Photo courtesy of Fairlight Hubbard and Amy M Phillips of EYE
Just 10 years ago Jennifer Knapp was the Christian music "it girl." In 2002, following her third successful album, she took a hiatus to Australia for personal reasons. She returned in 2009, shocking Christian music fans by coming out as a lesbian and shedding the Christian music label, all while maintaining her personal spirituality. Now over a year later Beliefnet caught up with her while on a break from tour stops including progressive Christian festivals. Jennifer openly discusses those shows, her new music, her sexuality, and her spirituality in this in depth interview.
So, how did you get involved with the Wild Goose Festival and progressive Christianity?
It's a little bit of an interesting story, because it's relatively unusual for me in that I was actually doing an interview for a concert through an Internet zine called The Widget Dispatches. One of the reporters there asked me if I had heard of this festival and mentioned the few of the topics and some of the people that were going, and I was like, "Oh my gosh. That sounds really awesome." And she asked me if I was interested in doing it. I didn't realize it at the time that there were quite a few people involved in that festival that I've worked with over the years in the Contemporary Christian Music industry, and so they just said, "Hey, Jennifer's available, if you want." So they called me, and we squeezed it in at the very last minute. So it was just one of those things. because I wouldn't have known that they were doing the festival since I'm not really living in Christian pop culture.
What do you mean by “Christian pop culture”?
I don't mean to make it sound like it was a pop culture kind of festival, but when you're talking about festivals like that, that are centered around religious events, I just don't really cycle in that world too much unless people are asking me to engage in it. So it was pretty fun to be able to do that and I was surprised by the event, and I ended up staying for the entire event and camping out and just hanging out with people. It really gave me a sense of what the lay of the land was, in terms of some of the people who were really trying to tackle some really progressive issues inside of Christianity.
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.