The Table Podcast
Wesley HillDarrell L. BockDarrell L. Bock

Homosexuality and Christian Faithfulness

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Wesley Hill discuss same attraction and spiritual friendship focusing on how these two topics intertwine.

Timecodes
00:56
Hill's books and background
2:23
Same-sex attraction and the Christian
7:45
Hill's book, Washed and Waiting
10:58
Sexuality in 1 Corinthians 6 and Romans 8
14:12
Hill's conversation with this parents
17:35
How the church can minister to same-sex attracted and single people
20:10
Hill's book, Spiritual Friendship
25:20
Jesus' example of singleness and self-sacrifice
30:50
The concept of friendship
36:00
Three categories for friendship
39:27
Friendships with a deeper lever of commitment
41:35
The need for friendship
42:31
Multiple layers of friendships and serving together
43:32
Hospitality and staying connected
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to "The Table" where we discuss issues of God and culture. I am Darrell Bock, Executive Director for cultural engagement at The Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. My guest today is Wesley Hill, who is well known. He is very young, but he is well known for the writing that he has done related to New Testament studies.

Our topic today is a combination of things that you might think maybe don't entirely belong together, on the one hand dealing with issues related to same-sex attraction challenges in the church, and dealing with spiritual friendship issues on the other. We are going to talk about how these two topics kind of intertwine.

Wes has written two books, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality for Zondervan, and then he has recently done a work called Spiritual Friendship. Wes, why don't you tell people what you do, and your educational background for doing it?
Wesley Hill
Absolutely.

Darrell, first of all, thank you for having me on the podcast. It is a joy and an honor to be here. We were talking before it began about the mutual friends we have, and I've wanted to meet you for a long time. So, this is an honor for me to be here.
Darrell Bock
Very much likewise.
Wesley Hill
I am also a New Testament instructor. I teach at a small seminary just outside of Pittsburgh called Trinity School for Ministry. I teach classes on Paul's letters, and the Gospels and hermeneutics and a lot of things to do with biblical interpretation. I am in my fifth year here now, so it is a good context and I am able to do some writing and traveling, but also I just love being with our students and mentoring them.

You mentioned these two books. I wrote one of them before I even got to graduate school. I was writing very much to try to explore my own thoughts. I think Saint Augustine says somewhere that he didn't know what he thought until he saw what he wrote. I sort of feel like that; I have to think by writing.

This first little book I wrote, called Washed and Waiting was very much me trying to come to terms with my life as a Christian who was also experiencing same-sex desire. I didn't quite know how to fit those things together, so I wrote that out of a sense of exploration, really.
Darrell Bock
So, you are teaching for five years; you are kind of a veteran of foreign waters now. You have been in the trenches for a while. You did your PhD work at Durham, is that right?
Wesley Hill
Yes, that's right. I moved to the north of England and did a Master's and Doctorate there and worked on Paul's letters and Trinitarian theology.
Darrell Bock
One day we'll have to talk about that topic.

Then, I understand you are from Little Rock, Arkansas. Where did you do your pre-PhD work?
Wesley Hill
I grew up near Little Rock in a place called Conway. I went to Wheaton College for my undergraduate degree.
Darrell Bock
Ah, Wheaton grad. I am on the Wheaton board, so we've got a whole layer of connections here.
Wesley Hill
Yes. I went to Wheaton as an English Lit major and fell in love in with Greek and switched my major to Greek and Hebrew, and sort of got bit by the theology bug.
Darrell Bock
There you go. You came to Jesus. That's good.
Wesley Hill
That's right.
Darrell Bock
That's terrific.

Let's kind of go in sequence here. You said you wrote this first book as you were wrestling with who you were. Let me start off this way, because you represent a category – if I can say it this way – that some people wrestle with, and I want people to get it.

I once had a theologian say to me that a person shouldn't claim to be a Christian and same-sex attracted at the same time; that one trumps the other, to which my reply was, "People who say this need all the support we can give them in the world because they are being very honest and direct about a major element in their life that they have wrestled with and how Christ has helped them to deal with it." Am I helping, or not?
Wesley Hill
That is very helpful.

My story is I was raised in a Christian family. Like a lot of gents who grew up in Evangelical homes, I asked my parents if I could pray with them to ask Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. That is really sort of the childhood I had. I didn't have the experience of ever seriously rebelling against that. I certainly had my ups and downs, but I went through high school never really doubting that Jesus was the center of my world, and I wanted Him to be. I wanted to trust Him and love Him and know that He forgave me for my sins by drying on the cross and that He was God and was raised on the third day. All that was pretty core tome all through my growing-up years.
Darrell Bock
You are a Southern Baptist in your roots?
Wesley Hill
That is right, grew up Southern Baptist.

