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Nonfiction

October 26, 1986|Jason Berry

GAY PRIEST: AN INNER JOURNEY by Malcolm Boyd (St. Martin's: $14.95; 208 pp.). Malcolm Boyd, an Episcopal priest, has written many books, among them a popular collection of prayers, "Are You Running With Me, Jesus?" His latest book, a meld of memoir, verse and social commentary, argues that Christianity should cease ideological persecution and accept gays openly.

Boyd ultimately finds a personal notion of God as "the Lover"--one who accepts the suffering of humankind: a spiritual presence amid homophobia, racism and decaying values.

But there is an absence at the core of "Gay Priest." One yearns to know so much more about the man who wrote it. A Hollywood radio producer, Boyd entered the seminary at 27. "I had failed utterly, it seemed, to identify myself as a person. Now I asked: Who am I, where am I going, why?" At first, he writes, he hid his orientation--"moving rapidly and softly over my homosexuality (in confession). The priest's absolution meant forgiveness and newness of life." What does confession mean to him now?

He treats seminary life as a gathering of immature young men pulling pranks. One naturally wonders about their sexual struggles. The author says little. He writes movingly about the grace he felt in a French monastery; many pages later he refers to an affair with a monk in Europe. At the same monastery? The entwinement of religion and sexual growth should be developed. Yet this theme is strangely muted. The tension between religious tradition and gay awareness is largely on a theoretical plane.

Some passages are confusing. "On this Sunday morning in San Francisco in 1978, my lover and I, feeling a need of structured support for our relationship, had decided to pay a visit to a church." What kind of structure? "Pay a visit to a church" seems almost trite, coming from a priest. At communion, "we realized it would give offense to the other worshipers if we naturally touched, and so did not." If heterosexual worshipers don't touch in communion lines, why should homosexual ones?

AIDS is mentioned passingly, without comment on the promiscuity issue gay leaders have had to face. Boyd, an early civil rights activist, avoids reflecting on the gay rights movement. In sum, "Gay Priest" raises more questions than it answers.

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