faith, glbt, identity, music

a closer walk

So if you’re not tapped in to the queer community or the Christian community, you might have missed this particular bit of news:

If you’ve been involved in the evangelical Christian community in any way in the last 15 years, the name Jennifer Knapp is probably as familiar to you as Kelly Clarkson. Knapp is a million record-selling, Dove award-winning artist, whose candid lyrics, raw voice and mad guitar skills rocketed her to Christian music stardom in the late ’90s and early ’00s.

In 2003, Knapp disappeared from the music scene and the public eye, and now, seven years later, she’s coming out with a new album — and she’s coming out as a lesbian. (source: AfterEllen)

Big news for someone like me, a former church member and Jennifer Knapp fan.

Jennifer, who has always been a fairly private person, has given some fairly open interviews on the subject. Most interesting to me is her interview with Christianity Today, in which she respectfully states that she will not discuss her relationship, but talks fairly openly about her struggle to come out – not her struggle with her sexuality, but her struggle with the church:

The struggle I’ve had has been with the church, acknowledging me as a human being…it’s difficult for me to say that I’ve struggled within myself, because I haven’t. I’ve struggled with other people.

Jennifer’s story has personal relevance to me. When I left my ex-husband, I was fully entrenched in the church. I was a Sunday school teacher, I’d been a deacon, I was part of the machinery that made the services happen. Todd was a musician in the church band, also a deacon. His parents had been elders, directors of the services, Alpha leaders. His brother and sister-in-law, and their children, were also fully involved. Leaving Todd was not just leaving Todd – it was leaving a family, a huge church family, a place I felt very much a part of. But I left, and my perception of what happened next is probably very different from any member of that church might say. But I suddenly felt extremely isolated, and I started examining the definition of loyalty, and how that definition was different for every person.

Months later, I found myself looking for a new definition, for something to explain how it was possible for me to care for someone who was not Todd, and was not, in fact, a man. It’s taken a few years now to really figure out this is a piece of me I’ve carried all my life, and just didn’t recognize for what it was. But in the first months of trying to identify what was happening, I really struggled with my faith, too. I discovered that my faith was really a symptom of a desire to belong, to feel accepted and approved of. I wanted a sense of community, a sense of feeling at home. I had it in the church. And then, very suddenly, I didn’t have it anymore.

Today, I don’t much care about where I find a sense of community. I’ve looked in a lot of places for it: the church, the queer community (which has its downfalls), the feminist community (which, again, has its downfalls), the poetry community (oh boy, does it ever have downfalls). I’ve learned I need to create my own community, to create my own sense of family, and I’m doing that, and I love it.

But I still find it frustrating when the Christian community so easily and summarily dismisses their own behavior. Jennifer talks in Christianity Today about her struggles with other people and with the church, because of her decision to be truthful about who she is and what she wants. On her Facebook fan page, there are too many examples of exactly what she’s talking about:

I am saddened that she has made the lifestyle choices that currently define her. Unfortunately, I will cease listening to her music. Not because I judge her, but because there are always consequences for sin, especially when we one [sic] finds nothing wrong with directly violating Scripture. I will pray that God will heal her, as I must pray the same for myself everyday so that God through Christ can restore her life to his original intention. – Facebook posting

The news of your personal choice to be like the rest of the world saddens me and no amount of anything I could say would make a difference.
Although I do not agree with your lifestyle choice in the end you are accountable to God and despite the world making changes to accept things I cannot support you in what has transpired, I will pray for you and that is all I can do.
I am not here to condemn you, you are a sister and it is out of love that I post my concern. – Facebook posting

David was sorry for his sins and repented for them, and God did punish him for it, God would not punish someone if they had not done something wrong, and i will be praying. The Bible clearly staes that homosexuals shall not inherit the kingdom of God, if the author does not know that God considers homosexuality a sin then his speculative theory does not line up with God’s Word [sic] – Facebook posting

It’s frustrating to see so many people who feel they can clearly define for someone else what the right path is, and wash their hands of any responsibility for how their words and actions affect that person. Coming out is a difficult thing, more so as it relates to faith, and especially when that faith is full of black-and-white moments that leave little room for gray area. And yet, others are so quick to assume that it’s a simple concept. So many people give so little thought to what it might be like to live as someone else for a day, and are so quick to judge and rest easy on the phrase, “But I say this out of love.”

