Amy Grant is hosting her niece’s same-sex wedding on her farm, and Franklin Graham wants everyone to know he disapproves.
Of course, this should come as no surprise to Graham.
In a 2013 interview with the LGBTQ news outlet PrideSource, Grant said she knew by the time she was 18 she had a gay fan base. “Even when I was discovering my own sexuality and meeting people that had a different experience, I didn’t categorize then, and I don’t categorize right now. It makes me realize I don’t have any idea of what it would feel like every moment of my life to go somewhere and feel judged.”
The former Contemporary Christian Music star who crossed over to mainstream appeal still maintains a wholesome churchgoing appeal and has moved from cautious to open talk of her support for the LGBTQ community.
Back in 2013, when asked about the politics of gay marriage, she said, “I never talk about anything like that.”
At the time, Ross Murray, senior director of the GLAAD Media Institute, found Grant’s interview to be “somewhat circumspect. She speaks in general terms of loving and accepting everyone throughout her musical career.” He concluded, “If Amy Grant continues on her journey to advocacy for LGBT people, she will be in good company.”
Grant’s journey did continue.
In a 2021 interview with Hannah Juanita on Proud Radio, Grant said: “Who loves us more than the one who made us? … None of us are a surprise to God. Nothing about who we are or what we’ve done. That’s why, to me, it’s so important to set a welcome table. Because I was invited to a table where someone said, ‘Don’t be afraid, you’re loved.’ … Gay. Straight. It does not matter.”
“Who loves us more than the one who made us? … None of us are a surprise to God.”
She added: “It doesn’t matter how we’re wired. We’re all our best selves when we believe to our core, ‘I’m loved.’ And then our creativity flourishes.”
Experience being judged
Grant knows personally about being judged. Her 1999 divorce from Gary Chapman set tongues wagging everywhere. Author Jonathan Poletti wrote of Grant: “If she was Cinderella, this was her midnight.”
Contemporary Christian music stars were not supposed to get divorced. And they certainly were not supposed to remarry as quickly as she and Vince Gill did.
Much of her Christian fan base abandoned her, and she was shamed by the evangelical world that had made her a star.
Yet she kept going. Her accolades now include six Grammy Awards, 26 Dove Awards and inductions into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Music City Walk of Fame and the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
This month, Grant became the first Contemporary Christian Music artist recognized for lifetime artistic achievements by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, an honor commonly known as the Kennedy Center Honors.
Fully out now
Just a month before that gala, Grant gave an interview to the Washington Post where she discussed the upcoming wedding on her farm. A decade after her cautious interview in support for LGBTQ persons, she came out in full support of the thing evangelical Christians fear the most: same-sex marriage.
The Post reported: “In recent years, she has voiced support for the LGBTQ community, where she has had a large fan base for decades. Now, she talks about her and Gill’s plans to host her niece’s wedding at their farm, which is her family’s ‘first bride and bride’ nuptials. Grant recalls her reaction when she learned her niece had come out: What a gift to our whole family to just widen the experience of our whole family.”
“Jesus, you just narrowed it down to two things: Love God and love each other.”
Grant told the Post: “Honestly, from a faith perspective, I do always say, ‘Jesus, you just narrowed it down to two things: Love God and love each other.’ I mean, hey — that’s pretty simple.”
Franklin Graham warns about hell
When evangelist and culture warrior Franklin Graham heard about Grant’s decision to host her niece’s wedding, he took to Twitter to let everyone know he disapproves.
“Amy Grant announced that she & her husband Vince Gill are going to host a same-sex wedding on their farm for her niece,” Graham tweeted. “Yes, we are to love God & love each other. But if we love God, we will seek to obey His Word. Jesus told us, ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments’ (John 14:15). God defines what is sin, not us; & His Word is clear that homosexuality is sin.”
Graham, who leads both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, is an outspoken critic of progressive Christianity and LGBTQ persons. He is especially vocal about his damnation of same-sex marriage.
Thus, right on cue, Graham used Grant’s welcome of her niece as a way to warn of eternal hell fire: “For me, loving others also means caring about their souls & where they will spend eternity. It means loving people enough to tell them the truth from the Word of God. The authority of God’s Word is something we can never compromise on.”
Never mind that how the Bible frames marriage and its alleged pronouncements about same-sex relations are nothing like what Graham preaches.
This is all par for the course for Franklin Graham.
And the Graham family dissing Amy Grant is nothing new. In 1997, after confiding in Billy Graham that her marriage was troubled because her first husband had a drug habit and was unfaithful to her, she never was invited to share the stage with the evangelist again.
Where is Michael W. Smith?
What’s more interesting now is to wonder what this brouhaha is doing to another contemporary Christian megastar — Michael W. Smith.
Franklin Graham pitting himself against Grant puts one of their common lifelong friends in a rather difficult situation. Smith has been friends with both Grant and Graham going back to the early 1980s.
