Beliefs Culture Ethics Institutions Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

Christian musician Jennifer Knapp on sexuality and which lyric she wants to take back

The Grammy-nominated Christian artist and lesbian has released a new album and tell-all memoir. - Image courtesy of Invasion Group
The Grammy-nominated Christian artist and lesbian has released a new album and tell-all memoir. - Image courtesy of Invasion Group

The Grammy-nominated Christian artist and lesbian has released a new album and tell-all memoir. – Image courtesy of Invasion Group

Conversing with Jennifer Knapp is like listening to NPR. Her tone is lush, almost comforting, and her words are measured. You can almost hear her smiling. Even when I ask difficult questions or push back, she remains unflappable. An uninformed eavesdropper would never guess from Knapp’s demeanor that the one-time Christian superstar has been embroiled in controversy for more than four years after revealing she was gay.

Knapp’s storied career as a Christian singer and songwriter culminated in a gold album, Grammy nomination, and an appearance at Lilith Fair music festival, but her announcement shocked many fans and drew the ire of some conservative Christians who believe that the “homosexual lifestyle” is sinful.

This month, Knapp walks back into the furnace with the release of a mainstream folk album, “Set Me Free,” and a tell-all memoir, “Facing the Music: My Story.” Here, we discuss her sexuality, the scrutiny she’s been under, and which lyric she wishes she could change.

Image courtesy of Howard Books

Image courtesy of Howard Books

RNS: You talk a lot about your past—family drama, depression, alcohol, sexual encounters. Some conservative Christians might say that your past has shaped who you are today in terms of your sexuality. Has it?

JK: I don’t know that I would say that my past has made me into the lesbian that I am today as if A plus B equals lesbian. I don’t really subscribe to that kind of way of thinking. And after all the soul searching I’ve done in my life, I wouldn’t come to that conclusion. Having said that, I’m a real proponent of the idea that the history of our experiences creates the person we are in the present.

RNS: You tell a story in the book about not allowing one of your songs to be used in a “True Love Waits” abstinence campaign. Why? 

JK: I hope the fallout isn’t that I think abstinence is a lost cause. That was about the way we approach this issue and what I think is a better understanding of the value of what abstinence means. This is largely based on my own experience. Listen, yes, I’ve had sex with people. Is there really value in shaming me into abstinence? Or rather should you give me an idea of the value of my body and person the value of the people opposite me that I might have a sexual encounter with?

Abstinence is a very noble virtue. I spent a decade abstinent and in that time, I absolutely got a sense of why that was important and why giving my body away was less than ideal. But if you just told me not to have sex and then shamed me if I did, it would be different. Christians often end up creating ideals rather than establishing schools of thought that are deliberate about why purity is important for health and well being and compassion to each other.

RNS: But many Christians—even some gay and lesbians—believe the Bible teaches abstinence outside of marriage. Do you? 

JK: I can understand where that thinking comes from. But I don’t know that there are hard and fast lines. For example, what if there is no government to negotiate a marriage contract? Does that invalidate one’s commitment to another person? I realize this sounds esoteric, but it’s important. What about those who are partnered for life but aren’t institutionally married? Those people say that a covenant has been made for their union. That’s one of the issues I have with abstinence. I’m not advocating for people to have sex whenever they want. I don’t believe in that. [tweetable]Monogamy is a standard that I enjoy and am passionate about.[/tweetable]

RNS: There are a lot of LGBT Christians who’ve chosen, based on their faith convictions, to remain celibate. What do you say to them?

JK: I say, “great.” Why would I tell them to go out and have sex? I know people who, because they can’t be in a heterosexual relationship, believe it is their honor and duty to be holy before God as an abstinent person and never seek a same-sex relationship. I appreciate that. I haven’t chosen that for myself, but I have to value that story and journey. There’s value in letting someone’s journey be what it is for that person for the sake of their wellbeing.

I happen to be on the side that believes that the covenant we have with a lover or friend is a standard that isn’t based on gender or sexual orientation. But it is a mistake to say, “You’re wrong because I don’t agree with you.” Their journey should be respected and we shouldn’t say that people’s choices have no value to their spiritual journey just because we disagree with them.

Image courtesy of Righteous Babe Records

Image courtesy of Righteous Babe Records

RNS: If you could take back one lyric from a song you wrote, what would it be?

JK: I would probably want to go back and edit pretty much the entire chorus to “The Way I Am.” The chorus says, “It’s better off this way, to be deaf, dumb, and lame then to be the way I am.” I would probably edit that. I meant that sarcastically. [tweetable]It’s tragic that we break ourselves in half to be usable before God.[/tweetable] I actually don’t play that song live anymore because I don’t want people to think they are anything less than they are.