The concept of accountability, within the Christian community, is one that I have never fully understood. It’s tied so closely in my mind to the idea of judgment. The idea is to point out to your fellow believers when they are doing something that is unChristlike, or to point out when they are doing something that might cause you to be unChristlike. Essentially, the concept of accountability gives people permission to be judgmental, but to excuse it by saying, “I’m just holding you accountable.” In providing a ready-made excuse for this judgment, though, the sense of accountability for one’s own actions has been removed. It’s an astoundingly simple and obvious twist, and one that too many people are willfully ignorant of.

I have my own bitterness about the church, and lots of reasons for not believing that Jesus was anything more than a man. I am guilty of having judged too many people too quickly. But I want to add my voice to the chorus saying to Jennifer Knapp: congratulations, and thank you, and good luck.

23 thoughts on “a closer walk”

  1. Hi Rachel,

    I found this really interesting. I’m a Christian and I’m active in a church community, in which I certainly don’t agree with everyone about everything but I’m extremely happy nonetheless. That said, I’ve no problem with homosexuality and, even if I did, it would be about the choices I make for my life, not other people’s. I just don’t see other people’s personal lives as any of my business. Who am I to dictate who can have relationships with whom?

    What you said about accountability and judgement really struck a chord with me. I’m very thankful to have people in my life who will tell me when I’m out of line, but those are people whom I have chosen to give that authority to, people whose judgement I respect and people who I know love me anyway. I don’t think it’s okay for people, Christian or not, to start queuing up to tell me how my attitudes or behaviour fall short. That is judging. Accountability, for me, is different because it comes out of relationship.

    I think Jennifer is incredibly brave. She’s going to get so much shit from so many people, and that saddens me. The church, for me, is kind of like a parent: you love them, you know they mean well, but bloody hell they’re stupid sometimes and must they dance at the school disco? I find myself embarrassed to mention my faith for fear of being associated with the black-and-white brigade, and that’s just crap. Sad times, but well done to Jennifer.

  2. On the subject of accountability as it was explained to me was when you and someone else mutually decide to hold each other accountable or responsible for their actions. Generally you meet with this person weekly, monthly, whatever and talk about your life and your struggles. That person would pray with you and for you and offer advice when asked. You both would hold the same faith and the same moral beliefs on right and wrong.

    When someone puts them self in a public position you can arguably claim that they are opening themselves up for accountability. By putting her personal information out there in a publication I do believe it does give others a “right” to comment on it. For a Christian if you believe something is a sin that is a serious thing. The Bible says the “wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life”. The Bible also says “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God”. I think it is a struggle sometimes for people to not acknowledge their own sins while trying to “help” someone else see theirs. I also believe that telling someone that you think they are wrong and are headed down the wrong path could be the most loving thing you could do.

  3. Laura and Kristi, thanks to both of you for your extremely thoughtful commentary. I often am struck by how fortunate I am to be able to have conversations with people like you, who are willing to have a respectful discourse, even if we don’t agree on everything.

    I know well that creating an agreement of accountability is something that comes of a conversation between two people who are, ideally, on equal footing in terms of belief and moral positions. I think my problem here is two-fold:

    1) the agreement requires that each party point out the perceived stumblings of the other, even when those actions do not directly or indirectly hurt another person (in this case, being gay), and

    2) the idea that Jennifer’s existence as a public figure allows anyone the right to comment on her choices is absurd.

    Laura, for a long time, my struggle was at the point where I was embarrassed to talk about my faith, too. I wanted to avoid being labeled as part of the black-and-white-no-grey crowd, as well.

    I think a 3rd point that I have trouble with is that my perspective is so entirely out of line with any particular faith. I know the pro-faith arguments so well, having lived them, that I will remain entirely unconvinced.

    1. Thanks, Rachel.

      I find the idea of an ‘agreement of accountability’ quite terrifying. It sounds very formalised, and forced. The kind of accountability to which I was referring is the kind that happens naturally. I mean, if you’re being an idiot (not you personally: if ‘one’ is being an idiot), you can expect a close friend or a partner to say something. And I think that’s a good thing. It’s also not a specifically Christian thing, just a human thing. That was all I was saying. I certainly don’t plan to start meeting up with people to discuss our various misdemeanours. I don’t expect myself to be perfect, and so I don’t feel the need for communal agonising when I’m not.

