In a wonderfully honest and forthright interview posted on Tuesday by Mark Moring @ ChristianityToday.com, Jennifer Knapp (of Contemporary Christian Music fame) answered straightforward questions about her homosexuality going public, and her reentry into the music scene with a new album set to be released in May. If you want a “Cliff’s Notes” version, click here to read a brief summary and response from fellow Christian blogger Justin Wise. This has sparked interest and discussion within the Christian community, and it raises some deep questions – for Jennifer and for the Church.
This could be a potentially “dangerous” discussion for me. Why? My BEST friend from high school is gay. I have several other homosexual friends. And friends with gay family members. And family members with gay friends. And so on… Also, I am part of a conservative church body. I am close friends (and family) with many very conservative Christians who see homosexuality as clearly defined as sinful by Scripture.
So, I run the risk of angering (or hurting) my homosexual friends, which I do not want to do. I love ’em. And I run the risk of being viewed as “liberal” (or worse) by my Christian brothers if I seem to equivocate in some way about what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, which I don’t want to happen. Because I love ’em.
But it is important to talk honestly about the deep things in life that matter. And I believe we honor God with honest conversation. So you need to know my point of view – my frame of reference – as we begin.
The Bible is my life’s authority – it is God’s living Word, without fault, the final say on all moral questions.
I understand that this is not the way the Bible is viewed by much of our culture – or even by all Christians. But it is what I believe. I have to speak from my most core beliefs without flinching if I am to have integrity in the discussion, right? So God’s Word is my authority.
And that means… here we are. At a crossroads. It’s a place that faith bumps into often. The place where other people’s behavior and choices do not square with my Scriptural moral code. To call a spade a spade… sin.
In the Christianity Today interview, Jennifer spoke of the “clobber verses…” Those verses in the Bible that the gay community feels have been “used” to clobber their moral choices (or their inborn orientation, they will tell you) and label them as doomed sinners. Sadly, I think the Church HAS used Scripture as a weapon… as a moral club. That’s part of why I’m writing this – to ask the Church to consider their approach to confronting sin – ANY sin – in the culture.
On the other side of the coin, whether scripture has been “used” or “misused” makes no difference on WHAT the Bible actually says. And the Bible has several verses that clearly identify homosexual activity (feelings or tendencies? NOT so clear) as sin – in the very same way that lust, fornication, adultery, and ALL sexual activity outside of marriage is clearly defined as sin. Because Scripture is my authority, I take the Word at face value. We see clarity on this in both the OT (as in Leviticus 18:21) and the NT (as in Romans 1:21-27).
So now a prominent public figure, active as a representative of the Christian faith, reenters public life (after an 8 year hiatus) with a new album and with an open statement about her long term same-sex relationship. It has been interesting to see the reactions from the Christian community. Some have their hackles and shotguns raised. Honestly, most of what I have seen has been kind-hearted, and very supportive of Jennifer, who has clearly been bracing herself for a significant backlash of some kind. I’m grateful for that, because the church ought to be led by the Spirit of God and represent the fruits of the Spirit – including grace, kindness, and understanding. However, we walk a tight-rope here, and I want to offer a few clarifying bullet points:
First, to the Church:
(1) I believe that living an active homosexual lifestyle is a sin. I think scripture is clear on this in several places, and those within the church who try to explain it some other way are simply trying to justify homosexual behavior through logical and philosophical arguments that don’t stand up to the clarity of scriptural evidence. HOWEVER, Church, I believe that somehow this particular sin area has taken on a unique significance – and has provoked a severity of judgement – that has divided the Church from homosexuals. And we do NOT want that, do we? Is not ALL sexual sin a serious matter? Yet we talk and act sometimes as if we long for those who struggle with sexual sin to come into our churches – to hear the truth – in order for God to change hearts… except for homosexuals. They are not welcome. Why is this?
