Hidden Perspectives

Bringing the Bible Out of the Closet

Alan Hooker Interview by Aysha Musa

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Can you introduce yourself to our readers and give us an idea of what you do?

My name’s Alan Hooker, and I’m a PhD student at the University of Exeter. My research focuses on divine sexuality in the Hebrew Bible—or to put it more bluntly, God’s penis.

In my research I hope to present different readings of key texts to demonstrate that sexuality cannot be divorced from the divine realm. In contrast to a lot of scholarship, I wish to show that sexual bodies, practices, rituals, and narratives belong as much to the Israelites as they do to their nefariously portrayed neighbours, the Canaanites.

What triggered your interest in conceptions of divine sexuality?

Mormonism. I love Mormonism (in fact, I did my MA thesis on it!) As far as I’m aware, it’s the only major Christian denomination which sees God as a literally sexed body, and the only one in which God has a partner/partners. The idea that God is a sexual being and inhabits, dwells in, and encompasses both sexuality and gender is very appealing to me, and in my opinion, it’s time more mainstream Christian denominations began to consider seriously the theological relationship between God and sexual bodies.

How would you explain your doctoral research to someone who is not part of an education system and has no background in religion, theology and the divine?

Normally I say that my research looks at God as a man, since many people do not see God as particularly gendered in any way. It seems that everyone has an opinion on the ‘(Is) God is a man’ issue/debate, so it’s easier to talk about my research that way.

Which texts in particular does your doctoral research focus on when considering God’s penis?

All sorts… from Genesis 1-2 in which God(s) creates humankind in his/their image, to Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones, which I claim presents the reader with a radical image of God’s (sexual) desire for his people. At the moment, I’m looking at the “prophetic phallus” in Isaiah and Ezekiel and the ways in which these prophets speak about the relationship between Husband-Yahweh and Wife-Israel and why they do so.

How did you get involved with Hidden Perspectives?

I met Katie Edwards at a presentation she gave at Exeter about Adam and Eve in advertisements. After her talk, we had a chat and discussed a range of things from Lady Gaga to gay pornography—it basically went from there!

In what form will you be participating at the Hidden Perspectives Festival?

I’ll be giving a paper which looks at the vision the prophet Isaiah had in the temple (Isaiah 6)—the one where he sees God in all his glory! Although I do tackle it from an academic perspective, I also want to talk about my own personal reflections on the text, and how the text has become theologically central for me as a queer man.

Without giving too much away, can we have a sneaky preview?

Well, although the paper’s title now begins “A Man of Unclean Lips,” it was originally going to start with “Take You to a Gay Bar.” The setting of Isaiah 6 may be a temple, but to some of us, temples, churches, and other religious buildings are spaces of oppression and discomfort—I want to take the prophet to a gay bar.

Do you have a personal story about LGBT and Religion/The Bible?

When I first came to university, I started going to church and the Christian Union with my friends. Although I came to Exeter as an evangelical, the Christian world I entered here was totally different from anything else I had ever experienced. The world I was now part of had its own exclusive music, books, posters, films, and other things they, and I, thought were “counter culture.” Jesus told us “to be in the world, but not of it,” so this was the way forward, right?
The problem was I also enjoyed going out with the LGBT (now LGBTQ) group. I enjoyed going to gay bars, I enjoyed dragging up in high heels, wigs, and skirts. I enjoyed listening to “girly” pop artists. I spent ages going to church, feeling guilty, promising never to “sin” again, and swearing I’d change, but it never happened. In fact, at one church, I even had a “pray the gay away” session with the pastor (obviously it didn’t work!) I ended up miserable because I couldn’t be the way I thought I was supposed to be.

The moment I became happier was the moment when I started to have doubts about my Christian identity—I kept the label, but it never really fit. Now I no longer identify as a Christian, but the biblical texts still form the center of my own theological reflection, as does my body. My body is my tradition, and for me, both my body and the biblical texts have equal theological weight. With the help of God, my family, and my fiancé, I’m growing to love and embrace my queer body/bodies, and this gives me an avenue to read and explore the Bible.

Why do you think projects like Hidden Perspectives are important?

