Sun, Jul 15, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Porn star now seeks priesthood instead

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE , OAK PARK, CALIFORNIA

Some people have their midlife crisis in reverse, like Ronald Boyer, who for most of his professional life has been better known as a star of pornographic films, Rod Fontana.

After 30 years of sowing the wildest of oats, Boyer, 54, has searched his soul and chosen, to the surprise of family and colleagues, to seek a priesthood in the Episcopal Church.

From his work in the rented villas of the San Fernando Valley, where hard-core sex films are shot, Boyer has moved just a short distance west, to the Church of the Epiphany, which is guiding his transformation from pornography star to preacher.

The psychic distance, however, has been vast. In January, the lumbering 183cm performer was greeting fans on the red carpet of the Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas, along with the superstars of pornography like Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy.

In June, Boyer was carrying the Holy Bible and a text titled "Gospel Light" to a live Internet show where he preached on the relative evils of pornography.

"Is pornography a sin?" Boyer asked on the show, which is aimed at people in the sex industry. "Probably. Definitely," he answered, a response that reflected his own ambivalence as much as a desire not to alienate his audience. "So is eating carrot cake until you're sick to your stomach," he continued. "And so is punching somebody in the face. That's a sin."

Boyer's embryonic ministry, devoted to bringing spiritual comfort to those marginalized by the sex industry, is driven by his deep faith and by a medical crisis that threatened the life of his child. But it is a work in progress, fraught with the contradictions and internal struggles of a man leaving behind a livelihood that was central to his identity.

He has tired of performing in sex movies, but even now doesn't condemn it. "Not one time did Jesus refer to pornography, or homosexuality," he observed on the Internet show, which he began as a co-host in May. "Jesus could have commented. He didn't."

Still, to pursue a new path as a religious leader, he had to make a clear choice. At the end of January, Boyer, who is married to a recently retired adult-film star, Liza Harper, announced his own retirement and gave up directing and performing in hard-core movies, he said, for good. "I don't enjoy it anymore," he said at the time.

Boyer's embrace of Christianity was not a result of a bolt-from-the-blue conversion. It was a gradual awakening to spirituality, in part stirred by unsettling changes in the multibillion-dollar pornography industry, which has veered into extreme territory in search of new ways of selling sex.

His journey from one private corner of American society to another has, by chance, traced the contours of America's experiment with sexual liberation to a return to more traditional values.

For Boyer, his path completes a circle. He grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist community in South Carolina, where he was baptized.

The contradiction between giving up pornography and feeling its attraction was still apparent in June, four months after retiring. "I love sex," he said. "I love performing. I love the combination of the two. I could go back and do it again, but I don't think I would. I had a passion for that. I put it there. Now I've channeled my passion to a different place."

The process to priesthood will take several years. Boyer began by being confirmed in the Episcopal Church this year. He is undergoing training to become a deacon, which will allow him to conduct most aspects of ministering short of the sacraments.

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