An Interview with Jennifer Knapp Part 2: Church, Sexuality, and Progressive Christianity
Beliefnet continues chatting with Jennifer Knapp in the second part of this personal interview.
Who all was involved that you had worked with previously?
Well, there were several Board Members of the Wild Goose Festival that I've worked with. Youthfront's one of the organizations [where they were from], and Youth Specialties - now, I don't know what their standing is, in particular, with these organizations anymore, but I used to work a lot with these types of events. And the leadership involved in those were largely centered around big weekends. You had conferences where you talk with thousands and thousands of kids, providing entertainment and discipleship conversations and then, of course, it's pretty heavy on evangelism as well. And as an entertainer, I would plug into those. It was just part of one of the routines that we did, in terms of doing Christian music, and you spend a lot of time in the summers doing that kind of stuff.
Well, these guys had been doing much of that over the years and have gotten to a point where, as the demographic has aged and come into their own process of trying to figure out how you live life with this faith… and having to tackle some really difficult issues that don't have easy answers. It seems to me, in some of the conversations I had in hooking up with those guys again that they were just really ready to wade knee-deep into it; not necessarily having to have answers, but a willingness to expose themselves in a spiritual journey to some really hard questions. That to me was probably one of the most exciting things to see. People who, for a long time, have been leaders that, I would say in my perspective, that meant to come into a lot of those situations a long time ago, but having to tow the party line or you didn't work.
When you talk about a community event like that, when… whether it's a festival or a weekend conference or something like that, I think that one of the things that we take for granted are the myriad of different personalities that make up that community. We forget the focal point of what draws us together as a community that we do agree on, which is a spiritual pursuit. And a lot of the interesting characters that make that up; the people on the production teams, the people on the educational staff, the people that are just there, facilitating the recreation of youth inside of these "safe places," where wholesome kind of activities for young people took place. I think a lot of us felt a frustration at that time, and not necessarily feeling like we set the mold that we had to deliver.
When you get into a large environment like that, sometimes you have to whittle the topic down to the lowest, common denominator, so everybody can participate. And it makes it really difficult to tackle some major issues in those places. And I think having spent that time and then having grown with the demographic of people that we've been having conversations with for years, I think you're seeing the evidence of that with Wild Goose Festival. There are a lot of young people there, but it was very interesting to see the audience, a lot of times, was made up of people who now have their own families and their own children and have gotten through college and now are into careers and haven't left their faith or their spiritual journey behind, but are still trying to figure out how to make sense of it all, when they get out of the easy answer -- they get out of the easy portion of it and it doesn't make sense anymore; meaning, what "Jesus saves" isn't enough.
What do you mean by that, exactly?
I guess that the bumper sticker phrases of Christianity don't always work for tackling some of the real life issues that people tend to engage with at their faith core, to be able to try and navigate through. And I think not only, in terms of "What's happening with the audience," but also with the directors inside of that. And it's nice to see people step up and do that. It's not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes, when a person decides to tackle a difficult issue, especially inside of what seemed a very conservative faith community, you become guilty by association. If somebody wants to talk about -- say, sex is a big topic. In Christianity, we just have gotten culturally to where we just don't like to discuss it in public. Anything beyond the missionary position is just far more difficult to comprehend and talk about and feel like we're doing that in a holy way. And I think that it takes a lot of courage to be able to say, "No." These are [discussions] I really want to have. I don't know if I'm going to get the answer to it… but then the questions that arise, as a human being, don't cease to rear their heads when we don't talk about them and we don't face them. And so, that process tends to alienate people. It marginalizes them, not just from their community, but from their own spiritual experiences. And I think it's really exciting to see some environments, where people are willing to step up to that challenge. And I think it takes a lot of personal vulnerability, as well as a lot of courage and respect, to be able to create an environment for that to happen.