Hidden Perspectives

Bringing the Bible Out of the Closet

Interview with Maddy Oakes by Aysha Musa


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

The name’s Maddy and I’m about to complete a BA in Biblical Studies and Philosophy at The University of Sheffield and next year will be embarking on a post-graduate course with the aim of becoming a secondary school RE teacher. I am a student ambassador working on the Hidden Perspectives project and will be delivering an interactive talk at the festival.

What will you be doing at the Hidden Perspectives festival?

As mentioned above I will be giving a presentation at the festival which will explore Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 and why these prohibitions, above others, seem to have survived to present day. It is interesting that Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 are often quoted to support, maintain and reinforce homophobia; yet few people lose sleep over the notion of wearing mixed fabric clothing or the consumption of pork, both of which are also prohibited in the Holiness Code.

I will examine potential explanations for the inclusion of Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 by the authors of Leviticus. I will consider these alongside the absence of female-female sexual behaviour in the Hebrew Bible and the Creation Stories (Genesis 1-3). And ultimately provide the argument that Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 should re-join the other prohibitions which we have long since dismissed because I believe we should not blindly parallel these prohibitions which are culture bound.

What is the motive behind your lecture? What do you hope people will take away from it?

This academic year I completed a dissertation – The Hebrew Bible and Homosexuality: a study of Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 and the story of Sodom. It is this research and my subsequent reflections that have inspired this lecture. I hope people will consider how we construct sexuality, how biblical culture constructed sexuality, consider potential authorial intentions, reflect on the (selective) use of the Bible today and maybe even learn something new. And if none of the above I just hope they enjoy the dulcet tones of my Northern accent.

Has homosexuality in/and the Bible always been an interest for you? If so, why and if not, how did such an interest develop?

I had a Catholic upbringing and attended Catholic education establishments from primary school to sixth form; so the Bible has always been a part of my life. At sixth form I didn’t formally study RE but I did have 1 hour a week of ‘religious studies’. It was that 1 hour a week which really sparked my interest in the Bible properly, I can vividly remember the tutor asking us to consider Genesis as a poem – it was then that I realised I needed to take a closer look at the book which had always been there, somewhere in the background.

Since being at University I have developed a whole host of interests in terms of academia, but I have focused my attention mainly on the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) – I guess its appeal lies in all the blood, gore, and sex. In terms of homosexuality and the Bible, I suppose my interest only truly developed when I started writing my dissertation, which I used to explore some of the conflicting issues I experienced growing up, the issues of trying to reconcile Catholicism with my own moral principles.

What would you say to those who have never considered an LGBT perspective/reading of the Bible?

Consider it!

Can non-LGBT people gain/learn anything from an LGBT perspective/reading of the bible?

To answer this I’ll quote Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy):

“Don’t you understand that we need to be childish in order to understand? Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn’t developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don’t expect to see.”

I often think we need to revert back to childish ways of asking “But why?” as it’s so easy to ignorantly accept things at face value or go along with the status quo.

And so I believe it is important to explore all possible/potential perspectives in anything we do, because sometimes it’s not enough to know what things mean, we also have to know what they don’t mean, or what they could mean. So in this case, yes, I do think non-LGBT people can gain from exploring an LGBT reading of the Bible.

Do you have a personal story about LGBT and Religion/the bible?

I merely have the beginning of a personal story about LGBT and Religion, I’ll get back to you when I have the middle and the end…

Have you been involved with other projects like Hidden Perspectives?

Nope, nothing like this before, so it’s all very exciting.

Why do you think projects like Hidden Perspectives are important?

Projects like Hidden Perspectives are important first and foremost because it gets lots of people in spaces together (online and in person) who would not normally meet – LGBT and non-LGBT, academics and non-academics, etc. It is this potential for diversity, leading to an exchange of a multiplicity of ideas, thoughts, opinions, etc. that I think is important.

What has been your experience of the interaction between LGBT & Religion?

I have obviously experienced (as have all of you) the ever-present tensions, between some faith communities and the LGBT community, which dominate the headlines: equal marriage, ordination of homosexuals, etc. But I have also met people who are able to reconcile their sexual identity with their religion.

In all honesty my experience of the interaction between LGBT and Religion has mainly been within the world of academia, so critical distance has often ensued – I think this alone speaks volumes about the interaction of these two communities. However, both my family and (interestingly) their Parish Priest have read my dissertation; this has led to interesting and inclusive discussions. I really hope Hidden Perspectives can lead to similar inclusive discussions on a larger scale.


Author: Hidden Perspectives

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

5 thoughts on “Interview with Maddy Oakes by Aysha Musa

  1. Do you think there is a problem with homophobia in congregations in the UK, as opposed to in things like the Catholic Catechism?

  2. Hi there Clare,

    I don’t really feel in a position to answer that question as I have not attended Catholic worship for many years now or sought to associate with religious groups, so do not have extensive first hand experience of the homophobia in congregations.

    My work looks more at the mainstream homophobia in biblical studies, so considering the views of scholars such as Michael Bird, Ben Witherington, N. T. Wright and Robert Gagnon.

    Apologies I couldn’t really give you an answer.

  3. Really enjoyed this interview! Your work sounds fantastic. I’m going to post a link to this on the Philosophy Facebook page.

  4. Really enjoyed this interview. Your work sounds fantastic! I will post a link to this on the Philosophy Facebook Page.

  5. Thank you very much Jenny.

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