RNS: What would you like Christians to know about your current relationship with your partner?

JK: In the early years of having met my partner, I would get up every day and be amazed. I would look at this person and something would well up in my heart and say, “I love you, and I want to take care of you. I want to watch you grow and be there when you struggle.” I wanted to care for her in a deeper way than anyone ever taught me. It’s not about sex or gender, it’s about complete utter compassion for another human being. At the beginning, when your hormones are flying, you think it won’t last. And everyone told me that one day we’d be old codgers who hate one another and want to get a divorce. Much to my amazement, I still have that same drive. It’s my partner for me and me for my partner. And having understood love and patience and vulnerability has opened me up to the world and a greater understanding of the Gospel.

RNS: Do you two attend church?

JK: No.

RNS: You tell of being under scrutiny as a Christian musician even saying “wearing a tank top on a hot day could incite criticism.” Do you think American Christians tend to be judgmental rather than gracious?

JK: I always think that is an easy charge toward the Christian community because there is a high standard for the way we live. I step back and remember that it is kind of human nature. Any time we see something we don’t agree with or perceive as negative, it is extremely easy to judge other people. But I don’t think that Christians are extraordinary in this way.

RELATED: “Is the Christian Music Industry Liberalizing on Gay Marriage?

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


Click here to post a comment

  • “as if A plus B equals lesbian”

    Thank you for putting it in a nutshell, Jennifer. A+B rarely equals anything universal for any of us, whether it’s our sexuality or personality or whatever other -ality label one wants to consider.

  • I have always liked her music and I enjoyed reading this short piece about her life. Still, I hear a lot of squishiness and confusion. A + B does not equal C, yet she admits her history does make her who she is today. And then she talks mostly about her experiences as shaping her views and life. She seems to have the confidence to stand up in her decisions, but I’m not sure it is based on anything other than feelings and experiences. Perhaps that is the new foundation for this generation.

  • Or perhaps it’s a combination of feelings, experiences, study, counsel, etc. Don’t jump to conclusions based on one short article. The situation she is in is not that simple and she’s seems like an intelligent person who may have wrestled with more than just feelings and experiences.

  • Another self proclaimed Christian espousing their personal sin. This woman brings no glory to God, nor does she care to. It’s just business for her, no different than any of the other filth coming out of Hollywood.

  • If you would read what I wrote, you would see that I did not call her filth, I said that w hat is coming out of hollywood (entertainment industry) is filth.

    What she is doing is contrary to what God says is right, and basically saying ‘so what.’ No remorse or indication of the sin of homosexuality.

  • I agree with you, honestly…but that’s NOT enough to repeal 1 Cor. 6:9-11. Not even close.

    We’re all complicated people with complicated histories and complicated weaknesses. We’re all sinners. We’re all in that same boat.

    But that doesn’t erase, that doesn’t eliminate the great promises of John 3:16, 1 Cor 10:13, and 1 Cor. 6:9-11. They either apply to ALL of us, or they apply to NONE of us.

    We all have to vote on whether God and God’s Word will get the last word or not. Gay and Lesbian Marriage, the entire LGBT movement for that matter, is clearly a “NO” vote.

  • I can never understand how you can be a gay Christian. You can either be a Christian or gay. How can both words go together? In that case, we can categorize other Christian groups as ‘swinger Christians, robber Christians, adulterer Christians, gossip Christians, don’t you think? Honestly!! I’m not trying to undermine this young lady at all, but I am trying hard to understand though. I know that a Christian is a Christian, a person who follows Christ and His teachings. What does He teaches about homosexuality, promiscuity, lying, or love for that matter ? Should I disregard those teachings or what?

  • Jesus went through a whole lot and He was without sin!! He had to endure death on the cross, he was spat on, beaten,slapped, and nailed on a cross, and He was without sin, yet we go though life as if we have no regards for such a sacrifice. This singer talks about the choices that she made and about sticking to her choices. We go through life making choices that we want to make without thinking about the sacrifices that He made. And, I do not believe that the sacrifice He made was made in order that we would be free to do what we want to do. Why then would He leave instructions for living if we were not to live them?
    I have nothing against this singer because I am not her judge, and only her and God knows why she had to make the choices that she has made. Maybe she had to make sacrifices too; I don’t know. But, I pray that God would give me some insight on these issues.

  • Very cute Fourth Valley. 🙂

    But if ultra-conservative Christians actually followed that bit of advice and Matthew 6:5-8 they would have nothing to do. Where is the fun in being a Bible thumping Christian if you can’t tell everyone else they are wrong for not being like you or in having ready made excuses for obnoxious and uncivil behavior.

