As you might recall, I had an email interview with singer-songwriter Jennifer Knapp discussing her upcoming album Letting Go. In hindsight, it was a fairly innocuous interview. Ironically, I felt maybe she got a bit prickly about my questions regarding her move away from the Christian music community. As a fan of Buddy & Julie Miller, Sam Phillips, Joe Henry, etc., I certainly respect that artists can write about their faith in inspiring and unique ways that are in no way confined to a "Christian" music label. However, I also know full well through my own personal experiences that Christian Music is a real genre, as cordoned off from the rest of music universe as just about any other genre. The people I know who listen to Christian music listen to little else. Every musical style is represented within Christian music, but it is bound by an industry that caters to a very specific and large listener base. I find it fascinating when an artist who is known almost exclusively inside that industry chooses to step outside of it. One might question why.
Well, the answer to that question has become a bit clearer in the past week. I was more than a little surprised to find a press release in my inbox a week ago announcing that Jennifer Knapp was coming out (though I was familiar with the persistent rumor). That news was followed by interviews with Christianity Today (1181 comments!), Reuters and The Advocate. Jennifer appeared on Larry King Live on Friday night to discuss her newly-public sexuality with Pastor Bob Botsford (who published an admonishing blog about it) and disgraced former pastor Ted Haggard.
Let me stop you right here. You don't care about my own Christian beliefs and didn't ask my opinion. I'll give it to you shortly anyway. I should mention that I'm a Christian, as fallen from grace as you're likely to find. I was raised Southern Baptist and generally find little use for the Church in my life today. Or more specifically, I find little use for the churches that I've generally attended. When I was a blossoming young fan of music - Madonna, Van Halen, Huey Lewis, you name it - I attended Youth Group with a whole lot of little assholes who enjoyed telling me how listening to that crap would send me quickly to hell. I had more than one Youth Director who spent plenty of time telling us what was wrong with "secular" music and, especially amusing, deciphering lyrics to reveal their true demonic meaning. This topic was split pretty evenly with lots of useful guilt over our emerging sexual feelings (just regular hetero feelings - homosexual sex wasn't even mentioned). I have nothing particularly against folks that enjoy Christian music exclusively - hey, to each his own - but many of those folks tend to be pretty closed off from the rest of the world. I should add here that I have many wonderful family members who listen to nothing else. In fact, my brother-in-law has really good taste in songwriters and has pointed me toward a number of good artists. I, however, view him as the exception that proves the rule.
So I watched Jennifer Knapp on Larry King on Friday, and she took great pains not to condemn anyone or disown her Christian beliefs. However, here's an argument I don't buy - we are all sinners, so why should anyone single out her homosexuality as worthy of condemnation? Here's the problem, as I see it - you can't be intimate with someone and have your family in faith condemn it as a sin. Neither can you disown those relationships as the act of a sinner. Loving another person is the closest most of us come to true grace. I'm not saying that Jennifer isn't a Christian -- quite the opposite. She'll at some point have to drop all the pretense of respect and agreeing-to-disagree. Make no mistake, many of those fans that made her a Dove Award-winning artist will abandon her over this because they are part of an Evangelical community that regards homosexuality as unacceptable. Better to just embrace that and move on. I've read plenty of supportive comments from fans as well, but I have no doubt they will be in the minority. Bob Botsford spent the whole show shaking his head and painting himself as her concerned brother in Christ. Sorry, Pastor Bob, that's not Christ speaking through you, that's just you being another judgmental jerk feigning concern for someone else's soul.
At one point, she said respected people who believe in Biblical inerrancy but also went on a tangent about Greek translations that may or may not have meant "homosexuality," as we understand it. As for Biblical inerrancy, I'll just say that my own Southern Baptist mother taught me that the seven days in Genesis were - obviously - a metaphor. I only realized a few years ago that there were actual human beings with high school diplomas and college degrees who believe that the Earth is only about 5000 years old (and therefore disbelieve everything ever taught to them in a science class). If you believe that, you are stupid (sorry, but why are you still here?). The Bible is chock full of contradictions. In fact, that's one of it's most fascinating elements. Most Christians I observe (ya know, on Larry King) think they or their preachers have worked it all out, know God's master plan like the floorplan of their house. As you might have guessed, I don't think they do.
My point (if I have one) is that Jennifer Knapp won't be able to have it both ways. She will at some point have to say, "Hey, sorry folks, when I was younger I thought we were all in the same boat. But now that I've dealt with the complexities of my own life, I just don't share the same strain of Christianity with you." I suspect that anyone condemning Jennifer would equally question the Christianity of a music-blogging, non-churchgoing, foul-mouthed sinner like me. Have at it. I don't care because my Christian beliefs do not require their endorsement, just as theirs don't require mine. I like to think my Christianity is a big tent, but I'm quite sure that some Evangelicals I see every now and then aren't in it. I'm happy to let God sort it out.
I do respect the bravery she's shown in doing this so publicly. It is fascinating to watch it unfold, only because she seems to be working out how best to discuss it. Bravery, by the way, does not always equate with wisdom.
Letting Go will be out on May 11, and it has a pretty good shot at landing in my Top 10 this year. I'll have to more to say about the MUSIC in the near future. And I promise, I'll have nothing to say about her sexuality anytime soon.