Former Christian Singer Jennifer Knapp Reclaims Her Voice

Jennifer Knapp was fly fishing along the banks of a river somewhere in middle Tennessee when the world learned that she was a lesbian.

Rumors about the sexuality of the contemporary Christian music singer had been swirling around for years, especially facing-the-musicafter she quit her career during the height of her success and retreated into self-imposed obscurity.

Had she quit the business because she was a lesbian? After all, Knapp herself, in her new autobiography Facing the Music: My Story, acknowledged that contemporary Christian music artists are often held to a higher moral standard, seen as role models who represent Jesus.

“[E]very Christian artist’s career rests in the hands of those who measure the integrity of their spiritual journey against their own idea of what a Christian is, or should, be,” she writes in the book. “Fail to represent that standard to the right people and your CD could sit on the shelf collecting dust, career over.”

For Knapp, however, ending her career was a matter of physical survival and not one of concerns over being judged on some moral failure. A grinding schedule of touring and recording had worn down her physical, mental and spiritual health.

It just so happened that Knapp’s need to rest from the relentless demands of stardom coincided with a budding relationship between herself and a woman named Karen, a music show manager Knapp had med through the industry. The two were fast friends and their relationship grew into much more when Karen became Knapp’s manager to take her through her final year in the contemporary Christian music scene.

It was that year, 2010, that her coming out story was orchestrated. Three interviews — one each with The Advocate, Christianity Today and Reuters — would be released on the same day during Knapp’s final tour before leaving the contemporary Christian music scene. Knapp received a text message from her management almost a month after the initial interviews saying simply: “It’s official. You’re out.”

She received the requisite hate mail along with messages of support and admiration, but took them in stride, even handling Southern California Evangelical pastor Bob Botsford with grace and patience during a follow-up interview ten days later on CNN’s Larry King Live.

“Bob, I didn’t lose my faith when I realized I was gay,” Knapp told him live on television that night, “but it took a lot of faith to tell the truth.”

It was that truth-telling that led Knapp to the Christian faith in her college years. The child of divorced parents, she had struggled to win approval and support from her father and step-mother for her budding music career. In high school, Knapp played the trumpet, and played it so well, she was awarded a scholarship to Pittsburg State University in Kansas.

When things finally came to a head with her father, however, she was left without means to pay for housing and other living expenses that went along with that scholarship. With the help of her grandparents, she finally went, but was mentally a mess.

She turned to drinking and promiscuous sex to ease the pain. At her lowest point, it was her Christian roommate Ami who finally turned Knapp on to Jesus and led her in prayer. She felt a sense of euphoria afterward, writing, “All of a sudden, I understood what it must have been like for Paul when the scales fell from his eyes (Acts 9). After that day, in the new language taught to me by my fellow friends of the faith, I was reborn.”

After that, Knapp began to again pursue her love of writing. She learned the guitar and joined a praise band meeting a man named Byron who would lead her through her early career to her first record deal.

Knapp’s story is at once deeply personal and incredibly moving, taking the reader along for the lowest lows and the highest highs in both her personal and professional life. Her sexual orientation plays a role, but is not the lead character in this book. Instead, it is Knapp’s own sense of integrity and faith in her drive to succeed on her own terms — often with the help of friends, mentors, and, yes, even God — that gives this book it’s driving edge.

It’s a reminder that LGBT people are far more than their sexual orientation or gender identity. It would have been easy for Knapp to write a trite, tell-all book recounting just the days she had to deal with the crap-storm that came after her coming out, and perhaps there’s a voyeuristic audience that will be disappointed that this book doesn’t do that.

Instead, what Knapp does is open up her soul to tell a deeper story — that sexual orientation is important — but it is not what defines our lives as LGBT people, despite the best efforts of the church and society to make us sexual caricatures. Knapp, as she has always done throughout her life, refuses to play the game everyone expects her to play, and instead has written a book that shows the depth of a truly human life, full of challenges, disappointments and failures, but in the end, reflects the deep joy of a life lived with integrity and grace.