  • Not in your sect, but there are plenty who do not take your views seriously.

    You don’t get to determine who is a Christian and who isn’t except for those within your own sect.

    No church or sect will ever disband because some outsider makes claims, “you are not real Christians”. If it were the case, no sect would exist. Catholics would say so of Protestants, Every Protestant sect (sans the Anabaptist sects, because they are far too polite to do that) would say likewise.

  • Oh please. Your phrase “Never met Jesus in life”, can be immediately refuted by simply directing you to Acts 9 (where Jesus talks directly with Paul as well as appearing to him directly), and of course there’s 1 Cor 15 too.

    There are NO statements by Jesus, and NO Bible verses from anybody — Old Testament or New Testament — that is supportive of LGBT marriage or relationships. None.

  • Paul met “the spirit of Jesus” on the road to Damascus. Not the living breathing person depicted in the Gospels. Every Christian knows that.

    There are no statements whatsover by Jesus on the entire topic of how to treat gays. Jesus did however affirm a gay couple.
    Matthew 8:5-13 & Luke 7:1-10 That leaves 2 people who knew the living breathing Jesus discussing how a gay couple is treating and one after the fact poseur saying otherwise.

    You can’t say that all of Leviticus should be taken seriously because of Jesus or you would be keeping kosher. 🙂

  • Describing the moral and personal quandry of a performer who must deal with the conflict of her faith and her being. If you don’t think those things are important to those who believe in God, that is your decision.

    I don’t see anything in your snide remarks which does much to give a good impression of believers.

  • You are correct Olga. The Bible is clear. 1 Cor. 6:9-11. Jesus and homosexual behaviors are NOT compatible. At all.

    9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,

    10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

    11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

    This is positive news, not negative news. Because of the power of Jesus, a person don’t have to be gay if they don’t want to be. What Jesus did for the Corinthians, He will do for anybody.

    But now it’s going to cost Christians something, to say such truths out loud. The government supports the gay activists, NOT the Christians.

  • You’re saying that the Centurion and his servant is a homosexual couple? Unfortunately you are saying something so far out in left field that no one…I mean no one who has Biblically offered any commentary has proposed. The Greek word pais is used 12 times to identify “servant” and four time for the word “boy” NO sexual connotation whatso ever.

    However the Greek word for homosexual is ‘arsenokoites’ Used once for homosexual offender and once for perverts.

    You’re off base with your translation…but I guess that doesn’t matter, in that you sound like you’ve made your choice. God is not willing that anyone should perish, but that all would come to repentance through Jesus Christ.

    Please keep in mind Jesus’s words: Matthew 8: 8-9 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.

  • “You’re saying that the Centurion and his servant is a homosexual couple? Unfortunately you are saying something so far out in left field that no one…I ”

    Untrue, just not in your circles. The ones who want to use the Bible to confirm their own personal animus and bigotry. Admittedly anyone who chooses not to engage in such uncivil discourse would be at odds with your views. So naturally you would discount them.

    Religion having no inherently objective credibility of its own allows for pretty much any reasonable interpretation which suits personal purpose. You have yours, which is obviously to give your prejudices a patina of social acceptability. Others have theirs which do not do so.

  • “However the Greek word for homosexual is ‘arsenokoites’ Used once for homosexual offender and once for perverts.”

    You are conversant in ancient greek? No, you are just repeating what another person with your beliefs told you. It is like saying “Fag” is the only word to describe homosexuals in English or “Bible Thumper” for Christian.

    The languages of Greek and Latin had a little more subtlety on the subject since there were different ways to describe what we would call homosexuality. Power relationships were the factor between determining what was acceptable and not. Very different from the nonsense running through your head.

  • Larry
    Oct 10, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    ¶“You’re saying that the Centurion and his servant is a homosexual couple? Unfortunately you are saying something so far out in left field that no one…I ”

    ¶Untrue, just not in your circles. The ones who want to use the Bible to confirm their own personal animus and bigotry. Admittedly anyone who chooses not to engage in such uncivil discourse would be at odds with your views. So naturally you would discount them.

    So you are saying that Christians are bigoted because we read , believe and follow our Lord through the Bible?

    I know that there is no way that you and I, or any non-Christian, can come to agreement on this issue. You believe you are right, and so do we.

    God says in Genesis 9:5 5 Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man.

    We will each stand in front of God and have to give account of our lives…He cared enough for you that He came to Earth, lived a perfect life, was horribly killed, buried and rose…to pay the debt for your sin and mine. Please dont trifle with a Holy and perfect God. If you’ve heard this before, then maybe Gods trying to get your attention.

