In Support of Jennifer Knapp

In Support of Jennifer Knapp April 14, 2010
Jennifer Knapp

Years ago — it must have been around 1999 or 2000 — when I was the youth pastor at Colonial Church, I brought Jennifer Knapp in to play a concert. She was just being discovered as a potent Christian singer/songwriter, and we had her perform just before her career blew up (in the good way). Suddenly she wasn’t playing solo acoustic shows in church sanctuaries, but instead playing the Lillith Fair and the National Youth Workers Convention with a full band.

The show she put on at Colonial was astonishing.  She held the room spellbound with her powerful lyrics, strong voice, and strumming that seemed like an assault on the guitar.  But backstage, she admitted, even then, how tired she was.  She wore a brace on her right (strumming) arm to combat carpal tunnel, and she admitted that she couldn’t practice guitar because it hurt too much.

And then, as quickly as she arrived on the scene, she disappeared.  I heard rumors that she was a lesbian, which I found not-at-all scandalous, but I also knew the behind-the-scenes fatigue that she battled.

Well, she’s back, and she’s been interviewed by Christianity Today about her new album and her sexuality.  Not surprisingly, CT’s intro includes this dandy,

In one of her first extensive interviews since announcing her comeback, Knapp, 35, talks to CT about why she quit music in the first place, her lifestyle choice, her rekindled passion for songwriting, her faith, her new album, and more.*

OK, so they’re on the record that they consider Knapp’s identity as a lesbian to be a choice.  A few questions into the interview, however, Knapp comes up with a great response to the Christian euphemism, “struggle with same sex attraction”:

I understand. But I’m curious: Were you struggling with same-sex attraction when writing your first three albums? Those songs are so confessional, clearly coming from a place of a person who knows her need for grace and mercy.

Knapp: To be honest, it never occurred to me while writing those songs. I wasn’t seeking out a same-sex relationship during that time.

During my college years, I received some admonishment about some relationships I’d had with women. Some people said, “You might want to renegotiate that,” even though those relationships weren’t sexual. Hindsight being 20/20, I guess it makes sense. But if you remove the social problem that homosexuality brings to the church—and the debate as to whether or not it should be called a “struggle,” because there are proponents on both sides—you remove the notion that I am living my life with a great deal of joy. It never occurred to me that I was in something that should be labeled as a “struggle.” The struggle I’ve had has been with the church, acknowledging me as a human being, trying to live the spiritual life that I’ve been called to, in whatever ramshackled, broken, frustrated way that I’ve always approached my faith. I still consider my hope to be a whole human being, to be a person of love and grace. So it’s difficult for me to say that I’ve struggled within myself, because I haven’t. I’ve struggled with other people. I’ve struggled with what that means in my own faith. I have struggled with how that perception of me will affect the way I feel about myself.*

I, for one, am looking forward to hearing Knapp’s new album, and I’m hoping that our paths cross so that we can continue our friendship.  I also hope to meet her wife.

*emphasis added

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  • Michael Todd

    Great post, Tony. Like you, I look forward to Sarah’s new album.

  • Michael Todd

    Ahem, I meant Jennifer. I graduated with a girl named Sarah Knapp. They must be cross-wired in my mind.

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  • Her response was so incredibly classy. I was very impressed with how articulate and gracious she was. I’m happy for her – mostly that she’s returning to her public music career. I hope she’s able to avoid the shit storm.

  • Add me to the already pre-ordered list. I too was struck by her grace, and the tone of the interviewers questions–was sad, expected, but somehow still shocking. She gives hope to many in her coming out.

  • Jason Derr

    seems to be an ’emerging’ LGBT scene among CCM artists: Jennifer Knapp, Ray Boltz, Jason and DeMarco, Tonex (and one other artist I am not at liberty to ‘out’ at the moment). I am sure their are others. I hope she keeps doing work that encourages LGBT belivers and the rest of us as well.

  • Sean LeRoy

    Question…somewhat new to this issue and wondering what Biblical encouragement/counsel you’d offer Knapp? I’m familiar with the dominant Christian position, but not so familiar w/ the views here in this post/thread.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful post, Tony.

    With Jennifer coming out, I wonder if the CCM scene will reconsider the contributions of Marsha Stevens, early Jesus rock pioneer who “came out” many years ago, and has been erased from CCM history since then.

  • Jason Derr

    @Sean –
    I’d tell her to keep loving God and her neighbour, to be true to the image of God she was made in and to trust the chaos and to trust life – God is in it, calling us on. As for the theological issue their are all sorts of resources on every facet of the conversation. I’m drawn to the pro-LGBT stuff, but that is just me. The Metropolitain Community Church – an LGBT denomination – has resources on the bible/faith/theology and LGBT realities.

  • Leah

    Thank you so much Tony for posting your support of Knapp. I used to listen to some of her songs when I was younger, and had no idea that she was a lesbian until now. It’s good to hear some positive Christian support of people of a same-sex orientation.

