Hate or hope? Jernigan's message of freedom
"I tried living my own life. I even tried rescuing myself, but in my own schemes I never got free," Jernigan said. "I went on this incredible journey, and in the process I discovered freedom.
"Freedom is ridding myself of all the things the enemy wants me to think that define me," he said. "Only one gets to define me, and that's my Father. My past does not define me; present circumstances do not define me; and I'll go even this far to say the things that tempt me do not define me."
Those who don't recognize Jernigan's name likely know his songs. "You are My All in All," "Great is the Lord Almighty," "Who Can Satisfy My Soul (There is a Fountain)" and "Nobody Fills My Heart Like Jesus" are a few that have been part of worship services around the world since the early '90s. These songs reflect the freedom from spiritual captivity that he experienced.
"For over 30 years I have been walking toward Jesus, relationally, saying 'Father show me who You say I am,'" Jernigan said.
Jernigan grew up in Boynton, Okla., where he became the pianist at First Baptist Church at age 9. He admits that he struggled with same-sex attraction. He lived in two worlds, trying to please everybody in his life, not knowing there was hope for a homosexual.
"I equated my good performance with how much people were going to love me," he said.
While attending Oklahoma Baptist University, Jernigan was betrayed by a friend and considered suicide. He concluded that "this is just the way I was born. I am going to stop fighting it." He decided to embrace homosexuality in a secret lifestyle. After a while, he said he became more miserable and felt like he was being used.
When he was about to attend seminary, Jernigan got a call from a fellow OBU alum who offered him a place to live and shared that God had impressed on him that Jernigan would have an influential role as a Christian songwriter. Surprised at his friend's offer, Jernigan accepted and stayed in the Oklahoma City area. This gave him opportunity to attend a 1981 concert in Norman, Okla., that proved to be a watershed moment in his life.
Contemporary Christian group Second Chapter of Acts was performing. Jernigan was excited to hear them, and since he did not have money to buy any of their music, he smuggled in a tape recorder and three blank tapes to record, as he says, "a three album set." Though he admits it was bootlegging and illegal, Jernigan said "God had mercy on me that night because I got to record my own deliverance."
In the middle of the concert, Anne Herring, lead singer of Second Chapter of Acts, stopped to share a message that spoke to Jernigan personally. He recalls what she said: "The Holy Spirit has told me [Herring] there is somebody here tonight. You have gone through things you never thought you would have gone through in your life. You have things hidden in your heart that you never want anyone to know about because you would be devastated, rejected and humiliated. But God wants me to tell you this: He sees the hidden things and He loves you right where you are."
On Nov. 7, 1981, Dennis Jernigan was delivered from homosexuality. He embraced the message of God loving him even when he was living a homosexual lifestyle. From then on, Jernigan took on a new life in Christ.
"That night, my worldview changed," he said. "I had thought man was the ultimate, up until that moment, and then I realized God is my maker. I wanted to find out what He says about me.
"The most asked question in my life is, 'Was your healing instant or has it been a process?' And the answer is 'Yes.' In an instant I was made a brand-new creation. The process looks like Lazarus coming forth." Just as Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jernigan said, he had to remove the "grave clothes" that symbolized his old life in order for his new life to be fully embraced.
He now shares his message of freedom with others. Through the sharing of his story and the stories behind the songs, Jernigan has watched thousands walk out of all manner of spiritual bondage and find healing through intimacy with Jesus Christ.
Jernigan celebrated his 30th wedding anniversary with his wife Melinda this year. They have nine children, and he jokes, "No, we are not Mormon or Catholic, and the children are not adopted, and yes, we know what causes that." In August, he became a grandfather for the first time.
The accomplished Christian artist currently works through his ministry, Shepherd's Heart Music. He has produced multiple albums and is releasing a new one this fall titled "Days of Awe." Jernigan said the one word he would use to describe this recording would be "epic." He wanted the songs to reflect a Hollywood movie soundtrack.
"What if [film composers] Hans Zimmer or James Horner wrote a worship song, what would it sound like?" Jernigan asked. A young man whom Jernigan has mentored for 10 years helped produce "Days of Awe," and Jernigan gave him this instruction: "I want you to produce it in such a way that will attract your generation but will not scare away my generation. I want it to be epic and timeless."
Jernigan also has several new books including the third and final installment of his fantasy series "Chronicles of Bren." He said the series tells the story of a boy who grew up in northeastern Oklahoma who is mocked and bullied and falls into another realm where he finds out he is the son of a King.
"Bren is a word that means 'tears.' In a sense, it is the chronicles of my own tears and sufferings and sorrows and pain but told in a fantastic, supernatural way that kids would understand," Jernigan said. "It is done much in the vein of 'Chronicles of Narnia' and 'The Lord of the Rings.' It is written in such a way that children will see that they do have an identity and a purpose for their existence."
Along with books and music recordings, the release of a documentary and his autobiography, both titled "Sing Over Me: The Dennis Jernigan Story," are yet ahead. The latest information on the film can be found at www.singovermemovie.com.
More information about Jernigan's ministry can be found at www.DennisJernigan.com. His website addresses such subjects as how to respond to pro-gay theology, how to become born again and how to minister to those with same-sex attraction.
Jernigan encourages the church not to lose heart, not to be "afraid of getting involved in the messiness of life because life is messy; relationship is messy. But God has grace to get us through all those things.
"You don't have to go through homosexuality to help someone else out," he said. "You don't have to go through drug addiction to help someone else out. Be willing to walk relationally with people who want to know Jesus. You don't have to know the answers. You just have to know THE answer. If you know Jesus, you know the answer."
Though his story is deemed controversial, Jernigan will continue to help those who seek freedom.
"I will never be silent, even if they come up with legislation that tells me my story is illegal, which there is that push," he said. "But then I'll be willing to have a prison ministry from the inside, just like Paul did."
Chris Doyle is associate editor of The Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, where this story first appeared.