It is comforting that the world changes as we change, and that those that have inspired us continue to grow as we grow. People have series of books with which they grew up, whose characters matured as they did, whose themes reflected the dominant ideas and fears of their times, and returning to them is a way to reflect on one’s own journey and to relive that part of a broader history, to position oneself within a broader consciousness.
Music accompanies us in this way as well. At fourteen, I found myself overwhelmed by two strong impulses: Christianity and guitars. The two had to converge, and this is where I ‘met’ Jennifer Knapp. She was, and certainly is now, what people might mockingly consider a walking contradiction: a Christian rock musician. To me, she was simply a brutally honest person with a guitar, who happened to love God.
When I brought home her CD, The way I am, I listened to it cover to cover on my little boom box. Then I picked up a guitar and learned to play my first song, a scathing self-assessment that changed my outlook for two intense years:
It’s better off this way, to be deaf, dumb and lame, than to be the way I am.
Kill this tongue, for I am hung by this wicked notion.
Tame the beast, release the noose I’ve woven
O, wasted tears dripping from my tongue
I consulted with my dad over this concept of ‘Christian rock.’ He was happy enough to be a Christian, and happy enough to listen to rock music, but opined that never ought the twain meet—keep the holy holy and the sinful sinful. I supposed this was defendable, but seemed nonetheless unreasonable given Jennifer Knapp simply wrote music that bared her soul, and couldn’t help that her soul was engaged in a fierce spiritual struggle. Never did she say that God was somehow deficient in power or spitefully forsaking her—what she said was that she felt abandoned because she was fallible and human. ‘When I’m down, I search every mistake, I’m looking for new regret, sometimes I forget that his grace is sufficient for me, that it’s deeper and wider than I can conceive.’
Mysteriously, and without warning, Jennifer Knapp disappeared. She skipped out on the rest of her recording contract with Gotee Records with no explanation. I speculated that, since she had been fiercely atheist until the age of eighteen, she might have abandoned God and reverted to her old ways in secret, hoping no one would discover her godly rock star past.
Eight years later, Jennifer resurfaced with a bold revelation: she is a lesbian. She still loves God, and remains convinced of God’s love for her. And she’s ready to make some more music.
And—she has been living under a rock all this time: Australia. No one will ever find you here.
Jennifer’s blog deals with the question of whether her sexuality is really anyone’s business. ‘I am who I am. I love who I love. What difference does it make whether or not people know?’ She concludes, ‘the difference maker was one of personal integrity.’ In television interviews, she bravely and articulately responds to flippant and near accusatory questions with honesty and dignity. She points no fingers. She agrees that people will ‘eat her alive’ and refuse to listen to a gay musician and feel betrayed by a sinful fellow being. But she simply holds her head up and continues to ruminate about her struggles in a candid and thoughtful way. She never claimed to be anybody’s role model, or God on earth. Jennifer Knapp wrote about her fears and doubts and joys, and people respected her integrity.
Along the way of living we accumulate the joys and sorrows of our individual experience that grow into ‘our story’. We learn by listening to others. We learn in the telling of our own journey. We wound, heal, divide and unite, over and over again.
Jennifer’s revelation comes at a time when Australia, her adopted home, makes some important political shifts towards accepting gay marriage. The Labour Party is poised to open the church doors to gay couples, allowing them to express their love in the same way as a heterosexual couple. Younger generations see no need to isolate their gay friends and family, to deny them a simple human gesture.
Christians, the champions of Faith, Charity and Love, continue to call gay people diseased, unnatural, sinful, disgusting, and to have knee-jerk reactions to gay sex as a hideous crime, a fiendish desire that ought to be suppressed. But what does this mean for someone who is gay? Are they really to take up their cross and deny themselves? Are they to live dishonestly? Are they to reject the being that God created? Or are they barred from having faith? Are they denied religion? Must they live celibate, or in guilt? Assuming that gay people are not depraved Sodomites looking for trouble, intentionally inciting the wrath of God, assuming they are regular people, working, paying their bills, studying, playing music, going to the beach, buying thoughtful Christmas presents for their grandmothers, are they really committing hideous crimes? Will Christians let them experience loving relationships? Will Christians let them love God? Will Christians let God love them?
Christianity is an old religion. It preached things like ‘no sex before marriage,’ because people would catch diseases, or impregnate each other, in uncertain times when cures were not available and when children needed the security of a father’s income. At its heart, Christianity claims to be founded on love, to have as it’s backbone the motto, ‘God is love,’ to proclaim to the corners of the earth that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ Now, I know about Lot hanging in Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the depravity and the turning of Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt because she dared look back longingly at her town, but how does this fit with the gospel preached by one Jesus, friend to prostitutes and tax collectors? I’m sure there’s plenty of rules in the old testament about not being buds with prostitutes, but Jesus came ready to accept the very real tears of prostitutes anointing his feet. I don’t consider gay people to be prostitutes. What I consider them to be is real people, full of loves and fears and hopes and dreams like anyone else, cruelly marginalised for their sexual practices.
Seeing Jennifer Knapp emerge from the New South Wales coast, boldly declaring her homosexuality to the Christian community is a surprising twist in my avid following of her career. It gives me new material in my own journey, having myself turned my back on Christianity, when I had far less against me within the church than she did. I trace her journey with interest and admiration, because I know she is a person of integrity, and I hope she paves the way for others in her predicament, caught in the hateful web of the religion founded on ‘love.’