      1. Laura, the idea of an accountability agreement does seem fairly formal, and unnatural. You’re basically agreeing to allow someone else to watch your every move, and critique it. Sort of like a living, breathing PFFA for life. Of course, proponents of the arrangement find it highly beneficial, I’m sure, but I never did. I mostly just felt really bad about myself.

        I imagine that last statement alone would provide ample fuel for any anti-Rachel fires.

  4. I guess I disagree with you, when people make public statements I think it does open it up for people to agree or disagree. The same with me posting my beliefs and opinions on your blog it gives you the right to agree or disagree. If you don’t want comments on something then why do an interview for it.

    As far as the accountability-the concern is for the individual person. If you believe the wages of sin is death than you would speak to someone out of concern for them, not necessarily what damage they might do to others.

  5. Kristi, I think what troubles me here is the sense of entitlement that exists. The community at large feels Knapp owes them something, that they have a responsibility to take that ‘something’ from Knapp. She never professed to be a role model – she only gave them some entertainment.

    This is something that distresses me about our culture in general, too – that public personae represent actual people, and that because we are provided with entertainment, we are therefore automatically entitled to everything else that a person has to offer. A few examples from mainstream entertainment: Sandra Bullock and the whole “should she or shouldn’t she leave him” thing; Britney Spears and the baby-drama; Paris Hilton’s brief jail-stay.

  6. Hmm never thought of accountability as terrifying. I guess the way I look at it is, I always just try to be a better person each day. I stumble, I fall but in the end I want God to be glorified in my actions. I think thats where the idea of an “accountability partner” works. It is your desire to be better, to work on your faults that cause you to strive to be more like Christ each day and to study to find out what that means and to pray to ask for God’s strength to help you. I don’t expect myself to be perfect but I strive to be more like Christ every day. Yes, sometimes I fall but when I do it is my hope that I would get back up and try to be like Christ again. My motivation for this is not out of trying to put others down or myself down but out of trying to emulate my Savior out of love and gratitude for what He’s done for me.

    1. But isn’t there a failure in logic there? You, as an imperfect creature, are relying on yet another imperfect creature to tell you when you are imperfect, and also to interpret how you can best approximate perfection, as modeled by Jesus, a person whom neither imperfect creature has met, and whose behavior you have only vague records of, records which have been translated and modified many times over thousands of years. Remember the game Telephone, or Whisper Down the Lane?

  7. To be honest, I’ve never encountered an ‘accountability agreement.’ If I did, I’d run a mile. I’m accountable to God, thanks. It seems to be focusing on the wrong things.

    I am so sorry that whoever it was made you feel so bad about yourself. I’m sure you know this, but I’m going to say it anyway: that was wrong, and not wrong of you, but wrong of the whole set up. It was exactly the opposite of what should have happened, especially in a church situation. “There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1) Why do all these Christians seem to forget that? I’ve heard of so many people getting stomped on at church, which not supposed to be a stompy place! I am so thankful to have found a church community in which I am constantly loved and valued, however I’m doing. I’m so sorry you didn’t have the same experience.

  8. But Knapp made it very clear why she was coming out in the interviews, and it was not for publicity. She openly stated the purpose of the public statement was to give her fans the ability to make informed decisions about listening to/buying her music in the future. She didn’t want them to feel like she was tricking them.

    Doing something uncomfortable to make sure people can make informed decisions about art consumption does not automatically mean people have the right to comment on how they think she should be living her life. The public has the right to listen to her music or not. The end. She is obviously comfortable with her own spirituality, and it is simply not right for someone (many many somones actually) to say no, you need to live by my spirituality. If an artist said that he was Christian in an interview, does that automatically mean people who follow Judaism, Islam, etc need to publicly jump on him about how wrongly he is living his life?

  9. Donna-I haven’t read the article so I don’t know its contents at all. To me from reading this post I thought the article was just a public declaration of her personal life. I’ll have to track it down and check it out.

    Rachel-Thats where I have to disagree with you. I do believe that I have a personal relationship with my Savior, I do believe that when he left this earth that He gave me the Holy Spirit which dwells within me to lead me and guide me. I’ve been a sceptic before and understand your doubt of scriptures but they have been proven to me over and over and over and over again in my life to be true. I have never stood on a promise of God to find that it didn’t hold true.