  • Sean LeRoy

    @Jason – Thanks…but I hear those on the other side of the aisle from you saying, “But the image of God is found in male and female, but the stamp of that image is in a male/female couple”…what is the answer to that question?

  • Jason Derr

    @Sean – as you say – there are many facets to this conversation (i refuse to say ‘sides’ as it puts things in polarities. All i can say is read read read and research research research. I personally have decided to no longer debate this topic with people – we don’t debate taht slavery is allowable or that segregation on gender or that women are not eligible to human rights. Likewise, as a straight Christian whose friends contain allot of wonderful LGBT folk – including several clergy – i will not debate the validity of my brothers and sisters in christ and my brothers and sisters in humanity.

    Again the MCC has allot of good resources ( And i know their have been several publications that hold together two point of views (two authors, each presenting their case).

  • carla jo

    Sean, to the imago point it seems to me that the prevailing sense for those of us who are hold to a different view is that the imago found in male/female is not about marriage or sexuality but about humanity as a whole. If one held to the idea that only in a male/female marriage can people reflect the image of God, or that marriage was intended as an imago-based ideal, we’d have to figure out what to do with single people, widowed people, the Apostle Paul, even Jesus if you really want to push the analogy. Others might have a different understanding, but that seems to be the prevailing thought among people I talk to.

    In response to Tony’s post, the CT interviewer is a friend of mine, and while I absolutely found his tone biased toward a particular view of homosexuality, I’m mostly just amazed that CT agreed to do and run this interview. I’m sure they will get no end of flack for even allowing for the possibility that Jennifer could be a person of faith.

    And she is. She’s astonishing–so brave, so hopeful, so gifted. I hope the love and support flowing her way overruns the crap she’s going to face.

  • WOW…great interview!
    Thanks to CT for being objective.
    Thanks to Jennifer for being – as usual – so profound and graceful!
    So glad she’s back!
    Let those who support her do so well…

  • Jeff Rensch

    I always loved Ms Knapp and her music and now I know why!

  • As a Christian who is more of a faux-Christian due to things like what I see as anti-intellectualism and bigotry in the church, this is refreshing from a few points:

    – Knapp’s embrace of her faith and perseverance to practice it how she sees it;
    – CT’s decision to run the article – even though it does contain some silly undertones.

    Thanks for the post. I’ll be following Knapp again in the near future – I just dug her “Way I Am” album out and put it on my iTunes and am happy I did.

    And Jason: thanks for the refreshing viewpoint regarding not even debating it. I’ll be keeping that in mind.

  • …and a few more thoughts:

    1.) Knapp garners respect from me as I’m very pessimistic of the Christian music industry in general. Buy giving it the finger and doing what is right, I now know she is “real.”

    2.) Has anyone looked at the comments on the post? So predictable, sadly.

  • Jason Derr

    @Joshua thank you for your comments. I am a person who is sometimes prone to passionate responses. Chalk it up to ADHD Impulse Control/Prophetic imagination (?). But I do feel, this issue even more so, that it’s time to move on and recognize the dignity of every human being. We don’t debate the validity of women and minorities, why LGBT people?

  • Sean LeRoy

    @Carla Jo – yeah, you’re right you can’t press the metaphor that far because I wasn’t talking about single people. I was talking about two people in a relationship, as a committed couple and functioning as “one flesh”. It seems to me that what God does in Genesis can’t be dismissed, neither can it be subsumed under another heading such as singleness or widowhood. Jesus had the same take in the Gospels.

  • carla jo

    I’m sorry Sean, I misunderstood your question. You had asked for a response to those who would say, “But the image of God is found in male and female, but the stamp of that image is in a male/female couple.” I read that as a question about the image of God being found exclusively in a male/female couple. My apologies.

    If I may try again, I agree with you that what God does in Genesis can’t be dismissed. I guess where we might disagree is the idea that the “two people in a relationship, a committed couple functioning as one flesh” aspect of the Genesis story is limited to male/female couples. That’s what I meant when I said I think that story is meant to tell us something about humanity, not about marriage or sexuality.

    Like Jason, I don’t really want to get into a defense of my beliefs and I certainly don’t want to seem as though I’m trying to draw you into a conversation in which either of us feels the need to do so. I was just trying to address your question in hopes of giving you a sense of where someone “on this side of the aisle” might be coming from.

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  • So glad to hear that she is back. Jennifer Knapp is so very talented. Also glad to hear that she is comfortable in her own skin. God is love. By expressing love, we are showing that we are God’s children.

  • Further thought, as a Christian, if I choose to reject her, to ostracize her from the faith community, I am the one not being true to my faith. I only have to answer for what I have done. I will choose to love her. I will not choose hate.

  • Steven

    Zero scripture quoted by any part of the article or in any of the comments. So far as I can see, everyone is following the Christ they have imagined in their minds, and ignoring how he has revealed himself in the scriptures.
    This is sad.

  • Knapp’s redefinition of “struggle” really stuck out to me as well. I think she gives us a lot to think about when we consider how we discuss homosexuality in the church.

