Welcome Back, Jennifer Knapp

Featured, Music — By on May 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Back in the ’90s, about the time I was getting tired of Christian Contemporary Music, there were a few standout exceptions that were still able to grab my attention. One of them was an earnest folk rocker who could, in one moment, break your heart with a tender vocal phrasing, and in the next song, blister the paint off your walls with a raspy anthem. Jennifer Knapp hooked many with her stripped down production and emotional intensity and then this Americana rocker disappeared for nearly a decade.

Knapp is back–rested, centered, and openly homosexual. In a recent Christianity Today article, she explains her hiatus from music, working through burnout, and coming to accept her orientation.

I decided to pick the album up, primarily to confront my own selfishness. This is horrible to say out loud, but I just don’t want to make time to think about Christians who struggle with or don’t see a struggle between their faith and their sexuality. I’m comfortable with my reading of Scripture. Whenever I’m in a conversation on the topic, it almost always sinks into a circular debate, like the free will/ determinism arguments we had in the college cafeteria. The difference, of course, is that homosexuality and faith aren’t academic issues. People, relationships, community, and love are at stake. Somehow, I’ve always managed to structure my life in a way to not have to deal with it. So, for me, taking in this album was a spiritual discipline in listening.

Here are my early impressions of the album: ”Letting Go” is art, not propaganda. Jennifer has given us a collection of well-crafted songs. She’s not trying to advance an agenda, she’s just telling her story. The opening track, “Dive In” is an anthem where she vocalizes her frustrations over being paralyzed by other’s expectations. She wants to get about the business of being herself. Every consequent song tells that story. In the bridge, she acknowledges that she might be “a fool to some/a hero to others.” Jennifer isn’t singing to the the poster girl for a cause. She continues, “But to you? I’m just a lover.”

Being “just a lover” is the central thrust of this album. Jennifer doesn’t try to reconcile her homosexuality with her relationship with God. The CT article suggests that she’s worked that out already. She sings about the difficulty of being self-conscious of the disapproval she’s receiving, but being bold enough to affirm her partner. She roars about feeling like she’s had to internalize her feelings for so long. She works out the anger over being a slave to the expectations of others. She does all this work to be emotionally present in her relationship.

“Letting Go” is a gorgeous album. It’s everything you’d expect from Knapp. The lyrics are simple and smart. Her voice: emotional and earnest. The production? Impeccable.

If you are a gay Christian, Jennifer Knapp has provided you with a soundtrack for your journey. And if you are like me, unable to affirm her journey, Jennifer has given us the gift of vulnerability. My greatest hope for this album is that it reminds the church that this issue shouldn’t be stripped of its humanity, and that if love is stronger than death, then it should be strong enough to transcend legitimate differences in theology.

Thanks, Jennifer.

This post originally appeared at www.larryshallenberger.com.

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    27 Comments

  • After reading a pretty vulnerable CNN article written by Knapp herself, and the resulting hate on the comments wall (toward Knapp, toward others commenting) I appreciate this, Larry. Art is life; and, I’m glad Knapp isn’t shying away from her own anymore. Art is not propaganda; so, I’m hopeful we might recognize this new album as something beautiful, spiritual, and not political.

  • EmilyTimbol says:

    I was so digusted when I read through the comments (about 500 of them) on Relevant Magazine’s interview with her. The hate, ignorance, vitriol, and self-righteousness were neauseating. So reading an honest. compassionate piece like this is definitley a breath of fresh air. Thanks Larry.

  • Larry, I was hoping someone would write about Ms. Knapp on here. Your take is very wise and makes me want to hear the album. And if we’re listing snotty comment boards, be careful when you click on that Christianity Today link!

  • [My greatest hope for this album is that it reminds the church that this issue shouldn’t be stripped of its humanity]

    Exactly. We need to rehumanize the debate. The implications are frightening when the homosexual community loses its place in the church as people.

  • Allan Thompson says:

    Thanks Larry, you’ve convinced me to listen to her album. I am sympathetic and want to hear her perspective.

    From a pastoral standpoint, I am concerned about what the phrase “gay Christian” communicates to others, especially young people, which is the population I work with. They already feel the tension of trying to live like Jesus in a world that has no clear boundaries. In our attempts to show compassion, is it possible we muddy the waters even more?

