For GetReligion readers who happen to follow the niche music market known as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), there really isn’t much new information to share about the life and career of the lesbian singer-songwriter Jennifer Knapp. Her decision to publicly out herself cost her lots of fans and made her some new fans.
That all happened about a decade ago.
However, it takes time for events in evangelical culture to reach National Public Radio. Thus, there has been a new-old NPR story about Knapp that is reaching lots of new listeners.
It opens like this:
Many Christian denominations denounce homosexuality as a sin. As a result, gay Christian singers, songwriters and musicians face a challenge in balancing their art, their sexuality and their faith. For those few who have decided to come out, it has meant giving up successful careers.
In the first sentence, I have trouble with the word “many” and the word “denounce.” Actually, very few church hierarchies have rejected centuries of Christian doctrine that sex outside of marriage is a sin — so “many” is rather weak, even if we are speaking in the present tense. For example, the overwhelming majority of Anglican believers would fall into the traditional camp on this issue, even now.
Meanwhile, “denounce” could more accurately be stated as “teach,” since very few mainstream Catholic, Orthodox or evangelical bodies publicly emphasize this issue, unless challenged in the public square. The norm today is to teach that acts of same-gender sex are sins, the same as legions of other sins that tempt human beings in a sinful, fallen world.
The point, of course, is that NPR is wrestling with editorial issues in the very first sentence. This is a hot-button topics, one in which a wide variety of beliefs must be taken seriously.
However, this is not the main point that must be made about this particular report.
You see there is a side of the story that is completely missing — religion.
The story is, essentially, about how a religious subculture (CCM) has decided to reject gay, lesbian and bisexual musicians who are open about their faith and their sex lives. The story tells us nothing about the religious beliefs and church lives of Knapp and the other musicians included in the story. Zippo.
Instead, we get this kind of vague information.
Seven years later, Knapp reemerged, no longer self-identified as a Christian artist — instead, she was a folk-rock musician, a person of faith and a lesbian. Knapp says that even after all that time, she still had doubts about coming forward.
“It made me very hesitant to get back up into the public level, knowing that there would be discussion about my sexuality on the whole,” she says.
“Person of faith” is the key, of course. There is no particular faith that Knapp was once a part of and there is no particular faith that she is a part of now. So readers/listeners have no idea what she used to believe, what she no longer believes and what she now believes — other than the fact that she rejects traditional Christian doctrines on sexuality. In fact, the story doesn’t even deal with another issue, which is whether Knapp is sexually active outside of traditional marriage (which is what orthodox — small “o” — Christian doctrines actually teach is sinful behavior).
Was Knapp a Southern Baptist and now she is, oh, a member of an oldline Protestant body that has modernized Christian doctrines on this topic? Has she dropped out of church and chosen to walk alone? Does she have a new set of Christian fans, even progressive evangelicals, who are drawn to her new music?
In other words, what role does religion actually play in this story, for Knapp, for other LGBT artists, for executives in the CCM industry, for fans, etc.?
I guess NPR, when it comes to facts about religion, sex and CCM, has decided not to ask and not to tell.
Editor’s note: Comments bashing either NPR or the Christian faith (liberal or conservative branches) will be deleted. Stick to the journalism issues in this post, issues such as accuracy, fairness and balance.