Hill, Wesley. “Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian”, Brazos Press, 2015.
The Limits of Friendship
Friendship, by definition, is a singular relationship over which we have control. It is not something we are born into, we can chose those who we want to share it with. We can end friendship whenever we want. While American culture tends to pay more attention to romantic love, marriage, family, and other forms of community, friendship is a genuine love in its own right. Single Christians, particularly those who are gay and celibate, might find that friendship is a form of love to which they are especially called.
Wesley Hill writes about his kind of friendship here and he does so empathetically and with regard to the teachings of his church. He is able to find a rich understanding of friendship as a spiritual vocation and he explains how the church can foster and use friendship as a basic component of Christian discipleship. Hall shows us how to re-imagine friendship as a “robust form of love that is worthy of honor and attention in communities of faith”. Further, Hall issues a call for celibate gay Christians and suggests practical ways for all Christians to cultivate stronger friendships.
Same-sex attraction is a personal issue and not an abstract theological or political issue, but a very personal one. Many experience it at a young age and by the time that they are teens have already done some reading and soul searching about it. Hill writes from the perspective that one is gay as the result of living in a broken world but this can be redeemed by Jesus Christ who both allows us to love and to be loved by others. It is not necessary to eliminate same-sex attraction but our holiness and chastity has to deal with our relationship with God. Hill follows the traditional sexual ethic that sees marriage as being between one man and one woman for life. This means that many gay Christians are called to long-term celibacy, and this poses some hard challenges for the man or woman who embarks on this path.
According to the author, committed spiritual friendships deserve a place of honor within the church in much the same way as we honor the institution of marriage. These do not happen accidentally— that require intentional ways of fostering and nurturing those relationships.
There are questions to be considered when speaking about friendship and Hall sets out to answer them— “Should we think of friendship as based, above all, on personal preference? Should we think of it as preserving its voluntary character and thereby vulnerable at every point to dissolution if one of the friends grows tired of or burdened by the relationship? Should we consider friendship as always freshly chosen but never incurring any substantial obligations or entailing any unbreakable bonds? Or should we instead—pursuing a rather different line of thought—consider friendship more along the lines of how we think of marriage? Should we begin to imagine friendship as more stable, permanent, and binding than we often do? Should we, in short, think of our friends more like siblings we’re stuck with, like it or not, than like our acquaintances? Should we begin to consider at least some of our friends as, in large measure, tantamount to family? And if so, what needs to c change about the way we approach it and seek to maintain it?”
Hill finds no attraction romantically or sexually for women and he questions whether or not he is too love a life of loneliness, caught somewhere between the tension in Christianity and his sexual orientation. He feels eager to cultivate close friendships but is also afraid of not being able to find and sustain them. Thus, when he imagines a life where he is old and alone and has no one to celebrate holidays and special occasions, and/or to share the mundane moments of life, he worries. He faces the questions of where is he to find love, and where is he to give love? If he cannot have a husband or a wife, will he be forever cut off from all relational intimacy?
Hall believes that the answer to that lies in friendship but there are challenges here. There is the assumption by others that every significant male friendship points to hidden homosexuality; then there is the insistence on the ultimate significance of marriage and nuclear family and its assumption that the closest bond we can ever experience must be with that of siblings, spouses, or children; and there is also evolutionary biology and psychology which leaves no room for a relationship that is lived for the good of another. American culture seems to have an obsession with the kind of freedom and autonomy that exists in relationships. Hill goes on to say that if our deepest and most powerful fulfillment is found in personal separateness then friendship becomes something of a liability. He then proposes a kind of spiritual friendship that has roots right in the Christian tradition.
Hill’s book is divided into six chapters in which he explores the cultural background, history, and theology of friendship before focusing on practically living it out. He shares his own experience and his own search for significant spiritual friendship. I find it interesting that he finds his guidance from outside of his church and relies on writers from before the Reformation and/or Roman Catholics. It is this his way of saying that Protestants have put emphasis on marriage and family and let friendship slide?
Roman Catholicism that requires celibacy for its clergy probably has to consider the boundaries of friendship and celibate same-sex relationships. In some cases we have seen where that has lead. Hill sees himself as a celibate gay Christian—a follower of Christ who fully believes that the Bible forbids homosexual behavior, but who cannot deny or destroy his homosexual orientation. He shares experiences that may not have occurred to those who do not feel this way, such as a heterosexual same-sex friend eventually becoming an object of intense romantic attraction. He tells of his own experiences of inadvertently falling in love with one of his own friends and the disruption and heartbreak that this brought to their relationship.
Hill has written an exploration of the place of friendship in the life of the Christian, particularly its importance for those who chose, either because of sexual orientation, or other reasons to live celibate, chaste lives. The idea of a celibate, chaste, single life is scorned today not only because of the myth that one can only live a fulfilled, fully human life within the context of a sexually intimate relationship. Perhaps more fundamentally, if less openly acknowledged, this seems a terrible choice for those who are single, gay or straight, because it is a call to loneliness. What’s worse is that there is no place for sexual satisfaction since in most cases Christianity does not accept either homosexuality or masturbation. I am not convinced by anything here and I just do not understand why anyone would choose to live like Hill has written–it seems to be a terrible waste and a bore.