NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – When Trey Pearson of the Christian rock band Everyday Sunday announced in May he was gay, it sparked a debate among the group's largely conservative fan base around one question: Should they still listen to his music?
It is not the first time such a question has been raised.
When Jennifer Knapp announced she was a lesbian in 2010, and when Ray Boltz said in a 2008 interview that he was gay, their fans raised the same question. Both Knapp and Boltz – at one time or another -- were staples of the Christian music scene.
"I think this is something each person has to decide for himself," Bob Stith, founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, told the Christian Examiner. Stith formerly served as the Southern Baptist Convention's national strategist for gender issues.
Boltz won three Dove Awards – led in 1990 for Song of the Year ("Thank You) and then in 1995 for Inspirational Song of the Year ("I Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb"). Knapp claimed four Doves, led by New Artist of the Year in 1999 and Rock Song of the Year that same year ("Undo Me").
Everyday Sunday had not won a Dove but still was popular among Christian music fans. They toured with some of the top groups and their song "Wake Up! Wake Up!" was the most-played Christian rock song in 2007, according to Religion News Service.
Stith said he would have trouble continuing to listen to music by an artist who came out as gay, although he realizes people will draw different conclusions.
"It is difficult for me to separate the composer/singer from his or her music," Stith said. "At the same time, flawed people have often been used by God to speak His truth. Peter said, 'We have the prophetic word confirmed' (2 Peter 1:19). God is always more concerned with confirming His Word than confirming the sinlessness of the messenger. This isn't to say He is unconcerned with our spiritual condition. But we are all flawed human vessels."
Glenn T. Stanton, director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family, said the debate over "should we still listen to their music?" is an "important question with no black and white answer." He has written a series of books on the gender issue, including Secure Daughters, Confident Sons.
"First, it is difficult to only enjoy art that is created by people who are living obedient Christian lives," Stanton told the Christian Examiner. "But when we are listening to music or reading books for spiritual edification and encouragement, these should be voices that are doing their best to be obedient to Jesus in the midst of the struggles of life, which all of us deal with. This sadly does not seem to be the case with Pearson."
Stanton added that Plugged In, Focus on the Family's media literacy ministry, "does a really great job of helping parents and young people navigate such tricky issues."
Boltz's songs are still sung in many churches, as are the songs by Vicky Beeching, who came out as a lesbian in 2014 after writing or co-writing such worship songs as "Glory To God Forever" and "The Wonder of the Cross."
Pearson, in a letter to fans, said he had "been suppressing these attractions and feelings since adolescence."
"I've tried my whole life to be straight," he wrote. "I married a girl, and I even have two beautiful little kids. My daughter, Liv, is six and my son, Beckham, is two."
He told 614Columbus.com that, for a long time, he felt lonely.
Said Stith, "In over 45 years of ministry I've never known a single person who was able to overcome a life dominating sin alone."
"I feel great compassion for Trey in that long-term struggle," Stith said. "I completely and totally disagree with his conclusion but I ache for all the pain and loneliness he has experienced. We absolutely must learn a more compassionate response to those who struggle with unwanted same sex attractions."
But Stith also said that the Bible's teachings on sexuality remain clear – and have not changed.
"We absolutely must be prepared to stand against the tidal wave of biblical compromise that is inundating our world," Stith said. "Do not be deceived. We have not suddenly discovered a 3,000-year-old biblical mistake. God is not a capricious God who has been willing for his people to consistently teach a lie throughout the entirety of biblical history."
Asked what the church can learn from Pearson's story, Stanton replied: "First, that we should hold our Christian 'heroes' very loosely."
"We are all very fragile, earthen vessels, and just because someone speaks to massive crowds, sells stacks of books or gets tons of play on Christian radio stations is not a reason to assume they are super Christians," Stanton said. "They are all people just like anyone else, with strengths and weaknesses. We must genuinely pray for Trey, that he will not be deceived that his sexuality trumps clear scriptural teaching, and accept that plenty of people live obediently celibate lives, gay and straight. We must also pray for his wife and two small children, that the impact of his decision will not weigh heavy on their shoulders."
Said Stith, "This is a call for Christians to stand strong. It is a call to be prepared to come alongside those like Trey who haven't taken that fatal step. It is also a call to be prepared to reach out in love to those we know who have taken that step. But be prepared to help, not merely to condemn."