(2) I am a firm believer that we are called to stand for the truth, and to rebuke our fellow brothers when they walk outside of God’s will. But I am also a firm believer that the best way to have honest, effective, life-changing conversations about sin is within the context of RELATIONSHIP. Do we reach some through the bullhorn on the street corner? Maybe. But do we chase many more away from God’s love with our insensitive, rude, abrasive, holier-than-thou language… I think we do. Church, it’s time to build real relationships with people – homosexuals, heterosexuals, people – and then have back-and-forth CONVERSATIONS with them. Speak the truth, but do it IN LOVE. (per Ephesians 4:15)
(3) I have no intention of making Jennifer Knapp a poster girl for anything (and neither does she), nor do I have any intention of changing her mind or her behavior (and neither does she). Why? Because I have no relationship with her. Therefore, in like manner, unless our local churches are actively confronting this area of sin and engaging it in their community – within real relationships – I would suggest that we not emphasize this one person’s lifestyle. Yes she is a public figure, but ultimately it is God’s role to judge. Not ours. We can call sin sin. But we do not need to go out of our way to point the finger at those outside of our church family… lest WE be judged. Grace, humility, self-examination are more appropriate responses within our own church family. Do you agree?
And next, to my gay friends:
(1) I hope you know that I value you as a person (not just part of a group), and I recognize that I do not walk in your shoes. Whatever else, I love you. I do not see your homosexuality as a dividing barrier between us, or between you and the Church. Even though I have to be honest about what the Bible says about homosexuality, I recognize that EVERY SINGLE PERSON I know has violated God’s standards. Only Jesus is lifted above the base of the cross, where the ground is level, and we all stand together looking up to Him as our only hope. If we are friends, and you are gay, we can talk any time. But I love you no matter what. I will choose that relationship with you no matter what.
(2) I have some honest questions for you… how can we welcome you into our churches and show you love and care if we believe your chosen lifestyle (not just your orientation, but you sexual activity) goes against God’s standards? In other words, how can we talk with you about Jesus – and serve you in love – while being honest about sin and it’s consequences? If we (within the Church) hold these positions – because of the authority of scripture – do you see us as judgemental? Homophobic? Biggots? I hope not – because I, for one, am a sinful wreck who wants to have honest conversations with my friends about faith – whether they are gay or straight. We “work out our faith” in community – in relationships – in conversation – in love.
(3) One thing Jennifer said both helped me understand her and made me sad. First she said she never really “struggled” with her sexual orientation – only with the surrounding Christian culture’s reaction to her sexual orientation. This tells me that (a) she does not consider her sexual lifestyle to have much degree of choice involved – that it is a foregone conclusion due to her inner drives and her wiring. It also tells me that (b) she expects the Church to deal with her harshly. I hope that neither (a) nor (b) are true. We do choose (and must pray for strength) how we deal with our inner drives and passions. ALL of us sin-scarred humans must engage this struggle. And the Church must be capable of relating to people with kindness and love – even those who are living in sin. I am committed to that ideal.
(4) Another thing Jennifer said set off an alarm bell for me. Near the end of her interview she said, “It’s not on my agenda to convert the world to a religion, but to convert the world to compassion and grace. I’ve experienced that in my life through Christianity.” Let me be clear that I’m not judging her for being honest. But I want to counter the subtle message she is spreading here… that compassion and grace are the goal in and of themselves. That although SHE has experienced these things through Christianity, there are probably other ways to achieve a more compassionate and grace-filled world. In fact, that MAY be true on some temporary level. But the message of Jesus was not all about compassion and grace as a means to an end. Rather, Jesus said he was the ONLY WAY to salvation and to an ongoing relationship with God – the originator and eternal dispenser of ongoing, life-changing compassion and grace. Jennifer Knapp doesn’t need to spend her life advocating Jesus as the only choice for eternal life and freedom from sin… but whether she does or not, the exclusivity of the Gospel remains true. Jesus is our only hope.
My gay friends need Jesus. My church friends need Jesus. I need Jesus. My greatest desire is to continue to live in relationships where I can be honest about that core belief of my life. If you have anything you need to say to me about all of this, the door is open…
“jennifer knapp, christian faith, and homosexuality :: an open letter to the church and my gay friends” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.