Listen now to a short podcast preview of Whosoever’s interview with Jennifer Knapp. To hear the exclusive full podcast join us at the Whosoever Community.

Order a copy of Jennifer Knapp’s new book Facing the Music: My Story, and look for her new album, Set Me Free, that hits the stores on Oct. 14.

“Duck Dynasty” Phil Robertson’s Theology: Dead or Alive?

Since a recent GQ Magazine article outed his homophobic and pro-Jim-crow views, left-wing commentators have declared open season on Phil Robertson, the patriarch of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty.” Robertson, based on his reading of Christian scriptures, considers homosexuality a sin and predicts that homosexuals will be excluded from the Kingdom of God.

In Salon, Joan Walsh pronounced Robertson a “bigoted pseudo-Christian.” Another Salon author, Brittney Cooper, a self-professed “reluctant Evangelical,” took aim at Robertson’s “conservative theology,” denouncing the “violence” that it “does to gay people in the name of God.”

Cooper’s Bible and Robertson’s Bible are the same. However, Cooper’s practice of “hermeneutic [interpretive] consistency” differentiates her from Robertson who likely reads scripture literally (as if a literal reading were possible). Those of us who treasure scripture would do well to emulate a thoughtful and compelling approach like Cooper’s. Hers is a living theology.

For Cooper, the “first and foremost” truth disclosed by the Bible is that “God is love.” Intent on making scripture consistent with this fundamental truth, she rejects passages that contradict it. Cooper acknowledges that the Bible sanctions slavery. But since she is certain that a loving “God is not a racist,” she rejects racist scriptural passages. She agrees with Robertson that the Bible “declares sex between men to be an abomination.” But since she is certain that a loving “God is not a homophobe,” she rejects homophobic scriptural passages.

Robertson would find Cooper’s approach anathema. Literalist Christians consider scripture to be the verbatim transcript of God’s revealed laws, beliefs, and commandments.

Contra Robertson, a living theology, according to Jewish theologian, Michael Fishbane, treats ancient, sacred writings as more than simple and fixed storehouses of information. A living theology, Fishbane writes in Sacred Attunement, includes an intentional, ongoing effort of “adaptation and clarification” of religious texts. This effort helps us remain alert to the traces of transcendence that break through our everyday consciousness and to “sustain (and even revive)” them “in the normal course of life.”

Readers of the Bible who eschew the effort of adapting and clarifying scripture cut themselves off from traces of transcendence. Their theologies are dead.

Also, the unquestioning acceptance touted by such as Robertson is neither coherent nor honest. Though literalist Christians believe that they take scripture at face value, they necessarily, at some level, interpret it.

On some issues the Bible is inconsistent or opaque. Martin Luther, who advocated relying on scripture to decide all issues, discovered that, at times, it is silent on important questions—for example, child baptism. As a result, each of us, whether we are aware of it or not, constructs meta-Bibles out of passages we select from the actual Bible. We assemble proof-texts that make sense to us or align with our commitments and values. We downplay Biblical proscriptions that inconveniently conflict with our favored mores—for example, the indifference of many contemporary Protestants to Jesus’ prohibition on divorce. Contradictory passages are set aside (Cooper does this with admirable transparency and clarity of purpose) or hyper-interpreted until they harmonize.

Consider in this regard, Robertson’s likely view that God so loved us that he sent his only Son to die for us on the cross. This is an interpretation of the crucifixion to which St. Paul hints in the New Testament but which did not enter the arc of Christian thought as a fully rendered doctrine until Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) developed the satisfaction theory of Christ’s atonement.

Proof-texting and interpreting the Bible is unavoidable.

In addition, as Fishbane notes, the books of the Bible were spliced together. Varying worldviews and theological commitments are interwoven, sometimes within a single passage. Thus, scripture itself is an example of the work of interpretation and revision; its internal disagreements invite us—nay, prod us—to follow its lead and adapt and clarify. By doing so, we keep scripture and our theology alive.

