With Chart-Topping Christian Album “Preacher’s Kid,” Semler Offers Companionship to Lonely Queers

Feature image by Bia Jurema, used with permission

Nobody expected an album about celebrating queerness and reckoning with faith to hit #1 on the iTunes Christian music chart in February, least of all Preacher’s Kid creator Grace Semler Baldridge.

When the singer-songwriter, who goes by the stage name Semler, started making covers of the Relient K and Switchfoot songs that comprised the soundtrack of their youth, they figured the project might find an extremely niche audience on the TikTok account they share with their wife, Elizabeth. Baldridge was stunned to encounter an outpouring of support and engagement from other folks who, like them, grew up with those bands and felt a desire to reclaim them from conservative Christian culture.

The response inspired them to get back to writing their own music. “I had been marinating on growing up in faith – the confusion that surrounds that and the sense of comfort that I have in being a Christian,” said Baldridge, who is queer and genderqueer. They express their lingering confusion honestly, with lyrics that cut to the heart of the matter.

“Youth group, church camp they really tried it on us/Now I’m grown up and I’m fucked up/Is there still a God I can trust?/If you’re out there, I’m waiting/If you’re out there, I’m praying,” they sing on on “Youth Group.”

“I told my wife, ‘I think I accidentally wrote a Christian record!'”

They meant it as a joke, at least at first, but soon enough they were uploading their EP, Preacher’s Kid, to Distrokid and claiming their space in the Christian music scene. Baldridge’s biggest hope, they explained, was that it might reach other queer folks who had been harmed and rejected by Christians and churches and who were trying to figure out how to relate to their faith in light of that hypocrisy.

‘”I thought if we could maybe get it into the top 40 on some Christian charts, then people who need it might find it and find comfort in it,” they said. “For anyone who has felt ostracized in the name of God, I was hopeful that I could share my story so they know they’re not alone. I felt so alone for a long time. I hope other people might find a bit of companionship.”

On February 11th, the album reached the top of the Christian music charts; over a month later, it remains in the top 50. The album offers singer-songwriter folk with an edge, recorded with guitar, piano, harmonica and vocals using a single microphone in Baldridge’s apartment between Zoom calls. Sub-titled “unholy demos,” the songs have the quality of a project that their creator didn’t quite anticipate getting hundreds of thousands of plays. This only adds to the charm and that familiar sense of chaos that comes with trying to reconcile the parts of yourself that people have told you couldn’t belong together.

The album’s breakout success happened not with the support of a Contemporary Christian Music label or a carefully coordinated PR campaign but thanks to a massive outpouring of support from queer Christians, exvangelicals, and others who long for new narratives of faith, doubt, and relationship to the Divine.

In the days after the album blew up, my friends started texting me, knowing that Preacher’s Kid was extremely my shit. Frankly, I was not in the mood for feelings and dodged their recommendations as long as I could, but I eventually gave in and was hooked.

Semler’s music relishes in specificity, offering little details that are at once deeply intimate and totally relatable. On album standout “Jesus from Texas,” Baldridge reflects on a lost friendship, singing, “My best friend found God so we lost touch/I guess a savior beats a friend who thinks you’re good enough/I hope she finds love and peace/And if her kid comes out I hope that she calls me.” We may not all have lost a best friend to conservative Christianity, but most of us have someone who broke our hearts and whose call we would still drop everything to take.

Rejection isn’t the whole story of Baldridge’s experience as a queer Christian, of course, but ambiguity has played a significant part in their journey away from and back toward faith. They grew up with an Episcopal priest father in a congregation that was quietly affirming — there were LGBTQ+ members and gay folks in leadership, but Baldridge never heard an outwardly affirming sermon. They filled in the gaps with the larger cultural message, which was largely non-affirming. They searched ‘gay Christian’ on YouTube and found nothing but ex-gay testimony. At Young Life and on mission trips, they heard a message about sexuality that felt incongruent with what they observed in their congregation. Even though Baldridge knew on some level that their dad would be accepting, he was one of the last people they came out to. Today the two have a close relationship, and Baldridge describes him as “selfless and kind.”

