Poet, writer, rapper, and teacher, Jackie Hill Perry, opens up about marriage, motherhood, and ministry.
Words to Live By
by HOLLY BASHAM
JACKIE HILL PERRY has a way with words, and people can’t stop listening. In the last six months, this gifted poet, rapper, writer, and teacher has launched her second hip hop album, released her first book, Gay Girl, Good God, and appeared at conferences, colleges, and coliseums all over the nation. Inspired by her powerful testimony of salvation and deliverance from a gay lifestyle, the word is out: God is good, He is Lord, and those who surrender to Him are made new.
The Power of God
It’s a message Jackie is passionate about because she knows firsthand the transformational power of Jesus Christ. She and her husband — fellow spoken-word artist, Preston Perry — met in 2009 while performing at an artist’s showcase. Impressed with Jackie’s poetry, Preston struck up a friendship that deepened over the years. Eventually they began dating, which presented significant challenges but also great rewards. The Lord used Preston as a source of healing, and marriage forced Jackie to deal with hurts and fears she’d been reluctant to give to God. The couple, who reside in Atlanta, married in 2014. The following year they welcomed a baby girl, Eden (3). Their second bundle of joy, Autumn (6 months), arrived earlier this year.
A decade ago, Jackie could never have imagined marriage, motherhood, and ministry in her future. Violated and abandoned by men who should have loved and protected her, Jackie was hurting. Fear and distrust kept watch over her heart. Surrender wasn’t an option, even when a loving God promised her new life. Despite some exposure to church and to Scripture, Jackie was adamant that she would never submit to Jesus as Lord.
Her attraction to women started in early childhood and intensified during adolescence. Jackie finally gave in to same-sex desires, along with drugs and other habits that brought comfort, pleasure, and an emotional escape. Suppressing her femininity by wearing men’s clothing and assuming the male role in dating relationships, Jackie says every area of her life was characterized by sin and rebellion against God.
Then one evening, 19-year-old Jackie felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Recalling the experience, she says, “It was a God thing. No one can ever tell me that I saved myself. I had some understanding of Jesus and obedience and Christianity. But I sincerely wanted nothing to do with God on His terms.”
Even as she resisted, Jackie clearly sensed the Lord speaking to her. “When He showed me that all of my sin would be the death of me — that it was true that the wages of sin is death, but it was equally true that God offered eternal life if I would repent and believe — I was compelled to trust Him. For the first time in my life, I knew that God was real and He was worth it. Just the day before, my heart was hard as a rock, and now I wanted Jesus. Only the Holy Spirit could have done that.”
The Power of Words
Jackie dove into God’s Word and began discovering the woman He designed her to be — mind, body, and spirit. Seeking to express herself in deeper, more artistic ways, she began writing poetry. Jackie didn’t shy away from revealing her past or the ongoing struggle with temptation and sin. Her poems unflinchingly spoke gospel truth and glorified God as the ultimate source of love and life.
After connecting with the Passion for Christ Movement (P4CM), Jackie was asked to write a poem about being an ex-lesbian. Hesitant at first, she felt the Lord prompting her to move forward. Through its confessional lyrics and rock-solid theology, “My Life as a Stud” shined a spotlight on Jackie’s conversion and marked the beginning of her public ministry.
“When ‘My Life As a Stud’ came out in 2009, so many gay and lesbian people who didn’t go to church, didn’t trust Christians, and didn’t want to have anything to do with the Bible clicked on the poem and suddenly wanted Jesus. I realized God had given me this art form where I’m able to speak to people’s hearts.”
Since then, she has taken the message of God’s love to artist showcases, faith-based conferences, college campuses, and major media outlets. The foundation of her message is always the Word of God: In His goodness, God created male and female. As the perfect designer of gender and sexuality, God is worthy of trust and obedience.
Although same-sex attraction is central to her testimony, Jackie emphasizes that the church should approach the LGBTQ community the same way it approaches other people. Everyone is created to be an image-bearer of the living God with a unique identity and great worth. Rather than labeling someone as “a gay friend,” it’s important to develop genuine, one-on-one relationships the same way Jesus did. By investing in authentic friendships, Christians will be able to share the gospel because they’re actually modeling it.
The Power of Redemption
Jackie points out that being “dead in sin” goes far beyond someone’s sexual preference. Without Christ, people are lost in every way. But when Jesus gives new life, He forgives and redeems the whole person. She says, “God saved me from sin, not just my sexuality. I was an all-around sinful person. In essence, sin was my lord. As much as I loved women in a lustful way, I also loved pornography and drugs, bitterness and unforgiveness.”