  • Interesting post. Been a fan of hers for many years, she transcended the typical Christian musician in many ways. The real test [seen through the comments on the post] will be how Christians will treat Jennifer after her coming out. Sadly I don’t think generous love will be one of the primary traits…

  • Thanks for posting this, Tony. I too was particularly piqued by her articulation of her struggle. Unlike Jennifer, I *did* “struggle” with same sex attractions for several years, ultimately culminating in depression and suicidality, and then realized how much I was living for man’s opinion of me (particularly many in the Evangelical church), rather than God’s.

    It is then that I faced the struggle that Jennifer describes, and the resonance couldn’t be greater. The greatest wounds I’ve ever suffered in life have all been delivered squarely to my jaw by conservative, mostly Evangelical, well-meaning-but-misunderstanding Christians . . .

    I too am *shocked* that CT allowed the interview to be published as is, especially without a 10 page analysis and response from Al Mohler following the interview . . .

  • Alex

    While I land where you do on this issue, Tony, I think (in fairness) the “lifestyle” comment by CT is not that out of line. In fact, I find it surprisingly neutral in a journalistic way. They never suggest her orientation is a lifestyle choice, only her decision to actively embrace it. Since one of the core themes of the article is her decision to actively embrace her orientation where she did not before, it is a lifestyle choice, just as her decision to repress it before was a lifestyle choice.

    Now, we both know that the use of that phrase gave them a diplomatic way of not offending their readers, but in all fairness, I thought I should point that out.

  • Tony,

    You use the word “wife.” I may be missing something but I never saw her use this word. Are you meaning it because of common law partnerships in some some states which allow someone to be seen as husband or wife after a specific number of years? Or, did she actually use this term in some other spot.

    I may be a stickler, but as someone with friends that have journeyed to Mass and CA to get married, I think the distinction is still in order, unless the person has taken the steps or uses the term for herself.

  • Tony so glad you highlighted this. I am actually going to see Jennifer and Derek Webb this Sunday in Denver. I loved the way Jennifer responded to the often juvenile questions that CT asked, with lots of love and grace. It seemed many times she could have just as easily responded with spit and vinegar but did not. What was the most hurtful and has seriously fired me up over the last couple of days were the HORRIBLE comments that so many people left. I was appalled and did not want to be associated with the same faith they claimed. I guess this is why I follow the emergent church so much. I then return to my main line pastoral position and see that this means so little to the majority of the church and question if their lack of response is any worse than the people that said such horrible mean things? I guess it just shows how much further we have to go until Jesus is understood for who he was.

  • There is a difference between thinking something is wrong and hating that person. Who is saying that be disagreeing with her lifestyle that you hate her as a person? I lover her as a person and as someone made in God’s image but I don’t believe what she is morally right on this one. It is possible to believe something is wrong and not be a bigot.

    There are honest and sincere people who believe homosexuality is wrong because they believe that is what the Bible teaches and they want to please God. Why not praise them for their authenticity and their willingness to take an increasingly unpopular stand for what they believe? Somehow I don’t see that happening so much.

    I guess I just find it ironic that many who would praise J.K.’s stance as authentic, real and difficult would criticize those who believe her view is wrong, even though what they are doing is just as authentic, real and difficult to do. Just my two cents. Feel free to bash and trash me…in love 🙂

  • The Advocate also interviewed Jennifer Knapp (and presented it as a story rather than a transcript). It’s also remarkably well-written:

  • Alex,

    Regarding “lifestyle”: it is not a neutral description, in fact most journalistic style guide include it as a term to avoid when describing LGBT people.

    Furthermore, if LGBT say that it is not descriptive and that it has been used as a tool to drum up stereotypes and inspire negative actions toward them–why continue to use it anyway?

  • Andy

    You miss an important distinction: Knapp has chosen to be in a relationship, so it is appropriately labeled by CT a lifestyle.

    RE struggle: finding joy in sinful pleasure (whatever you identify as sin!) does not make it proper. The measure for Christian ethics has never been “Does this make me joyful?” These are important distinctions. I know this is not a discussion of ethics, but there is definitely an undertone of affirmation in your post, otherwise, to be looking forward to hear her new album and wanting to meet her “wife” is not saying much at all.

    I also grew up on Knapp and am fond of her music. I pray God’s love and truth continue to surround her life and bring clarity to her new context.

  • Kandace Martin

    Thank you for posting and sharing your thoughts on this interview. I also have followed from her grassroots. I love that she is living her life exactly as she should. It means more to me that she is willing and able to live her life joyfully.

    Jennifer Knapp: I love you! Keep living the life God gave to you just the way you have been; you are the gift our faith needs!

  • @Steven:
    “So far as I can see, everyone is following the Christ they have imagined in their minds, and ignoring how he has revealed himself in the scriptures.”

    Well, considering Jesus never mentions homosexuality, I would say that foregoing scripture quotations is right in line with the way Jesus reveals himself in scripture. 8^)

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