Burden for a Banquet

Writer, poet, hip hop artist Jackie Hill Perry.

By Courtney Lott –

Our affections direct our paths. Preferences call to us, leading us away from some things and toward others. Many are good and pleasing. Though sin’s far reaching effects have tainted them, these gifts from God ultimately point to him and call forth thanksgiving and praise in our hearts. There are some affections, however, that are so disordered, they entice us to death.

In her book, Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was and Who God Has Always Been, Jackie Hill Perry describes one of the loves in her life in this way. Perry, a writer, poet, and hip-hop artist, encountered the voice of God one night in 2008. In a space of distraction and mind wandering, a still, steady statement struck her with deep conviction.

“She will be the death of you.”

This pronouncement, though startling, required very little clarification for Perry. The “she” in question was her girlfriend and the speaker was God. Like flashing hazard lights, Perry felt this came as a warning of danger, impending doom, that God was calling her away from a choice of death and toward life.

“He was life, or at least that’s what the preacher once said,” Perry writes. “If that were the case, then did he want me to choose him? To choose him would mean I had to leave her. That didn’t sound like a fair transaction. In my mind, choosing God was the same as choosing heterosexuality…I know now, what I didn’t know then. God was not calling me to be straight; he was calling me to himself.”

One of the greatest strengths of Gay Girl, Good God is Perry’s ability to weave together the Biblical story with her own. Starting with her early memories of same sex attraction, she parallels these feelings and the activities to which they enticed her with the account of Adam and Eve. Like our first parents listening to the voice of the serpent, Perry writes that she learned to define goodness on her own terms, that if it felt good, then it was.

“[U]nbelief doesn’t see God as the ultimate good,” she writes. “So it can’t see sin as the ultimate evil. It instead sees sin as a good thing and thus God’s commands as a stumbling block to joy. In believing the devil, I didn’t need a pentagram pendant to wear, neither did I need to memorize a hex or two. All I had to do was trust myself more than God’s word.”

Perry threads this theme of trust — or more accurately, a lack thereof — throughout the book with stories of her own inconsistent father. Never married to her mother, this man swung in and out of her life like an off-rhythm pendulum. She learned after many missed birthdays, first bike rides, and other important benchmarks to set a guard around her heart and not allow him in.

Abuse by a male cousin only exacerbated her distrust of men. She writes “one man’s absence taught me men were incapable of loving. Only in short, sporadic flashes of affection would they be able to do what they’d said they’d do. Made up of an inconsistent spine straightened out by everything else but their own flesh and blood, I refused to believe men could stand for truth, ever. The other man was not a real one at all, but while becoming a man, he decided to act out his urges on a child. A girl whose first introduction to male affection wouldn’t be her daddy’s hug but another male’s lusts.”

While she is quick to note that neither sexual abuse nor fatherlessness made her gay, Perry writes that both experiences twisted the idea of male intimacy into something altogether unsafe. The concept of sex with a man felt like being conquered rather than cherished. Looking back, however, Perry says that throughout all of this, God was constantly and consistently loving her well.

This being who bears and redeems the name Father in scripture, already knew the secrets Perry kept in her early years. She writes that while her own conscious darkened as she fled from the idea of hell and a God who would condemn sin in such a place, he walked beside her as surely as he had in the garden with Adam and Eve.

“My secret was no secret at all,” Perry says. “My sins were all ever before him. And my conscience was that cool-of-the-day, garden-type of walking telling me that there was nowhere to hide. God was listening and ready to whisper back in a different voice…But I didn’t want him to hear and forgive. I would only listen to the voices that led me away from the light.”

But that light chased her down, straight into that bedroom, with those jarring words, “She will be the death of you.” When it found her there, it laid bare the root of all Perry’s sin. It wasn’t lesbianism, but unbelief from which she hung, guilty as charged. This upended all her previous assumptions about her right standing before God. Before this moment, Perry says, she believed if she could just abandon her homosexuality, God would call her his own.

This was a self-righteous delusion, Perry writes. It believed that only one aspect of her life was worthy of judgement and that all the other vices weren’t so bad. Perry suddenly understood that God did not come to redeem us partially, but every aspect of our lives. Now made a new creature with open eyes, Perry bowed before the God of the universe and asked for help to live for him, the ultimate good and perfect gift.

The road she describes was far from smooth. Temptations amplified, she lost the woman she loved, and, a few years later, found herself falling for a man named Preston. Attracted to his compassion, boldness, and care, Perry writes that her new affections initially had nothing to do with his gender. It was only after the buds of this love blossomed fully that she desired “all that he was — his personality and his manliness.”

Their journey to the altar bruised and battered both of them. Still learning to trust, Perry feared this new intimate relationship she was stepping into. Suspicion turned the man she loved into a threat. Through counseling, patience, and the kind of miracle only a loving God can perform, Perry let go of fear’s hand. She writes that she learned not to trust Preston, but instead to trust her heavenly Father.

“This relationship, this engagement, and this eventual marriage, was being used by God to force me to deal with the portions of my heart I’d never let God touch,” writes Perry. “Fear had been taking up way too much space, and God had never been one to share the heart of his children with lies. So Preston, unbeknownst to him, was God’s refining fire.”

Perry’s marriage was not proof of the work done within her, nor would becoming one flesh with a man make her whole. She’d already been made whole and the fruit of the spirit proved the Lord’s work. Rather, these things were specific ways God wanted her to glorify him. 

In closing out her book, Perry provides encouragement and resources for those struggling with same sex attraction. Applied gently and with humble empathy, she utilizes scripture not as weapons in the culture war or easy fixes, but instead as tools for comfort and lament. Perry admonishes her readers to find their identity in the Lord and to look long on his love for them. Both those with homosexual attractions and heterosexual attractions will find this section helpful and grace filled.

All of us are driven by that which we love, Gay Girl, Good God directs us to the one who loved us first and is worthy of our full trust.   

Courtney Lott is the editorial assistant at Good News.

You can purchase the book here.

Comments

  1. While I admire Ms. Perry’s faith journey, I worry about how the traditional, soon-to-be remaining, UMC will interpret all of this. Is Salvation reserved for only those same sex attracted who have been cured of homosexuality? What about folks who hold a traditional view of Christian sexual ethics (and live it) but who are still on the LGBTQ+ spectrum? This part of the conversation has been lost in the culture wars of the UMC. And these Christians need support on the congregational level–support other than sending them off to conversion camp.

  2. Chris Akers says

    I’ve read the book and now I’m listening to it on Aubible. Extremely powerful as it is read/spoken by Jackie herself. The words and message come ALIVE. A must read or listen to for anyone wrestling with the issues surrounding human sexuality and the Christian faith.

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