Preacher's Daughter: Q&A with Lesbian Christian Singer-Songwriter Jennifer Knapp

In May, Religion Dispatches published my first interview with former darling of the Christian contemporary music scene, lesbian singer-songwriter Jennifer Knapp. Then over the summer, I got to meet and interview Knapp in person while covering the Wild Goose Festival, an event that celebrated (predominantly Christian) spirituality, justice, and art. We talked a bit about the limitations of Christian music, feminism and sexuality on the same day she filmed the "It Gets Better" video below. I'll be critiquing some evangelical Christian music later in the series, so I'm very excited to share unpublished parts of our interview with you here today: 

KR: In the past, you gravitated to progressive communities even when you were a Christian music star. In the late nineties, you toured with the Lilith Fair: 

You think? (laughs) That was a coup. A conservative radio station dedicated an entire hour to talking about how I shouldn't have done that, how I wasn't "following the Biblical mandate to be in the world but not of it." Even now, I hear people say I'm a lesbian because I did Lilith Fair. 

You have said that you were never entirely comfortable being pigeonholed as a Christian contemporary singer. What were some of the other difficulties that you faced in that environment? 

I became a Christian in college and signed my record deal in my early twenties. I had no idea that Christian contemporary music was a genre that I was supposed to aspire to. People of all faiths have always reflected faith and spirituality in their art. I trickled into Christian music without really knowing it existed and found myself in the middle of a subculture. 

I certainly didn't understand the politics of the genre at the time. As I got older, I realized I was a progressive in an environment that didn't encourage that. I began to understand it in group settings when I'd say, "Well, how about this?" I'd get smacked down instantly. People said, "No, that's not a good question" or, "Let me tell you what you should believe." I found side pockets of friends to get through, but we couldn't talk publicly about it then. 

I have reconnected here with musicians that I knew from that very conservative environment a decade ago, and am amazed to hear that many of them have long held progressive perspectives. We were in an environment where we didn't feel welcome to speak.

Not everyone here is progressive. For example, Michelle Shocked now thinks being gay is a sin: 

Michelle Shocked surprises me, but I am okay about being in this venue with her because I can find validation and support elsewhere. However, there are people who just cannot accept it, people who deny LGBT people of faith access to spiritual practices they value. Being a member of the LGBT community, for them, is evidence that you're not in the right spiritual place. That's a very serious problem.

It is tragic to be physically, spiritually, and emotionally ex-communicated because of your sexuality. We need to be able to claim a place in our faith communities. 

I know you read a lot. What kinds of books are influencing your thinking about feminism, sexuality, and faith these days? 

Recently, I read a book by [Women's Studies professor] Kathy Rudy called Sex and the Church: Gender, Homosexuality and the Transformation of Christian Ethics. She researched sex in the US and found it very often associated with shame. Even for people who had a secular perspective, this culture is deeply rooted in Puritanical faith constructs.

Rudy does a great job of showing that Christian theologies are often based on cultural beleifs that are very specific to time and place. For example, she talks about [anti-feminism] in American Christianity, and makes the case that people looked at the roles of women in society—and how women were treated—at the time and constructed beliefs based on that.

So, Christian thought tends to reflect the prejudices and bigotries of a specific time. 

Right, and of course historical prejudices shape these things. So many of the conversations we hear in faith communities today involve LGBT acceptance, and that has a similar history. There is still this very conservative approach to sex and sexuality, much like there was when the American church grappled with issues like divorce and remarriage. It's a similar conversation, but a different headline. 

Thanks to Jennifer Knapp for talking with me! I'll leave you today with a couple of songs from her 2010 mainstream album, Letting Go. Both grapple with sexuality and conservative Christian homophobia (lyrics to the first can be found here, lyrics to the second here).

 

Previously: Preacher's Daughter: PJ Harvey's Apocalypse Now, Preacher's Daughter: Love in the Time of Apocalypse

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Comments

5 comments have been made. Post a comment.

wow I've never heard of her.

wow I've never heard of her. She seems like a very inspirational person. Does she still identify herself as Christian?

Yes, she does, as a matter of

Yes, she does, as a matter of fact. She's actually a fantastic musician and songwriter- if you enjoy explicitly Christian music, I highly recommend her album Lay It Down. If you're interested in something a little less obvious with some religious overtones, I recommend her newest album Letting Go. As far as I'm concerned, though, there's nothing by her that isn't wonderful. I grew up with her music and I still love it, and I think it's fantastic she's come out. It takes guts. Four for Jennifer Knapp!

Thank You for this!

I was raised Conservative Christian and have since departed from that path. When I was younger, I only listened to christian music at the urging of my domineering youth pastor. Of all the Christian artists, she was the only that truly spoke to me and to find out that she has taken a path similar to mine is extremely comforting. Thank you!

Thanks!

Thanks for posting this interview! I look forward to you critiquing some evangelical Christian music later in your series. Is there a way to be notified when you post articles like this? I haven't heard of your site before.

I actually used to do a contemporary Christian radio show in college, but this was long before Jennifer Knapp, so when I saw on AfterEllen that she'd come out, I didn't know who she was. But the publishers of those WOW! "best of" collections of contemp. Christian music did, and I bet they are just DYING now that they put a lesbian singer-songwriter on 6 of their "Greatest contemp. Christian songs" albums! *LOL* Good on ya, Jennifer!

IDK if you know about them or not, but there is an organization of Christian Feminists called the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women's Caucus. I went to an EEWC biennial conference in 1995, where I got to meet Letha Dawson Scanzoni, who co-wrote, _Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?_, one of the first gay-affirming Christian books.

Jennifer Knapp

Jennifer Knapp is an amazing artist. As one who listens to lyrics, and the music that marries emotion to lyrics, I would say her songs (especially from the Kansas album) are some of my favorites. The truth brought forth by her songs was one big reason that I became a Christ follower. Her journey has lead me to question and examine the dogma that comes from the conservative Christian culture, and I have found that Christianity is a Journey. There are few rock solid Chrisitian concepts that must be accepted, otherwise you cannot call yourself Christian (by definition). However, I have found that over the centuries, many of the (for lack of better term) secondary concepts have evolved. Perhaps it is so with homosexuality. Anyhow, it is not my place to judge anyone-that is God's place. I am called to love others as Jesus loved the world (sorry, did not mean to get preachy!). I have several friends who are Gay, and love them unconditionally. Ms. Knapp has, through her music, clarified what that entails and means. God does speak through her music.

I have never seen her in concert, and was saddened by her hiatus from the music scene a few years ago. I am very thankful that she is back, and will not miss an opportunity to see her live if she comes to the Chicago area. Ms. Knapp is truly one of God's messengers.