  • I wish the interviewer had followed up the question “Do you two attend church?” with “How are you two practicing your Christian faith?” I’ve met Ms Knapp and chatted with her after an “Inside Out Faith” appearance (Wheatland, IL). She is very much the person as described in the opening of this article. However, in all the interviews and promotions I’ve seen, there’s little discussion about how she practices her Christian faith. To me, this is more important than anything. If she’s promoting her life as a means to serve God, yet doesn’t speak of her faith (not just arguing about it, but sharing her testimony), then how is she really acknowledging God in her journey? I don’t doubt she’s a person of faith. Instead, I think she’s allowing the argument “can gays and lesbians be Christians?” take center stage. For those of us who are Christian and LGBTQ, I believe we will show the world the “yes and amen” to the argument by living out our faith (i.e. being Christlike, expressing our biblical beliefs, letting our words reflect Christ in us, etc.).

  • I believe I am right to the effect of anybody who talks about singular definitive positions taken by the Bible on any given subject is full of hot air. That people who claim to speak with such authority are merely confirming their own predisposition.

    “So you are saying that Christians are bigoted because we read , believe and follow our Lord through the Bible? ”

    No, I am saying Christians like yourself (unlike many who consider themselves Christian) are bigoted because you use the Bible to excuse hateful prejudiced attitudes and behavior. You advocate ostracism and promotion of hatred against a given group of people for purely arbitrary irrational reasons.

    You would like to think your view is the only one available to those who read the Bible devoutly, but that is because you want to give your personal views the appearance of being worthy of social sanction. It is much easier to claim the Bible says … than to be honest and own up to your own feelings and opinion on a given matter.

    “We will each stand in front of God and have to give account of our lives ”

    And a devout follower of Christ should probably give pause at the moments that they have been less than loving against their neighbors or in the presence of their enemies. You know avoiding the things Jesus expected of his followers in the face of adversity or in their public acts.

  • “Hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos”. — Leviticus 20:13.

    Arsenos = man. Koite = bed. Arsenokoitai = man- bedders. No mystery whatsoever.

    Btw, while we’re on the subject of Greek, when are you going to tell us whose homisexual lover Jairus’ twelve year old daughter was?

  • Suzanne I was with you up to a point, but I missed what you were saying when you said “For those of us who are Christian and LGBTQ, I believe we will show the world the “yes and amen” to the argument by living out our faith (i.e. being Christlike, expressing our biblical beliefs, letting our words reflect Christ in us” The goal of Christianity is not to show the world anything…….but to show the world everything that the Bible……the True Word of God says. How can the LGBTQ do that…..I beg of you to help me understand. How can I be a thief, a whoremonger, a liar, a murderer and show the world everything that the Bible teaches? How can I be a hateful cruel person and still show the world everything that the Bible teaches? Remember that the Bible says “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold all things have become new” (2nd Corinthians 5:17) . If our intention is to show the world of our journey from sin to reconciliation, then, I do understand, but if not, what would we be showing the world? I’m not trying to judge you at all…I don’t know of your journey, and I don’t want you be your judge; we already have one. I just want to understand the spiritual prism from where you stand.

  • Shawnie I was not talking about Leviticus. As for the translation as “man bedders” it is an idiom of questionable provenance. Leviticus’s original language was not Greek.

    Christians find plenty of excuses around Leviticus when it suits their purposes. You have to rely on the writings of Paul. Jesus himself was silent on the subject.

  • “How can I be a hateful cruel person and still show the world everything that the Bible teaches? ”

    You try, but obviously are running into the problems of such an approach. If scripture can support your prejudices and give you an excuse to attack others in the spirit of malice, then it suits your purpose.

    “How can I be a thief, a whoremonger, a liar, a murderer and show the world everything that the Bible teaches? ”

    Yet the simple rule of both the Old and New Testament to love thy neighbor has eluded you so clearly and obviously. How can one claim to be learning from the Bible yet miss such rule?

  • Larry, dear, if you’re talking “arsenokoitai,” you’re talking Leviticus. Greek was not the original language of the Torah but the Greek version of it, the Septuagint, was the version most widely used by educated Jews in Roman times as was the one used by Paul as well. Paul simply coined a new word by taking the two words found side by side in Lev. 20:13 and putting them together.

    “Jesus himself was silent on the subject.”

    He was silent about bestiality as well, which may be found in the Torah directly next to the prohibition on same-sex behavior. I don’t think His silence on it implies condonation. I think it implies lack of popular disagreement about its wrongness.

    Now, if you please, whose same-sex lover was Jairus’ daughter?

