What Happens When A Christian Rocker Comes Out

In 2003, Christian folk singer Jennifer Knapp suddenly announced that she would be going on hiatus, putting on hold a decade-long career that included multiple Grammy nominations and a devout, if niche, fan base. In 2010, Knapp made two announcements: that she is a lesbian in a long-term, same-sex relationship; and that she was starting on a new record. Her announcements were met with derision from many within the community that once embraced her.
Jennifer's new record is here. Now 40 years old, she no longer aligns herself with the Christian-music industry; she simply describes her music as “folk rock.” Yet she is still a loud-and-proud Christian, and she uses her position as a public figure to challenge ignorance and bigotry within the church. In 2011, she started Inside Out Faith, an advocacy group to support LGBT-identified people within religious communities. Through public speaking events that incorporate music and storytelling, Inside Out Faith is Knapp’s attempt to create inclusive environments for people struggling with questions about their faith and sexuality. I spoke with the singer/songwriter about her experiences, her activism, and her work.
Were you raised religiously?
"Definitely culturally — there was Christmas and Easter in my household. It's a mistake to say I was raised irreligiously, which is something that gets printed quite a bit. It wasn't like I had to go to church five days a week, but it was something we thought about as a family. Then, in college, I was surrounded by a lot of Evangelical Christians, who were definitely of the idea that your Christian lifestyle was something that you did every day, 24 hours a day. It wasn't until I was 18 or 19 [that I was] around a lot of friends and peers who took all the stodginess out of what I thought church was, and really opened it up to something more exciting and interesting."
How did those college friends talk about homosexuality?
"If it was discussed, it was with a great deal of whispering. And, a lot of the whispering was about somebody who was rumored to be gay; it was something that was talked about behind their backs. It always struck me as interesting and bizarre and hurtful.
"I was in my early 20s the first time somebody pulled me aside and admonished me for being too close to a girl: 'Oh my gosh, you can't be gay, this is not a good, Christian thing. Good Christians aren't gay'... I never saw anyone open their arms to somebody who was openly gay."
When did you first come out?
"My mom really outed me to myself. I was 27 or 28 and I had started a relationship with my now-partner. When I talked on the phone with my mom, I’d use the genderless 'we.'
"Finally, my mom was like: 'Who is ‘we?’' It was the first time somebody had asked me about a relationship with another woman that actually existed. My mom actually made it so easy, so normal. She was like, 'Your partner's a woman. That's cool. That's great.' And, we moved on from there. After that, I was just with my partner; there was no big announcement."
When did you come out to the public?
"I lived that way for a very long time — with everyone in my personal life knowing. It wasn't until I started to play in public again that this concept of 'Coming Out' reared its head. Everybody in my real life knew — but when I had to put out a press release saying that, it was a whole other kettle of fish. It was just so bizarre, to have this private life that was really obvious and normal, and then I had to go out and tell people that. It's a really strange and stressful experience to have to do a press release about your sexual orientation."
What was that experience like?
"Everything you think it's going to be! [laughs] All the bad stuff that can happen, happened. There were people who told me I was going to go to hell, or that there was something wrong with me, or, 'Oh, you can fix that!' There were people who came up to me, sincerely, saying, 'You can be straight! You just haven't met the right guy yet!'
"But, the part that I didn't anticipate was how many people were just really great. Supportive, normal. 'Hey, that's some information I know about you, right on.' That's the part that I think sometimes doesn't get told about the coming-out story."
Have you ever had fans come out to you?
"Yeah! Throughout my entire career, even back when I was in Christian music, people would come out to me who didn't come out to anyone else. I was a safe stranger, and that still happens now, with people who are still in the beginning of 'What do I do? I haven't told my parents yet'... In a way, I’m somebody they can practice with."
As you came out, the Christian community has also been changing in terms of how it sees homosexuality, right?
"There hasn't been a shift in the theological position; a lot of Christians still think it's very important to talk about how homosexuality is a sin. However, with that I think there's been incredible softening. I think there's been an acceptance that people are irreversibly gay, and however that's perceived, that's one thing I would tell you that's been dramatic and very visible in the last four or five years since I've come out.
"I think the other side of it is that the Christian leaders and communities are starting to realize that the negative impact of preaching a kind of turn-or-burn position on homosexuality has been really damaging. That Christians are supposed to be known for being loving, and the way that LGBTQ people have been treated historically has not been very good."
Your new album is the first release in several years. How does it feel?
"Yeah, it’s been four years — which is a crazy amount of time. Usually, you'd expect to see something around the two-year mark. A lot of the reason why it took so long is because I had my hands really full. I was writing a book as well as reestablishing my music career, and that was a lot of hard work. With all the insecurities, it's been really fun, because I feel like the writing on this record is some of the most free and expressive I've done in a really long time. I feel like I've really gotten back in the slide of the artist I want to be."
Australian-American, Grammy-nominated folk singer Jennifer Knapp released her memoir, Facing the Music, and Set Me Free, her first full-length studio album since 2010, in October.

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