss poor habit of vilifying only some of our community predators while turning our eyes away from the others.
What Do We Say to These Things?
I know, there’s an R-rah supporter yelling at me right now that Bishop Long was a different case because he was a pastor. Except there’s the tiny wrinkle of fact that both Kelly & Long used their power and money to coerce teens. AND, if we take his song lyrics and various public statements to heart, we know that Kelly professes some theist belief (presumably Christian). Lest we forget, R. Kelly was crooning Lean on Me with Kirk Franklin and Heaven I Need a Hug while being accused of child pornography production. Kelly’s clear and present faith identity and the lack of accountability from saints and sinners alike is frightening.
In The Unfit Christian Congregation, we talked about this post where a young woman asked where God was during her time of sexual abuse. Some dimwit responded that, in short, God was allowing it to happen so that she would be humble and that if God wasn’t there, she would have never made it out alive. When we fail to hold R. Kelly and other predators like him accountable, especially as believers, we’re essentially co-signing the abuse as a manifestation of God. We’re telling our daughters that a God who made Moses walk on water and raised Lazarus from the dead needed her to be raped so that He could make her humble. Yes, that’s as stupid as it reads but yet here the hell we are saying these very things.
I don’t like to situate abuse in the context of scripture. Too often I have seen that only lead to more abuse and anguish for victims. We shouldn’t be trying to teach victims to soothe themselves with imaginings of the purpose of their victimization as some sort of path to sanctification. What we SHOULD do is ask what Jesus asked: “Who do men say I am?”
People often learn the character of God not through self study but through oral traditions. Oral traditions teach us that God may not come when you want but he’ll be there right on time. They also teach that He is a very present help in time of trouble. When you don’t temper oral traditions with true scholarship of the scriptures, we are bound to mischaracterize God. So when a person has been told by oral tradition of faith that God will always be there, the responsibility is on US to understand WHY they feel failed and abandoned when they are victimized in such a horrific way. Sanctified lip service and misinterpreted scriptures aren’t going to cut it, y’all.
God doesn’t need to torture, rape, abuse, beat, or kill our children, spouses, or relatives to get the glory. We cannot continue to mischaracterize God and then wondering why our witness is weakened. We won’t hold R. Kelly accountable, but we’ll tell abuse victims that “all things work together for good.” We won’t hold that Uncle in the family accountable, but we’ll tell our daughters to cover themselves, be modest, and a Godly woman to combat his perverted advances. Is this really what we ought to say to these things?
Saints, Aints, & those In-Between, there are other songs to dance to at the cookout. It’s time to cancel R. Kelly for good.