At the beginning of Recruiting Young Love, a study of twentieth-century Christian rhetoric about homosexuality, Mark Jordan announces that his book “does not conform to any standard pattern for history writing.” He then explains that
it might be better conceived as rhetorical criticism—or, more exactly, as a sequence of rhetorical retrievals, or historically alert re-performances…. I dreamed of presenting what follows as a polyphony of periodic orations—the salience of one group of voices following another, propelled by deep rhythm, like the flights of sampled solos over the dance beat of house music.
After stating his ambition, Jordan announces that his dream of scholarship-as-house-music cannot be realized, for it “would suppose that we still had sophisticated genres for representing religious rhetoric or developed tastes for assessing it. We do not.” Apparently “we” readers are deaf to his project; even if Jordan produced the academic equivalent of a glowstick-lit warehouse, bass thumping until dawn, we would lack the “developed tastes” for it. We’ll have to read something else after dropping Ecstasy.
Yet with Recruiting Young Love, Jordan has written something very much like a “polyphony of periodic orations,” with the confused results one might expect. Its title aside, his book is not about recruiting young love. There is, in fact, something unseemly and cynical about the book’s marketing: the deceptive title, the bright-yellow cover with pink lettering and a Rockwellesque oil painting of a pompadoured, ginger-haired ephebe wearing a creepy bright smile. It takes a moment to realize that Recruiting Young Love is not a how-to guide. It is, rather, Jordan’s meandering cruise along the shores of twentieth-century American Christianity, disembarking now and then to ask how various Christians at various times talked about gayness.
In one chapter, Jordan examines churches’ reaction to the Kinsey Report in 1948. In another, he deconstructs the gay community’s response to the campy homophobia of Anita Bryant, the orange-juice pitchwoman who in the 1970s helped repeal local ordinances protecting gay men and lesbians. The gay community’s response involved, quite inventively, dressing up like her: “Dragging Anita mocks her. It exposes the artifice of her own womanhood. But it also takes her over, puts her on. Dragging Anita hollows out a space for the queer in the middle of homophobic evangelism.” In his chapter on Robert Wood’s 1960 book Christ and the Homosexual, a rambling plea for religions to welcome homosexuals, Jordan mocks the author’s pretense that he is simply a benevolent outsider, rather than a homosexual himself. Wood’s “detailed knowledge of queer life betrays him,” he insists. Wood “knows how much this season’s trendy coat costs and how often in the past gay fashions have passed into straight markets.” He makes awkward use of the second-person, as if addressing the homosexual other, but his intimate knowledge of an S&M party could not, Jordan believes, be the fruit of detached scholarly inquiry: