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.

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • Excellent article on Jennifer Knapp. http://bit.ly/bWlW9N

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Jennifer Knapp comes out of the closet http://is.gd/brYNj (Who is really surprised?) Some interesting commentary http://is.gd/brYYQ

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Thanks for the post. And yes, much like when that one Christian singer came out (yeah what was his name!?) two years ago, we’ll talk about it and it will become largely forgotten. But for those who really want to deal with the issue from a Christian perspective, I highly recommend the section on that in “Why Were Not Emergent”, and a book called “Loving Homosexuals the Way Jesus Would”.

  • Nice. And accusations of irony I think would be phallacious.

  • Steve

    If obesity is an indication of gluttony, the church should treat homosexuals the way we treat gluttons. When was the last time you hugged a glutton? When was the last time you hugged a homosexual?

  • The Objectification of Jennifer Knapp | Mere Orthodoxy http://shar.es/mt1KF

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Christof Meyer

    Anderson… Great post. This is the first I’ve heard about this. Through strange highways and byways I am just one step removed from Jennifer and have a couple of friends who think(at least in 2002) the world of her.

    The saddest part of this really has nothing to do with her homosexuality. It’s that she has left the church.

    I hug homosexuals all the time and will continue to, but it’s hard to do when they so frequently leave Church the moment the make this particular bad decision. More and more, as I think about this stuff, I am struck by how sin almost invariably leads to a break in the relationships that could most probably result in healing.

    The real person of Jennifer Knapp needs the body of Christ and it’s going to be much harder for her to get to Him now. That’s the part that saddens me.

  • The objectification of Jennifer Knapp (or why we should leave her alone): http://bit.ly/cFZdsj

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • I really appreciate this post. Thank you, good points, good job.

  • wackywilliams

    the first time I saw the post about her cooming out I thought the samething! I have many friends that are gay & many of them thats all thir identy is about & that saddens me, I think we should focos on the person, her dreams, goals, music, hurts, fears. not her sexule orentation. Matt you know I have my own unque struggls not quite like this but simler & when we talk to each other & interact is that all you see in me? of course not! we have had many converstions on theolgy, politics, what this weeks sermon was, I don’t think it’s any different. thank you Matt that you see the big picter that she is a humenbeing with thoughts, fears, & all the complecsitys we all have & is not fodder for the rumer mill.

  • Well said. This is news to me too, but I’m glad you’re helping keep the proper focus on the issues when discussing this.

  • Jonathan

    Thanks for the post, Matt. I agree with your worries.
    Relatedly, Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis (PCA) is addressing the issue of homosexuality from an evangelical, Christian, & reformed perspective in their Saturday evening (5:00 PM) service this coming Saturday. I don’t know the speaker, so I don’t have any predictions on how well it will be addressed; but I’m glad it’s being attempted, anyway. I’ll let you know how it goes… or come if you have the time.
    (I hope that doesn’t count as an illicit advertisement, I’ll repent if you think so.)

  • Jason Vaughn

    I appreciate this article. It’s extraordinarily sad and I pray she repents. It also continues to make a mockery of biblical Christianity.

    I must say that for those who say that they hate she left the church being a sad ordeal. I agree because in truth she she have been excommunicated from the Church. That is the most loving thing her church could have done. It would also have shown her a high view of Scriprlture by taking the commands of Christ seriously.

    I do come from a little bit different perspective because of my own testimony seen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5GnzD1Fp6I&feature=youtube_gdata

  • Abigail M. S.

    Christof, hey! What’s up? I agree with you that “leaving the Church” can be a terrible thing, but a) I’m not sure if that’s what she did, and b) can be blamed for it.

    In the CT article she simply answers that she isn’t currently attending a church. I think to jump the capital C church from that statement is a bit quick. She just moved back here in September and there are many, many people I know who consider themselves devout Christians with strong relationships with the Lord that take longer than that to find a church home. I’ve read other comments on her comment about church similar to yours and while it may be true that she’s not involved in worship and it may be wrong, I think it’s jumping to conclusions.

