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Letting Go

Jude Mason

Jennifer Knapp
Graylin Records

There's been quite a hullabaloo in the Contemporary Christian Music  (CCM) scene in the last few weeks.  Such a hullabaloo, in fact, that it's spilled out into the 'real world' of mainstream media. Blogs went ballistic, national newspapers went nutty and TV got all in a twitter: CNN's primetime news talk show Larry King Live devoted an entire hour to an interview and debate on the subject.
The big deal?  Jennifer Knapp is gay.

Knapp has always been different from other Christian artists. Signed to an independent label she was never marketed in the same way as many of the voices-on-a-stick that were churned out by the CCM machine.  Her look was cooler, her songs had flair and a passion, and she was never shy to stray away from 'Jesus songs' to embrace the realities and hardships of life. From 1998 to 2001, Jennifer gradually and gracefully sold over a million albums.

And then, in September 2002, she stopped… and nobody heard from her for seven years. Rumours said that her disappearance was about the disconnect between her sexuality and the arena of her calling, but that's only part of the truth. Relentless touring had left her exhausted, and her plan was to take a couple of years off to figure out what next. It also coincided with her falling in love with a woman.

When she finally picked up a guitar again she knew that the songs she needed to write would not necessarily find a home in the same marketplace as her back catalogue.  Returning to the USA to record, she signed to a mainstream label and, with fans already getting excited, Jennifer felt she needed to temper expectations.

'I'm aware that the evangelical community has problems with divorce, let alone homosexuality,' Knapp said in a recent interview. 'I felt a strong obligation to be able to address that because for many people who buy Christian music or have been familiar with me as a person of faith, I felt like it was the honest thing to do. The last thing I wanted was to have someone go out and buy a record and feel like they had been hoodwinked.'

Letting Go is not a giant leap stylistically for Knapp with its driving guitars and compelling hooks, but it's certainly more aggressive in places.  From the opening lines of the first track ('Careful what you say, careful who might hear, someone else inside the universe can write it down an you'll be hearing it for years…') it's clear this new fire has come from her recent struggle, but it's not the 'struggle' that many Christians presume - a choice between straight and gay, or between God and a love relationship.

'It never occurred to me that I was in something that should be labelled as a "struggle." The struggle I've had has been with the church, acknowledging me as a human being, trying to live the spiritual life that I've been called to, in whatever ramshackle, broken, frustrated way that I've always approached my faith.' Knapp told Christianity Today.

The track 'Inside' is riddled with her fear of how the truth would be accepted, 'Even though I got commissioned, even though I've got my pride, I know they'll bury me, I know they'll bury me alive.'

The response to her interviews has certainly included all the BLOCK CAPITAL WRITING, Leviticus-citing-abomination-declaring bile that Knapp braced herself for. But, somewhat surprisingly, every second or third comment was one of love, encouragement and support - whether or not the commenter agreed with Knapp theologically.

Knapp is aware of the need for honesty, 'We're all hopelessly deceived if we don't think that there are people within our churches, within our communities, who want to hold on to the person they love, whatever sex that may be, and hold on to their faith.'

Hopefully Letting Go marks the beginning of a sea-change in the conversation; something that can be talked about and listened to, before the tide moves away from simply discussing 'the struggle' and lets the music speak for itself.

Jude Mason