Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian
Hill is assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School of Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. In his earlier book, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faith and Homosexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), he tells his story of wrestling with same-sex attraction and defends a biblical call to celibacy. Among the issues this lifestyle choice creates is the challenge of loneliness and the need for healthy friendships. This book deals more specifically with that challenge. It is part memoir, part historical theology, part cultural criticism, part spiritual reflection, and part biblical exposition. Hill provides a helpful summary of his thesis: “Friendship is a good and godly love in its own right, just as worthy of attention, nurture, and respect as any other form of Christian affection. That’s what the Christian tradition has mainly said. And that’s what I want to say—from a fresh angle of vision—in this book, too” (p. xx). The subtitle of the book does not limit its audience to those who share Hill’s sexual orientation. Rather, this book is an excellent primer on friendship for all Christians.
The book is divided into two parts. “Reading Friendship” focuses on “the cultural background, history, and theology of friendship” (p. xviii). One of the challenges to same-sex friendship among Christians in the twenty-first century is the myth that “sex wholly explains the depths of our most profound relationships” and thus the fear that deep friendships must be rooted in sexual attraction (p. 10). This is a severe hindrance to deep relationships between men, as well as creating a hardship for friendships between men and women. Another challenge is the “myth of the ultimate significance of marriage and the nuclear family” (p. 11). This myth is a particularly difficult challenge for Christians with same-sex attraction who choose to follow the biblical ethic and thus remain single and celibate. They will never experience marriage. As evidence that these myths are relatively recent, Hill discusses the friendship between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Eberhard Bethge, the writings of the twelfth-century Benedictine monk Aelred, and, perhaps most surprising, the Reformation era practice of “wedded friendships.” Rather than evidence of same-sex marriage, these ceremonies of “permanent, honored, church-sanctioned, same-sex friendships were a recognized thread of the fabric of society. But those days have passed” (p. 40). A chapter in which Hill surveys biblical teaching on friendship concludes: “The story of Jesus’ self-giving for the sake of sinners inevitably exerts pressure on our understanding of friendship, pushing us out beyond comfortably narrow boundaries of affection and expanding our love to include others whom, previously, we would have left outside our charmed circle. This, surely, explains why Jesus says the love of friendship is the greatest of all loves—not because he is setting it over against the love of enemies or the love of the world at large but because he is imagining a self-giving kind of friendship that considers even enemies to be one’s potential brothers and sisters” (pp. 58–59).
The second part, “Living Friendship,” “focuses more on the actual living out of friendship” (p. xviii). In this section, Hill discusses how sexual orientation impacts same-sex friendships. With a great deal of vulnerability and raw honesty he tells his own story and calls the reader to empathize with those struggles, particularly in the chapter “Friendship Is a Call to Suffer.” A final chapter offers several “concrete, specific ways we might nurture hope in friendship’s recovery . . . some patterns that more committed, more sibling-like friendships may take” (p. 106). His list includes the recognition that humans need friendships, that friendships are difficult and challenging, that friendships are best practiced in community and those relationships strengthen the community, and that friendships often are “doorways to hospitality and welcoming of strangers” (pp. 113–14). Finally, Hill calls Christians to “look for ways to resist the allure of mobility and choose to stay—either literally, by remaining physically in the same place, or else spiritually and emotionally, even when love requires costly sacrifices—with our friends” (p. 115).
This excellent book deserves thoughtful and attentive reading. Christians who desire to build and nurture friendships will find it both challenging and instructive as well as providing clear and concrete steps to follow to achieve such friendships. Those who have no personal struggle with same-sex attraction will find it informative and, if read in the pursuit of understanding, valuable as a means of developing empathy for those who have. Christian leaders, especially those who believe the Bible demands sexual purity and thus forbids intimate same-sex relationships, must understand the challenges such a position brings for gay Christians. Loneliness, isolation, and separation from spiritual friendships are deadly and detrimental to growth in Christlikeness. Hill’s work is a great and generous gift to the church and is valuable for all Christians.
About the Contributors
Glenn R. Kreider
Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and spending time together and with their rescue dogs—a terrier/greyhound mix named Chloe and a black lab named Carlile.