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 after 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.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.