'll never forget the night a man named Dennis Jernigan came to minister to my church. I was only thirteen, but I was passionate for an experience with God. He led the congregation in songs that he had written, and each one seemed as if it had been written for me. There was something about this man that seemed so familiar to me but I could not pinpoint it. It seemed as if we both had a secret we wanted no one to know. During the middle of his presentation, Dennis stopped singing and began to tell his story. As I listened I could feel blood rushing to my face. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. It seemed he spoke directly at me. He was telling my story. Dennis was talking about being gay.
It had only been about a year since I realized that the desires I had, to be held and loved by a man, actually had a name. At the same time I learned that those desires are not socially acceptable to most people. In my faith tradition homosexuality was one of the most horrible sins someone could commit. I can recall hearing my own minister loudly declaring from the pulpit, "Homosexuality is an abomination to God punishable by death! We must rid the world of this sickness that is overcoming mankind. We must protect our children." I feared it was to late for me. There was no way out. No hope at all until I heard Dennis Jernigan.
Dennis told the congregation how God had miraculously set him free from homosexuality. I listened intently. Maybe there is hope for me. If God can take this away from Dennis Jernigan then I'm sure He can do the same for me. At that moment I set out on a quest to find freedom. I began praying and asking God to heal me. I read my Bible more diligently. I constantly read Christian books and listened to Christian teaching tapes. I never missed a service at church. I became a leader in my youth group. I started a Christian club at school. I watched Christian television and only listened to Christian music. Maybe if I did enough for God He would take these sinful homosexual thoughts out of my mind, but the torment never let up.
As I grew older the suffering grew worse. Would I ever find freedom? Every chance I had I would have people pray for me. I went through "deliverance" trying to have demons cast out of me. I had big name televangelists lay hands on me to set me free. Countless nights I would cry myself to sleep begging God to change me. Nothing seemed to help at all.
On the outside I led the perfect Christian life. I didn't drink or go to parties. I witnessed about my faith. I never cursed. I didn't have sex. I didn't even date. I was the one parents always trusted their children to hang out with. But night after night when I was all alone I knew the truth. I had a secret sin. One that seemed unpardonable. All though I had never acted on my desires, in my mind I constantly imagined what it would be like to be held by another man, or to kiss another man, or more. I feared I would be unable to hold back my feeling much longer.
By my freshman year of college I heard about an "ex-gay" counseling ministry in Oklahoma City that claimed they could transform a person into a normal heterosexual. I began attending both individual counseling sessions as well as a group session once week. The program did little then encourage me to continue what I had already been doing for the past six years. Pray, read the Bible, avoid evil and temptation, and try to be as straight as possible. I stuck with the program for about a year until I had finished their "Living Waters" curriculum. It had supposedly helped "thousands", but I was just as gay when I left as when I started.
I was reaching the end of my rope. I didn't know what else to do. At this point giving in to my desires was not an option. I believed to do that would mean condemning myself to hell for all eternity. I wanted to be healed just like Dennis Jernigan. I wanted to be set free and able to marry a woman and have a family just like my ex-gay counselors. Why did God love them more then me? Why did He set them free and leave me dieing? I decided the only way to prove to others that I had been good enough do deserve God's healing was to just pretend He had healed me.
May 25, 1997 I began sharing a new story of how God had "set me free of homosexuality". I shared with my family, and told my best friends. I even began to travel to different churches across Oklahoma and eventually in to Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas preaching and telling them how God had "set me free". I decided if that if I was going to claim to be free I might as well marry a woman, start a family, and grow my ministry all on the basis that I was an "ex-gay". The whole time I knew on the inside I was living a lie, and every moment I dug my grave deeper and deeper.
Luckily, I somehow got hold of a book written by Rev. Mel White called Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America. As I read the book, it felt as if Mel had written about my own story. He explained how for years he had struggled to be free from homosexuality and nothing ever worked. He described his love for God, and how he developed a successful ministry. How he married a wonderful woman and raised a family. All the time denying his true self. Eventually he could live a lie no longer. He left his wife and children and began living as a gay man.
He continues his story detailing how eventually he also came to terms with his faith, and came to believe God loves him just as he is. Unfortunately the latter part of his story did not quite sink in to me. All I could focus on was how he had left his family and lost his ministry. Those were two things I did not want to happen to me, but I felt they were inevitable. I knew eventually I would not be able to hide my true feelings any more. I would end up destroying my family and my ministry. In my heart I believed that there was only one way to prevent such a tragedy. I would never let any of it happen in the first place. I could not get married or have a family. I would discontinue my ministry. And I would embrace "the gay lifestyle". To do this would mean eternal damnation, but in my mind I was sacrificing my life for that of my future family and those involved with my ministry.
Within only one week of making this decision, I told my family and friends that I had been living a lie. They all knew how hard I had fought to be set free, and like me they all believed I would be destined for hell if I gave into me sexual desires. Many tried to get me to change me mind, but I assured them I had made my decision and it was the only way. Some refused to speak to me. Others like my grandmother wrote me letters and constantly called me on the phone begging me not to give up. My grandmother even made the statement that if I was going to hell then she wanted to go too, because heaven would not be heaven for her with out me there.
The pain was worse now then ever. Not only had I lost my dream to have a wife and children, I had also lost my dream to have a ministry. I had lost my friends. I had lost my family. I had lost my God. I had lost my total reality. I came extremely close to taking my own life.
On a particular Sunday morning in January of 1999 I found myself in church. The denomination really makes no difference. I believe were ever I would have been that day God would have found me. Near the end of the service the minister lifted up a piece of bread and the cup of wine that was to be used for communion, and she said, "These are the gifts of God for the People of God." Suddenly my heart leaped inside me. I realize that I had come to God's house, and He was asking me to eat at His table. In that instant I knew God loved me. I knew He wanted to be apart of my life no matter who I was. I knew unlike me friends and family He would never turn me away. Now that I had finally given up trying to be good enough for God, He was able to help me understand He loves and created me just the way I am. Finally my search for freedom was over. Now I am finally free.
Location: Lynchburg, Virginia, USA