“We may suffer persecution, but Jesus will be with us. The Church has no idea I’ve had so much persecution in my life,” Christian singer/songwriter Dennis Jernigan told The Christian Post about his just-released book. “God has met me in those Middle of Nowhere moments and not wasted them.”
Jernigan, 61, has weathered storms ever since a chance encounter with an adult male as a 5-year-old stirred same-sex attraction in him. This week started his 40th year of deliverance from homosexuality, a period marked not only by joy but also battles with LGBT activists who despise his testimony.
“With persecution, the whole goal is to silence people,” Jernigan explained to CP. “I won’t be silenced, and that aggravates people because they don’t want to be told they’re in sin.”
Jernigan, who started playing music at age 10 in the basement of his Southern Baptist church in Oklahoma, said God delivered him at a Second Chapter of Acts concert in 1981. Lead singer Annie Herring said that someone there had a difficult sin, but God wanted him to know He loves him anyway. The sensitive 22-year-old Oklahoma Baptist University graduate sobbed, gave his sexual struggle to the Lord, and received the power to overcome it.
Not that others haven’t wanted him to retrace his steps. In his new book, The Middle of Nowhere, among Jernigan’s 40 or so snapshots is one from Oklahoma State University, where he had just finished an outdoor concert for several hundred that 30-40 protesters heckled and jeered throughout.
As the area cleared and the singer hobbled on crutches, two young opponents got in his face fiercely and closely. “I felt very suddenly I was alone, about to be eaten by sharks, but I knew all I could do is trust God,” he recalled.
However, the protesters then went silent and started backing away. Jernigan turned around and saw the school’s 6-foot-tall quarterback standing there. “Everything OK?” he asked knowingly, a rescue the performer described as “a New Testament, Holy Spirit moment.”
“I listened to a few (of Jernigan’s) songs, and they really resonated with me deeply! So many heartfelt worship songs that voiced the hearts of us as believers,” Gary Rhodes, longtime church music minister and composer of “Experiencing God: The Musical,” told CP. “Our congregation sang them with conviction and sang them fervently.”
Not only did those compositions get worshipers focused on the Lord, Jernigan’s testimony helped many realize victory in their struggles.
“As a teenager, I stumbled into a Jernigan concert and was blown away by how his music and his testimony spoke directly to where I was at in terms of looking to make sense of reconciling same-sex attraction with my faith,” said a Christian professional who has a wife and children and will remain anonymous in this report. “Jernigan’s music and his story helped create a path forward for me out of SSA and into the freedom of God’s grace.”
The Church has been uneasy at times about Jernigan voicing his testimony. A case in point involves “Sing Over Me,” a drama/documentary about him released in 2014. He asked several well-known Christians to endorse it, but none would.
“One person in particular, a world-renowned Bible scholar, told me, ‘That’s your calling. It’s not mine, so I can’t endorse it,’” the singer/songwriter recalled with a tinge of disappointment in his voice.
In 2015, Jernigan incorporated All in All Church, an independent, “Bapticostal” body meeting Wednesday nights in his rural Oklahoma home. He streams worship live over the internet, getting up to 6,000 views.
When the songs end, he turns off the camera to share from Scripture, and attendees respond to that and what’s on their hearts personally. “Our No. 1 rule is: What happens in the living room stays in the living room,” he said.
Previous to founding the church, Jernigan's ministry had no 501c3 designation. He said that early in his career, he heard his story about same-sex attraction would make it hard to get the needed governmental approval, so he decided to depend on earnings from song royalties and performances.
However, doctors last year told him of damage to his left vocal cord; he has to rest his voice all week for Wednesday worship. They also told him he has early-stage Parkinson’s Disease, which has caused tremors in his right hand, slower vocalization at times, and less stamina. He’s also had difficulty sleeping more than a couple hours a night.
Instead of stopping his ministry, he's amplified it, turning to social media to publicize his videos, prose and songs. He has a podcast, frequently updated Facebook page and Patreon page where supporters can donate and receive additional materials, such as e-books, monthly short stories, behind-the-scenes videos and more.
Despite the medical challenges, Jernigan is upbeat. Married to Melinda for more than 30 years, he has nine children and 12 grandchildren. He delights in taking the young ones fishing and on walks through a special 20-acre fantasy “Forest of Bren” he’s created on his land.
His first-born daughter, Annie Kay, named after Annie Herring, was with her 4½-year-old son at a nearby park on a recent day. “Dennis has always been willing to tell people what God has done for him,” she said admiringly of her father as his little grandson crawled onto the roof of her car. Sometimes God’s miracles in Dennis Jernigan’s life are readily apparent, other times not, but all speak loudly to those willing to hear.