You always take a chance of offending somebody with each post you write, and that much more so when you post about either homosexuality or abortion. This is for discussion, and thus thinking, purposes only. Grip, thy time has come to be ‘get’.
With the outing of Jennifer Knapp, this issue has come around again. For a music industry which is generally geared to evangelical thought, what do you do with those who sing, their songs, etc… when you find that they aren’t living up to your expectations?
At least as far back as the 1940s, the gospel guitarist Rosetta Tharpe was, as Gayle Wald has noted in her excellent biography of “Sister Rosetta,” rumored to be “something more than ‘just friends’” with the performer known as Sister Katty Marie. More prominently, James Cleveland’s homosexuality was an open secret for most of his career in the last half of the twentieth century, and the “King of Gospel” died in 1991 amidst rumors that he had infected a much younger man with HIV and that he himself had died of AIDS-related complications. More recently in 2004, the Southern gospel tenor Kirk Talley was outed after the FBI arrested a man who tried to blackmail Talley with indiscreet photos the singer had posted of himself on a gay chat site. In 2006, a photo of the songwriter and gospel music impresario Bill Gaither embracing the lesbian songwriter Marsha Stevens and her partner generated such blowback from Gaither fans that Gaither issued a public statement denouncing homosexuality and lamenting Stevens’ “sad” life as a lesbian. A few years later in 2008, the soloist Ray Boltz came out after a long and successful career in CCM and inspirational music (and a 33-year straight marriage), citing the “darkness” of the closet and the torment of living a double life.
And these are only the most famous examples. Not for nothing has Bishop Yvette Flunder said that gospel music is gay music. But it’s not just gospel. From traditional black and Southern (or white) gospel, to praise and worship and inspirational, to Contemporary Christian music, you can’t swing a Dove Award (the Grammies of Christian entertainment) without hitting upon evidence of the longstanding, deep-set presence of queer experience in, and its influence on, Christian music culture at all levels: from performers on down the line to piano players, back-up singers and other supporting musicians, choir directors and song leaders, songwriters, producers, and managers, and of course, ordinary fans.
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For those of us who consider homosexuality a sin, does it matter who wrote or who sung the song? And if so, how far do you take it? Which sin would prevent you from singing a song by a certain song writer? Is it better to just sing the Psalms and be done with it?
And what of those of us who do not believe that homosexuality is a sin, does it matter that others in the community who write the songs which you sing do see homosexuality as a sing?