Grant first met Smith in 1980 after her then boyfriend Gary Chapman introduced Smith to her. Grant was then a student at Furman University.
She was drawn to Smith by the contrast between the energy they embodied. “For all my slowness, I love a little bit of chaos,” she admitted in a later interview. “I think it makes a really good combination. I remember asking (Smith), ‘Have you ever woken up in a bad mood, ever one time in your life?’ And he said, ‘No.’ And it’s the truth.”
The two superstar singer-songwriters became lifelong friends. “She might be the sweetest soul I’ve ever known,” Smith told the Washington Post for their interview with Grant.
Their friendship continues today as they tour together each year during Christmas — a 16-city tour currently under way and concluding just three days before Christmas.
But Smith also is good friends with the Grahams. He met Billy Graham in the 1980s while playing piano for Grant. After joining Graham’s crusades with Grant in 1994, Smith continued to sing for Billy and then for Franklin Graham in the decades that followed.
And Smith’s friendship with Graham has led to an embrace of Christian Zionism and Christian nationalism — far from the image Grant projects.
Fires that need tending
In 2021, Grant and Smith joined together as executive producers for the documentary The Jesus Music that tells the story of how Christian music grew out of the Jesus Movement of the 1970s into what it has become today.
Toward the end of the film, there’s a scene where Smith joins Grant on her farm. The two walk side-by-side up a gravel road — Smith in his camouflage hat and plaid shirt and Grant in a plain T-shirt — toward a set of three cabins that Grant explains were moved there in 1896. As they approach a camp fire between the cabins, they settle down into a pair of wooden chairs to talk.
“Seven years ago, I wanted the farm to not just be a personal retreat. It’s beautiful to have a place, but it’s more beautiful if you share it,” Grant says. “And so, this is our fifth year to do this thing called ‘keeping the fire.’ In 2017, we lit a fire on January first, and I created this invitation that just said, ‘Hey we’re trying to see how long we can keep a single fire lit.’”
Smith leans in closer as she speaks.
She explains the invitation: “Would you like to come keep the fire for 48 hours? Just bring a sleeping bag, a two-day picnic, and keep the fire going. But, maybe look at life from a different perspective and be reminded of fires in your own life that need tending.”
As the two of them sit there at Grant’s farm reflecting on their friendship and gentle reminders of fires that might need tending in their lives, one can’t help but wonder what wasn’t being said between the two of them, what both of them were thinking, given how their paths have diverged.
And that was before her niece’s same-sex wedding on that very property.
One of the most powerful duets Smith and Grant ever wrote and sang together was released on Smith’s 1992 album “Change Your World” titled, “Somewhere, Somehow.”
In the second verse, Smith sings: “There’s a love inside us that goes without saying. But I’ll tell you just the same that love will fan the flame. And that flame will warm the heart that’s waiting.”
Smith has to know how Grant feels about LGBTQ people. He has to know how she feels about her niece. Are these differences something they talk about?
Now, 30 years after penning these tender words, he’s sitting with Grant beside a fire on her farm while she talks about fires that need tending.
On the bridge of the 1992 song, Grant sings, “Somewhere alone, I will be praying you home,” to which Smith echoes, “Praying me home.” Then the two of them join together singing, “I know that somehow our love will lead me to your arms.”
There’s one YouTube video where they’re singing the song together in 2011 and Smith begins by saying, “It’s a little awkward. It’s a love song.” Then Grant responds with, “You’re a beautiful man. But I’ve never felt that way about you.” The audience erupts in laughter. And then she turns to the audience and adds, “But he is beautiful.” And then the laughter changes to cheers from the women in the audience.
Whatever the relational dynamics may be between Smith and Grant, what if the love song they’ve been singing together all these years actually is in some ways a song that shows the way of love when people disagree?
What if they actually mean the lyrics: “Love is true” and “love will be there when this is over … even if it takes a lifetime”?
Smith and Grant, now in their early 60s, have lived much of that lifetime they’ve sung about. And like the train departs in the first verse of the song, their paths have departed in many ways politically and spiritually despite their ongoing friendship and touring together. What if the “somewhere far beyond today” is Grant’s farm in Franklin, Tenn.?
Perhaps it’s there that she’s leaving a light in the dark for Smith by celebrating love and hosting her niece’s wedding. Maybe it’s there that Smith will be drawn by Grant’s inner quiet and consider the fires of his own life that need tending, by moving away from the Christian Zioinism, Christian nationalism and threats of hellfire Graham decrees.
Could it be there that Smith moves toward the quiet slowness of love as Grant reminds him and us: “Love God and love each other.’ I mean, hey — that’s pretty simple.”
Rick Pidcock is a 2004 graduate of Bob Jones University, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible. He’s a freelance writer based in South Carolina and a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He recently completed a Master of Arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five children and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com.