When his sin was exposed in 2017, Jaterrius Johnson felt church leaders over-reacted in their approach to church discipline.
“I’ve been scarred by the church,” the Christian rapper says on a DJ Wade-O video.
His sin was homosexuality. He believes if it had been fornication with a girlfriend, treatment would have been gentler, more comprehending.
Jaterrius, who is better known by his hip hop handle Rockstar JT, survived the discipline and stands today as a shining example of repentance, forgiveness and restoration. And he is openly asking the church to treat sin as sin, without stigmatization or discrimination.
“A lot of Christians, we struggling,” he says. “A lot of Christians, we depressed. On social media we all pretending it’s all good, when it’s not. My philosophy on that is that it’s ok to not be ok.”
Jaterrius was raised by a single mom in Birmingham, Alabama. In poverty and without a dad, Jatterius fell into fighting and the streets. He broke into homes, used guns and became violent with his own family.
Mom was worried about the direction her son was headed, so she enlisted the help of Kevin King, who runs a Christian non-profit called Common Ground that reaches out to wayward youth.
Kevin began visiting and ministering to the young Jaterrius, who described himself at the time as “lukewarm.”
Kevin “wouldn’t let me go. He said, ‘JT, you gonna be mine.’” he recalls. “Kevin, that’s my dog. He wouldn’t let me go. He said, ‘I know you ain’t saved, but you still not going nowhere. Just loving on me, not preaching to me every time, but hanging around me, taking me to concerts and taking me to different conferences.”
At 16, Jaterrius converted to Christ at a 2015 Impact Conference. His mentor, Kevin, urged him to use his obvious talent for rap in the kingdom.
“You gonna need something to do. You know you’re a talented rapper. You need to use your gifts for the Lord,” Kevin told him.
Jaterrius saw no compelling reason to change his stage name, so he remains “Rockstar JT.”
He broke through ceilings with “Getcha weight up,” which in addition to being catching was picked up by HBO’s Euphoria.
When he first started rapping he wouldn’t even listen to worldly music because he was nurturing his relationship with Christ. As he felt more solid in his faith, he allowed himself to take a peak at his secular counterparts and decided he needed to update his style to keep abreast of trends.
He also decided to write music for the streets, not for the church sanctuary. His intention was outreach, not inreach.
“I’m finally being who God wanted me to be and that is a trapper,” he says on Rapzilla. “They dope dealing but I’m hope dealing.”
Then when everything was going well, JT had trouble in his church because leaders learned he struggled with same-sex attraction. His pastors called him in and called him out. They treated it more severely than fornication, which commonly occurs in the church.
While he smarted from the discipline, he recovered and resolved to let his life become an encouragement to others.
“Sometimes in my life when I’m weak I don’t run to God, I run to sin,” he says in the extraordinarily sincere Wade-O video. “I can be honest about that because God meets me where I’m at. I felt like I needed to be honest with people because honestly man, there’s a lot of people struggling with that, more people that we know.”
Before JGivens “came out” as homosexual, Rockstar JT reached out to him over Twitter and encouraged him to fight his temptations also.
“When people express what they’re struggling with, it can help somebody else,” he adds. “There’s a lot of people struggling with a lot of things where we don’t want the other person to know because we feel like it’s so shameful. I’m not ashamed of my struggle. I’m still struggling with it.”
If we give in to shame, we might cover our sin. If we acknowledge it, we can deal with it, Rockstar JT says.
“I know that God is still meeting me where I’m at. I know the Holy Spirit is living in me. I know I’m trying to strive towards holiness,” he says. “And I’m never going to settle for less and stop fighting. I want to encourage everybody: If you’re struggling with something, don’t lay down, don’t stop fighting, because when you stop fighting, that’s when that sin can really have the power it wants to have over you.
“The enemy wants to kill you. The Bible tells us the devil wants to kill, steal and destroy. When we let sin overtake us, that’s the best times the enemy comes in and man: ‘I’m about to kill, steal and destroy this dude, destroy his platform, kill his witness, steal his joy.”
Over the summer, Rockstar JT ditched plans for a concert tour — which would have promoted his music and given him money — and instead did an urban mission in Philadelphia. He wasn’t the “big star” but the foot soldier in the kingdom of God.
It’s a good thing he gathered the courage to overcome the stigma of his temptation.
“I felt like turning my back on the church. I felt like turning my back on God. It’s by the grace of God that I’m here today,” he says. “I feel like a lot of people want to discredit you when you’re not what they want to see. We’re supposed to love people for who they are, not because of what they do. In reality, we’re struggling. In reality, life hits us.”
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Nazarii Baytler studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.