Hybrid Orthodoxy: American religion and sexuality

Orthodox graduate students are comfortable speaking of the influence of Greek ideas on Judaism, and will even homiletically explain it as zeh leumat zeh (that Jewish ideas correspond to the outside world.) And they are comfortable with their treating the Guide of Perplexed as Aristotelian (even if Maimonides himself thought the content was Torat Moshe). But most are not as comfortable situating twentieth century Judaism in those terms.

My online reader feed of web sources contains material from many faiths and they often reports on the same events occurring in several communities, within several months of the other communities and sometimes within weeks or even days. For example, having a gay speaker come to speak to the community and then the follow-up issues has occurred in many Evangelical colleges in the last year. Here is a story of a gay Christian speaking to an Evangelical college. I am not interested in the GLBT issues or the “Torah view” or identical “Christian view.”

I am interested in what is the conception of history that makes this possible? How do we formulate the way Jews are cultural embedded with Christians in America. What is the cultural construction? What is the hybrid? Why does the issue arise in the same months? Why does it get resolved by having a panel? Why are the arguments on both sides the same? Why does the institution react the same way on both sides?  Why does the negative reaction seen similar to the Christian response rather than the traditional Jewish language and practices of tikkunim? When Anglicans, Episcopalians, the Conservative movement within Judaism all debate the same points within a 2 year span, it seems natural. But when Orthodox Jews and Evangelicals do the same thing within months, as they do, is it just as natural?

01/11/2010 – Jonathan Odell A gay Christian speaks to fundamentalists

Last year I got a call from an administrator at a Midwestern seminary with a reputation for its “take no prisoners” conservative theology. He had permission to conduct a series of seminars on hot-button issues like abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage. His plan was to bring in a succession of speakers, one to take the pro side of an issue, followed by a second to present the opposing view.  I took a deep breath. I knew what was coming next. “We want you to take the pro side on homosexuality,” he said.

“Yippee,” I thought. “I get to argue for Satan.” So I asked him, “Why me?” Why me indeed…. Several years earlier I had given a reading on the same campus. It was from my novel. But I hadn’t come out as gay then, only as a Baptist.

“Actually,” the caller said, “I had heard you were gay before you showed up.” He told me that when the dean found out I was coming, he had done his best to cancel my reading. I had not known at the time that my gay presence was sufficient to cause a scandal. What would happen if I were to actually talk about it?

The administrator pleaded his case. “I want you to come here not only because you’re gay, but because you’re religious. You’ve obviously held on to your spiritual beliefs.” I didn’t tell him I’d been able to retain my faith by steering clear of the hateful fundamentalists that universities like his turned out. Instead, I lied and told him I’d think about it.

His reaction afterwards

I’m here because whether I like it or not, you are in my life and I need to somehow make peace with that part of my life.”

But something interesting happened next, during the Q and A. The questions were not the ones I had expected. Instead, students asked thoughtfully about my life and my struggle with religion. “How do you as a gay man experience the presence of Christ in your life?” “How do you handle Christians who reject you without knowing your story?” “If your parents had not accepted you, what do you think you would have done?”

I would like to say everybody involved went on to live happily ever after, but life doesn’t work that way. A few professors whose students were at the session complained to the dean about my being allowed to speak. Some of the seminarians attending the session decided to push for a campus support group for friends of the GLBT community. The dean, alarmed, charged a committee to create a list of faculty and students who challenged the institution’s policy on homosexuality.

Read the full version here.

I am only interested in how we explain this culturally and historically. Is the historic process any different than Centrism’s adoption of supply-side economics and moral majority rhetoric during the Reagan era? Is this any different than everyone responding to premarital sexuality in 1966-1970? Those are the years when the youth groups started having sessions on the tensions and difficulties of keeping “negiah” where everyone gets to state their difficulties in keeping the prohibition. And the thousand year tradition of a “pot of filth” became a “hedge of roses” (find the article by Jonah Steinberg online for more details.

How does the hybrid of Judaism and American religion work?

3 responses to “Hybrid Orthodoxy: American religion and sexuality

  1. Tanya Erzen has a good book called Straight to Jesus on the Christian “ex gay” movement. One of the interesting things dealt with is the use of the AA addiction model (that itself a product of Calvinist thinking) to deal with homosexuality.

  2. Interestingly, Evangelical Christian and Modern Orthodox discourses on sexuality in general have not been running in parallel while here there is a convergence.

    To me it’s clear that for the most part when people in these communities speak about homosexuality, they are not really talking about sex in the way that they think about heterosexuality. Heter0-normativity prevents both communities form thinking about homosexual sex as an aspect of a romantic relationship (in fact from the Twersky’s response it was the idea of a homosexual romantic relationship that he found disturbing as intercourse itself was never mentioned by the panelists)

    My point is that if these were simply discourses about sin and sinners there would be greater historical divergence as the two communities view sin differently (and in the Jewish response you might see an emphasis on tikkunim and the like). But here there is a common discourse driven by among other factors the push for gay marriage, seeking to cast homosexual romance, relationships and families as normal.

    As such there really is a common cultural hetero-normative assumption being challenged and both communities are forced to deal with it in similar terms.

    It would be interesting to look at the responses on the part of the gay men in both cases because for the MO the question is phrased as how do you reconcile yourself to halakha vs how do you experience the presence of Jesus for the Evangelicals.

    For the former the question is how do you relate to the external halakah, and the answer usually involves “here’s how I understand this text or this term” while for the latter the question seems to be much more phenomenological – do you experience Jesus as sinner or as saved?

  3. Sheldrakean Morphic Resonance?…

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