    I guess I’m more comfortable saying “I want to listen to your struggles and be here to help you walk through this” without neglecting to say: “following Jesus requires a kind of death to yourself, and it will be painful. But in the end you’ll find wholeness and freedom.” Do we still believe God has the power to transform us into his likeness?

    • EmilyTimbol says:

      So you don’t think you can be gay and a Christian? Hmmm. I don’t remember reading that in the Bible……

    • Allan,

      I’m more comfortable saying that scripture, as I understand it, doesn’t support homosexual expression than I am to make blanket statements about who is in and who is out of God’s kingdom.

    • Lisa says:

      What I want to say in response to Allan’s comment cannot be posted on this site. I will say that it’s shocking and infuriating and wrong.

  • There are other posts here where homosexuality is debated. I hope comments in this thread don’t go down that road. This is a post about listening to an artist’s perspective and craft.

  • Allan Thompson says:

    Larry, I appreciate the response and understand your stance. I’m only addressing your choice to use the phrase “gay Christian,” I hope it is understood. Even if this article is merely a review of an album, it can still include expressions of your theology.

    In response, I do believe we can say true things without passing judgment (like who’s in our out of the kingdom). For instance that following Jesus requires regularly repenting from sin. If homosexuality is a sin (which it seems you affirm), then it is something to be repented of. The use of the phrase “gay Christian” implies Jesus has negated this call to repent if we decide to hold on to this particular sin.

    To clarify with others, I assume the use of “gay Christian” in this article is equivalent to “openly gay Christian” or “actively practicing homosexual Christian.” Using “gay” to modify Christian indicates a core identity, how a person primarily views him or herself. Otherwise, I’m not saying homosexual attraction is not real. I have sympathy for those struggling to overcome this impulse. I will not comment further. Promise.

    • Allan,

      I’ve been chewing on this for a few days, thinking. I suspect that if real conversion were to take place all sides will have to have to make concessions with speech.

      When I use the term “gay Christian” all I mean to say is that I acknowledge there are people who are able to reconcile a homosexual lifestyle with their reading of scripture. I’m not offering agreement or consent, just the respect of acknowledging that there are Christians out there who disagree with my conclusions.

      I those who self identify as “gay Christians” have to make similar concessions to enter a conversation with me. They’d have give up the perspective of seeing me as bigoted or hateful, and take a more charitable view that I’m a Christian who has adopted a more theologically conservative and restrictive reading of the Bible.

      I’m not suggestion that there are no moral absolutes. I’m suggesting that civility and dialogue are more relationally demanding on all parties than just being right.

  • karen says:

    Some years ago I had the opportunity as a journalist to sit down and visit with JK. Her music has ministered to me over the years, in often a very prayerful way. Perhaps it’s because she has spent so much time in prayer herself.

  • Andrew says:

    whether it is 30 years from now or in heaven, she will get tired of her lifestyle. I find it sad that she has given herself to this immorality. Isn’t that what Homosexuality is? immorality. I clearly remember reading that in the bible. To put things in perspective for any one who will read this, Homosexuality is a struggle of my past. The issue has never been “dehumanized”, its just that many folks have lost sight of any love for those trapped in a dehumanizing lifestyle. Homosexuality is not designed by God, it is a vice. Many people fall pray to many vices: anger, cynicism, depression, addiction, many more. God never wanted this for anyone, Homosexuality included. If a Christian truly loves God, he or she would rely completely on God for identity and have an honest desire to change. In this particular case, I don’t think it’s sad for a Christian to deal with homosexuality, I find it sad when Christians accept it as biblically sound life-style and not only in my opinion, but also in words of our Heavenly Father, this lifestyle is sinful. I say that with the understanding that all are liable to fall prey to any other kind of sin. The good news is that we as Christian are not longer named by the sin we struggle with, but by the cleansing Blood of Jesus. If you don’t believe in God, you too are loved and known by God, but by not believing in Jesus and what He did for you, you will never know the amazing love of God.

  • Good perspective. I wish more of us would learn how to support someone as a human being without supporting their decisions. They are two separate things.

    “She roars about feeling like she’s had to internalize her feelings for so long. She works out the anger over being a slave to the expectations of others.”

    This saddens me; I don’t know just how everyone has treated her, but I hope there are enough Christians in her life who will neither condemn her nor back down from their biblical stances. We all have our issues, vices and sins and we would do well to keep that in mind before judging others for theirs.

  • Jenny says:

    “The difference, of course, is that homosexuality and faith aren’t academic issues. People, relationships, community, and love are at stake”

    YES!

    One of the things I get most frustrated about is when society calls homosexuality an “issue.” It’s not an issue, its my father and his partner of 32 years.

    I wrote a post on my blog entitled “will they laugh if I call you daddy: growing up with a gay father” – I’m an evangelical Christian who has had the same father, well, since I was born. The greatest hurt that I have faced as the daughter of a gay father is from the church. And that is because the church distances, I believe, by considering homosexuality an “issue” instead of a person.

    Thanks for your compassionate post and for reminding folks that this is not an “issue” we are debating, but people, and faces, and families, and lives :)

    Perhaps if the church knew that it wasn’t shunning gay folks, but their KIDS and Families… it might find itself to be more compassionate… I can only hope… and pray… and wait. Again… thanks for this post

  • Grace says:

    Good perspective. It saddens me that people would treat her differently. We should not shun the gay community, but welcome them with open arms. God loved everyone! It didn’t matter what they did! I hope if you see a homosexual at church you say hi and ask them to sit with you.

    But the Bible is extremely clear about homosexuality.

    I Corinthians 6:9 “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders.”

    I believe we should love the sinner, but not the sin. There is a point where we can misuse grace where everything is accepted, and there are no boundaries.

    I found an article that explains frequently asked questions about homosexuality form Christian perspective if you care to read it. http://bible.org/article/homosexuality-christian-perspective

    • Grace says:

      Other verses:

      Romans 1:24-27 “Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

    • John says:

      Grace:

      Assuming you are female, the Bible is also clear on your role in the discussion of theology and the asserting of authority on theological matters:

      “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” — 1 Timothy 2:10-15

      While this applies to religious gatherings (particularly the “silence” bit), it also suggests that weighing in on theological matters (such as the role of homosexuals in both the kingdom to come and Christianity here on earth) is strictly the responsibility of men… as in, males.

      In your eagerness to present oft-quoted and grossly de-contextualized passages of ancient writings, you’ve ignored the glaring elephant in the room: namely that matters of debate over sex, gender and their roles in the lives of Christians has always been fluid and changing.

      Whether or not this is good or bad is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you are clearly asserting what you believe to be a literal analysis of those texts. But a literal interpretation of those texts by Paul clearly states that you don’t have the right as a woman to even engage in the discussion, apart from learning under your husband.

      Do I believe any of this? Well, no. But understand that the freedom with which you can assert yourself as a Christian woman in a conversation with men was once just as controversial (if not more so) than Knapp asserting both her sexual orientation and her faith.

      Now, can we please talk about Knapp’s album, and not her bedroom? How old are we?

    • Grace says:

      John:

      I’m sorry, but this is off topic to this article…

      You used the example of 1 Timothy 2:10-15.

      But these verses are often misunderstood.

      To understand this better. You need to look at the greek. “Woman” is translated from the Greek gune (wife), and “man” is translated from the Greek andros (husband). “Learn” in greek is manthano which refers to the wife learning the facts of God’s plan of salvation. “Silent” in greek is hesuchia, which refers to tranquillity of spirit or a state of being undisturbed.

      In other words:

      “But I suffer not a woman [a wife] to teach, [the plan of salvation to her husband] nor to usurp authority over the man, [the husband] but to be in silence [maintain a tranquil spirit]”
      (1Timothy 2:12)

      It is clear that Paul never intended that a wife remain mute in her relationship with her husband! What kind of marriage would it be if the wife could never speak in her husband’s presence? The proper understanding here is contained in the phrases “to teach” and “to usurp authority.” The word translated “to teach” is the Greek infinitive didaskein and means in this context “to teach [the plan of salvation; the gospel is the focus of Paul's argument here] continually.” The phrase “to usurp authority” (over the husband) is the Greek aude authentein, which literally means to act of oneself, or to dominate. This Scriptural passage makes it clear that a Christian wife should never, in her public or private life, go beyond her God-given position in the marriage and undermine the God-given position of her husband by being the predominant teacher of salvation in the family or church.

      For a wife to assume a position of leadership in teaching God’s plan of salvation, whether this teaching be in public or in the privacy of the home, would be to overstep her God-given limits and would undermine the God-given position of her husband.

      Spiritual knowledge is granted by God to Christian women as well as to Christian men. The revelations and insight that God gives through His Spirit are meant to be shared by all His begotten children so that all may be edified. Christian wives are not excluded from this mutual edification. It is not ungodly for a Christian wife to “teach men,” including her own husband, by sharing the spiritual insight and understanding that God has imparted to her, whether in public or in private. Paul simply states that for her to assume a dominant role in teaching the gospel would be ungodly and would undermine the God-given order of things.

