Christian Rocker Trey Pearson on How Coming Out Could Affect His Career
"If the gateholders knew that most of the artists in the Christian industry do support (gay issues), they would be forced to reconsider," says the newly out singer.
Every day really is like Sunday right now for Christian rock singer Trey Pearson, who says he’s feeling a particular measure of grace in coming out as gay in a genre that hasn’t traditionally or philosophically had a slot for that. As the leader (and, in recent years, sole permanent member) of the band Everyday Sunday, which found success on the Christian charts in the late 2000s, Pearson is now going where few rockers in the contemporary Christian music world have trod before him.
Despite reactions from detractors on social media to the rocker's revelation in an emotional letter he shared on May 31 (most of whom, like a good percentage of his supporters, weren’t even aware of Everyday Sunday before the controversy), Pearson has also received the blessing and encouragement from some of the biggest names in Christian music… privately, anyway. After returning from a visit to New York to appear on The View last week -- where host Raven-Symone told him, “Welcome to the community” -- Pearson, 35, spoke with Billboard from his Columbus, Ohio home, about what led to his decision to come out, and the (for him) happy fallout so far.
Have you read the comments on your Facebook pages and in other forums? They’re pretty polarized between supportive and calling you an apostate. You’re a hero or you’re leading people to hell.
A little bit here and there -- not a lot. I’ve mostly looked at messages people have been sending me, like one I just got yesterday about a guy who heard my story before I was on The View and decided to come out to his super-conservative Baptist mom by watching the show with her. Afterward she hugged him and told him she loved him and how proud of him she was. I’m sure lots of other factors went into him having that courage, but for whatever reason, he decided now was the point he was ready to come out to his mom, and that my story could play a part in that is pretty mind-blowing.
It’s not a long list of people who have come out in the CCM genre. Did you look back on what happened with those who came before you, and did any of that affect you going into making your own declaration?
No, not really. I mean, I remember hearing the stories about Ray Boltz when I was younger, but I didn’t really know who I was. I certainly knew about Jennifer Knapp years before I ever even admitted to myself that I was gay. That was extremely moving and had an impact on me. There are so many affirming Christians in the Christian music industry. A lot of the bigger names in the Christian music industry have been texting me this week, telling me how proud they are of me and how much they love me. I would love to see them all make a stand publicly, where it forces the whole industry to consider having the conversation. Because for me personally, I don’t think much about the effects on the industry or anything like that. But I know that artists in the past have been dropped from Christian radio for supporting gay rights and affirming homosexuality, and I just think it’s so goofy. Because if the gateholders knew that most of the artists in the industry do support it, they would be forced to reconsider. Because they’re not going to drop all the biggest artists on Christian radio because they all support gay marriage or they believe that God doesn’t hate homosexuality.
It seems safe to say it might be hard for you to get a lot of the bookings you used to get on the church or Christian coffeehouse or festival circuits, right?
Yeah, I’m sure there will be a lot of people that don’t want to have me back. But I’m not really too worried about that. I play a lot of mainstream venues as well. And there are promoters who do faith-based events who have reached out in support. I’ve gone to Europe every year for the past 10 years, and my European promoters are all crazy-affirming and supportive and behind me, and they’re like, “It’s about time the U.S. catches up to where we’re already at over here.” I’m like, "I know!" But I’m not getting all wound up about the industry side of it. That’s not what this is about anyway. This is about realizing that there are millions of people out there going through what I’ve gone through that I can be a voice for, and I can hopefully help and make an impact in their lives, the way people like Ellen and Troye Sivan and Jennifer Knapp had an impact on me.
The spectrum of opinions on gay issues is wide within the mainstream denominations, but within evangelicalism, which is the primary audience for Christian rock, the “affirming” side is a fairly small minority.
It’s changing and we’re right in the middle. It’s like when the church was fighting about slavery or women’s rights or interracial marriage. I come from the Wesleyan denomination, which broke away from the Methodists to get on the right side of slavery. Now the Methodists have been quicker to jump on the right side of affirming homosexuality, and unfortunately the Wesleyans are a little bit on the wrong side of history right now. But there are Christian leaders like Rob Bell or Brian McLaren or Jonathan Martin who are leading this movement to help us progress in our understanding of scripture, our ignorance of scripture, and the way we interpret it and look at it. I think 50 years from now, our grandkids are going to say, “Wait, you wouldn’t let gay people get married? That was a thing?,” the same way that we look at black and white people drinking from different water fountains.