Through discipleship, Jackie recognized the holistic nature of God’s redemption. “I’ve learned that pride is one of my greatest struggles, even more so than same-sex attraction,” she explains. “Pride manifests itself in so many areas of my life, it’s hard to keep up. God didn’t just rescue me from being gay. He saved me from believing I’m a better lord than He is.”
In response to the growing debate over same-sex attraction and the frequent questions she receives when people hear her testimony, Jackie wrote her first book, Gay Girl, Good God, which launched in September 2018. The author hopes the book will serve three core groups: people seeking to help and understand those within the LGBTQ community; people within the community who may disagree with some of her conclusions but are still intrigued; and people who are believers, yet have same-sex attraction and are trying to figure out how to love Jesus while dealing with those feelings.
When asked what she hopes the church can learn from the book, she says, “I want people to see that how you reach the LGBTQ community is the same way you reach anybody — with the gospel. The gospel is about God. The method shouldn’t be any different when you’re speaking to someone who is dealing with gluttony or lying or lust. It’s all the same. God is Lord, He’s Master, He’s King, He’s able to save. And the problem with sin is always a problem between us and God.”
The Power of Community
Jackie hopes the church will develop greater empathy for same-sex individuals and recognize how difficult it is to walk away from the gay lifestyle. She says, “It’s not a random sin that is easily put off. The feelings are real, and it takes time and work and a long process of dying to self.” Without a supportive church family to encourage and affirm her, the author might have fallen away.
The first couple of years as a Christian were the hardest. Jackie had to learn to put off the old nature and put on Christ. The process required spiritual and physical discipline. She had to shop for women’s clothing, an experience that made her feel strange, vulnerable, and afraid. Temptation was a constant source of condemnation, at times pushing Jackie into depression and doubt as she grieved over her sinful nature.
After a decade of growing in Christ, Jackie still faces temptations but says they’re more subtle and easier to flee. Instead of looking at women as objects of lust, she chooses to see them as image-bearers of God. In evaluating her walk with the Lord, she considers whether she is loving people well, growing in holiness, and bearing good fruit. And she looks to Jesus, who endured the horror of the cross because He loved God with all of His heart. Knowing Jesus didn’t want the cup of suffering, yet accepted it with humility, helps Jackie run the Christian race with endurance.
Endurance and spiritual growth became the inspiration for Jackie’s second album, Crescendo, which is being hailed as “stunning,” “flawless,” and arguably “the best hip hop album of the year.” Although she began experimenting with rap simply for creative expression, Jackie soon saw it as another platform to share the gospel.
When asked about the album’s title, the talented artist says, “In music theory, ‘crescendo’ means the increase in sound. So I wanted to apply that to faith. When you’re in Christ, as your faith increases, your fruit should get louder. You love more, you’re more generous, more attentive to the needs of people. You listen well. Things begin to change as your faith becomes more evident.”
She wrote the album to mimic that spiritual progression. The first track begins on a low note with “Lamentations,” a rap about the reality of sin and the tendency for Jackie to forget she’s been forgiven. Taking listeners through an honest exploration of spiritual growth, Crescendo ends on a high note, celebrating how the Lord saved Jackie through His gospel, initiated her Christian walk, and sustains her to this day.
The Power of Legacy
A gifted communicator and lyricist, Jackie isn’t just impacting culture with word craft. She’s also building a spiritual legacy for her children. Because of her childhood trauma, the idea of raising daughters was terrifying. But she’s found so much joy in becoming a mom.
Jackie says, “When I think of parenthood, I know I’m only called to steward these children and disciple them and hope they will love the Lord with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength. When I was carrying Eden, Titus 2 really spoke to me about the older women teaching the younger women. Once I realized what a privilege it would be to raise up a woman in my home, I welcomed the challenge.”
As Jackie reflects on the last decade, she gives God all the glory and praise. Without Christ, she wouldn’t have her precious daughters, would have missed out on beautiful friendships, and would never have experienced being loved by a man for the first time in her life. “If God hadn’t rescued me, none of this would be possible,” Jackie says. “Life still has its challenges, for sure. But it’s better. It’s so much better.”
Holly Basham is a regular contributor to Lifeway’s Journey and HomeLife magazines. A former teen runaway, she met Jesus at a detention home for at-risk youth, where her angry heart gave way to gospel hope. Now she encourages others with uplifting stories of God’s amazing grace. Holly and her husband have four children and live in Kentucky.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (November 2018). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.