Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Reynolds Price comes out, literarily speaking

The writer Reynolds Price has attracted notice from many Christian readers, including myself, for his religious and, often, surprisingly theological thoughts. As The New York Times book reviewer Dwight Garner notes today, many of us did not notice that he is homosexual. This is by Price's own choice; in his new memoir/autobiography, he explains his silence on the subject this way: “I’ve been more steadily interested in exploring lives involved in complex families with lengthy histories which are endlessly subject to change and fate, and such lives are generally heterosexual.” (As a parenthesis he notes this, as well: “I’ve also observed that few readers are interested, over long stretches, in stories of homosexual life; and I’ve never scorned readers.” Garner observes that this is probably less true than it used to be.)

As an admirer of some of Price's theological observations, I find him interesting. Our understanding of homosexuality is still in flux, and the common practice of reverting to the well-worn biblical passages prohibiting homosexual acts has not proven to be convincing to most people; indeed, the more we do it, the more it turns people off. The God-given distinction between male and female which is so central to the Genesis account of creation points to more fruitful ways of approaching the question while still leaving some space for alternatives.

I do not mean to suggest that Price is ashamed of his gay life-- quite the contrary. He describes his latest memoir, Ardent Spirits, as one of "high adult happiness." I have not yet read it yet--though I plan to--but the excerpts quoted in the review suggest a deeply reflective and nuanced perspective which is quite different from the usual gay manifesto. Thus Price writes, “Sex between men is, in one pure sense, the ideal male sex act, productive of possible affection and a quick intense pleasure — an act that’s profoundly different from female sex, likely as that often is to result in the commencement of a child’s life.”