By Jennifer Knapp
That is part of my story: I am a lesbian and I am a Christian. The fact that I am stringing together so few words to describe myself belies the often difficult, highly criticized, and hard fought spiritual, emotional, and social crucible I’ve had to endure to arrive at such a minimized point of clarity. Nonetheless, it is the bullet point for this conversation that best describes the starting point for this particular tale.
Long before I recognized my sexual orientation, I recognized my intrinsic value as a human being. It was my faith that helped me to do this. I did not always view myself as valuable - quite the contrary. I had survived many experiences in my life, which had seemingly proved that I was destined to be one of the human beings tossed under the feet of others. That was life, I thought; some succeed and others are the stepping-stones that allow others to advance. I was the stepping stone, the proverbial black cloth upon which the diamonds of humanity could shine. It was at this place that I began to entertain Christianity. I chose it. At first, admittedly, with a keen sense of “needing redemption”, but it was more than that. What the compassion of the Jesus story revealed to me was this: that we are all equal and worthy of being loved. It is a vital part of my life, which continues to inspire and serve me as a person, both as an individual and as a valuable member of community. Everyone equal. However flawed, diverse or theologically different - we are all equal and sacred. Under what conditions would I ever consider relinquishing such a pearl of great price?
I won’t mince words. From the moment that my sexual orientation became public knowledge, by far, the most pitiless words spoken to me were and continue to be delivered from the mouths of those who claimed to speak for God. How can this possibly be? Indeed, it has been the cruelest pill to swallow, that the people of my faith community would actively seek to marginalize my value as a fellow human being. Yes, many continue to contend, that I cannot claim my faith tradition if I am gay, but evidence suggests otherwise. The reality, dare I say, truth of it is, that the experiences of my faith have not decreased in value as I have accepted my own sexual orientation. What is even more amazing is that the scrutiny of my sexual orientation through the lens of my faith actually begins to reveal a source of great strength and healing.
I have a story to tell. It is my own and it is beautiful. It may be confusing to some, wandering in narrative, but it is honest and open without regret. I have been sharing this story through an event Inside Out Faith. Here I tell the story of what my faith experience has meant to me and how living openly has radically changed my life for the better. I share my story because churches all across this country are asking me to share it. They believe, as I do, that a safe place to practice one’s spiritual journey is a vital part of many LGBT people’s lives. That to remove the possibility of faith community or worse, to use religion as a means of devaluing a person because of their sexual orientation is a grievous act against the spirit. Many faith leaders, gay and straight are hard at work to give a voice to the many who have long suffered in silence. We have allies in our churches that are still “in the closet” as such. As some acts of religious exclusion seek to make certain that voices like mine are no longer “celebrated” as legitimate voices of a shared faith experience, there are, in fact many churches, faith leaders and LGBT people of faith are stepping up to tell the true story. There are thousands upon thousands who share my inspiration and tradition of Christianity who support LGBT equality. My inbox is full of people who are ready to stand up and start delivering a different message on behalf of faith. From Episcopal to Baptist, Metropolitan Community Churches to the “Little White Church” in the South, it is evident that being gay is not a result of poor character. Listen and believe the story of those who are telling it, that it may very well be the beginning of one the most compassionate tales you have ever heard.
Join me in sharing your story wherever and when ever you can. Be a host for IOF, start a conversation, get involved. It is clear, that what our faith communities have to say impacts LGBT equality. Together, let’s tell the story of compassion, love and support. What you have to say matters. How will anyone know what is on the inside if you don’t let it out?
Jennifer Knapp is a Grammy-nominated, Dove Award winning singer/songwriter and advocate for LGBT faith equality.