From Legalism to Freedom: A Long-Awaited Student Interview
Jesse Perl was the chartering student president of the Ratio Christi chapter at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He continued as president for its first full year and was the first Legatus Christi recipient at Winthrop - our designation for outstanding students. He graduated in May of 2016, but has been so busy we are just now catching up with him not only about his LC designation, but also as a “Where is he now?”
Q. There are interesting circumstances surrounding how you committed your life to Christ – Tell us about that!
A: During fourth and fifth grade, all of my former friends decided that I was an easy target for bullying. They betrayed me and made my life miserable. The bullying, especially because it was from former friends, caused me to become hyper-legalistic. My thought process was that so long as everyone followed the rules, no one would be able to hurt me, and I would be safe from further bullying (the Bible teaches us about the Ten Commandments, and how no one can follow all the rules, but it was not until beginning sixth grade that I learned this).
During the bullying, my family started going to a new church. I began to hear the gospel. When I entered sixth grade and started in their youth group, the gospel took on significance in my life.
Most of the kids would play “Four Square” before youth group and I remember getting bent out of shape whenever someone should have been declared “out” of the game. Yet through my argumentativeness, these kids were patient with me and loved on me, showing me the love of Christ. Through their example, God softened my heart to hearing the gospel and understanding the concept of grace; and it began to make sense that no one is perfect and no one can live up to the standard that God set except His only son, Jesus. He lived a perfect life and was bullied to the point of death so that we all could be able to have a relationship with God once more. However, I still had not accepted Him as my Lord.
I’m the oldest of three children. Going through middle school there was a lot of pressure on me to be a good example for my younger siblings. I was a teenage male and through a combination of factors I began to struggle with pornography as I neared seventh grade. I felt that it was a release from the pressure of everyday life, with little consequences. Porn may be a release and give instant gratification, however it has enormous ramifications for life and how we interact with others.
My parents discovered this during the summer between eighth and ninth grade. They made me sit down with my youth minister to talk about what I was dealing with. We devised a solution of accountability partners, one of which would be my youth minister and the other my father. But humans make mistakes and do not always live up to their promises. My father and youth minister forgot their proposed plan with me and left me to deal with my struggle on my own. Unable to rely on others, I turned to the Bible and began reading scripture.
Through reading, God first showed me that He would not let me down, and He gives me my strength. Secondly, he taught me that He is Lord, and I should send my troubles to the cross, because He is infinitely greater than anything I deal with, and in Him I find my strength. Lastly, though reading scriptures, specifically Proverbs, He showed me how pornography gives a fake picture of what constitutes a healthy relationship, and can change how people approach relationships, whether romantic ones or friendships.
Through my sickness and sinfulness, God's goodness overcomes and His plan never fails, because He is far greater than any of our troubles in this world.
Q: How did you get interested in apologetics, and what led you to get involved with RC?
A: Ever since the beginning of my faith, I’ve had a keen interest in logic and wanting to know why things are a certain way. This permeates almost all parts of my faith, like learning the reasons for the different parts of the church service. I got involved in Ratio Christi because of my mentor Geoff Morrow, who introduced me to Devin and Melissa Pellew (RC’s soon-to-be chapter directors at Winthrop, flanking Jesse on either side in the photo above), and told me about this organization wanting to start a chapter on campus. I was fortunate enough to be involved in the process for chartering the chapter.
Q: RC at Winthrop is one of our most well-established chapters. What was this chapter like for you, and to what would you attribute its long-running success?
A: This question makes me laugh because I remember us being a small group of no more than five, meeting in Winthrop’s student union lobby before we were chartered (RC Winthrop began meeting unofficially in 2014, chartered in 2015, and now runs with almost 50 students!). Firstly, I’d say it’s primarily our leaders, Devin and Melissa, having such a passion for Jesus and sharing apologetics. It’s hard for that much enthusiasm to not be contagious.
We were also very intentional about trying to find students committed to discussion. The chartering process took about a year because we wanted to have a strong base. Lastly, we had a three-pronged method. We met for about an hour a week. This really helped us students to feel more confident in addressing a wide range of topics. The second prong was to try and have one speaking event per semester, particularly early in the semester. The normal meeting times we’d try to go through a theme or topic that related to the speaking event. We had an open-ended discussion time at the end that often ran until they kicked us out of the building! Thirdly, we tried to partner with other organizations to have discussions. I’d say that Winthrop is tolerant of Christianity, but not a conservative or orthodox perspective of it.
