Soon after I came out to my family, my grandmother asked me to read The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield. She had gotten it from a church friend after confiding in her that I was queer.
Eager to show Nan that I was open to dialogue about my faith and sexuality, I read Butterfield’s book. She describes being a liberal atheistic lesbian who is converted into a conservative practicing heterosexual. With all due respect, Butterfield’s book was hardly worthy to be recycled and given life anew as a brown napkin.
My generation now has its own hipper Rosaria Butterfield: Jackie Hill Perry. Like Butterfield, Hill Perry’s claim to fame is “ex-lesbianism.” She grew up attracted to women, but her religion taught her that heterosexuality, complementarianism, and strict gender roles were God’s ideals. She becomes a Christian, kicks her queer affirmation to the curb, finds a man who loves her despite her strong personality (previous men had only cowered, she said), marries him, and has two children.
Hill Perry has been practicing heterosexuality for about four years now, and her autobiography Gay Girl, Good God has picked up traction in the conservative Christian world. If you’re a part of this world – and especially if you are queer or questioning your sexuality – make sure you’re well-equipped if you decide to read it. Here are a few faithful forewarnings.
Jackie Hill Perry Doesn’t Have the Same Question as You
I realized I was queer after a lifetime of ascribing to evangelical Christianity. When I began to understand my sexuality as something I was born with, I wanted to know if God could bless same-gender relationships. In other words, could I live authentically as who God made me to be?
Jackie Hill Perry never asks these questions. (Neither does Rosaria Butterfield). She assumes that the version of Christianity in which she was steeped is the only one that matters.
But if you’re a reader of Queering the Kindom, you’ve probably asked some version of these questions. You’ve searched for truth through a range of ideas and theologies across the conservative-progressive spectrum. You’ve asked God; you’ve asked others; you’ve asked yourself. Don’t look for answers from those who haven’t even inquired.
Jackie Hill Perry Doesn’t Care for Scholarship or Science
In our Sunday School days, my friends and I memorized Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Logically, they feared for me when I left for a secular liberal arts college, where surely I would fall prey to “worldly” knowledge. (The word “liberal” also frightened them.) I guess they forgot about the hundreds of other Bible verses that champion knowledge and wisdom as tenets of a godly life.
So too did Jackie Hill Perry.
She believes the earth is 6,000 years old (p. 11). It isn’t, and that wasn’t always easy for me to say.
She maintains that sexual abuse and fatherlessness “exaggerate” homosexuality. Clinical psychology has proven that they don’t. (And if they did, there would be a lot fewer straight people in this world.)
She even thinks that Eve looked at the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and likely thought, “They’d taste good on her plate, even if it meant she might not live to see the next chew” (p. 17). I’m sorry… Adam and Eve probably did not have plates.
Jackie Hill Perry hasn’t done her research. Why would she when she doesn’t have any questions? Fortunately, many other Christian authors have questioned and researched extensively, including more accessible voices like those of Justin Lee, Patrick S. Cheng, and Rachel Held Evans.
Jackie Hill Perry Judges You for Not Being as Holy as Jackie Hill Perry
As I read Gay Girl, Good God, I was somewhat eager to learn about how she purportedly became straight. That particular climax was disappointing. (Insert straight sex joke here.)
Jackie Hill Perry “became straight” through a “miracle.” She says that her faith in a powerful God made her well. In the 193-page book, her gay-to-straight conversion miracle takes up all of three pages.
Whether or not she means to – she’s not exactly a gifted writer after all – her story is permeated with “holier than thou.” Her message is clear: “If you trust God enough, you too can become straight. I did.” Hill Perry’s softer strain of anti-LGBTQ theology is a vapid version of the prosperity gospel.
It breaks my heart to know that this message is the one being passed around evangelical and other conservative communities. It’s a message of judgment, not love. It’s a message of an impossible standard on a yardstick that LGBTQ people should scoff at. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of queer Christians have prayed, fasted, and sought counsel to become straight. Many have undergone electroshock, aversion, and other kinds of conversion “therapy.” They have believed that God would change them. And God hasn’t.
Jackie Hill Perry, your god doesn’t sound like a good God to me.
What Do We Do with Stories Like Jackie Hill Perry’s?
How do we respond to a story like hers or Butterfield’s? She might be living as straight, but I’m sure she still is attracted to women. Or she’s probably bisexual. Or she’s faking it.
But the the more pressing, courageous, and necessary question is this: how do Jackie Hill Perry and her supporters respond to the stories of affirming queer Christians? How do they react when a queer Christian doesn’t actually live a “satanic life” like they assume she must?
How should Christians respond to the stories of LGBTQ people who stand at the church doors knocking, proclaiming the truth, bearing witness to the good news of a God that blesses queer people and queer relationships – a God that confounds the ignorance of homophobes?
The facts are the facts. Very, very, very few queer folks have ever found themselves in a place where they can proclaim perfect straightness. Jackie Hill Perry appears to be one of those few.
Fortunately, countless queer folks have and will continue to find themselves in a place where they can proclaim perfect belovedness in the eyes of God. Our job is to make more of those places and to make them accessible.
Queering the Kindom is one of those places.