Over the past 10 years, Shawn Thomas has received critical acclaim and recognition for his music and his service to the community. He’s made a name for himself in the Contemporary Christian music world by not only being an out singer and songwriter, but for sharing his story of coming to terms with his sexuality and his faith.
As the owner of Shawn Thomas Studios in West Palm Beach, the 45-year-old gets a chance to write, record and perform with varied artists from across the country. But he also steps out of the studio, and will bring his free, one-man concert to several churches along Florida’s west coast this summer and fall. A love-offering will be accepted at each performance.
Thomas, who has been with his partner since 2008, took time to answer a few questions for Watermark before embarking on his Florida tour:
You have a history of music in your family, most notably your mother. When did you first realize you had that talent as well?
That’s kind of funny, because I grew up with my family singing in the car together, or my sister and I putting on little “shows” in the living room that my grandmother would direct, or making up songs on a hand-me-down guitar—and I just thought that all kids did that. But then I started seventh grade and for the first time we had a class called “Choir.” I remember being completely confused and shocked at how so many of the other kids were acting—like they didn’t want to be there—and then when the teacher started asking us to sing… Well, the was the first time in my life that I realized not everyone can sing!
Do you prefer praise and worship music or contemporary work?
I grew up singing hymns and hearing organ music in church which contrasts my first Christian music projects which were much more contemporary pop/rock style. Then a few years ago I released my first praise and worship CD, and since that time, that way of worshiping through music has stayed with me. My newest project, “In Between the Shades of Gray,” goes back to more of the pop/rock style I started with, but it still has a song or two that I would consider more praise and worship. I think whatever type of music I work on in the future will probably always have some kind of influence from praise and worship style of music.
What artists are on your playlist right now?
Newsboys, Kerrie Roberts, Jeremy Camp, Royal Tailor, Mandisa, Chris Tomlin, 7eventh Time Down. I also have some secular favorites like Emeli Sande’, Keith Urban, and Kelly Clarkson.
In 2011 I record a double-disc project called “Covered and Created” that included 10 cover songs of both Christian and secular artists such as: Casting Crowns, Richard Marx, Avalon, and even Cher!
You were raised in church with a minister as a father. How did your family handle your coming out?
What I continue to share about my growing up with a dad who pastored a church is that I’m grateful that I never heard condemnation of anyone from the pulpit. I learned about a God of grace and love and compassion and mercy. So when I did come out, I didn’t fear going to hell or that God was mad at me. My prayers were asking God to help me understand who I am. However, sometimes I guess when it “hits home” and it’s your own son or family member, it’s harder for some to accept. I came out when I was 26—and unfortunately two decades later, this is still an issue for me and my family. So, as I did when I was younger, I pray for God to help me understand.
You have talked about coming out of the second closet as a Christian who happens to be gay and the difficulties you’ve faced in finding acceptance.
One of the mantras of the LGBT community has always been to “come out, come out, whereever you are”—meaning the courage of those who stand up, makes it possible for others to have the courage to stand as well. Unfortunately, in my experience I’ve found that one of the contradictions in our claim of accepting diversity is that when someone within the LGBT community doesn’t fit the mold we’ve created for ourselves, then that claim of acceptance and tolerance disappears.
Sometimes I don’t fit the mold. I’m politically conservative (Libertarian), and I’m passionate about my faith and love for Christ. I’ve learned how important it is for everyone to stick to the mantra and come out of all closets and be whoever you are so that your strength and courage can make it easier for someone else to have the strength and courage to stand up and be who they are.
So often, the news reports on the Christian opposition to LGBT equality, most notably, marriage equality. Does that frustrate you as a Christian?
Obviously I support the legalization of same-sex couples to marry. My support of that is not based on my faith, but on my understanding of the Constitution (not that I claim to be an expert). While I don’t agree with churches and pastors who preach that homosexuality is a sin, and while, yes—that type of message does frustrate me—I don’t criticize their right to believe as they do or to share that belief with others. What I do criticize is the idea of imposing that belief system through law.
Similarly, I oppose any legal action to impose my understanding of God and my faith on someone else, or any law that would prevent someone else from practicing their faith as they believe.
What is it you hope a person takes away from one of your concerts?
I hope it’s a time of renewal, of celebration, of assurance, of relationship with Christ. I say that, and realize that’s what I hope for myself too! I get excited about my faith and about the joy that’s running through me and sometimes I feel like I’ll explode (in a good way!)
Any time I’m able to sing for anyone, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to share that excitement. It’s hard to hold it back—so singing in church is my chance to let the Spirit out!
Where would you like to see yourself in five years, professionally?
It’s very hard to say. I have a song called, “The Other Side” in which the second verse says, “I’m never sure of the path I take. No future plans do I often make….” That’s not to say that I don’t believe in planning responsibly, but the past 10 years of my life (and really prior to that as well), have been a testament to turning things over to God and just celebrating in whatever comes next. So I can’t say for sure where I’ll be next year or in five years, but I can’t wait to find out!
Who: Shawn Thomas
WHERE:Aug 2-3: Living Stones, 1071 Donogan Rd., Largo; Oct. 4: “Spiritfest” at Christ the Cornerstone Church, 5545 62nd Ave N., Pinellas Park; Nov 7 and 9: Suncoast Cathedral, 3276 Venice Ave., Venice