      These Scriptures make it very clear that God never intended that a wife continuously pastor, shepherd or minister to a local congregation. To do so would violate the prohibition against teaching her husband continuously! However, these Scriptures should not be used to forbid a wife to teach men, including her husband, on an intermittent basis, as she is moved by God to do so. If doing so were forbidden by God’s law, no marriage would ever survive!

      I’m sorry… You misinterpret the verse.

      If you want to look up more, here is commentary on the verses.
      http://www.biblestudy.org/basicart/what-role-should-women-play-at-church.html

    • Grace says:

      John:

      I know that your point of the comment wasn’t about if women should speak or not, but more about what you think is right and wrong about the situation. As a Christian, I do my best to live according to the Bible and what it says. It’s fine to question the Bible and try and find the answer (which I did when trying to figure out my standing on the issue. I looked at both sides), but If we keep taking things out of the BIble or take things out of context because that’s how we “feel” is right and wrong, then there really isn’t any point to the Bible. We would just be better off on our own going with our gut.

      But please don’t get me wrong. I listened to Jennifer Knapp for a long before she came out, and I plan on checking out her new CD. I bet she is a sweetheart if you meet her, but I just don’t agree with some of her actions. And I don’t want to you think I think I’m better than her or anything. We’re all sinners. We are all in the same boat! Heck, I lied about something today!! But because I did it doesn’t make it right.

  • Grace, Thanks for sharing the Scriptures. This is obviously foundation in a discussion on morality. Of course the challenge is comes when we acknowledge others read the same passages through different and conflicting theological filters.

    My wife and I were talking about the responses to this thread and she offered two questions that get to the meat of the matter:

    If I knew that I could never persuade a homosexual believer to believe that his or her behavior was wrong and help them change, would I still see value in befriending and loving that person?

    Conversely, if a homosexual believer knew from the outside that he couldn’t change my theology on this matter, would he still value me enough to enjoy my company?

    In short, are we willing to love people that we can’t change to think and believe more like us? Does the “other” still have intrinsic worth and value?

    • Grace says:

      That’s a good question. I’ve actually thought about it myself, and I have come to this conclusion. I think we underestimate the power of God’s love. His love isn’t like our love. It’s so much more! Jesus hanged around people that knew he wouldn’t approve of their actions but still loved hanging around him. For example, the women at the well and the tax collectors. They both enjoyed his company! I think if we have the right intentions and Christ’s love, I it’s possible.

      The church I attend believes the same thing I mentioned in my first comment above, and we have homosexuals that come. So I do believe it is possible.

      And referring to your question, “are we willing to love people that we can’t change to think and believe more like us? Does the “other” still have intrinsic worth and value?”I answer “yes” on both. God loves everyone, even the devote atheist, who may never worship Him. I believe we should do the same and because Christ died for them, they will always have value.

      Also, I apologize about my posts going off topic from the article. I just read some comments that disheartened me. I just wanted people look at the other side of things. I will check out her new CD. She has a wonderful voice! I grew up listening to her!

  • dd says:

    I’ve always enjoyed her music as well. I haven’t grabbed the new album yet, but it’s one I’ll be picking up – it’s gotten a lot of good reviews!

    As to the other: I figure I have enough blind spots in my own spiritual life that I can be forgiving of other people’s. Do I really think it’s okay not to tithe, take care of widows and orphans, or forgive people who’ve hurt me? Or that it is okay to listen and tell hurtful gossip or harbor hate or steal my employer’s time by browsing the web during work?

    I know all of these things are wrong, don’t often ask forgiveness for them when/if they happen, and yet consider myself a Christian. Nobody questions my sincerity.

    Jennifer Knapp is using her creative talents to draw people to Christ, yet any discussion of her work is marred by people hatefully focusing on the one sin that she has that they don’t. Congratulations, you’re not gay! Surely that means your impact for Christ is greater than hers, no?

  • Matthew says:

    This is an article about music, right? Way to “welcome” her back. By debating her sexual orientation. You’ve just affirmed her fears. In my view, love — particularly the Love of Christ — shouldn’t manifest itself by painting your judgements across this music review and debating her choices in a public forum.

    Lord, save me from your followers.

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