“Nothing I’ve ever said to him that has caused him to like stutter or pause. I talked to him about top surgery, and there is no way he would know what that is, but he was just like yeah great! His example allowed me to be open to coming back into faith,” they explained. The two have grappled with Baldridge’s high school experiences, too. “I’ve been able to tell him, you know, ‘while you were quietly affirming and for that time in the early 2000s that was good, it didn’t protect me from the other stuff.'”

After a decade or so of ambivalence, Baldridge has actively sought out queer faith communities in person and online over the past two years. They still struggle with many aspects of Christian culture but are seeking to find the congruence that has felt absent for so long.

“Queer people have had to reclaim a sense of dignity in who the creator made us to be,” Badridge said. “Being aware of queer theology, listening to queer affirming podcasts and sermons, finding churches that are totally inclusive, for me it makes it feel like it was all worth it. Finding this home, finding queer Christian spaces and engaging with communities has made all the difference for me to feel solid in the work I have ahead of me.”

Photo by Bia Jurema

Baldridge plans to continue making those connections and hopes their music can facilitate community for others, too. They’re planning to release another single in April and hoping the positive vaccine news will make touring possible soon enough. They look forward to meeting people who were once convinced, like Baldridge was, that they were all alone.

“There are so many of us, and we’ve been so conditioned to think that the path we’ve found ourselves on was one of isolation and no community,” they said. “Especially this past year, I’ve found the opposite to be true and a deep fellowship with other people.”

Part of what makes Preacher’s Kid so effective is that Baldridge simply doesn’t allow anyone else to set the terms about what “Christian music” can be, or what Christian people can be. In their life and with their music, their goal isn’t to prove they belong in the culturally-constructed box of traditional Christianity but rather to blow a hole in the box itself. They’ve been reading the Bible, exploring their gender, and making music about their faith, doubts, and relationships — and trusting that they can find the sacred in all of these acts.

Coming out and coming into themself “opened me up to a curiosity and possibility about the Divine that changed my life and inspires me every single day to look for that in other people. I’m not saying I get it right all the time, but it’s part of my walk now. It’s about the possibility of like, how big is God? All the limitations of the Divine were shed as I stepped into my queerness.”

Adrian is a writer, a Texan and a divinity student at Vanderbilt University. They write about bisexuality, gender, religion, politics, music and a whole lot of feelings at Autostraddle and wherever fine words are sold. They have a dog named after Alison Bechdel. Follow Adrian on Twitter @adrianwhitetx.

Adrian has written 152 articles for us.

16 Comments

  1. This album sounds really good and I definitely plan to listen to it but I also wanted to thank you, Adrian, for bringing my attention to that phrase “quietly affirming”!

    I always struggle to explain what kind of church I grew up in, because it wasn’t the stereotypical “gays are going straight to hell” type of Christianity, but we also didn’t have rainbow flags plastered all over the sanctuary. “Quietly affirming” is the absolute best way to describe it. There were gay couples who were welcomed into the life of the church, but no one ever even said the words “gay” or “lesbian” out loud.

    What I really could have used is someone saying not just the generic “God loves you the way you are”, but more specifically, “God loves you, and if you are gay or lesbian or bi or trans, God loves that about you”.

    I am so grateful to have grown up in a church that never actively EXCLUDED people like me, and sometimes it makes me feel guilty for wishing I’d had more than that, because I know I could have had it so much worse. But it also could have been better. I want queer kids to grow up hearing the message that their queerness is CELEBRATED, not just tolerated or accepted.

    • The church you grew up in sounds so much like the church I grew up in, so I really understand what you are saying <3. I am so grateful that my childhood church is now much more vocally affirming, especially in the youth group. My spouse and I actually got married there, which I never could have imagined when I was a very repressed teen. I hope more churches like these will continue to grow and not let exclusionary theologies take up all the airspace.

  2. Thank you for this article!

    I’m a PK too and my church growing up was also quietly affirming. We didn’t have any out LGBTQ+ members to my knowledge. The only way I knew people in my church were generally accepting is when a guest pastor came and delivered an anti-LGBTQ sermon and people were upset about it.

