Subtitle: Take a Journi-gan, then Take a Knapp
This is a rather unusual entry in the Monday (Worship) Music quasi-series (which can be accessed by following this link). This post focuses on the relationship of worship, worship leadership, and life—particularly, sexual aspects of life.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget a travesty seen in the cowardice of a pastor—a preaching minister who excused a woman who was living/sleeping with her fiancé while she was involved in leading worship. He didn’t want to “judge.” But, moving on. . . .
Christian songwriter and worship leader Dennis Jernigan (brief website testimonial here) struggled with same-sex attraction early in his life and made an about-face. He married (a woman) and had several children. He has been very public about the course of his life and has effectively been an advocate for Christians who struggle in this way. I have no way of knowing whether Jernigan continues to deal with some measure of homosexual attraction, but I suspect he does, although he does not act on it.
His worship songs (the ones I’ve heard and known) are of mixed quality, in my estimation. (This assessment is no slam: Beethoven wrote some mediocre music, too!) I don’t claim to know all that many Jernigan songs, but he has been prolific, and the songs I’ve experienced are sometimes right on, sometimes predictable, sometimes almost giddy . . . and mostly in a style no longer supported by the multitudes. However, there are some very powerful expressions contained within:
“I belong to Jesus. I belong to Him! … free from sin!!”
“Great is the Lord Almighty. He is Lord; He is God indeed.”
“You are my strength when I am weak. You are the Treasure that I seek. You are my all in all.”
Although not one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived, Dennis Jernigan is surely one who has endeavored to live life patterns that do not result in dissonance with biblically grounded, Christian faith.
Jennifer Knapp’s inaugural album Kansas was an instant favorite of mine back in 1997, and the songs still move me. As I was listening again just the other day, I was struck by how genuine they seem, in comparison to some other songs laced with Christianese and expressions the public buys. Knapp’s creative work does not fall into the “praise and worship” category, yet some of the words are imbued with notions of humble worship.
Jennifer Knapp “came out” as a lesbian in 2003, quit Christian music, and moved across the globe with her partner. She continues to live an openly homosexual life and has also been public and about her avowed choices—choices which have been quite different from those of Dennis Jernigan.
My assumption is that, as a young singer/songwriter, Jennifer was struggling with same-sex attraction and (perhaps subconsciously) allowing her struggles to emerge through music. Lyrics lines like these from 1997-8 would seem to support my supposition:
“Am I lost in some illusion? Am I what You thought I’d be? Now it seems I find myself in need to be forgiven. If I give my life, if I lay it down, can You turn this life around?”
“Papa, I think I messed up again. . . . It’s just this way of human nature. . . . Sister, I know I let you down. . . . Lord, undo me.”
“In this search for Christ-like perfection, I’m convinced I’ve only left my God ashamed.”
“I don’t have to be condemned. Jesus saved me from the laws of sin. If I fail, I’ll try again.”
“I come into this place, burning to receive Your peace. I come with my own chains. . . . Lord, come with Your fire. Burn my desire.”
I knew I wanted to type in some lyrics, but I didn’t know just how easy it would be to find expressions that manifest what I take as guilt and deep need of the Lord’s deliverance. (Each separate paragraph above is from a different song.) In observing here, I may be indulging in heterosexual, psychological “projection,” but it seems clear to me that Knapp was in those early songs dealing with some very serious, soul-threatening struggles, viz. homosexual attractions and actions. Her 2001 album title seems prophetically revealing, too: The Way I Am.
One assessment of the relationship of the respective Christian commitments of Knapp and Jernigan might be that hers was the shallower, the less mature; whereas his is the more energetic and committed over the long term. It’s likely not that simple, but one might size it up that way.
My assessment of their respective musics includes the observations that Knapp’s appealed to younger believers and strugglers, and is more believable and compelling on the whole, although now shelved by most Christians. Jernigan’s music, on the other hand, appeals to a now-older set, wasn’t always very believable, and yet includes several songs that I suspect were written, in part, out of gratitude for an effective deliverance from homosexual attraction. “You are my Strength when I am weak. . . . Taking my sin, my cross, my shame. . . .”
This Tale of Two Strugglers was a shorter read than Dickens, wasn’t it? The stories behind the Knapp and Jernigan stories are doubtless very lengthy, but I’d be out of the realm of what I should be writing about, so … that’s all Forrest Gump and I got to say ‘bout dat.