No other artist mixed religion and sex like Prince

A year later, in “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” he opens with carnal love (“let’s go all night”) but ends with divine love (“I’m in love with God, he’s the only way”). “It’s as if Prince introduced himself to us by talking about his dirty mind,” Toure wrote in The New York Times. His father — also a musician — was strict. A poster for the 1981 album “Controversy” showed a nearly naked Prince in a shower with a crucifix, and the cover of “Lovesexy” shows a completely nude Prince with an oversized flower, its petals spread like angel wings, behind him. It is heaven or paradise.”
But there was a darker, B side, too. The 57-year-old singer, songwriter and musician created music that was as infused with his own deep faith as it was with sex. “Sign O’ the Times,” released in 1987, included his most overtly Christian song to date, “The Cross,” a soulful brooding on the Crucifixion:
Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry for he is coming
Don’t die without knowing the cross
Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all, y’all
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah
Karl Jacobson, an assistant professor at Augsburg College in Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, said this song helped him better understand his own Lutheran faith. More controversy came in a 2008 New Yorker interview. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Chris Pizzello/Files
Butler thinks Prince thought of both sex and God as transcendent experiences that led to enlightenment. A handful of scholars and critics are also producing books that, in part, explore the influence of faith on the music of Prince. Thomson
  “You get to be in paradise,” said Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania who spoke at the Yale conference. “This is not religion,” he opens in his half-falsetto. In an appreciation he wrote for the blog BibPopCult, he likened the song to Martin Luther’s “theology of the cross” — the idea that the cross is all a Christian needs to know who God is. “At the center of his work there was a mainspring powered by these questions of lust versus devotion, of body versus spirit, and of the difficulty of resolving this opposition.”

Prince performs in a surprise appearance on the “American Idol” television show finale at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood in this May 24, 2006, file photo. Prince performs at First Avenue nightclub in downtown Minneapolis in 1983. “I don’t see it really as a conversion,” he said in 2008. But one word lost in the grief and shock was “Christian.”
Prince Rogers Nelson, whose 40 albums and 100 singles sold over 100 million records worldwide, was found dead from an overdose of painkillers in Paisley Park, his Minnesota mansion, on April 21, 2016. “I was never good enough.” His parents divorced, and as a teenager Prince went to live with a neighbor. On Friday (April 21), a year after his death, the first morsel of that music will be released in a six-track extended play recording titled “Deliverance.”

In the title track, Prince is in full preacher mode, backed by a choir, purple chords pumping from his magic guitar. “I have friends that are gay, and we study the Bible together,” he said. Susan Rogers worked with Prince as his sound engineer from 1983-1987. ‘Purple Rain’
One of those is Ben Greenman, whose “Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God and Genius in the Music of Prince” was released this month. And the glyph, with its cross image, was dropped for his name. “It was a conflicting message,” she continued, one that he worked out in his songs. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Joel Bremer
“Every song was either a prayer or foreplay,” said fashion critic Michaela Angela Davis. Graham is a Jehovah’s Witness and by 2001, Prince was too. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Lee Celano
“There is a devotion to faith so comprehensive it can border on incoherence,” Greenman writes. Religion News Service graphic by T.J. “Between (the 1984 and 1985 albums) ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Around the World in a Day,’ he seemed to grapple with his carnal urges and to appeal to God for self-control and a better understanding of love versus lust.”
Prince’s early music reflects his upbringing by devout Seventh-day Adventist parents in Minneapolis. Photo courtesy of Alejandro Ramirez Cisneros
“I think he got the idea early in his youth that sex was sin,” she said. The song “The Cross” was retitled “The Christ” to reflect the fact that Witnesses reject the idea that Jesus died on a cross, believing instead that he died on a stake. “The tendency is to listen to the sex and think that is it,” she said. Prince, who was presented the Vanguard Award, performs during the 36th NAACP Image Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles on March 19, 2005. The unpronounceable symbol (later dubbed “Love Symbol #2”). In January, Yale University held a three-day conference on the music of Prince and David Bowie — who also died in 2016 — that included a panel on religion and spirituality in their work. “He was so hard on me,” Prince told Tavis Smiley in 2009. Image courtesy of Faber and Faber
“Early on, he came on as an iconoclast, charging hard against conventional conceptions of morality, sexuality, and spirituality, though he always straightforwardly credited God in his liner notes,” Greenman said in an email. But by the next verse, it is, with a “peaceable one” who brings “good news.”
He closes with a promise — one that comes straight from his lifelong belief in God and one his fans may find comforting:
“Because the times are so hard to deal with, now understand — your deliverance is at hand.”

