Monday, July 18, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Mark D. Jordan (2011). Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk about Homosexuality. hicago: University of Chicago.

Reviewed by Tom Hanks
July 19, 2011
Posted from Trivandrum, Karala, India (Classic Ave. Hotel) by Steve Parelli, July 19, 2011
Today, while in Trivandrum, Kerala, India, I received this review in an email from Tom Hanks - SP
“Jordan has once again written a compelling, concise, exciting, and important contribution to the study of sexuality and religion, which will most certainly shape scholarly work and cultural debates for years to come.  Jordan confirms his reputation as one of the leading voices in the study of religion and sexuality.” -Michael Cobb author of God Hates Fags: The Rhetoric of Religious Violence. 
In Recruiting Young Love, Mark D. Jordan explores more than a half century of American church debate about homosexuality to show that even as the main lesson—homosexuality is bad, teens are vulnerable—has remained constant, the arguments and assumptions have changed remarkably.  At the time of the first Kinsey Report, in 1948, homosexuality was simultaneously condemned and little discussed—a teen struggling with same-sex desire would have found little specific guidance.  Sixty years later, church rhetoric has undergone a radical shift, as silence has given way to frequent public, detailed discussion of homosexuality and its perceived dangers.  Along the way, churches have quietly adopted much of the language and ideas of modern sexology, psychiatry, and social reformers—deploying it, for example, to buttress the credentials of antigay “deprogramming” centers and traditional gender roles.  Jordan tells this story through a wide variety of sources including oral histories, interviews, memoirs and even pulp novels; the result is a fascinating window onto the never-ending battle for the teenage soul [front flap, book cover].  

Mark Jordan is the Richard Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School, author of many books, including The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (1997), also available in Spanish (2002).  Since he grew up in Mexico he has great interest in Latin America and is available for lectures in Spanish.  Although the focus of this work is the United States, anyone familiar with the similar debates in Latin America and elsewhere (where American TV evangelists were broadcast in Spanish) will find much that has been duplicated here. 

I was just 14 years old, hyperactive in the neighborhood Presbyterian church, and only recently had learned the word for my “homosexuality” when in 1948 the St. Louis Post Dispatch shocked me with its front page headline regarding the finding of the first Kinsey Report: 37% of the males interviewed had had same-sex experience!  It was strangely comforting to learn that, though afflicted with what the scientists then considered a psychological problem/illness, at least I had a lot more company than I could have imagined.  Now, having lived through the 60 years history of religious-sexual conflict that Jordan so astutely analyzes, I found his work fascinating and highly instructive. 

As a Protestant missionary Bible professor in Latin America, probably I have been overly allergic and not sufficiently analytic regarding all the reports of clerical sexual abuse and the high percentage of male Roman Catholic religious reported to be homosexual (Jordan’s estimates range from 25 to 75%, depending on the type and area).  Jordan, however, enables us to perceive the coherence of an institution that systematically creates conditions that attract persons of homosexual orientation to religious callings but then develops a vast control network in which strict silence is maintain regarding its main focus of concern.  The great haven for Roman Catholic youth who recognize they want to avoid traditional marriage thus becomes a lifelong torture chamber to keep them from acting out their deepest emotional needs. 

Jordan’s analyzes church history, but if we link this history to Ted Jennings’ portrayal of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as uniquely and highly homoerotic literature, we can see the basic continuity between Scripture and church (with sporadic efforts to incorporate ancient patriarchal households, as in the NT Haustafeln, and 20th century “family values” as highly exceptional rather than normative).  Hence typical gay activists, who commonly view “religion” simplistically as their great monolithic “problem,” need to be challenged to take religion with utmost seriousness in order to comprehend the complexity of the phenomenon, deconstruct the negatives and build bridges to potential positive allies.  In this effort this and other works of Jordan, as well as those of Jennings, can be of invaluable help.

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