Fishbane helpfully recommends reading events in the Bible as “theological expressions of primordial truth. The narratives of scripture thus become paradigms of perennial matters bearing on divine presence (both transcendence and immanence), as well as the human response to them.” More generally, “the old words of scripture are spaces for ever-new moments of spiritual consciousness and self-transformation.”

Christians like Robertson resist looking for such spaces and maintain their (imagined) literal grip on scripture. Joan Walsh calls Robertson a “bigoted pseudo-Christian” but she’s wrong about the “pseudo-Christian” part. Robertson is a Christian; his beliefs rest on interpretations at odds with those she prefers. There’s no doubt, though, Walsh is right about the “bigoted” part. Let’s be clear: Robertson’s dead theology is downright ugly.

References and Further Reading:

Magary, Drew. “What the Duck?” GQ, January 2014.

Cooper, Brittney. “Evangelical church’s ugly truth: ‘Duck Dynasty’ and Christian racists.”Salon, December 24, 2013.

Walsh, Joan. “2013: The year in whiteness. From Phil Robertson to Megyn Kelly, peddling white grievance became a bigger, crazier, more lucrative racket.” Salon, December 30, 2013.

Fishbane, Michael. Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2008.

Axelrod, Jim. “A&E can’t win on ‘Duck Dynasty’ flap.” CBS News, December 28, 2013.

Fixmer, Andy. “A&E Ends ‘Duck Dynasty’ Patriarch Suspension.” Bloomberg, December 28, 2013.

Author and editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She is co-organizing a conference, April 9-11, 2014: “God: Theological Accounts and Ethical Possibilities,” at the Divinity School (mainly funded by the Marty Center, free to the public). For more information, visit: http://divinity.uchicago.edu/god-theological-accounts-and-ethical-possibilities

The Donald Sides with the Pretty Woman

When has Donald Trump ever denied anything to a pretty woman? Why would anyone think that he’d strip Miss California Carrie Prejean of her title, especially after getting a peek at those newly, man-made breasts?

The decision, announced at Trump’s New York headquarters Tuesday, follows several weeks of controversy ignited when Prejean, 21, declared her opposition to same-sex marriage in response to a question during the national pageant. She finished as runner-up to Miss USA.

Trump said of the pictures: “Some were very beautiful.”

Hubba, hubba.

There’s nothing wrong with a man looking at naked boobies, right, Donald? Now, when men want to look at other naked men or women want to look at other women’s naked boobies – that’s where we draw the line.

With Prejean at his side, Trump also defended the answer she gave at last month’s Miss USA pageant when asked for her views on same-sex “marriage.” Prejean said she believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. Trump says that’s “the same answer the president of the United States gave” and reflects the views of “many people.” He says Prejean “gave an honorable answer” that came “from her heart.”

And, all those who opposed interracial marriage spoke from their heart as well. It doesn’t mean they are right. Both Prejean and President Obama are wrong on this issue and history will prove it, just as it proved those who opposed interracial marriage wrong.

The issue is not whether she spoke “from her heart” but whether she violated her contract by posing for the photos and abandoning her duties by working with the National Organization for Marriage against marriage equality. State pageant officials believe she did.

But, all a pretty woman has to do is show her breasts and men like Trump start thinking with their tiny brains instead of their big brains.

Marie Osmond on Marriage Equality

As a kid, I would grab the hairbrush and sing along with Donny and Marie: “I’m a little bit country – I’m a little bit rock-n-roll …” I loved the Osmonds so much – and now my love is finally returned – by Marie Osmond at least, who, surprise! has a lesbian daughter:

In an interview with Los Angeles radio station KOST 103.5 on Monday, Marie Osmond confirmed that her oldest daughter Jessica is a lesbian — calling her a “magnificent woman” and stating that she supports her daughter and believes in equal rights for gays and lesbians under the law.

Osmond’s public support of her daughter is significant, because Osmond is the highest profile Mormon thus far to come out in support of marriage equality — or at least giving gay and lesbian couples the same rights afforded to heterosexual couples.

Donny’s not so open minded, writing that he does not support marriage equality. I wonder what his neice thinks about that.

