After an intense burst of publicity following her decision to come out as a partnered lesbian, folk rock musician Jennifer Knapp is now touring for a different audience.
Later this week, the former Christian music star will lecture at a liberal United Methodist congregation in Sacramento alongside New Hampshire’s Episcopal Church Bishop Gene Robinson, whose 2003 election sparked a schism in the global Anglican Communion. Robinson is arguably the most prominent homosexual religious official in the country. Knapp’s co-starring with him showcases her shift from popular evangelical performer to lesbian icon and outspoken Religious Left activist.
Knapp is hardly the first artist to abandon contemporary Christian music (CCM). But where other artists moved into secular music, with its broader audience, Knapp has mostly taken her folk rock to smaller circles — still with religious themes, but with strikingly different priorities from traditional Christians.
A Dove Award-winner who was also Grammy nominated, Knapp released her last album in 2001 and then stepped away from her music career the following year, moving to Australia and then formally announcing a hiatus in 2003. Knapp entered into what she later disclosed as a lesbian partnership.
“I’m certainly in a same-sex relationship now, but when I suspended my work, that wasn’t even really a factor,” Knapp told Christianity Today in an April 2010 interview.
When Knapp reemerged in 2009, public acknowledgement of her lesbianism led to interviews with Larry King and the prominent homosexual publication the Advocate, as well as the extensive Christianity Today interview.
Knapp declined to offer specifics about her relationship, citing privacy. She did complain to CT about the stereotypical “conservative evangelical who uses what most people refer to as the ‘clobber verses’ to refer to this loving relationship as an abomination, while they’re eating shellfish and wearing clothes of five different fabrics…” Of course, she was likening biblical taboos against homosexual behavior to Old Testament prohibitions about seafood and certain clothing.
This summer, Knapp has performed at three events that starkly contrast with her former traditional Christian image.
On June 21, Knapp performed at “Pride and Faith Seattle,” an event at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese as part of the city’s gay pride festival. She was introduced by a homosexual Episcopal priest who did not direct his opening prayer to Jesus, God, or seemingly any higher being at all, but instead prayed to the audience. From there Knapp went on to offer the audience music and humorous banter, and shared the stage with lesbian comedian Lianna Carrera for a question-and-answer session.
Playing “Fallen,” a seeming ode to her female lover, Knapp exclaimed: “If God doesn’t understand how hard I’m trying, I guess I’m screwed.”
For her part, Carrera sang a ranting song aimed at the religious right, noting Old Testament commands to execute adulterers “like Anthony Weiner and Arnold [Schwarzenegger],” and noting the prophet Abraham’s nephew Lot had sex with his daughters,* while deriding the Bible for purportedly treating women as property. “The relevancy of Scripture is something to consider,” Carrera sarcastically crooned. [*Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story erroneously quoted Carrera’s lyrics as saying God had sex with his daughter (Mary) — the author regrets the error.]
The weekend of June 25, Knapp appeared at the “Wild Goose” festival in North Carolina. Convened by Religious and Evangelical Left activists, the festival served as a mixing pot of liberal political advocacy and post-modern “emergent” theology. As usual, Knapp trumpeted her sexuality rather than citing faith. According to Religion Dispatches, she specifically asked during a set at Wild Goose, “Did anyone here not know that I’m a lesbian?”
While festival organizers proclaimed a “big tent” of inclusion, speakers repeatedly criticized supposed adversaries such as political conservatives, evangelical Christian leaders, the United States government and even contemporary evangelical praise-band leaders. Especially singled out for disdain were Southern Baptists, who were openly ridiculed by almost all of the major speakers.
Most recently, Knapp performed for the joint meeting of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB) at Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia July 4-9. The two groups worked hand-in-hand together, introducing Baptist congregations to the liberal “fabulousness that is us” in the words of AWAB leader Robin Lunn. Billed as a “peace camp,” the event demanded pacifism and slammed Israel. As part of AWAB’s efforts to affirm alternative sexualities, campers were invited to the “Prom for ALL,” and coached, “Come in drag or come in your PJ’s!”
Back in Seattle in June, Knapp confessed: “I thought after I came out, I’d never be invited to a church again.” In actuality, Knapp boasted, she’s been invited to even more churches since her coming out. Of course, her new church audiences are staunchly liberal and mostly smaller than typical evangelical audiences.
In her Larry King interview, Knapp admitted she herself was not in a congregation. And during the Seattle “Faith and Pride” event, she answered the same question by noting “that’s not a box I check off” with a particular church regularly. Knapp said what unites Christians is how they are “inspired” by Jesus, and how they believe “love is a good thing.” Christians put hands on each other and “not in a creepy way,” she explained.
Regarding her faith, Knapp has wondered aloud, “Sometimes I question why I keep holding on to it.” Starting a song and then stopping, Knapp once recently confessed: “I was playing the wrong song,” then, after dramatic pause, added: “I was doing that for many years.” Knapp’s new audience erupted in laughter at her innuendo.
Performing now for liberal congregations of shrinking denominations, Knapp’s new audience does not seem overly professionally promising. Holding on to her truncated version of faith may become increasingly challenging until she decides to let go altogether and aim more exclusively for directly secular audiences.