rampant religion roundup: lifeway christian stores, jennifer knapp and johnny piper

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Friday, April 23rd, 2010

rampant religion roundup: lifeway christian stores, jennifer knapp and johnny piper

last month, the calvinist legions of bloggers hit the interwebs to lambast their chosen messiah, john piper, for what they viewed as a theological slap in the face. piper did the (apparently) unthinkable and invited rick warren to be one of the featured speakers at his desiring god 2010 national conference (in addition to speakers such as the SBC godfather al mohler and the treading-on-thin-ice-because-now-you’re-making-films-with-that-rob-bell-company francis chan).

their issue is that, apparently, warren is a false teacher of some kind of crazy anti-jesus purpose-driven movement that is leading people straight to hell or purgatory or some place that calvinist will never go. my feelings regarding rick warren aside, their ultimate issue is what is called “secondary separation”. this premise states that, 1.) christians should, of course, separate themselves from the wicked, evil, depraved world full of sinners and, 2.) they should also, naturally, secondarily separate themselves from “false teachers” claiming to follow jesus. so, for most calvinists, this includes anyone who has ever been mentioned in a sentence with the word emergent such as brian mclaren, rob bell, tony jones, doug pagitt or frank stallone (ok, i just threw in that last one to see if you were actually reading…). ultimately, it can be summarized by the need for christians to actually inhabit the throne of god, hurling judgment toward others—both in the “pagan” category and the christian category. (as a sidenote, piper had to issue a sensationally ridiculous video, listing all the questions he asked rick warren to make sure he was fit to speak at his conference. seriously, you need to watch this.)

the point i’m getting at is that this concept of secondary separation is alive and well within the calvinist ranks. which leads to my next point…

fast forward to today’s discovery (of something that i assume officially happened last week?) that lifeway christian stores—a large christian retail chain owned and operated by the southern baptist convention—has removed any music and/or reference to the chief-of-sinner, lesbian-destroyer-of-straight-marriages jennifer knapp. as i noted last week (as did hordes of others), jennifer knapp has revealed that she is, in fact, a lesbian and in a long-term committed relationship to another woman. ———–i’m building in time for you to gasp loudly and/or recover before reading more———– ok, ready to move on?

(editorial note: in all fairness, other christian retailers and christian radio stations have made a similar decision.)

this isn’t the first time this kind of thing has occurred. when scandals broke about christian artists michael english, sandi patty, raze (how’s that for a serious 90s christian music obscure reference…) and amy grant in the 90s, a handful of retailers also briefly (briefly being a key word) removed their products from their shelves. certainly, there’s a bit of a precedence, but the fact is, you can walk into any christian music store today and purchase the aforementioned artists’ albums. why? because, 1.) these artists bring in a lot of revenue for christian retailers and, 2.) the christian community is quick to forgive and move on regarding infidelity/divorce/etc. (you know, the *actual* marriage destroyers…). but homosexuality? nope. that’s the worst sin.

ultimately, this issue of secondary separation comes into play again. whereas the aspect of homosexuality being the worst sin (for all practical purposes), the key here is people being so afraid of their reputation and image that they can’t even go near someone who they perceive to be in sin. of course, the sin of gossip’s ok. the sin of gluttony’s ok. the sin of withholding your wealth from those who are needy’s ok. many, many sins are ok. just not being gay.

the question i proposed in last week’s blog post is one that i will offer again. what has changed about jennifer knapp’s music from 2 weeks ago now that she’s officially come out? what do you assume is any different now due to the fact that she loves a person of the same gender? what truths are undone? what scriptures are cheapened by her melodies? how is what moved you prior to this knowledge any less compelling now that you know this information?

lifeway christian stores has decided something has fundamentally changed. i’d like to propose that nothing is different. if anything, the impact of her music is only heightened to me because it came from a person who wrote it in the context of doubt and struggle and uncertainty, rather than a place of rampant faith arrogance.

so, i leave you with my favorite song of hers. listen and see if this sounds like something from the heart of a deceiver or someone who speaks words of truth.

martyrs & thieves (from 1998’s kansas):


  1. Aaron Reddin says:

    There's really nothing that can/should be added to this post. Clear and precise. Well done.

    But, I must say that the fact that you said Johnny Piper completely made me belly laugh. No joke! 😉

  2. A.W. Thomas says:

    I think you are painting Calvinist with a broad brush that you would not appreciate if the roles were reversed. I followed the debate on the blogosphere pretty closely the last few weeks and there were more "Calvinist" defending Piper than leveling shots at him. Make no mistake, the pajama jihad bloggers were out in full force but so were a lot of bloggers and commenters attempting to approach it all with humility.

  3. ryanByrd says:

    a.w. — i think you make a fair point about painting with a broad brush. i can certainly be guilty of that. a note worth pointing out, though, is that there's a reason for stereotypes. stereotypes can most definitely be unfair and don't describe the totality of a group, but they originate from a place of observed truth.

    by and large, there's a reason why calvinists have obtained a reputation for being judgmental and dogmatic. without a doubt, i know calvinists who aren't these things, but i know a lot more who are.

    so, whereas your indictment about me over-generalizing is a point well taken, i think there's some grounds for it.

    i would recommend reading a blog post by don miller from a couple days ago. i've been thinking about it ever since and i'm interested in following up on it with a some quick research or backup data. you can find it here: http://donmilleris.com/2010/04/21/does-your-personality-pre-dispose-your-theology/

    thanks for the comment!

  4. Anonymous says:

    You are correct in saying that Jennifer Knapp's music is still poignant, however the difference here is that she is saying that being homosexual is NOT a sin when it clearly is. We need to be careful that as Christians that we don't condone sin in order to love the sinner. I'm not for shunning people for we are ALL sinners. Homosexuality is not the unforgivable sin, but it is still a sin.

  5. mckeetr says:

    1.) Martyrs and thieves has always been a song with great impact on my life. Every person I have performed it with has left with a peace that I (in my seminarian-heady-liberal-mainline-christian way) can only describe as the spirit moving. And even when not singing it, i am always out of breath after playing.

    2.) The Raze controversy was a big one to me. Divorce and infidelity are one thing, but doing harm to a 14 y.o. is another. Not that Raze had THAT much fame to begin with, the fact that there was no outlash over molestation enrages me. You know, the things Jennifer is doing could never compare to that, i don't care what you think about homosexuality. (then again, how can a loving acknowledgment of being who God made you to be EVER look bad?)

    3.)CCM is something that I just had to say good bye to after seeing that these bands/singers are so replaceable and interchangeable. I am thankful for the opportunity to get to know some of the artists I have through it, but the disrespect for artistry is something I can no longer tolerate. That and I love listening to heretics (Derek Webb, David Bazan, JKnapp), they bring up better questions of faith and I can actually identify with their struggles.

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