    Secondly, the Church and churches tend to not be as willing to hug as you are. Unfortunately, this drives away homosexual Christians. There are so, so, so many Christians who feel they have to leave the faith and the community because of their sexual orientation or desires. I know there are so many opinions on this (and Cate deals with this in her post above), but why why why would we want to drive people away from the Lord? God loves us all and has instructed us to do the same. The more we welcome GLBT Christians, the less they leave the Church. I, for one, try to stick with the Greatest Commandment and the second that is like it (Matthew 22).

  • Jason Vaughn

    Abigail, I appreciate your desire to show love but you keep saying “homosexual Christians” there is in reality no such thing. Or at least nome to actively practice their sin. Some may be prone or tented but celebate which is what God commands in such cases.

    The challange comes when thy claim the name of Christ and desire to be part of the body of Christ while Continuing to engage in sin.

    Scripture is clear that for the sake of their souls they should be put out of the church. We cannot presume to be more loving than God.

  • jeff allen

    I have never even heard of this person so hopefully I am not writing about her personally

    It is my understand that homosexual orientation is a given, not chosen for some people and that in itself is not sinful, just the practice of it.

    Does the church support the person who has to live with this orientation and help them to live a chaste life , or are they rejected up front which leaves them almost no choice but to become part of the homosexual subculture.

    This is hard to articulate. Maybe someone can do it better.

  • Thanks, all, for the kind words and encouragement. It’s a tough post to write, of course, and with so many comments (and a busy work schedule!) I won’t be able to respond to all of them. Allow me to simply reiterate for any visitors that one of our calling cards here at Mere-O is thoughtful, gracious conversation about incredibly difficult and contentious topics.

    Thanks, thanks, thanks for taking this on in a gracious way. It almost restores my faith in the internets. : )

    That said, I think Abigail’s point about the ambiguity of her relationship to the local church is right. But Christof, I was troubled in the same way. I hope, hope, hope that she finds a solid church that will minister to her.

    And Jason, I’ve gotta cordially disagree with your claim about the impossibility of gay Christians. I do think that homosexual desires are sinful (i.e. misdirected), but then, I think that about lots of misguided desires, most of which I struggle with. There’s lots more to be said about this, and I will say more eventually. But I thought I’d go on record with at least that much.

    And Jeff, I think your points are exactly right. The goal is for the church to help the person in and through their repentence pursue a life of chastity (as it should with us all). Rejecting them prima facie seems to me counterproductive.

    Thanks again, all.

    Best,

    matt

  • Pingback: Gay and Christian: The Jennifer Knapp Interview « Thinking Out Loud()

  • Jason Vaughn

    Matt,

    sorry if I wasn’t clear. Yes there can be Christians with homosexual desires but not that are living out those desires without any repentance. I was one such myself and God pelt by grace changed those desires but that is not the case for all.

    Probably a better way to phrase is that there is no such thing as a gay Christian in an active gay lifestyle.

  • Pingback: Saturday Ramblings 4.17.10 | internetmonk.com()

  • Teranne

    There are really only two responses a human can make when confronted with their corrupt souls and the forgiveness of Jesus. They can either choose life in Him and forsake their sinful selves, continually submitting to what he was ask of their lives and trusting him. Or they can choose their sinful selves. Why would they do that?! In the face of such grace? Because Jesus asks us to deny ourselves. And honestly, they probably like their sin, enjoy it and baby it even. After all, sin can offer a pretty good time usually. And in our culture today, it’s even easier to claim whatever religion you want AND hold on to your sin. Why choose?

  • Pingback: My Fellow Evangelicals…We Have an Opportunity Here « Life in Mordor()

  • Pingback: The April Recap | Mere Orthodoxy()

  • Pingback: Top 10 Posts for 2010 | Mere Orthodoxy()