    Laura-maybe I’m not being clear in my writing but I don’t live this lifestyle because I feel bad about myself or have been made to feel less. I believe the scriptures and am honored to be a follower of Christ. I wouldn’t want to stay the same, I want and desire to grow as a person.
    the scripture you quote in Romans 8 speaks of that daily walk to live in the spirit.

    ” 1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

    5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

    9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

    12Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

    1. I was actually talking to Rachel, Dirkey, in a separate conversation. My mistake: I’ve not quite got the hang of this blog’s reply system.

      Of course we want to grow. Just, for me, these accountability sessions don’t sound like the way to do that. If it works for you, that’s fine.

  10. Kristi, I understand that you believe these things, but my point is that you have no tangible relationship. You cannot sit down and have coffee with Jesus, and ask him to explain things to you. You have only a certain conviction of emotion to guide you. I guess my question is: if you have the Holy Spirit to guide you, then why do you need some other imperfect person to tell you what you’re doing wrong?

    I don’t think you understand my doubt, because I don’t think any one person can really understand any other person’s experience. But I know what you mean, and I thank you for trying.

    1. Also, Kristi, in response to something you said to Laura: do you believe it’s not possible to grow as a person outside of a faith?

  11. Laura-sorry was confused 🙂

    Rachel-yes, you do have a different experience than I do. I will say I have experienced doubt before but have come to be able to trust in my faith from personal experience. I believe that I do have a tangible relationship with my Savior. I don’t feel one sided in my relationship, when I pray and seek God, He shows up. Sometimes it is in feeling, sometimes it is in scripture and sometimes it is through other people, sometimes it is through miraculous ways. I guess its something that you can’t understand unless you have it like understanding someones experiences. I do know that it is a promise of God that if you do seek Him you will find Him if you seek Him with your full heart.

    to me the accountability isn’t some imperfect person leading me-its both of us seeking God together.

    Rachel-yes, I think you can grow as a person outside of faith. I have plenty of good, kind, wonderful friends who don’t share my faith. I think you are a good person and I think you probably strive to be a better person each day. Personally as my guide I just use scripture.

  12. Donna-my heart, my life has been touched by my Savior. Also another meaning of tangible is definite; not vague or elusive. I feel both apply to my relationship with God.

    1. but don’t you understand, i’m not purposely diminishing here, i’m being specific? It’s very clear from all versions of definition that the point of the word tangible is to convey physicality. If it cannot be seen or touched by others, and is different for everyone at different times in their lives, it is by definition vague and elusive. example: We feel emotions, but they are not tangible.

  13. I’m not trying to be difficult either. If you are talking visible, no you can’t visibly see Jesus. If you are talking a physical walking Jesus, no you can’t touch Jesus. But I have had others say they have seen the change in my life brought about by my relationship with Christ. I have had strangers say you are a Christian, and no I don’t wear a cross or a tshirt that says I am. I have been in very dangerous situations that I’ve been protected from through miraculous ways. I have before audibly heard the voice of God. I’ve had answers to prayer sent before I even finish prayers. To me my relationship with God is more “real” or “tangible” than most of my relationships with people. I have been touched, I have been healed, I have been loved.

  14. i have no problem with your identity. i’m not questioning it. i just don’t know why it has to be everyone’s identity.

    relationships are not tangible. period. however people feel is fine, but we can’t expect other people to agree on intangible things. things that we cannot experience through our senses equally, will simply not be experienced the same.

    i don’t need to be convinced of your spirituality, i don’t need to be told scripture. i believe that you believe it, isn’t that enough? i find it presumptuous that i should agree to a specific set of beliefs to be applied to all people. i choose not to follow these things, and i don’t need anyone to sell me on it any more than i need to sell anyone on my values. Spirituality, emotions, sin, these words are abstractions, not universally experienced.

    I don’t hold Jennifer Knapp or Tiger Woods, or anyone else on this planet accountable to my values. They’re not committing legal crimes to my knowledge. So yes, I think they actually do deserve the right to be left alone. Listen to her songs or don’t. Watch his golf or don’t. That should pretty much be the end of our involvement in their lives.

  15. My identity doesn’t have to be yours, I believe everyone has free choice to decide how to live their lives. I may agree or disagree with your choices just as you may agree or disagree with mine.

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