By Mark Ellis
He could play the piano by ear in the first grade. His artistic and creative bent set him apart from the other boys, and this sense of being different grew steadily over time.
“I could hear a song on the radio and sit down and play it,” says Dennis Jernigan, acclaimed Christian songwriter and musician. His life is the subject of the forthcoming feature film “Sing Over Me” that will focus on his deliverance from homosexuality, when God made him a new creature in Christ.
Jernigan grew up in Boynton, Oklahoma, a prairie town of only 400 people about 50 miles from Tulsa. “The guys labeled me a sissy pretty early on,” he admits. “By junior high they called me fag and queer.” He found solace by hanging out with girls, because they seemed to connect with his emotional side.
He and his family attended a small church originally pastored by his grandfather. “I didn’t know anything different but going to church,” he recalls. Jernigan made a profession of faith at nine-years-old in the family church.
A budding athlete, he began to excel at baseball and basketball and noticed he received approval from his father and other men as a result. Mostly, however, he felt disconnected emotionally from his father, who never told him he loved him until many years later.
The secret life
In junior high school, he first began to experiment with homosexual behavior and developed a secretive alternative existence through his high school years.
“I was living two different lives,” he confesses. “I was failing sexually all the time. There were other boys I experimented with quite regularly. In a small town, where everyone knew everyone’s business, we went out of our way to hide things.”
One of only 12 in his graduating class from high school, Jernigan went on to Oklahoma Baptist University. Surprisingly, he found “even more rampant” homosexual activity at this Christian institution, affiliated with the Baptist General Convention.
“If it was discovered, we would have been kicked out, so we had to be very careful in the way we practiced our sexual encounters,” he notes.
Although Jernigan’s athletic gifts allowed him to make the basketball team, he quit to devote himself to his music studies. “I had to work extra-hard to learn the theoretical concepts of music,” he recalls.
To keep up appearances, he began to date a woman named Melinda. “I thought she was beautiful but I had no sexual attraction to her,” he admits. At the same time he dated Melinda, he was involved with other male students sexually. “Finally, in my senior year, I told her I never wanted to see her again.”
“Trust me,” he told her. “You will be better off if you never see my face again.”
An older mentor
By his senior year of college, his self-esteem had plummeted to new lows. “I was shocked when an older Christian man came into my life. He was a husband and father, well-respected, and he began praying with me each week, calling and asking how my studies were going and genuinely investing in me in a godly way.”
Jernigan and his older Christian mentor went out for a Coke one evening. As they sat across from each other in a booth, he decided to let his guard down. “I’m not who you think I am,” Jernigan confessed. “I am really struggling and I don’t know how to help myself. I need help, but I can’t even tell you what it is unless I know you will love me no matter what.”
“You can trust me,” the older man responded. “I’ve probably heard it before and I will love you no matter what.”
Jernigan paused for a moment, then told him the agonizing truth. “I struggle with same-sex attraction and I don’t know what to do.”
In his confession, he felt a massive weight began to lift from his shoulders. But the feeling did not last long. The older man had been setting Jernigan up and a few minutes later made a sexual advance. In Jernigan’s vulnerable state, he gave in.
“I went away from that encounter feeling used, betrayed, and humiliated,” he says. “I felt worthless.”
Jernigan went back to his small apartment, turned on his gas stove without lighting the burner, and lay down nearby.
As he listened to the hiss of escaping gas and smelled the telltale odor he wondered if the apartment would blow up or he would pass out, but he didn’t care which came first.
As he lay there, a quiet small voice pierced through his despondency. Are you ready for eternity? Do you know what waits for you there?
“It scared me so badly I got up and turned off the gas,” Jernigan says.
This brush with eternity, however, did not alter his lifestyle choice. “I decided that this is the way I was born and I’m going to stop fighting it.” In the summer following his college graduation, he moved in with another gay man.
Now that he could live fully and freely in the homosexual lifestyle, he expected his inner torments to cease. “I expected peace to come, but the opposite happened,” he admits. “I got more miserable than ever.”
Because he felt used in the relationship, Jernigan severed it abruptly and then made a major course correction. “I decided to go to seminary because I thought God would meet me there. I tried suicide and seminary couldn’t be any worse.”
A prophetic voice
But three days before school started, an old friend called. “Dennis, the Lord has been speaking to me about you. He came to me in a dream and in the dream God was giving you music and people all over the world are singing your songs.”
Jernigan thought his friend had lost it, because at that point in his life, he had only written three songs.
Then his friend told him his mother had the same dream, a further confirmation. “We want to invite you to move into our house and give God a chance to work this in your life.”
