When the Christian poet, hip-hop artist and writer Jackie Hill Perry arrived at one of America’s most prestigious universities to give a lecture last year, she was met by protestors, claiming she was spreading “hateful beliefs”.
The 29-year-old wasn’t surprised. “When someone comes out saying: ‘Hey, I used to be gay,’ they are slaughtered, they are called bigoted.”
Jackie is unwavering in her beliefs. Her newly released autobiography Gay Girl, Good God (B&H Books), which tells the story of how she came to Christ, is notable for containing a large amount of theology and quotations from scripture. “The aim of the book was to show off God,” she explains. “I think memoirs can easily become a way to exalt yourself but I wanted people to walk away from the book impressed with Jesus.”
Although Christianity played a role in her upbringing, by the age of 17 Jackie had left her church behind, knowing exactly what they thought of her relationships with other women. “I did all that I could to keep a distance between me and Christians,” she remembers. “Some people are more subtle about their rebellion, but I wasn’t. I decided: ‘This is gonna be something I pursue with all my heart, mind and soul.’”
What came next would only take a moment, and it would happen in the quietness of her bedroom, but it would change her life forever. She describes the spiritual experience in her book: “The night before, my girlfriend and I laid up with all of the weed I bought for the week and smoked it all away. Because of our impulsiveness, tonight was free from smoke and my mind was without distraction…I sat up quick, like I’d seen a ghost or felt a hand on my back. The thought wasn’t audible but loud enough to interrupt everything.
“I just felt God speak to my heart in such a way that I saw that all of my sin deserved death,” she recalls. “And it wasn’t just lesbianism. It wasn’t just sexual immorality. It was understanding every single thing that I did, and loved doing, deserved God’s judgement.” In the same instant, she also recalled John 3:16 – a verse learned years ago in Sunday school that promises eternal life for anyone who believes in Christ. She realised the Bible spoke both of God’s judgement of sin and his love in dying for sinners. “I just had to believe both, and so I did.” This revelation came as a shock. “I didn’t even want God at that point,” she explains. “But all of a sudden, I did. That’s the miracle of conversion – when God makes somebody alive and everything that he has to say about himself finally makes sense.” For the first time, Jackie says she saw her sin “for the vomit that it was”, and everything changed. “There was no other option, but to choose him.”
Jackie loved her girlfriend, and the break-up was hard. “We were together in a hotel room two days before. I didn’t know that Jesus would interrupt my life and make him my love. But that’s what happened. So there was a real grieving of that relationship that I went through for a while.”
If I wasn’t offending people, sometimes I would wonder if I’m telling the whole truth
Other aspects of her lifestyle also went through a radical change. Before coming to faith, Jackie equated womanhood with weakness and would wear “hyper masculine” clothes. After becoming a Christian, she started dressing differently. “It wasn’t that I wanted to dress like a girl to be pleasing to God, it was more a wisdom principle that I think the Spirit was showing me. If I project this sense of self to the world, I don’t know if I’ll fully be able to discover myself as the woman that God created me to be. But also, I will attract the women that I am still yet attracted to.”
Her desire to be with other women didn’t go away. And Jackie has strong words for those who teach that if you come to Jesus all of your temptations will disappear (that belief is “another kind of prosperity gospel” she argues). For Jackie, living God’s way means choosing to not have romantic relationships with women. But what does she make of other prominent Christians such as Vicky Beeching who’ve argued that monogamous same-sex relationships are, in fact, acceptable to God? “We have to reckon with the fact that deception is real,” she replies. “And I think the way we interpret scripture is first a heart issue that then becomes a hermeneutics issue. So if my heart’s aim is to love me and to live according to the passions of the flesh, more than loving God and more than death to self, then I will find some way to make scripture mean what it doesn’t mean, so that I can convince myself that I have the freedom to still sin.”
Six months after becoming a Christian, Jackie read a poem about her past life experiences at an event in Los Angeles. She was struck by a fellow artist named Preston who gave a similarly gritty performance about a time when he was “sleeping with everything that can breathe”. As the two struck up a friendship, Jackie says she began to learn something new about men. Jackie’s father had been largely absent from her life, but Preston was consistent, kind and caring; attributes she’d only seen modelled by women up until that point.
I didn’t know that Jesus would interrupt my life and make him my love. But that’s what happened
“He was just everything that I didn’t know a man could be. I think what God began to do in my heart wasn’t to just give me this out-of-theblue attraction to Preston, where I had butterflies and my heart beat fast when I saw him. It was a progressive attraction to him as a person and I grew in attraction for all that he was, including his masculinity.
“I always tell people that God didn’t give me an attraction for all men, he gave me attraction for a man. The one he called me to be with and love and be loved by. So it was hard, it took time. It takes time to be OK with beards; women don’t typically have those! Even physically, it was an adjustment for me to be held by a man, but I’m grateful that God was with me the whole time helping me.”
Jackie has since married Preston and the couple are raising two daughters, but she acknowledges that temptations still exist. “It’s part of the human experience,” she says. “I think my sexual affection for women is not what it used to be when I was a believer at 19,” she explains. “Can we can pray that God would deliver us from our temptation? Sure, but let the aim also be to equip people to walk away from their temptations and not just have the easy way out.”
Jackie is sharing her story at a time when the Western Church is wrestling with a multitude of questions relating to sexuality. Polls in both the US and UK demonstrate that younger generations hold increasingly liberal views on the subject. Jackie has come in for criticism from both fellow Christians and those outside the Church. How has she coped with this? “Anybody in the scriptures that has ever told the truth has been met with persecution,” she replies. “I’m following in the footsteps of people who cared more about other people’s souls than they did about their own comfort. And so that’s OK. If I wasn’t offending people, sometimes I will be wondering if I’m actually telling the whole truth.”
Does she expect her view – that same-sex relationships are off-limits to followers of Christ – to be held by the majority of Christians in 20 years’ time? “Ah, I just know that Jesus told us that in the end times, things are gonna get dark,” she replies. “So I think that culturally, our view of sex and sexuality will become more godless and more rooted in our own selfish desires. And in the Church I think God is going to do what he has always done, which is to preserve his own. It’s gonna be hard. But we have to stay faithful to what the Bible has to say and continue to be like Noah, who was telling all those people: ‘Hey, God is going to flood everything,’ and everyone thought he was crazy. But when the flood comes in, and you’re the only one in the ark, you’ll be thankful that you trusted God.”
Hear the full interview on the Premier Christianity podcast. Download it at premierchristianity.com/podcasts
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