Did you go through a process where you had to became comfortable with other Christians being gay before you could accept it for yourself?
Absolutely. I came to the place four or give years ago where I was able to affirm other people. And I had to get to that point before I could finally admit it to myself and accept I didn’t need to beat myself up anymore. I’ve always been on a journey in my faith. I grew up in a super-Calvinistic home that believed in predestination -- you’re either a child of God or a child of the devil, and you had no choice in the situation. Then I got invited to this Wesleyan youth group where they believed in free will, that God loves everyone and you could choose to love God if you wanted to. I was always battling all these weird doctrinal things, even as a teenager. So trying to think about deep stuff like that and then also trying to suppress any sort of same-sex attractions I had -- I mean, talk about a weird teenagehood. But as I got older, there were people like Rob Bell, who put out his first book, Velvet Elvis, that rocked my world. I like to call Rob Bell a gateway drug to challenging me to think about why you actually think what you think in the deepest senses. Over the last several years, I’ve progressed in my understanding of scripture in context and history, and it’s really deepened my faith. It’s made me more in love with Jesus, and more in love with the scriptures, because all of a sudden it made more sense.
You realized since you were a teenager that you had these attractions. But was it really just recently that you acknowledged to yourself that you were gay?
It was October that I was finally able to admit that to myself. I reached out to a close pastor friend that I knew would understand and would be able to help me. He got me in connection with a therapist, who started working with me and [wife] Lauren. That counselor and my friends Rob Bell and Jonathan Martin and Tripp Fuller -- who are all affirming pastors and big mentors of mine -- were my rock through this whole process and able to give me godly wisdom. I never gave two thoughts to reparative therapy or any of that weird stuff. But when I got married, I thought it would all go a lot easier, and quickly realized how difficult everything was for me, and that those feelings weren’t going to go away. I didn’t need to beat myself up anymore, the way I had my whole life. And to have Lauren, who I was married to, affirm me and accept me and be proud of me…
Looking at the non-supportive comments on your Facebook page, a lot of people express anger not only that you came out as gay but that you destroyed your marriage, as they see it. Are you amicably separated now? Divorced?
We filed for dissolution. We’re best friends. We share the kids every other week. We hang out every week. We eat dinner together as a family at least once a week. She’s my biggest supporter. So, yeah, I have seen a few comments like that, but people who say stuff like that don’t know what it’s been like for her to go through this for our whole marriage, and they don’t know what it’s been like for me. As much as this hurts both of us, we’re also both experiencing freedom and restoration. It’s about the grace she’s been able to show me, and the grace we’ve been able to both receive.
Slanderous people try to scare everybody. When they’re experiencing good things, it’s because it’s the favor of the Lord, but when somebody’s experiencing peace and restoration and hope and truth and it doesn’t fit their bubble of what they thought was true, then it’s easy for them to just say, “Oh, he’s a false teacher and this is a sign of the last days.” Sometimes it’s because they’re scared they might be wrong, and if they’re wrong, that might shake their entire system of faith and how that they’ve been as a person. I know when I was younger there were all kinds of things like that with me that I’ve been defensive about over the years.
How do you look back on your time in Christian music now? Not to suggest that it's necessarily all over…
[Laughs.] “Christian music” is I think the worst phrase in the world, because Christian makes a way better noun than it does an adjective. When you start using Christian to describe things other than people, it gets a little scary, whether it’s a Christian band or a Christian restaurant. And I get why people use it, because it’s easy. And the fact that there’s this industry that wants to come together to try to do something that could make an impact for the message of Jesus, to me, that’s a beautiful thing, so it’s fine if you want to call it a Christian industry or Christian music. If there are radio stations that want to support artists like me that tell my stories of faith, I’ve been thankful for that for my whole career and I always will be, whether it stops existing or continues to exist. But what I want to do is be honest and transparent and write great songs that are either about my faith or have to do with the rest of my life, just like I always have.
I’ve answered that question nonstop for about 15 years, or gosh, longer than that now, in my little career. It wasn’t. I quickly found out about that in the year after I made the band name up as a 16-year-old. I was very influenced by the band Seven Day Jesus as a teenager, and I think the name means almost the same kind of thing. In my subconscious, where I got the name, I’m not sure, but it popped in my head and I liked it. But The Smiths? I wish. I wish I was that cool of a kid when I was younger.