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Telling Truths in Church: Scandal, Flesh, and Christian Speech Hardcover – June 15, 2003

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From Publishers Weekly

The secrecy and cover-ups in the priestly pedophilia scandals are a symptom of the Catholic Church's wider suppression of discourse about homosexuality, according to this heartfelt but occasionally tumid book. Gay Catholic theologian Jordan (The Silence of Sodom) argues that the Church "solicits same-sex desire, depends on it, but also denounces it and punishes it." The Church's "ways of silencing disruptive truths" function mainly at the rhetorical level, Jordan feels, where open discussion of the Church and homosexuality gets dismissed by officials as anti-Catholic prejudice or scandal-mongering. In the same vein, Jordan asserts that disputations of homophobic Church doctrines are self-defeating. Instead, gay Catholics should deploy more visceral rhetorical styles-testimonials by gay priests, "provocative analogies" between the Church and secular gay sub-cultures, even satire-to get the Church to acknowledge what Jordan sees as its blatant homoeroticism. The exploration of new discursive modes by gay Catholics can also enrich Church teachings. Gay and lesbian fiction and poetry might clarify Church theology about same-sex unions, while frank consideration of the body (specifically, the genitals) of Christ might lessen "sexual shame" and enlighten Christians about the sanctity of eroticism. Jordan's call for truth-telling about the Church's relationship with homosexuality is provocative, but his insistence that language and rhetorical style matter more than Church doctrine or governance distances him from what many feel are the most crucial issues in that debate. His own discursive style, combining theology with critical theory, wavers between elegance and abstruseness. This feels more like a series of meditations (the book is based on lectures Jordan delivered) than a volume likely to spark productive debate.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Sure to be controversial . . . [Telling Truths in Church] is about how church people speak about sex in the church; it is about what it means to tell the truth, and how to go about the vulnerable act of truth-telling when your topic is something as intimate as sex. --Lauren F. Winner, Washington Post Book World

"This is a major contribution to the telling of truth and truths. Jordan's analysis lays bare the fear and anxiety behind the silence and spins of church authorities; it is a profound and provocative book." --Donald Cozzens, author of Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church and The Changing Face of the Priesthood.

"[A] profound normative theological statement, of what incarnational faith must entail . . . [Telling Truths in Church] is well read as a spiritual guide to theologians and other Christians who still believe there is a point to Christian speech." --Beverly Wildung Harrison, Conscience --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 121 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (June 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807010545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807010549
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.9 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,633,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
To those who have not yet read it, Mark D. Jordan's "Telling Truths in Church" may seem like a reaction to (or even an exploitation of) the Catholic Church scandals revolving around priestly abuse and its cover-up. But in fact, Jordan's slim but crucially important volume is actually the transcript of a series of essays that were prepared before the scandals started to hit the media.
This is not to state, however, that the scandals have nothing to do with the topics Jordan addresses. It is Jordan's contention that speech in the Christian churches (and Jordan refers not only to the Catholic Church but to other Christian churches) has become narrowed and self-censored in such a way that it has seriously compromised the Churches' ability to speak truthfully about people's lives and faith experiences.
In a series of essays, Jordan discusses several topics: Church reform, Christian marriage, the practice of theology, and Jesus Christ as a fully human and sexual being. Jordan asserts that the Churches fail in speaking truthfully about these topics, and also that the Churches try to silence or discourage additional points of view that speak to the range of human experiences not addressed in "official" speech. To put it more simply, current Church talk doesn't give us the whole story, and it's up to us as people of faith to speak up and fill in the missing pieces.
Jordan's book is full of insights and observations that make it ideal for public discussion or private, prayerful reflection.
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Format: Paperback
This review appeared in White Crane Journal #60, Spring 2004

The evocative—and provocative—title of this book, almost by itself, calls out to the reader to pick it up and find out what the “truths” are. And the exercise would be more than successful, though it turns out the “truths” Jordan is talking about are not a series of literal propositions, but an attitude to openness to human life--and especially the passion of human life called eros.

Mark Jordan is a professor of religion at Emory University in Atlanta. He’s made himself a reputation for challenging naïve assumptions about the veracity of Church teachings, especially about sexuality and homosexuality. His previous book The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism opened with a meditation on daily life around the Vatican that—truly—should be required reading for all Catholics. In that meditation, Jordan posed the question: what if the Holy Spirit reveals to the Pope and Vatican officials that the Church’s position on homosexuality is in error? How would the Pope or the Cardinals ever manage to bring themselves to talk about this realization during the morning meetings? At every stage, they’d be frightened of revealing too much about themselves (and maybe their previous night’s indulgences). No one would be able to broach the subject.

With similar awareness of how the inertia of orthodoxy prevents honest discussion, Telling Truths in Church describes the difficulties of creating modern, sensitive, psychologically aware theologies of sex. And yet it is incumbent on the Church to do so; changes in culture, developments in reproductive biology, not to mention scandals involving priestly sexual behavior, require religious institutions to evolve and update the expressions of doctrine.
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