    I didn’t realize I was queer until after I had left home and stopped attending my home church. As a kid and a teen, I felt so loved and celebrated in that church and there was so much space for me to be me. But as a queer adult, even though I am welcomed, I don’t feel like the church is FOR me. I’m not sure that makes sense. I heard once that there is a difference between being allowed a seat at the table and being invited to a table that has been set with you in mind. These days church feels like I’m allowed at the table but it doesn’t feel like the church has changed the way it invites people or the way it sets the table.

    I’m not sure where my faith journey will take me but it’s nice to know that someone has effectively talked to their parent about why quietly affirming isn’t enough (these conversations have been a struggle for me) and that they have found meaningful queer Christian fellowship and that the journey was worth it.

    I’ll definitely have to check out this music and see if it resonates with me the way this article did.

      • I’ve also heard “there’s a difference between being allowed a seat at the table, and being welcome to share your voice at the table.”

        I spent a few years as an MK and grew up in a politically diverse church (rarity!), that ended up becoming much more explicitly affirming in recent years.

        As an adult, I’ve worked at/attended more churches in the last ten years with queer pastors + leadership than with straight ones. Queer folx have always been a part of the church, and it seems like now there are more and more ways to find each other, as well as more histories being shared about how we have always made religious communities what they are — we’re just allowed to talk about it now.

        For any history nerds and people raised Catholic/Anglican (I now attend a lesbian-led bilingual 125-year-old Episcopal church), I highly recommend the website qspirit.net . There are a ton of features about saints throughout history who are queer (St. Francis! St. Brigid! St. Julian of Norwich who is always painted with her cat!).

        For me, my definition of “family of choice” comes from both the church and the queer community. It’s so damn powerful when they overlap.

  3. Chiming in to say that I grew up in a quietly unaffirming church: mostly white, Midwestern, passive-aggressive. There was a pressure to never bring up hot-button issues. The one straight ally pastor we had was pushed out of his position by the most conservative members of the congregation (they filed a complaint with the bishop behind his back to have him removed).

    Now I attend a super affirming church with openly gay clergy and openly queer/trans lay leaders! Thanks for the article, Baldridge sounds awesome.

  4. I was waiting for you to cover this! I am not a Christian, but very interested in religion and how queerness intersects with faith. Grace’s album is so very intimate and clear in its specificity. It really lets you learn abot the experience of being a queer Christian, while still feeling very personal but also very clear, no nonsense. It’s also at times very funny. I enjoy their work so much.

  5. Grace’s music as Semler is awesome! So glad to see an article about this on AS. I discovered them & their wife Lizzie on tiktok, and now listen to their podcast. I even e-mailed in a question, and they were super sweet when Lizzie wrote back!

    I was raised Christian (in one of the more friendly denominations, I think), and became no-longer religious in college for multiple reasons. But I’m still interested to see how queer people fit religion into their life and find it affirming!

  6. I first learned about Grace Semler Baldridge from episodes of their Refinery29 series on YouTube, State of Grace:

    And was then delighted to realize they’d been interviewed on one of my favorite podcasts, Good Christian Fun (highly recommend this podcast btw, for anyone processing their faith and/or making sense of weird and wild 1980s-2000s Christian pop culture. McGee & Me anyone?)

    Semler’s music hit me like a ton of bricks. You really nailed it Adrian when you said there is specificity and intimacy in their lyrics— so many little mentions that make my former Christian kid heart skip a beat, like “Someone else sees me!!?” I also appreciate how they get at that tension of, even if your family or church was quietly affirming, there is a larger Christian culture you experience as a young person through events, mission trips, summer camp, VBS, etc that can still just the same lay on the hate and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

  7. So much YES! to all of this: Check (quietly affirming), Check (wish it were MORE affirming), Check (still figuring things out, after all these years).

    One more thing though—and maybe this seems tangential—is moving in queer communities where ANY mention of the R word (religion) is verboten. Even agnosticism is suspect. Unless you are CERTAIN that there’s Nothing, when you die there’s just annihilation and physical rot, you’re somehow Not Queer Enough. [On a queer website, I once posted the beloved end of the beloved “Bridge of San Luis Rey” (“There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love. The only survival, the only meaning.”), and THAT was Too Religious!!! for several commenters.]

    It’s just sometimes hard to find a place where I can FULLY INTEGRATE the Queer(!) side, and the Believing-in-a-LOVE-which-is-Infinite&Eternal side of Me, y’know?

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