"I don't get to decide whether or not God loves me. I either accept or reject His love."
That was the assertion of Christian songwriter and author Dennis Jernigan as he sat at a piano in Oklahoma Baptist University's Raley Chapel and spoke openly about his struggles growing up in Boynton, Okla., and while he was attending OBU.
The 1981 graduate spoke during OBU's weekly Chapel service on Wednesday, Oct. 25. Jernigan's appearance was part of the university's "Beyond the Hill" series, featuring distinguished alumni who cover a diverse range of academic disciplines.
"I struggled with homosexuality my whole life," he said early in the chapel service.
Jernigan said he lived in two worlds, not knowing there was hope for a homosexual, while trying to make it as an OBU music major.
"I was the church pianist from the time I was nine years old," he said. "I knew the hymns forwards and backwards and couldn't read a lick of music."
Though he was confident in his ability to perform music, Jernigan said he was embarrassed to be a member of OBU's Shawnee Choral Society, which he described as a "remedial choral group" for those who couldn't read music.
Jernigan said he battled personal insecurities throughout most of his years at OBU. Taking classes with fellow students who had music training all their lives, he said his motivation to be accepted got him through college.
"I equated my good performance with how much people were going to love me," he said.
During his senior year, Jernigan considered suicide. He concluded, though, that "this is how" God made him, and he decided to embrace his homosexuality in a secret lifestyle.
"I became more miserable than ever," he said. "I wish somebody would have come along when I was sitting in your seat and told me what I'm telling you today. Thank God, I get to do that."
Though he struggled through his college years, Jernigan credits the role of a fellow classmate with setting a series of events in motion which kept him in Oklahoma and put him on a path to his successful career.
About to move to graduate school out of state, he got a call from his fellow 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. Jernigan took his friend up on the offfer and stayed in the Oklahoma City area. That gave him opportunity to attend a concert in Norman which proved to be a watershed moment in his life.
Jernigan told how he was "delivered" from homosexuality when attending a concert by the Contemporary Christian group Second Chapter of Acts. He concluded that God loved him even when he was living the homosexual lifestyle.
"Everything I learned at OBU is for a purpose," he said. "But I consider my real education to have come after OBU."
The accomplished Christian artist currently works through his ministry, Shepherd's Heart Music, and has produced 14 albums. He and his wife Melinda, also a 1981 OBU graduate, have been married since 1983. They have nine children.
Jernigan has told his story on James Dobson's Focus on the Family radio show. He also has traveled around the world with Christian speakers Anne Graham Lotz, Beth Moore and Max Lucado.
Jernigan closed out the Chapel service with a time of praise and worship, singing some of his well-known songs, including "The Lord Reigns" and "You Are My All in All."