One man is on a mission to save Portland from eternal damnation. Evangelist Christian Jake Zimmermann is fighting the crumbling morals of Portland with quiet protests across the city, namely its plethora of strip clubs.
Sound ridiculous? That's because it's supposed to be. Jake is actually the brainchild of Portland native William David Perkins, who unleashes his character on the streets of the city—complete with a Jesus Christ hat, ill-fitting Abstinence shirt, and a fanny pack—to spread the gospel. It's possible you've run into him and gotten a free Klondike bar for letting him save your soul at Saturday Market, or were an unwitting (or willing, such as myself) participant in "See You at the Strip Pole" this past September—an event in which Portlanders were invited to join hands and pray in front of stages at strip clubs.
If not, William keeps a blog of Jake's adventures at saveportlandfromhell.com. I sat down with him to try to separate truth from false evangelism.
WW: Who is Jake Zimmermann?
William Perkins: His title is prophet for Save Portland From Hell. So that's who Jake is, he lives with his mother, he's 31 years old and he is set on saving Portland from hell by very strategic evangelizing techniques —like giving free Klondike bars to save people's souls. He's trying to save Portland from hell, but the irony of this is everywhere he goes he ends up creating hell. He's got good intentions, he's a nice guy, he's not mean spirited, he's just generally misguided and ignorant. He also suffers from a mental illness, as I do, I'm bipolar. You can see his mental illness is revealed through his religious fanaticism. Though Save Portland From Hell raises some serious issues and concerns that I have [with evangelism], the main part is mental illness and raising awareness for that.
What do we do with someone like Jake Zimmermann? I don't know, I don't have the answers because in some ways I'm like Jake Zimmermann, except I obviously don't have the same amount of faith as Jake does. But what do we do with someone like Jake? He's a nice guy, but he's misguided and everywhere he goes he's making a mess of things.
It's interesting because the more I did this project, I started getting some really mean comments, telling Jake to kill himself, calling him a molester, and I actually started feeling like I had to defend Jake. I know we shouldn't tell people like him to kill themselves—what is that gonna do? It's just gonna make things worse. Those things are powerful. I seriously can still remember mean things that were said to me growing up. Those really have a huge effect. At the same time I just to have remember all the nice things people have said to me and the positive things and put those up higher. Jake has gotten a couple nice comments, and that's enough.
So what are you trying to accomplish with Save Portland from Hell? Is there a point or is it just entertainment for you?
It's definitely not just entertainment. I really do wanna raise awareness for mental illness, because I do have it. I had my first manic episode back in 2011. I was delusional and thought people were after me. Like, I took all the food out of my parent's house and donated it to an Oxford house I was supposed to move into.
All this crazy shit—I thought I was a saint. I knew I wasn't Jesus, because that's crazy, but I thought I was a saint. I gave all my clothes away, I burned all my books. During that time I was going around Portland and going to recovery meetings. For instance I was in an AA meeting and I thought there were five undercover police officers sitting behind me and I thought they were gonna arrest me any second. In order to stay one step ahead of them, the whole meeting I moved from seat to seat.
People in that meeting, I'm guessing, we're like, who's this asshole who's disrupting? But that wasn't it, I was trying to stay away from the cops. When I came out of my mania and back to reality it was very challenging to come back to that. I was still going to the meetings and I felt like people were treating me like I was nuts. I really have this strong passion to really bring awareness. I don't want to be judged for what I did or said during that time, because it's not really who I am.
Jake and I have different motives. Jake's trying to save Portland from Hell; I'm trying to protest a lot of the shit I see around. So it's just kind of like a creative protest in a sense, but I'm using Jake. Same with See You at the Strip Pole. There are endless opportunities for things that are coming up that I'm going to take a stand against. I'm doing that through Jake. And I love to write and I'm funneling my insanity through this project.
It's close enough to reality that it could be real. Do a lot of people not get the joke?
Oh definitely, a lot of people don't and that's what I want to happen. I think it's good if half the people believe it's real and half the people believe it's a joke. That's great. I was promoting it on Facebook and the comments are hilarious. A lot of people that think it's real. But if people actually take the time to read the website I don't know how you could believe it's real. Some people know it's a joke and they don't agree with it, but most people that know its a joke think its funny and great. It's raising some good issues. One guy sent me a message that was like, "this guy's just trying to make Christians look foolish to the world," and wanted to say "no, i'm not, I'm not trying to make Christians look foolish to the world, I'm trying to show Christians how foolish they look to the world," but Jake would never say that.
Tell me more about See You at the Strip Pole. What's the background of that?
See You at the Strip Pole is my response to "See You at the Pole," which is a real thing. It happens every year on September 24th, which is the same day we did See You at the Strip Pole. Christian kids all over the country will meet before school and hold hands around the American flag pole and pray. Pray for their classmates. There's a website and they sell shirts and it's turned into this business. I heard about that and started looking into and became really disturbed by the whole thing. So I thought, ok, I've gotta do something for this. This is great for school children, but what is there for Christian adults? So it's my protest against See You at the Pole, but it's Jake's vehicle to evangelize.
With See You at the Strip Pole, did anybody come out thinking it was serious?
The majority of the dancers and strip bar owners and employees knew it was a joke/protest. (Casa Diablo owner) Johnny Diablo took the logo, turned it red and put "Sell Your Soul, Portland" instead. He was offering specials that day. Devil's Point was doing free breakfast because of it. It definitely created more business for the bars. When I went into Casa Diablo it was very awkward because it was like fiction and reality were clashing. I'm obviously not going to go in there and hand out gospel tracts and pray, cause that's not cool. I'm against that, that's why I'm doing this. But I knew people wanted Jake, they wanted to see Jake. I was honestly up the whole night before trying to figure out what to do. But I felt like I really had to do it because I think it's important.
What are the reactions you've gotten from the girls at the Strip Clubs?
They were all very supportive of it. I ran into one girl at a Strip Club and I knew her from outside. She didn't recognize me and she thought it was for real, but when she found out it was a joke she was cracking up, really supportive. I have a lot of support from that community and I hope it will become a yearly thing where people will dress up like evangelicals and wear dark glasses.
Are you ever scared that people will take poorly to the joke? Religion is hard to make funny; people take it really seriously.
I think the people that get offended are the people who hold on to some of these beliefs. Jake just pushes it to the extreme. The intent is really to get people to think and create some dialog. Jake isn't mean spirited, he doesn't attack people and I've tried to lighten up the website.
Portland is a place with a lot of sin, so I suppose it makes sense to do it here. Do you think you could do something like this anywhere else?
Definitely Portland is unique. There's just a lot of really cool culture and art here. But it's what I know. I grew up here, it's my hometown so I know it. I think something similar could be done in other places, but it wouldn't be like this.
Which Portland strip club would Jesus go to?
Casa Diablo, because he's vegan.
How many souls has Jake saved?
According to his graph, maybe a month ago, he was up to 3,000. He's saved quite a few since then, but it slows down during the winter time because he can't go out to Saturday Market and get the response. Instead of ice cream he's gotta use umbrella's and hand warmers and stuff like that.
What's the process of saving someone?
I have a card. You just have to read the back, it's the sinners prayer.
"God I'm pretty rotten
I don't want to go to hell
I want to go to heaven
So I invite Jesus into my heart
Thanks for that
So I'm saved now? That was less painful than I imagined.
Yeah it's that simple.
Do I have to go to church now?