Confucius is Confused

Nearly every week, the media obsesses over some Professional Famous Person’s latest words of wisdom about the LGBT struggle for equality. Sometimes these words affirm us, and at others they attempt to slap us down. Then there are times when they’re so incomprehensibly stupid we can barely make sense of them at all.

Miss California, this past week, dropped her pearls about same-sex marriage. Leaving aside the question of whether Perez Hilton had any intelligent reason to seek the advice of a beauty queen on such a grave matter, we have good reason to be troubled that her utterance should be parsed and pondered upon as if she were Confucius.

She isn’t Confucius. She seems to be merely confused.

Carrie Prejean doesn’t know diddly-squat about same-sex marriage. Nor does she even seem to know what the Constitution says, what the states’ all-too-flawed laws say, or what the facts tell us. She was put on the spot, and could do nothing but reveal that she’s exactly what the stereotype says about beauty queens: that they are airheads.

I am not surprised by this. I’m not sure who would be.

Next week, the media will be on to something else. Then, or the week after that, some new Professional Famous Person will say something else the newshounds will regard as worthy of the grave attention due the Buddha, Mohammed or Jesus.

But the words of Jesus have endured for centuries. As have those of the Buddha and Mohammed. Beauty queens, movie stars and super-athletes are but the flies of a summer. Jesus said nothing about same-sex marriage. But he had plenty to say about treating every human being with honor and respect, and about equal consideration for all. Even those of us who love others of the same sex — and even Professional Famous People like beauty queens.

It will do us no good to laugh at Miss California. She ought to be embarrassed, and doesn’t seem to have the sense to be. The kindest thing we could do for her would be to forget her words and move on.

She may use all the hostile scrutiny to further feed the persecution complex in which so many right-wingers love to indulge. There are indications that she plans on trying to parlay this deservedly-forgettable incident into a lucrative career as a Proessional Martyr, as did her predecessor in pageant fame, Anita Bryant.

Let’s not waste any perfectly good pies by pelting her with them, or boycott the Miss America Pageant — which will one day die a well-deserved death on its own lack of merit. Let’s move forward, and let the stupidities of our cheap media culture die of their own sickness.

The Miss America Pageant is a silly circus. Confucius is confused. And so is America.

Get Ready to Boycott Hannah Montana!

The religious right hasn’t had a good album burning in years – I wonder if CDs burn as well as vinyl? We may soon find out now that Miley Cyrus – better known as Hannah Montana – has come out in a Twitter conversation with Perez Hilton in favor of same-gender marriage!

Miley: I believe that EVERYONE deserves to be happy. That’s all I’m saying 😉

Perez: A lot of controversy over your answer, which is silly. I think you answered the question better than Miss California!

Miley: What was her answer??? Cause what I said is the truth. Everyone deserves to love and be loved and most importantly smile 🙂

Miley: thx! U know what I get crap for whatever I do but you asked me an honest question and I gave an honest answer! So whatevs!!! 🙂

Perez: I’m sad that people use God and religion as an excuse 2 hate, discriminate and deny gays & lesbians full equality under the law.

Miley: ya thats lame! God’s greatest commandment is to love. And judging is not loving. That’s why Christians have such a bad rep.

Get ready for the religious right backlash. I’ll bring the marshmallows!

Soap Goes Gay Christian in Britain

Looks like the British soap opera Coronation Street will be getting a lesbian character – but not just any old lesbian character – this one will be a Christian lesbian!

Sophie Webster, a 16-year-old character, may begin the relationship with another girl from her Bible study group, the source told a national newspaper.

The source said: “The show’s bosses want to create a soap representative of society in 2009.

“They are acutely aware that they need more gay characters and that they need to tackle more gay issues.”

This is the latest soap to portray a clash between Christian beliefs and homosexuality in a bid to reflect the reality of modern Britain.

I’m sure they’ll have characters trotting out the “abomination” arguments from the Bible. Wish we could see it here in the states to see how they handle it, but perhaps our cousins across the pond will keep us informed.