  • BTW, no, I do not have to “rely on Paul” at all. It was the Torah-observant Jerusalem church of Acts 15, many of whom had known Jesus (His brother James headed it up), who decided that Gentile Christians need not follow the ceremonial law with the exception of avoidance of known pagan sacrificial meat, inhuman butchering practices, and ALL sexual immorality.

  • Like so many Americans, she has faith in a “health and well being” gospel. It’s all about what God can do for her.

  • Larry
    It was never my intention to attack this young lady….that seems to be your forte. You attacking me because you misunderstand my intention, my post. I am here on this site to learn all that I can about Christianity and sexuality and what the Scripture says about it. It is in that scope that I made the post…nothing else. I am a Christian who believes that everyone is here on a purpose-filled journey….everyone, however, there are some things that I do not understand, and would like to understand. Asking some questions of myself is one of the ways that I learn. So, that’s it!! So next time you want to attack someone, please find out their intention before you do so, that way, the prejudices and malice that you speak about will not fall back in your lap. May God bless you.

  • Larry you are right….there is no statement in the Bible that tells us how to treat gays, prostitutes, murderers, fornicators etc, but it has a lot to say about sin and turning away from it. I’m not saying that we should ostracize gays, lesbians, transsexuals etc., we shouldn’t, we should try to understand their lifestyle choices just as we would any other person without judging them. We should give them opportunities to maximize their potential just as we would any one else, but we should also emphasize the importance of restitution and repentance. That is crucial!!! . Don’t you think? How is that prejudicial, how is that malicious?

  • yes I t agree,, there is no Glory to God what so ever,, if she at least mentioned the name JESUS, ONCE or talked of her salvation in a testimony how she found the Lord and his mercy, or mentioned scripture a couple of times would had proved she was a Christian, , who to me me since being born again , a Christian is a term used for someone, who knows the love of Jesus, and that he died for them on the cross,, and lives in a daily relationship with God through JESUS,, by repentence and his mercy,, this isn’t a lesbian /gay thing her

  • A homosexual can be a Christian the same way someone who lies or someone who gossips or curses can. Even the most self-righteous of us know we are guilty in participating in gossip at times or in lying or on whatever it is you struggle with. If homosexuality is a sin, it like all other sins, can not in and of itself keep us from God. Christ covers our sins with his blood. I don’t think it’s fair to condemn homosexuals but not the backbiters and gossipers and the teenagers lying to their parents. Romans 7: Paul says the sin nature in him still causes him to sin no matter how much his spirit opposes it… even he struggled with sin. I’m sure there would be some modern-day Christians that would have caught him in a moment of flesh weakness and condemned him as well. Why don’t we stop worrying about everyone else and just take care of the logs in our own eyes.

  • Alicia, you are on the defense girl………what happened? Obviously you did not read well, neither did you understand the scope of the post. As a matter of fact, I did make mention of all the other sins such as lying and promiscuity etc. Come on young lady….get with it. I would never profess to be perfect, because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23. the Scripture didn’t say that ‘homosexuals’ have sinned, it says ‘all’, and that include ‘me’ I am a Christian woman, but I so sin on a daily basis. We all do; but do I knowingly engage in the same sin everyday knowing that God will forgive me? No!!! because ‘if any man/woman is in Christ he/she is a new creation, old things have passed away, BEHOLD!! all things have become new. 2nd Corinthians 5:17. All I was saying is that the minute you become a Christian, you should at least try to wean yourself from every sin: lying, cheating, murder, and all sexually immoral sin which include but not limited to homosexuality. That’s all. God bless you too!!

  • Being a believer is not a popularity contest. It never was. It’s about spreading a message of God’s plan for our lives and helping others receive Christ as their Savior. All this “gotta be nice no matter what to who no matter what” is a watered down cowardly version of Christianity. As Christians we are to correct each other and help each other grow in Jesus Christ not pat ourselves on the back for looking the other way. As Jesus said, “I forgive you but sin no more”. It wasn’t “I forgive you and feel free to keep on sinning”. There is only one truth. Either you believe it or you don’t. And if you do it’s not subject to your whims and self-serving interpretations.

  • Exactly. You can’t get into Heaven through the back door or by being a closet Christian. God wants us to loudly and bravely proclaim His authority on Earth and that of His Son.

  • There is a HUGE difference between living a life of sin intentionally and unintentionally. Gossipers aren’t going around telling people that God said it’s okay to gossip and distorting scriptures to support it. It’s very clear in the Bible what God abhors and if you choose to participate in those activities, you’ve pretty much set yourself up in opposition to God.

  • You don’t need any insight. The singer needs insight into why she is continuing to practice homosexuality in spite of what the Bible says about it.