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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
Retrieving a Rich Understanding of Spiritual Friendship
"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
Wesley Hill (PhD, University of Durham) is assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and author of the much-discussed Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. He is on the editorial board of and is a columnist for Christianity Today. He also contributes to Books & Culture and First Things.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is a short book, consisting of six chapters, divided into two parts. In part one, 'Reading Friendship', Hill explores the necessity of friendship in the Christian life. Chapter one explores some of the ways that friendship has been marginalized and eclipsed in contemporary culture (6). Hill weaves together a narrative of himself naming his need of friends (on the eve of his confirmation) with theological reflections from Benjamin Myers, C.S. Lewis and seveal literary references. As a gay Christian, he feels the need for friendships acutely but the lack of cultural space for friendships impoverishes everyone.
Chapter two explores deeper the special dispensation of friendship and the cultural history of it. Hill points to Bethge and Bonhoeffer's friendship and how they saw how fragile friendship was and the ways it was not recognized by others (25). A later readings of Bethge and Bonhoeffer's relationship claim that it was 'really a homosexual partnership'. Whatever the nature of that relationship (text and subtext), it does speak volumes that later audiences can't conceive of such a close, male friendship without speculating about their sexuality (25,26). Hill delves into the Christian tradition, exploring the insights on Spiritual Friendship in the writings of twelfth century Cistercian, Aelred of Rievaulx. Aelred wrote On Spiritual Friendship (which this book's title alludes to) and described the value and same-sex, celibate friendships with the context of monastic life. And of course C.S. Lewis's reflections on love, friendship (and homosexuality) are woven through these chapters. Chapter three explores the language of friendship (and family) in the New Testament.
Part two explores the practical side of 'living friendship.' Chapter four describes some of the challenges to developing friendships (especially the challenges to those who are same-sex attracted). Chapter five discusses suffering in love and relates a particular difficult loss of a friendship for Hill (when a heterosexual friend got engaged). Chapter six gives six concrete suggestions for recovering friendship as a Christian discipline:
Admit our need for friends.
Start renewing the practice of friendship with the friends we have (not the idealized friendships we want).
Remind ourselves that friendship flourishes best in community.
Realize that friendships strengthen communities.
Imagine specific ways friendships are doorways to the practice of hospitality and welcoming the stranger.
Look for ways to avoid the lure of mobility--staying put and investing in relationships with people where you are.
It should be evident from this list that Hill sees the importance of friendship for everyone. It would be impossible to read this book and not feel the call to deeper friendships. Hill is realistic on both the joys and sorrow, blessings and difficulties involved in cultivating friendships. Hill is in tune with how his sexual orientation informs his call to friendship, "I want to explore the way my same-sex attractions are inescapably bound with my gift and calling to friendship. My question, at root, is how I can steward and sanctify my homosexual orientation in such a way that it can be a doorway to blessing and grace"(79). He also writes, "My being gay and saying no to gay sex may lead me to more of a friend, not less"(81).
This is a great book for the way it roots the challenges and blessings of friendship in Hill's own experience as a gay Christian. Too often sex is seen as the ultimate expression of human love, leaving those who are celibate (by choice or circumstance) feeling less than human. I think many traditional Christian apologetic of marriage and heterosexual love are pastorally insensitive on this point, describing the virtues of marital love as God's design but declaring it off-limits to gay people. Hill presents a vision of friendship that is not 'second best' but considers orientation, vocation and love together. This commendation to friendship is not a 'less-than' proposition but is every bit as life-giving and challenging as marital vows. Those of us who hold to a more traditional stance on marriage need to have this sort of compelling alternative to offer to those who don't have that option.
But this is not a book about gay friendships as the subtitle implies. This is a book about friendship. Hill thinks through the implications from his own perspective as a gay and celibate Christian, but friendship is necessary for us all to thrive in our Christian life whether we be single, married, gay or straight. There is so much here! I give this book five stars. ★★★★★
Notice of material connection: I received this book from Brazos Press in exchange for my honest review.
In "Spiritual Friendship", Wesley Hill poignantly crafts his own experiences into a rich telling and exposition on the long, lost tradition of committed, spiritual friendships. Hill expertly takes a look at the world & culture we live in and shows how friendship has in several ways become a foreign language to us. Without becoming unrealistic or overly sentimental, Hill also begins to express both personally and theologically what a transformed view of friendship might look to us practically.
It's not uncommon when talking about friendship as a celibate person (take it from me) to begin to idealize friendship especially when one's own sexual orientation and theological beliefs seem to almost hinge upon it for survival. But Hill does not do this. Hill, with a heart-breaking and common-to-me honesty, really speaks into the hardship of friendship: "that's the perfect description of trying to love your best friend when he doesn't love you back, or at least not in the way you wish he would." Hill doesn't only just speak of the potential byproducts that occur with intimate friendships but also speaks of the suffering that must occur with and within friendship, "The calling of friendship is, in other words, a call to pain. Joy, yes, and consolation, but not as a substitute for pain...Friendship, then - for Christians who take their cues from the arc of the scriptural story - lives with pain."
Hill then leaves us readers with practical steps to take towards cultivating friendship itself, not leaving us on a pessimistic note. The life of a celibate christian does not have to end (or worse endure) in loneliness as Hill reminds us, and I'm thankful to be practically reminded of that.
Overall, this is a book that the church needs to consider. Not just for the sake of ____ in our churches, but for the church herself. And for that, I'm thankful for such a courageous and direly needed book as this.