A story of redemption from homosexuality; review of the Dennis Jernigan documentary, Sing Over Me

16 Oct

From Professor Amber Stamper:

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Here’s a not-so-very-pleasant place to start: I have nine gay friends, and every single one of them has been hurt by the Church.

And by “the Church” — lest we overlook ourselves in the term’s abstraction — I mean they have been hurt by individual Christians.

Having spent the last decade of my life in academia’s liberal and affirming circles, I have, of course, met dozens more than these nine professors, staff, and students — and quite a few of them have shared with me tales of some not-so-First Corinthians 13 encounters with Christians. But those nine are ones I’d call real friends.

“Sing Over Me opens up a safe space for homosexuals who feel — as Jernigan did — in need of rescue.”One — after agonizing for years over coming out to her family — was asked by her grandfather, a pastor, to never set foot in his house again. Another overheard his Christian roommate (half-)joking about him on the phone, saying he needed to “turn or burn.” Another was asked to stop participating in the church choir until he had gotten his sinful nature “under control.” Several others were just slowly “phased out” of their Christian friendships after coming out: texts went unanswered, calls went unreturned, profiles on Facebook were suddenly “limited,” and pretty soon they were being excluded from important life events like marriages and births with no uncertainty as to the reason why.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this really isn’t such a hot track record. And I seriously doubt my friends’ experiences are unique.

What got me thinking about this in the first place was the documentary Sing Over Me, the testimony of popular Christian singer/songwriter Dennis Jernigan. I’d never heard of Jernigan, but some Google searches revealed that I’ve heard many of his songs. When I saw that his testimony centered on redemption from a life of homosexuality, though, I got nervous. I began anticipating all the possible ways a film like this could be trouble: preachy, judgmental, simplistic, aggressive, presumptuous — there were any number of land mines it could step on. Also, I was concerned about the medium. As a student of media and rhetoric, I know that the trouble with a format like film is that it’s not reciprocal. The audience sits and watches, the final credits roll, and viewers are left to think about what they’ve learned. There’s no conversation or chance for questions or clarification. This is fine for some subjects, but for others, lines of communication need to be open. I feared this was one of those subjects.

 So I was, to be quite honest, really surprised when, ninety minutes after suspiciously clicking “Play,” I found myself sitting calmly and thoughtfully in front of my computer screen feeling simultaneously motivated and meditative, provoked and inspired, challenged and hopeful.

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