Faithful Viewer logo. “Darling Nikki” is so sexual as to be unquotable. Image courtesy of Creative Commons
Prince bound religion and sex in the visual, too. When asked about his views on gay marriage — Witnesses condemn homosexuality — Prince reportedly tapped a Bible and said, “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. Swear words were excised. When Tipper Gore heard it in 1984 on her daughter’s “Purple Rain” album, she made it one of  the “Filthy Fifteen” — songs her newly formed Parents Music Resource Center found worthy of censorship. Then there’s the color purple, which Prince adopted like a trademark. ‘Deliverance’
Like others who worked with Prince, Rogers says he was constantly in the recording studio. “More, you know, it’s a realization. “In Prince’s music there was this pull between competing desires and right and wrong, so when he would express sexual desire, he would nearly always follow that up with some statement of contrition.”
And what better way for an evangelical to proselytize than by linking the joy of salvation to the joy of sex? “It tells the truth about a troubled world,” Jacobson writes. Instead, it is full of hope, joy and anticipation. They were two sides of the same coin, each existing only in relation to the other. There is a trove of unreleased Prince music. In “Controversy,” from his 1981 album of the same name, Prince first confronts his androgyny (“Am I straight or gay?”) and then recites the entire Lord’s Prayer. He says that in a career that spanned almost four decades, Prince’s music was always concerned with religion — but what kind of religion depends on where in his career the record needle touches down. ” … If we can just bear the cross — bear the truth it shows us about our world and about ourselves and about this God, and bear it with us as we live our lives, then this whole world will be kept and fed in the cross of Christ.”
To Toure, who describes Prince as a preacher in some of his songs, the message is even simpler:
“For him there was no need to separate the things we do on Saturday night from the things we do on Sunday morning.”
‘Controversy’
For Prince, where there was God there was also sex. “Yes, there might be destruction, but it is also going to be a great thing. The album’s Rolling Stone review called Prince “the Freak-in-the-Pulpit” for the album’s focus on the religious belief, embraced by Witnesses and other conservative Christians, that wives should be subordinate to husbands. In the aftermath, Prince began talking about faith with Larry Graham, the bass guitarist for Sly and the Family Stone. (RNS) When Prince died a year ago, he was called a game changer, an iconoclast, an innovator and a sex god by critics, fellow musicians, friends and fans. I’m fine ’cause I know that the Lord is coming soon,” recorded backward. Later that year, Prince told the Los Angeles Times he felt The New Yorker quoted him out of context. “He believed humans were flawed earthly beings who could participate in divine inspiration,” Greenman said. He also made the album “The Rainbow Children,” which, Greenman writes, dealt entirely with spiritual issues then on Prince’s mind. But his own experience taught him that sex was beautiful. He noted he never voted — Witnesses do not believe in voting — and avoided the political. He was, like, ‘Enough.’”
The LGBTQ community, which long embraced Prince for his fearless sexuality and gender-bending image, reacted with sadness and anger. Seventh-day Adventists are millennialists — believers in an imminent end times — and multiple Prince songs, including the hit “1999,” include doomsday scenarios:
I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray
But when I woke up this mornin’, could’ve sworn it was judgment day
The sky was all purple, there were people runnin’ everywhere
Tryin’ to run from the destruction, you know I didn’t even care
At the end, Prince sings, “Can’t run from revelation, no.”

Prince’s version of the end times is not full of fear or grief. “But then you are missing this intricate relationship he had with both.”
Susan Rogers was Prince’s studio engineer between 1983 and 1987 and worked on his albums “Purple Rain,” “Around the World in a Day” and “Sign O’ the Times.” She recalls that sexuality and religion were inseparable for Prince. But “Darling Nikki” also features Prince saying this phrase, recorded backward: : “Hello, how are you? In many Christian churches, purple is the color of Lent, a symbol of waiting for the Resurrection. “(A)nd once we got intrigued by him, because he’d told us how much hot sex he was having, then he said, well, now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you about my lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”
‘The Rainbow Children’
In the late 1990s, Prince suffered two tremendous setbacks — the death of his infant son and the end of his first marriage, to Mayte Garcia. “Dig If You Will The Picture: Funk, Sex, God and Genius in the Music of Prince” by Ben Greenman. READ: In lyrics, Prince philosophized, theologized and just plain preached

Greenman notes that other secular artists mixed religion and sex, too — think of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” album and her sexual fetishization of the crucifix — but no one did it as consistently or as interestingly as Prince. He returned to older songs and changed some of their racier lyrics. This is not a fearful thing. And when he famously dropped his name for a glyph, a mashup of the symbols for male, female and the Christian cross. It’s like Morpheus and Neo in ‘The Matrix.’”
Later, he said, “Anything I believed then, I believe even more now – it’s just expanded.”
His music changed immediately. Either way, she added, his music made “you want to drop to your knees.”
Toure, a Prince biographer, wrote, “You can remember Prince as one of the most sexual artists of all time, and you would be right, but he was also one of the most important religious artists of all time.”
Now, amid the anniversary appreciations and concerts, Prince’s faith is gaining recognition as a driving force behind his music.