(Editor’s note: Please consider Jesse’s last sentence above. This is the second interview in a row where a student has said his university is “tolerant” of Christianity, but not if it is the "conservative" kind!)
Q: What did it mean to you to receive the Legatus Christi certificate?
A: Honestly, after hearing stories of other certificate recipients, I wondered if someone made a mistake! I am extremely honored to have the privileged to be among these ranks, but I still have so much to learn.
There is an “Exponential Evangelism” component in the Legatus Christi requirements. Even though Jesse had no idea that any sort of personal recognition would follow, he apparently employed it well:
A: “Exponential Evangelism is Servant Leadership which is discipleship,” he says. “My goal as the president of a new organization was to give as much of my authority to others to build them up to do the work of the gospel. I was super intentional with two guys who ended up being president and VP of the chapter after me.”
Winthrop’s Chapter Co-Director Melissa Pellew speaks about why Perl was selected for the LC designation:
“Jesse Perl is a special young man with remarkable leadership qualities. We initially met Jesse through our faculty advisor, while we were still an unofficial campus organization. We had been praying for the Lord to send student leaders who would be a good fit to carry the mission and vision of RC across the campus. After attending one of our public events, Jesse became involved and quickly fell in love with apologetics. He began engaging his peers with the information he was learning and inviting people to the RC meetings."
Pellew continues, “Jesse was involved in various campus organizations and because of his outgoing personality, our group continued to grow. Once we gained the required number of committed students to petition for student organization privileges, Jesse spearheaded that difficult process, ensuring that all paperwork was completed and submitted properly. After much prayer and hard work, RC-Winthrop gained official charter status at the end of the spring semester of 2015. Jesse continued to work hard, leading our student team, helping to plan public events and spreading the word about RC to other campus ministries and organizations. Jesse exudes the love and joy of Christ and is motivated in all that he sets out to accomplish. He became a very seasoned apologist, taking the call to defend the Faith and evangelize to the lost with utmost urgency. We thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him off campus as well. He continues to be an encouragement to us and our time together has always been one of iron sharpening iron. Without Jesse, our chapter would not be where it is today. It was our honor and privilege to confer the Legatus Christi award upon Jesse.”
The Legatus Christi certificate was started with student Jordan Slusher from UNC Charlotte. Unfortunately, Jordan died in a sudden accident several years ago. The Pellews invited Randall & Melissa Slusher, who had accepted the LC posthumously on their son’s behalf, to Jesse’s special night to share about their son's legacy (read about Jordan here).
“It was very powerful for all of our students,” Pellew says, “and for Jesse to hear that important message and to be encouraged by the Slushers to continue to be an ambassador for Christ.”
Back to our Q&A with Jesse:
Q: In what ways has apologetics enriched your life, your own faith and your witness to others?
A: Apologetics has made me far bolder in my faith. It has helped me to articulate my faith far more clearly, and has more importantly taught me the significance of questions.
Q: You graduated with a double major in Political Science & Environmental Studies, but we hear the Lord’s been leading you in a new direction – tell us about it!
A: In the past year the Lord has put a very different call on my life than I initially expected. I hope, sometime in the future, to be ordained. I am currently a youth minister in Florence, S.C., trying to learn as much as I can about ministry.
Q: What kind of opportunities have there been for you to use the apologetics you learned with RC?
A: In the past summer I got to lead an apologetics seminar while I was working at a summer camp. I was able to expose the campers to questions they’d never thought about before, but would likely encounter while on campus. I’ve also been fortunate enough to lead Chapel at a school in Florence and to incorporate a lot of worldview material into those talks.
Q: What are your other short or long-term career, ministry, or mission plans?
A: Short term as stated – to learn as much about ministry as possible. Right now I’m struggling with the juxtaposition of Orthodoxy (correct belief) vs. Orthopraxy (correct practice), and which is more important. Long term goals: Go to seminary, become ordained, and then go wherever else the Lord leads.
Q: What else can you tell our readers about apologetics?
A: Apologetics is a sub-discipline of theology so learning it will help you better understand your faith, which leads to being able to articulate your faith more clearly. Also, the more confident you are in the truth, the more generous you’ll be in conversations which will lead to a more winsome advocacy for Christ.
See additional photos below. We wish Jesse all the best in his future endeavors! To support the work of our chapter at Winthrop, please click here.
Content in blogs does not necessarily represent Ratio Christi’s views. Details