When I heard that Jennifer Knapp came out as a lesbian today, I shuddered.
But not for why you think.
No. I shuddered because the news meant another round of conversations about evangelicals and homosexuality. And that is a conversation which is fraught with danger.
There will be the obligatory (and alas, necessary) posts about how evangelicals have failed to respect and act toward the gay community. There will be questions and discussion on the proper pastoral response to gay Christians, and even about whether that modifier establishes an oxymoron. And there will be attempts to walk that disappearing line between demonstrate grace toward those who need it without abdicating on the question of whether homosexuality is, in fact, licit.
In all this, Jennifer Knapp–the singer and songwriter–will likely be forgotten. Her status as a person, a person with sinful inclinations that obscure the radiant, recalcitrant image of God, will be pushed to the background as we focus on the only salient fact for us: that instead of simply being a minor Christian celebrity, she’s now a gay minor Christian celebrity.
Jennifer Knapp, object lesson. For whatever we want to say. Objectification happens in many forms–and turning someone into a flash card for our broader spiritual lessons is only one of them.
Of course, such objectification is probably inevitable. After all, Jennifer Knapp isn’t in your church. I’m going to guess she’s not reading our blogs. And she’s probably not your friend. She exists for most of us only as an icon of that funny phenomenon we call “Christian culture.” And so because she has lent herself and her music–as all successful musicians must–to the objectifying press-machine that is Nashville, it’s tempting to say that she deserves whatever she gets.
But that doesn’t mean it’s good, or that it justifies our own objectification of her. Especially when in every interview I’ve read, she’s expressed reluctance and dismay that her sexuality will be used as a political football. And she seems, if nothing else, to be properly respectful of her differences with the Christian community. In other words, she seems to be want to left alone, even if her status as minor gay Christian celebrity doesn’t allow it.
And so maybe, just maybe, we should respect her subjectivity, not turn her into an object lesson, and move on.
This isn’t an appeal to ignore the questions of the relationship between homosexuality and Christianity. Far from it. Anyone who has read my work the last few years knows that I have not shied away from articulating my own views on the subject, and have always sought to do so graciously, patiently, and faithfully.
But the first step toward a good dialogue is recognizing that there’s a real person, with a real will, a real mind, and real problems at the other end of the line. And in this case, from what I can tell, Jennifer Knapp the real person would rather not be in the thick of things. I simply think respecting that would be a good start to whatever happens next.
Postscript: I realize the many levels of irony that could be directed at this post. I’m using her to make my own object lesson. I’m contributing to a conversation that I’m afraid we can’t handle. I’m responding to Knapp’s interview by suggesting that the proper response is to say nothing about Knapp. Well and good. Right now, I have nothing to say to those other than that I think the point still has merit, and am open to be persuaded otherwise.