Three days later, Jernigan decided against seminary, moved in with his friends in Oklahoma City, and took a job driving a school bus.
“Before and after my morning bus route, I would go to the piano and start playing, open my Bible to Psalm 1, and begin singing,” he recalls. “I had to do something for my sanity.”
He faced a titanic inner struggle for his allegiance. On the one hand, homosexual temptations pulled him strongly in one direction. On the other hand, his friend’s powerful prophetic word about his destiny with God pulled in another. He felt double-minded, and he knew from Scripture that “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
“I remembered when King Saul was beset by evil spirits he would send for the shepherd boy, David, to come and play the harp. Then the enemy would flee. So I decided to do that for myself and I sang through the psalms many times.”
As he played, he reflected on David’s life. “I realized that David committed adultery and murder, but he is remembered as being a man after God’s own heart.”
Lord, will you do that for me? he asked quietly.
A powerful concert experience
Shortly after this, Jernigan attended a 2nd Chapter of Acts concert at the University of Oklahoma. Halfway through the song “Mansion Builder,” lead singer Annie Herring began to prophecy. “The Lord told me there is somebody here tonight who is going through things. You have things hidden you think no one sees, but He sees the things you’re hiding and He loves you anyway,” she said.
Up to this point, Jernigan thought God hated him because of his sinful lifestyle. “I thought homosexuality was too vile for Jesus to take on the cross.”
“Jesus died for every sin,” Herring said. “God loves you right where you are. We’re going to sing over you. While we sing, we want you to take the hidden things from your heart, lift them in your hands, and by faith give them to Jesus like a gift on Christmas morning.”
“On Christmas, you don’t just give things away; you receive things in return,” she added.
Jernigan began to sob as he slowly lifted his hands to God. “For the first time I realized that homosexuality was placed on Jesus on the cross, that He died for my sins.
Jesus, you’ve been crucified with me. You’ve been buried with me, but you came forth out of the grave, he said to himself.
At that moment, the resurrection power of Jesus delivered Jernigan from his bondage to homosexual sin. “That night I walked out of homosexuality and I never looked back. In an instant I was given a new identity. I wouldn’t let those past experiences define me.”
A new creature in Christ
During the next two years, Jernigan immersed himself in God’s Word. “I had been believing a lot of lies. I had been duped by the enemy. I became passionate to know the things I believed in and why I believed them.”
While homosexual thoughts dominated his mind in the past, the time he invested in God’s Word helped the temptations to recede. “It used to be all I could think about. But that’s changed. I have transformed my mind by renewing it in God’s Word.”
Jernigan never thought he could have a romantic relationship with a woman, but something unexpected happened. God brought Melinda back into his life, the woman he dated in college. Two years later, they got married.
“I was scared to death of sexual intimacy with a woman,” he confesses. As the wedding approached, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to respond physically to his wife.
“By the time the marriage came along, I had renewed my mind for a two-year period, so I was confident that everything would work as God intended.”
God supplied abundantly more than he could have hoped or imagined. “Sure enough, on our wedding night we made love four times,” he says.
After the first time, he wept, because God had removed his guilt and shame about his sexuality. “That sent me over the edge in my understanding, to know God really does transform. I know it’s possible.”
Jernigan went on a trip with his father a few months after he got married. As they drove, he turned and asked the question that causes a hungry ache in many young people’s souls. “Daddy, why didn’t you ever tell me you loved me?”
“My dad never told me, so I didn’t know how to tell you,” he responded.
Jernigan sees a causal link between his same-sex attraction and his early home life. “With homosexuality, 99% of the time there is a disconnect between the child and the parent of the same sex,” he notes. “Everyone with a disconnect like that takes a turn toward something. In someone else, it could develop into an addictive behavior of another sort.”
Dennis and Melinda have been happily married for 29 years and have nine children. Songs like “We Will Worship the Lamb of Glory,”
“Thank You,” “Great is the Lord Almighty,” “Who Can Satisfy My Soul (There is a Fountain),” “I Belong to Jesus,” “Nobody Fills My Heart Like Jesus,” and “You Are My All in All” have been sung throughout the world by Christians, in fulfillment of the prophecy spoken to him many years before.
In conjunction with the documentary currently being made about his life, Jernigan is writing a novelized version of his life story. He is also working on a fantasy series for boys.
“God does renew and transform,” he exclaims. “God does restore. Look at my life. Think of what I would have been robbed from if I never followed the Lord. I would not have my wife and children. I would have nothing, really.”
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