Who she is: She’s been called the religious right’s worst nightmare — an out and proud lesbian who’s also a fervent evangelical Christian and a singer-songwriter of contemporary Christian music.
What she’s accomplished: Marsha Stevens (born Marsha Carter) was a pioneer of the contemporary Christian music genre, and long before Jennifer Knapp’s coming-out, she was a lesbian presence in that world. “She is conservative Christianity's worst nightmare — a Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, God-fearing lesbian Christian,” wrote Mark Allan Powell in Christian Century, a liberal Christian magazine, in 1999.
Her musical fame predates her coming-out. In 1969, when she was only 16, she wrote “For Those Tears I Died (Come to the Water),” a song that would soon become a huge hit in Christian music when she recorded it with her band, Children of the Day. The band was “arguably the very first contemporary Christian music group,” noted Powell, and included Stevens’s husband, her sister, and a friend. Children of the Day were a key part of the late ’60s-early ’70s Jesus movement, whose adherents were often called “Jesus people” or “Jesus freaks.” These “freaks” dressed like hippies and baptized followers in the ocean, but they generally eschewed other trappings of the counterculture, such as drugs and sexual experimentation.
Stevens’s marriage ended after seven years. Her husband advised her to find someone else, and she said, “You know, I think it might be a woman,” as she recalled to Powell. And that was how it turned out.
There was much vitriol directed at Stevens by conservative Christians. “The Christian community excised me from its life,” she told the Christian Century writer. People tore her songs out of songbooks, and her record company tried to deny her royalties. Worst of all, when the daughter of her first female partner died of a heart defect, some so-called Christians said it was divine retribution for being a lesbian.
Stevens persevered, however. She has been active in the Metropolitan Community Church, a predominantly LGBT denomination, and has written theme songs for each of its general conferences since 1985. She frequently performs at other LGBT-accepting churches as well. Many mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Evangelical Lutheran churches, welcome openly LGBT members, but theologically Stevens appears to prefer those with a more intense brand of Christianity, emphasizing the born-again experience and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The combination of that theology with LGBT acceptance is rare. But Stevens continues to advocate for Christianity among her fellow LGBT people and LGBT equality among conservative Christians. She is still recording and touring, and she and her spouse, Cindy Stevens-Pino, run Florida-based BALM Ministries, BALM standing for “Born Again Lesbian Music.” BALM includes a music ministry training program for those interested in Christian outreach to LGBT people.
Choice quote: “Don’t miss Christ because of Christians.” — Stevens to a predominantly LGBT audience at a Baptist church, as quoted in Christian Century
For more information: You can find a PDF of the Christian Century profile here, and visit the BALM website here. And get a sample of her music, from the 2005 MCC conference, in the video below.