From 1998 to 2002, folk-rock singer Jennifer Knapp was one of Christian music's most successful artists. But the rigors of releasing three closely spaced albums (which sold a total of 1 million units), combined with nonstop touring, took their toll. So Knapp announced she would be taking a hiatus.
Eight years later, she's returned with a new album—and the announcement that she's gay and has been in a same-sex relationship since 2002. In several recent interviews, Knapp has talked about trying to reconcile her faith and lesbianism. "Everyone around me made it absolutely clear that this [homosexuality] is not an option for me, to invest in this other person—and for me to choose to do so would be a denial of my faith," she told Christianity Today.
Speaking to Relevant, she said, "I think the overriding thing is we understand people of faith are on a journey and on a walk, and that no matter whether it's our sexuality—gay, straight, premarital, adulterous, whatever form—that we come in contact as human beings with our sexuality and actually funnel that through our faith. … It's constantly the pursuit of my own to consistently be honest about where I'm at."
And so she's Letting Go and serving up an album that addresses the highs and lows of romance as it tries to make sense of others' expectations.
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"Better Off" voices Knapp's fear of rejection: "How can I say/Please believe in me/Don't be leaving me/I won't be thrown away." "Mr. Gray" finds her asking for mercy ("If I show you my hands/Would you watch them bleed/Long enough to prove/They are indeed in need of mercy?"). That song also says, "Only God knows who I am."
"Want for Nothing" promises faithfulness in a relationship ("I will be here waiting for you"). On "Stone to the River," Knapp sings, "I'm trying to keep faith in my fellow man." Hope turns up on "Fallen" ("I say that hidden in the sky is a blazing sun/Wait … here it comes"). "On Love" confronts the tendency to flee when things get difficult ("Hey love, isn't that enough running away?/Stay").
"Inside" launches a profane preemptive strike on those who don't accept Knapp's lifestyle. "I know they'll bury me before they hear the whole story/Even if they do well, I know they won't care to/Chalk it up to one mistake, or God forbid, they give me grace/Well, who in the h‑‑‑ do they think they are?" That song also declares that anyone who judges her is "wrong." Similarly, "Fallen" rejects those who would use that word to describe the singer's choices ("Even though they say we have fallen/Doesn't mean that I won't do it twice/Given every second chance/I choose to be with you tonight").
"Fallen" also positively mentions giving into lust ("If all that's left behind/Are the pieces that they find of the two of us/Borne from a wild, wild lust") "Want for Nothing" includes a subtle reference to physical intimacy ("Let's lay down/I have everything when you're beside"). "Dive In" perhaps deals with lingering vestiges of Jennifer's resistance before fully embracing her new lifestyle ("I'm so tired of standing on the edge of myself/You know I'm longing to dive in, dive in/You know it well, your voice will push me over the edge/ … I may be a fool to some, hero to others/But to you, just a lover").
On the title track, she seems determined to maintain her grip on a damaging relationship: "I'm not letting go/White-knuckled grip still you slip through my hands/Leaving me wanting more/ … Kiss me on the mouth, maybe later you can figure out/What it all means/Holding on to you is a menace to my soul." When asked who the you in this song is, Knapp told Christianity Today, "It can change three or four times while I'm singing it. Some days it's my faith. Some days I'm singing to God, like, You're a menace, man. It's hard to keep my faith. Sometimes it's music, and sometimes it's being on the road. It's a lot of those scenarios."
Listened to in isolation, Letting Go doesn't deal directly with homosexuality. But Jennifer Knapp's public declaration regarding her same-sex relationship, paired with lines like these leave no doubt about where she's at: "So cling to me and I will be forever/And I will heal/And you will feel much better."
Regarding how longtime Christian fans will respond to this album, Knapp told Christianity Today, "I'm tired of spending hours and hours thinking about what if scenarios—what if nobody wants it, what if everybody is mad, what if I'm a complete disappointment. Now it's, Here it is. I've got to let it go. That's one of the frustrating parts of my Christian walk, the scenario that if I don't get it right, that I've somehow failed God and failed my faith."