Grammy award-winning R&B star R. Kelly has had multiple allegations against him since the 1990s, but despite the pedophilia and sex cult claims, some in the church embrace the singer and his gospel music.
Early this month, Lifetime aired a six-part documentary series, titled “Surviving R. Kelly," a series detailing sexual abuse and misconduct allegations against the singer. The documentary led to condemnations against Kelly in the mainstream media. The #muteRKelly movement took off, and artists such as Lady Gaga and Nick Cannon apologized for their musical collaborations with him.
The Christian Post wanted to see where all of this leaves Kelly and his longtime passive relationship with the church. The gospel music community has been known to love and support Kelly for his songs, such as "I Believe I Can Fly," Whitney Houston's "I Look to You," Marvin Sapp’s “Listen” and his collaboration with Kirk Franklin on a new version of “Lean on Me”
According to commentator Candice Benbow, Kelly’s gospel songs are “commonplace in black congregations” and she thinks the church has turned a “blind eye” to his alleged crimes.
"There are so many black girls and black women who have experienced violation, who look to gospel music and who look to pastors," Benbow said in an NPR article on Jan 12. "If they can't hear their favorite gospel artists or their pastors say 'this is wrong and we have to address it,' then we really have to think about what is the true message of the church and ... of gospel music."
Chris Williamson, senior pastor of Strong Tower Bible Church in Nashville, told The Christian Post that people will have different reactions to Kelly’s allegations. Some will continue to support him, some are not even aware of his gospel roots and others will join the #muteRKelly protest. However, the former Christian rapper turned pastor advised believers to tread lightly.
“We have to leave room for people to make up their own minds. That being said, this may not be the best time for a church to sing an R. Kelly song, or for a gospel artist to collaborate with him. The Bible encourages believers to be mindful of the company we keep,” Williamson suggested.
“The church can be a voice by using its pulpits to preach the unwavering truth of the Bible on these kinds of issues, no matter who it might offend. The church cannot be silent any longer. The church can also use its voice to encourage victims of abuse to use theirs. The code of silence that exists in many families (i.e., ‘what happens in this house, stays in this house’) must be done away with,” he added. “Too many perpetrators are going along unscathed for fear of embarrassment, victim shaming, or retaliation against the abused."
He emphasized that both “the Catholic church and the Protestant church” need to provide a safe haven for the violated to find safety and support, declaring, “We must change the narrative that the church is a place where this kind of foul behavior is quietly tolerated.”
DeVon Franklin, a New York Times best-selling author and Hollywood producer, is gearing up to release a book, The Truth About Men, in February that will teach men how to avoid falling into the pitfalls of negative male stereotypes. When asked if he thought men such as R. Kelly could change their alleged wicked ways, he said, “of course.”
"I do believe, without a doubt, it can absolutely be done. But it starts with that man being willing to do his work and to admit, 'just because I am who I am, it's not an excuse for me to do what I want. I need accountability and responsibility in my life. And I need to put myself in a process where I don't allow my lower self, that lower man that wants what it wants, when he wants, to ruin and wreck my life,'” Franklin told CP.
Kelly has often made appearances at churches and televised gospel events. In 1997, Kelly took the stage at a Chicago concert alongside his “spiritual mentor,” gospel singer Kirk Franklin, and admitted that he had fallen short in his life but is amazed at how God loves him.
"Here stands a broken man. Every day I seem to be falling in love with the Lord. I've come to find out that whatever it is you want, it's in the Lord. I used to be flying in sin — now I'm flying in Jesus," Kelly, who was raised in a Baptist church by a single mom, said.
“I'm a human being who has made mistakes. I struggle like everyone else. I sin, I ask God for forgiveness, and I try to move on and do better."
That night, he also admitted that although fans often ask him to do a gospel record, before doing that, he wants to make sure he could mean what he’s singing about without being a “hypocrite.” The crooner is known for interjecting sex and salvation in his music, different songs for different moods.
“People have either sided with what the world's perspective of ‘muting’ him is or haven't said anything,” Jenkins shared with CP. “In order to promote God's heart, I really believe that the church should voice how much His heart aches when we are trapped in a life of lust and sexual perversion, but how Christ gives grace to empower us to break all strongholds.”
Jenkins, like the other ministers CP spoke with concerning this issue, holds that Kelly needs to have a “true relationship with God” in order for these strongholds that have followed him for decades to break.
“Should we ‘mute’ R. Kelly's gospel music? I'm not really sure if that is the answer. R. Kelly needs to see who God really is and that his relationship with Him needs to go beyond the occasional gospel song that he writes. He needs to be held accountable and he needs to be given grace, not one or the other,” she continued. “Only ‘muting’ him is seemingly just an attempt at holding him accountable without showing him the mercy of God.”
Pastor Renn Law of Most High King Ministries in Orlando, Florida agreed with Jenkins and believes this issue is “two-fold.”
“For one there is the total need for moral accountability and the safety of other children/adult victims,” Law explained to CP. “On the other hand, growing up with influential people like Bill Cosby and R. Kelly has its pros and cons. The gifts and talents of God are given without repentance but an unrepentant and spiritually uncircumcised heart can produce all sorts of wickedness as well.”
In February 2002, a sex tape surfaced allegedly showing Kelly engaging in sex with a 14-year-old girl, and urinating on her. In June of that year, he was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography in Chicago, yet just days later and after less than a day of deliberations, a jury found Kelly not guilty of 14 out of 14 counts.
Since then, there have also been claims against him for domestic violence and running a sex cult, which is reportedly tearing families apart, but no further legal action has been taken.
The Most High King minister went on to say that he believes both Kelly and his inspirational music have an assignment during these obscure times.
“Withholding inspirational content in a dark world is making room for more darkness and not holding all people accountable for ungodly acts is not justice,” Law maintained. “God alone is qualified to make the final determination on all of our lives and what His Church is required to do is provide a sacred sanctuary for all sin-sick people to be healed and redeemed before Christ's return!”
The gospel music community, for the most part, has stayed mum considering all the attention Kelly’s allegations has received in the media. Both his collaborators Kirk Franklin and Marvin Sapp have not spoken out. CP tried to contact both Franklin and Sapp and will update the article with a response upon receipt.
After the “Surviving Kelly” series aired, Kelly was dropped from his record label, Sony Records. Many venues have also canceled his tour dates.
Kelly has vehemently denied all claims against him and says he will sue all the people involved in the documentary.