Q&A: Public Theologian Jé Exodus Hooper

Image of a person wearing a red leather jacket and red hat cocked sideways. They have long dreads and are reaching toward the camera. Jé Exodus Hooper (they/them) a non-binary preacher who is clergy at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

On our theology’s leading edge (+video)

Image: Courtesy Jé Exodus Hooper

Dr. Jé Exodus Hooper (they/them) is a non-binary preacher who is clergy at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis and within the Ethical Culture Movement. Here, they share some perspectives on Unitarian Universalism.


On being a public theologian
I have found it’s best to identify as a public theologian because of my work as a humanist. Coming to the work in this way requires that I’m engaged more in the public sphere regarding people and their conditions, while being invested not only in the human condition but in human flourishing. This prophetic voice speaks to power, willing to labor to cause necessary shifts.
On UUism and “white flight theology”
If we’re not careful, [humanism and UUism] will become white flight theologies. This tradition is so rooted in white progressive comfortability that by the time it becomes diverse—where anyone and everyone are primarily attracted to the movement and to the work of it—it's no longer in service to those who are oppressed. T We’ve often seen it even within the history of Black religious tradition. Once Black people begin to emerge into these traditions, slowly and surely, we often see our white counterparts move further outward of their religious tradition, and something else emerges. So we constantly see this . . . no longer as an emergence but a white flight that creates new pedigree, new kinds of qualifications that say: “This is the only way you can be involved in this tradition, this is the only way that you can hold this role, this is the only way you can be in leadership.” After a while, it quenches [the mission of inclusion] because there’s always this need to never fully be integrated and never fully confront difference.
On the biggest challenge to UUism
When we look at our beautiful movement like Black Lives of UUism trying to figure out new ways to allow for certification to happen, as we think about other people who are in the movement trying to make sure we are in right relationship with the founding principles of this movement, a lot of this comes at a cost, a cultural cost. The idea that we love democracy so much when we look at a democratic vote that actually only could be based on cis, heterosexual, or heteronormative, educated white patriarchs, after a while, who’s in the room? We would like to diversify that and create areas of inclusion, but when we’re taking that vote . . . it doesn’t offer various lenses to approaching what could be seen as democracy.
On looking for culprits
When we take a stab at trying to make change, I don’t know that I’m necessarily always interested in like-minded folk as much as I’m interested in like-hearted folk; folk that really want to be able to [say], “That’s not my style but, you know, let’s give it a try.” So I don’t look for allies in these particular situations or accomplices. I look for culprits, people who want to get in trouble with me, when we take votes that actually can really stir the pot and not make us say: “Well, we can only afford this much of an inch”—because if we do this, the question is: How much collateral damage will happen within the institution against people who come from marginalized situations, whether that’s queer folk, People of Color, Indigenous people?
On the difference between compassion and love

Offering compassion has always been seen in our tradition—and particularly from a western lens—as acts of service that can often lean towards maybe donating money or providing resources. But when I’m talking about love, I’m talking about it from the state of what James Baldwin calls love: a state of being, a state of beingness, and a state of grace. Where I don’t have to apologize for the person or conditions I come from, but I’m able to fully show up as I’m able to. Because my humanity is just as important as your humanity. My story is just as valuable as your story. And as we move along, you don’t take the lead, but I walk alongside you. I’ve been wondering how many of us are willing to take that risk, to say, “Let’s do this together and really work together and really have a mindset that there really is no head and there is no tail,” so that we’re actually really working for the benefit and mutual aid of each other. That’s the work that I’m after.