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Christian music star Jennifer Knapp comes back and comes out

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Jennifer Knapp shocked the Christian music industry and fans by announcing she's gay.
Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Jennifer Knapp shocked the Christian music industry and fans by announcing she's gay.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jennifer Knapp abandoned a successful career in Christian music in 2003
  • The singer has returned with a new album and the revelation she is gay
  • She says she'd "rather be judged before God as being an honest human being"
RELATED TOPICS
  • Music
  • Gospel Music
  • Entertainment

(CNN) -- Rumors were rampant when Christian music artist Jennifer Knapp walked away from a successful career seven years ago.

After selling about a million records and winning at Christian music's prestigious Dove Awards in 1999, the Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter simply vanished in 2003 -- leaving fans wondering where she had gone. There were countless theories as to why Knapp checked out, including the possibility of illness.

But the one that raised the most ruckus among her die-hard fans was the one which proved to be true: Jennifer Knapp is gay.

This week Knapp burst back onto the music scene with news of a comeback and a coming out. Her new album will be released in May, and she has revealed that she has been in a same-sex relationship for the past eight years.

The revelation rocked the Christian music scene, where Knapp was a darling of fans and critics before her self-imposed exile. The intensely private singer said she's not at all surprised by the shock waves.

"I'm aware that the evangelical community has problems with divorce and many other facets of their artists, let alone homosexuality," Knapp said. "I really felt a strong obligation to be able to address that because for many people, it was really clear that they wouldn't participate in buying a record because it was against their beliefs."

"For many people who buy Christian music or have been familiar with me and my writings as a person of faith, I felt like it was the honest thing to do," she added. "The last thing I wanted to do was to have someone go out and buy a record and feel like they had been hoodwinked."

Knapp is not the first artist to find fame in the genre before revealing their sexuality.

In 2008, Christian singer/songwriter Ray Boltz came out as a gay man after a 20-year career in the industry. In 2009, gospel star Tonex went public with his homosexuality as a guest on "The Lexi Show," a popular program on the Christian channel The Word Network.

Lexi, who is also a gospel music artist, said that while many in the Christian music industry are aware of who is gay, "we don't talk about it, because that's the unspoken rule."

Lexi said she doubts most fans will ever fully embrace an openly gay artist, but she points to other artists who have been able to straddle the line between secular music and songs of faith.

"I think some Christians will totally avoid [Knapp] and say that she is the devil and all that, but there are some that are more open who will embrace her new material," Lexi said. "Then she will find a new audience."

Mark Moring, senior associate editor for Christianity Today, was one of the first to write about Knapp's revelation and said it has been extremely polarizing among his publication's audience. People have vacillated between anger that Christianity Today would even write the story and praise for Knapp's honesty, he said.

"There are people who will always love Jennifer Knapp, no matter what decisions she may make," Moring said. "I think the word that I've read the most often [among those commenting on the Christianity Today web site] is 'sad' as in 'I'm sad that she has made this choice, but I still love her music.' I think that has been a recurrent theme."

Rev. DL Foster is the founder of the Gay Christian Movement Watch Web site and said he believes as society has become more accepting of homosexuality, Knapp and other artists are finding it easier to go public.

"For a person to try and combine [being gay and being a Christian music artist] is not biblically correct, and I would hope that the church would reject such music because it does not represent us," he said. "To me, it doesn't matter if you are openly gay or closeted gay, sin is still sin."

Knapp is very clear that she is not marketing herself as a Christian artist, a term with which she said she has never been comfortable. She's no longer on a Christian-based record label, and her new album of folksy rock songs is described as being about "inner-conflicts, spirituality and life lessons."

Knapp quit the industry and moved to Australia, she said, because she was simply exhausted by all the performing and unprepared for the challenges being a music star brought her way.

She said she began writing music again in earnest two years ago and the music, as well as the decision to go public with her sexuality, all happened "organically." Knapp said she is no longer afraid of her gifts as a musician and now realizes that who she is as a private person can remain intact even as she shares herself with the world through her music.

"I was tired of not writing because I was afraid of what other people were going to think of me," she said. "So for me it was a really healing process."

Knapp said she realizes that some fans will now view her earlier work with lyrics about inner turmoil as evidence of the struggle between her beliefs and her sexuality. But she says she has always struggled as a person of faith to be the person she wants to be, and her sexuality was only a part of that, she said.

God has always known she would walk this path, Knapp said.

"I would rather be judged before God as being an honest human being," she said. "If I am in any way unpleasing in his sight, I can only hope and pray that he gives me the opportunity to find who I am supposed to be."

Perhaps the most telling clue to where Jennifer Knapp finds herself in life after so many years is contained in the title of her new album. It's called "Letting Go."

 
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