Jackie Hill Perry, author of Gay Girl, Good God, cautions Christians against forgetting that Jesus calls people to follow Him, rather than calling them to be heterosexual. When describing how the Holy Spirit convicted her of sin at age 19, Perry says,
“I think it’s easy to assume that if Christ is coming to save, He’s saying ‘No, I want you to be straight’…but I knew instantly that God was calling me to repent holistically, that everything I loved and enjoyed profited nothing but death.”
Perry thinks it’s important to recognize that our desires “might be a reality, but they are not our Lord.” Instead, our faith in God must determine how we live. And as we follow God, even if our feelings don’t change, our affection for our Father will grow. This applies to any person who struggles with any sin. Someone who has heterosexual desires, for example, could decide to get a boyfriend and all the while be living in idolatry. So even though that behavior is outwardly “acceptable,” it would be just as sinful as acting on a homosexual attraction.
Authentic Intimacy, a ministry aimed at “reclaiming God’s design for intimacy and sexuality,” has just released a new podcast in which Dr. Juli Slattery interviews Perry. As Perry shares her story, she explains some common misconceptions people have about same-sex attraction while highlighting truths that are relevant to all believers.
A Difficult Childhood
Perry’s childhood was not easy. Her mother conceived her while having casual sex with a man who was not committed to them. Perry was molested as a child, probably when she was in kindergarten or first grade, so her first memory of anything approaching male “affection” was abuse. She was also introduced to porn at a young age. All of that, including her first memories of being attracted to girls, happened by the time she was in the third grade.
While Perry acknowledges that her same-sex desires could have manifested because of the sexual abuse, she does not think the abuse necessarily led to her identifying as gay. She cautions people against assuming those issues are connected, saying,
“I know plenty of gay people that really had grand old upbringings. They had both parents, both parents loved them…but what came out of them was this sin because of their heart.”
Perry never told anyone about the abuse or about her attraction to women, but in high school, she finally decided to act on her desires and fully embraced a gay identity. Although she had experience with the church and knew what was right and wrong, Perry says she didn’t truly understand the gospel. She thought she had to obey God on her own strength and didn’t know she needed the Holy Spirit to empower her. Also, the church had given her a clear message that Christians hated homosexuality more than any other sin, so she had no interest in telling anyone in the church about her struggles.
When she was 19, having no intention whatsoever of following God, she had what she calls a “Damascus road” experience. God spoke to her, convicting her of sin and calling her into true flourishing.
Would she say she was happy before that point? Perry says, “The way I like to describe it is I had a sense of satisfaction, but I had no peace.” The pleasure she got from sin was further diminished as she recognized that it led to death, not life. But even though the Holy Spirit gave her new eyes to see her sin and power to overcome it, it was incredibly painful to break up with her girlfriend, and it was hard to change habits she’d had for years. “It’s like trying to walk for the first time…If a baby hasn’t walked before, they’re going to fall a lot and it’s going to be hard.”
What Can Christians Do?
How should Christians reach out to those in the same place Perry used to be? Perry advises believers not to assume that people who are not following God are enjoying themselves. She says she might have appeared to be having a great life, but a war was going on in her conscience. Also, we shouldn’t simply assume people will be offended by the truth. They might be, but they might not, depending on how we present it.
And we need to love people for all of who they are, instead of zeroing in on one of their sins. When she was living in rebellion against God, the only Christian Perry knew at the time was her cousin. Her cousin loved Perry well and got to know her for all of who she was, instead of focusing on her sexuality.
The result was that when Perry actually wanted to pursue God, she felt like her cousin was a safe person to turn to. Do what she did, advises Perry, by “loving the whole person, instead of positioning yourself as someone who is going to fix one part of this person’s soul, as if God doesn’t want it all.”