Because the majority of people are excluded by the very nature of who they are. If you don’t conform to the white, cisgendered, able-bodied, heterosexual, middle-class male ideal, then your body is defective. If your body is defective, then your readings of biblical texts are defective, since they don’t fit with the “ideal” readings. Hidden Perspectives gives all sorts of people the chance to have their voices heard, and, if I can be personal and less academic, a chance for the Spirit to be heard. I don’t imagine at Pentecost that the Spirit only came to rest on the heads of one category of person.

Why should people get involved? What’s your hope for people who do?

People should get involved because, as the saying goes, diversity is the spice of life. My hope is for fellowship, academic and personal. I also hope that it’ll be fun!

Do you believe LGBT and the Bible should be discussed together (under the same platform)?

Yes, because there is no way on God’s green earth that I believe LGBTQ people do not appear in the Bible, either as characters or authors. Humans wrote the biblical texts, so I think any issue that affects people can be discussed together with the Bible.

What has been your experience of the interaction between LGBT & Religion? What are some of your hopes for the future of LGBT & Religion discussion?

I’ve met some people who think that being LGBTQ-identified and believing in God are mutually exclusive. I’ve met others who think that you can be a gay evangelical Christian. My experience has been broad, and at one time or another I’ve probably advocated for a lot of opinions on that spectrum!

Unfortunately, I’ve hurt people with my opinions, and have myself been hurt by people. I think if there is to be a future for the LGBTQ-religion discussion it has to take into account these narratives of pain. That’s not to say that I think it should all be doom and gloom, because I pray for an active and creative future for this discussion, but if we’re not going to be honest with ourselves, I don’t think we can go anywhere productive.

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Author: Hidden Perspectives

A research project within the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) at The University of Sheffield.

5 thoughts on “Alan Hooker Interview by Aysha Musa

  1. Wonderfully interesting research, Mr Hooker!

    It led me to wonder … if God’s bow is a rainbow, as we learn from Genesis 9, then the divine phallus is enmeshed with the key symbol of LGBTQ groups!

    Yahweh putting his “personal seal” in the LGBTQ symbol? If that’s not divine sanction, I don’t know what is!

    Anyway, this all gives me a great sub-plot idea involving Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark, for the clop-fic novella I am currently writing.

    • Thanks!

      It’s interesting you should mention Genesis 9. The word for ‘bow’ used of rainbow in that passage is the Hebrew ‘qeshet’, which also means bow as in bow and arrow. In the ancient Near East, the bow (and the arrow) were symbols of fertility and sexual potency, so yeah, the rainbow’s bound up with divine sexuality there!

      In church once, I heard a preacher bemoan the fact that the ‘gay movement’ had apparently stolen the meaning of God’s symbol to use as their own. If I told him (no female preachers allowed!) what qeshet connoted, I think he would have had a field day 😉

  2. Dear Alan (if I may!),

    I was intrigued by your suggestion that you do not identify as a Christian yet you reflect theologically on the Bible and, as you mentioned so eloquently, you desire an outpouring of the Spirit on June 1. Are you spiritual but not religious? That’s fine; while I still identify as a Christian myself (not a very good one, I’m sure!) our little group we half-jokingly call All Faith and None does just that – allows all faiths and none! We include Moslems, Hindus and spiritual-but-not-religious people. We even sing songs from the Koran and whatever the Holy Book of the Hindus is.

    Peace and blessings,

    Nancy

    • Hi Nancy,

      I would call myself a religious person. I think there is merit in ritual and in organised religion. Although as to what religion I’d align myself with, maybe I’ll just opt for ‘the religion of the Spirit’ (or perhaps ‘the religion of the body’!) I know it might be a bit of a cop-out to say that, but to do so means the Spirit (if you’re a religious or spiritual person) can be found in all sorts of places. You don’t have to confine yourself to one particular mode of experience.

      I find expression of my faith primarily in the language of the biblical authors. But I’ve also encountered God in other people, other texts, and other religious traditions. So, I think I’d rather enjoy the ‘All Faith and None’ group! 😉

      • Wonderful! You simply *must* join me and Chris for a curry! I usually have mine with quinoa

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