Several films with religious themes are set to hit the big screen this year, including “Son of God,” a movie made by the producers of the 2013 hit television series “The Bible.” Another film sure to capture attention, particularly in Oklahoma, is the documentary “Sing over Me,” which chronicles the faith journey of contemporary Christian recording artist and Oklahoma native Dennis Jernigan.
For years, contemporary Christian recording artist Dennis Jernigan has spoken about his struggles with same-sex attraction and what he says caused him to triumph over it.
Now, he is sharing that story in a documentary set to premiere on Friday in Tulsa. The film, “Sing Over Me,” also will be shown via simulcast at churches in Oklahoma City, Enid, Muskogee, Durant and at Oklahoma Baptist University. Jernigan said his new autobiography of the same name will be available on Friday at the screenings.
The worship leader said that he had fought against homosexual attractions since he was a young boy growing up a few miles north of Boynton in Muskogee County. Jernigan said he was in his 20s when the Lord took away those same-sex attractions, and he has considered himself a former gay since November 1981. He and his wife of 30 years, Melinda, live in Muskogee.
“I just decided to let my Father tell me who I am — not my past, not the gay community,” he said.
But Scott Hamilton, executive director of the LGBT advocacy organization, the Cimarron Alliance, said he is passionately against what he called the “pray the gay away” message of the documentary.
Hamilton said he is deeply concerned that the film will encourage people in the faith community to believe in what he called “ex-gay” reparative or conversion therapies and programs based on what he said is a mistaken premise that being gay is a choice.
And Jernigan acknowledged that the documentary's theme will likely draw sharp criticism.
Hamilton said such anti-gay messages have been known to drive gay people to suicide or cause them to feel inferior or abnormal — all in the name of faith.
“For anyone to say ‘Jesus did this for me,' what is that saying to the countless people who don't get that same ‘gift?'” Hamilton said.
Jernigan, 55, said the documentary's distributor, Free Verse Films of Los Angeles, Calif., plans to release to film in theaters in fall 2014.
Jernigan said as a boy, he heard people at church discussing gays with unkind words and he thought God hated him. He said he felt condemned by the messages that he heard from the pulpit because he was unable to change — but then he did.
So he said the film's premiere in a house of worship is fitting because of the important role that his faith plays into his story.
Many Oklahomans know Jernigan through his music.
The singer-songwriter is known to have written numerous worship songs such as “You Are My All in All,” “We Will Worship the Lamb of Glory” and “Nobody Fills My Heart Like Jesus.” More recently, Jernigan gained the public's attention with his song written in the aftermath of the deadly May tornadoes in Oklahoma. He sang that song, “We Will Rise,” at the May 26 memorial service held for victims of the May tornadoes at First Baptist Church of Moore.
Jernigan, an OBU graduate, said he has been sharing the details of his faith journey since 1988 so he knows that his message is embraced by some and denounced by others.
He said he has been willing to face his detractors because the mix of religion and gays is a subject many people refuse to talk about. He said he also is speaking out through film because numerous people have told him they overcame their own same-sex attractions after hearing his faith testimony.
“I remember being a kid and wondering if change (from same-sex attraction) is possible. Not only were people afraid to talk about it, they just never did,” he said. “This is such a firebrand subject.”
Jernigan said the documentary and the related book are his way of sharing another side of the story that gays and gay advocacy group proclaim about being gay. He said he has been told over the years that he has been “brainwashed” by the Christian faith community that believes being gay is a sin.
However, Jernigan said he is entitled to share his beliefs just as gay advocates are entitled to share theirs.
“They are celebrated when they ‘come out of the closet' into homosexuality, yet we are chastised when we come out of homosexuality into heterosexuality. I see that as a double standard,” he said. “The Word says ‘let the redeemed of the Lord say so,' and I say so.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton said the message of “Sing Over Me” appears to be the idea that being gay is some type of disorder, but it is not. He said several professional associations, including the American Medical Association, American Pediatric Association and American Psychological Association, have said “so-called ex-gay therapy is not only useless but it is extremely harmful.”
“Addiction is a disease, sexual orientation is not,” Hamilton said. “I see something like this as nothing more than horrifying propaganda.”
Jernigan said the documentary's premiere in Tulsa will include praise and worship, the documentary screening and a question-and-answer session in which he will speak.