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Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian Paperback – April 21, 2015
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From the Back Cover
"Courageous and thought provoking. This is a book that challenges all of us--whatever our sexual experience or longings may be--to think more truthfully about the meaning of love and the complex ways in which our communities either stifle or nurture it."
--Richard B. Hays, Duke Divinity School
"Remarkable. Here is a book everyone interested in Christianity, and everyone interested in friendship, can profit from reading."
--Alan Jacobs, Honors College, Baylor University
"An elegant, theologically rich plea on behalf of the love of friendship that uncovers fresh ways to improvise on a lost Christian tradition of committed spiritual friendship."
--Peter Leithart, president, Theopolis Institute, Birmingham, Alabama
"Honest and poignant, Spiritual Friendship is like a conversation with a good friend who has learned much from books but more from loving and being loved by others."
--Eve Tushnet, author of Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith
"Love is the most complicated thing in the world--and even more so for gay and lesbian Christians who have experienced a vocation to celibacy. Hill's is a voice that needs to be heard."
--Benjamin Myers, Charles Sturt University, Sydney, Australia
"Hill not only wants to think about what friendship might mean for a celibate gay Christian but indeed wants to recover a richer, more substantive, and especially more promising understanding of friendship for everyone."
--Paul J. Wadell, St. Norbert College; author of Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship
"Hill gives us a glimpse of what we've forgotten--a rich Christian vision of friendship. Whether readers agree or disagree with his theological vision, there is no doubt that this book will be a conversation changer!"
--J. Todd Billings, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan
About the Author
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That said, I conclude that the author works from an anthropology that is faulty. Namely, he seems to think that a homosexual orientation is something God intends, and is a positive good. I cannot agree with that; and while I don't question the author's sincere Christian beliefs -- nor his faithfulness as a Christian -- I do think this is idea will not work from a Christian point of view. The Catholic view -- I am a Catholic, and yes, I realize the author is not -- is that while a sexual attraction to the same sex is not, per se, immoral, it is "intrinsically disordered." This makes far better sense.
Also, I found myself wondering if the author was going through a really fragile stage in his life when he wrote this. There is a neediness in his account of friendship that perhaps many others can identify with, I imagine, but is not -- to my mind -- really healthy. In other words, I wonder if the issue for the author isn't his sexual attraction to other guys as much as co-dependency? It is good to want and seek out strong, healthy, deep friendships. But it isn't good to be overly dependent and needy. I found myself wondering how well the author saw one bleeding into the other?
Finally, the author is really weak in arguing for some sort of "vowed friendship." He tries to argue that this is well attested in Christian tradition. Well, of course, you can find an example of almost anything in 2,000 years of history if you look hard enough, and squint just the right way; but the evidence is thin and not persuasive. Relying on John Boswell is a huge tell. He points to Aelred, and, then Aelred again, and...how about some more Aelred?
Bottom line, I think the author has valid insights; but we must wait for someone else to take up the baton of reviving friendship in our time, especially for the benefit of those who have erotic same-sex feelings and intend to be chaste.
Wesley Hill writes from the perspective that being gay is a ultimately consequence of the fact that we live in a broken, fallen universe, but that these experiences can be redeemed by Christ to allow us gay Christians to love and be loved by others in meaningful ways. The goal is not an elimination of same-sex temptation per se, but holiness and chastity in relationship with God and others. Hill is firmly grounded in the traditional sexual ethic which sees marriage as being between one man and one woman for life. This means that many gay Christians may be called to long-term celibacy, and this poses some hard challenges for the man or woman who embarks on this path.
The book Spiritual Friendship has been such an encouragement to me as I seek to pursue Christ-honoring friendship with other brothers (and sisters) in the church. When reading the book, one of the biggest epiphanies for me was that committed spiritual friendships deserve a place of honor within the church, just as we honor the institution of marriage. However, these deep and intimate friendships do not happen accidentally but require intentional ways of fostering and nurturing those relationships.
The most poignant chapter for me was the one in which Wesley tells the story of losing an intimate friendship with a male friend after his friend began a romantic relationship with a girl. This strikes close to home because I've experienced a similar scenario with my best friend. Probably the most discouraging part of friendship is the fear that these friends may be temporary. It is hard to invest so much emotional capital in a relationship only to fear that your friend will not always be there with you. As C. S. Lewis says, "To love at all is to be vulnerable." Borrowing from Tom Stoppard's play, *The Invention of Love,* Hill's metaphor for this kind of friend is a piece of ice held in your fist. No matter how tightly you hold the piece of ice, it will eventually melt and disappear, leaving only raw pain in its absence. Friendship, Hill says, is not always a bed of roses, but a call to suffering.
The answer, however, is not to seal yourself off from spiritual friendships but to pursue them in faith, knowing that Christ calls us in the church to a sort of vowed spiritual siblinghood. While acknowledging the very real experience of suffering in many relationships, Hill also relates other very positive personal experiences of enjoying close ties of friendship with other men and women, even to the point of sharing living arrangements with a married couple and their children. He also relates several examples from biblical and church history where two men or two women have loved each other in ways that are not romantic, but are just as strong and intense.
In the final chapter, he give some very practical advice on how churches can help foster an environment where these kinds of friends flourish. The book ends in a vision of hope and expectation.
This is a challenging book that all Christians would benefit from reading, whether in church leadership or not. I only wish there were more books on this subject, but I've been very encouraged at the writing that has recently emerged in blogs such as [...]
Top international reviews
Have you ever read something that was just so TRUE that you cried? I'd never experienced that until I read this book. This book is one of the most honest and authentic works I've ever had the privilege of reading. I can't recommend it highly enough.
In a nutshell, it's basically an insightful, partly autobiographical look at what friendship is today, what it used to be, and what it means for celibate gay Christians. It's written with a lot of love, and a lot of research into the subject. You may not end up agreeing with him by the end, but you can't deny that he knows his stuff, and is quite scholarly about the way he presents it. It's not too long, and it's not too heavy on personal anecdotes. I found it just right in every way. One of my all-time favourite non-fiction works. Amazing.