My Christian faith was never the negotiable part of my life; it was never in question. But what happened is, as I grew older and went through puberty I realized that I was not having the experience that a lot of my other friends began to describe of becoming attracted to the opposite sex.

My initial thought was, "Maybe I'm just a late bloomer. Maybe this is going to change. I don't know what's going on, but it doesn't feel like what my friends are describing." As I got older, I realized that I was having a lot of romantic and sexual feelings; it's just that those feelings weren't for women. They were for men.

As my guy friends started to talk about girls that they found attractive, I realized that I was finding my guy friends attractive. I felt ashamed of that. You know the culture of Southern Christianity can be quite reluctant to talk about hard things sometimes, and I just felt that this was something that I didn't know if anybody in my church would be able to help me. I didn't know if they'd be sympathetic. So, I decided to keep it a secret. I didn't even tell my parents, who loved me very much and we are good friends to this day. But I was so nervous about what this meant for my life that I just decided to keep it a secret.

I remember hoping that I would get to college – I knew Wheaton was a Christian college. It was the kind of place where a lot of people end up meeting their spouse. I remember thinking, "If I can get to Wheaton maybe I can start dating girls and something will click and something will shift and I will be able to become heterosexual."
Darrell Bock
So you went to Wheaton with eschatological hope.
Wesley Hill
Exactly.

That was kind of my strategy. I think you can tell that's not a good recipe for growth.
Darrell Bock
Right.

What led you, then, to write Washed and Waiting?
Wesley Hill
Well, I came to Wheaton and realized that my hope of "fixing myself" wasn't really working. I was trying to bury this part of myself and stuff it away and just hope that it would magically re-order itself, and that wasn't working; that wasn't happening.

I remember that there were a series of circumstances coming to the conviction that if I don't find a way to talk about this with my fellow Christians, if I don't find a way to be honest before God and before at least a small group of my fellow believers, I am not going to grow; I am not going to experiences wholeness and health.

So, I went to one of my professors at Wheaton. It was the scariest thing I ever did. I went to him and said, "This is my reality. I have these same-sex desires and I am scared of what they might mean. Does this disqualify me from living a Christian life?"

The first thing my professor said to me was, "God loves you. That's not negotiable. You feel ashamed, you feel broken, but God loves you as you are." That was really important. But the other thing he said to me was, "This may not be something that God will just magically shift for you. This may not be something that you are healed from all at once," and we began to talk about what are the testimonies of Christians.

I knew that there were some homosexual people who ended up marrying someone of the opposite sex and I wondered, "Could that be a possible future for me." I knew that there were more liberal Christians who talked about being for same-sex marriage and I began to wonder, "Could that be the right way to think about this."

Where I landed was I couldn't see how scripture affirmed same-sex marriage. I couldn't make that work with the teaching of Genesis and Matthew 19, and Romans 1, and all these other passages. I also knew that I was going to counseling by that point and I was doing a lot of praying. I realized, "My same-sex desire is really not shifting at all, so I think I am going to be in this middle category of holding to a traditional theology of marriage," which means I want to pursue chastity, but also not having a dramatic testimony of healing and so still being homosexual, still being gay, still being same-sex attracted.
Darrell Bock
I distinguish between what I call "hard-wired same-sex attracted people" and "soft-wired same-sex attracted people" as a way of helping people think through what the possibilities might be.
Wesley Hill
Yes, and I think someone like Mark Yarhouse would talk about a spectrum, that some people are all the way on one end of the spectrum in terms of being pretty much exclusively same-sex attracted, which is my story. Then, other people find themselves somewhere in the middle; they are more bisexual and there may be more possibility of shifting and fluidity.

I wanted to try to write about that. I wanted to try to describe what that feels like, so I wrote this little book Washed and Waiting. The first word in the title, "Washed," I took that from what Paul says in First Corinthians 6 where he is describing how the Corinthians lived before they came to Christ. He says: Some of you were involved in same-sex relationships, and he uses two Greek words there that seem to suggest active and passive homosexuality.

Then he says in the next verse, "Such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." So, he is picturing some of these Corinthians who were involved in homosexual lives and they were baptized, they came into the church. They were forgiven; they were cleansed, and they have a new identity now. Their new identity is not oriented around their former pagan lives; it is now oriented around Christ and the Spirit. So, that was the first word in my title, "Washed."

The second word also comes from Paul, but it comes from Romans 8. The reason I felt drawn to that passage is because Paul describes the Christian life in Romans 8 as a life of groaning, baiting. He says, "As those of us who have the first fruits of the Spirit, as we look forward to the resurrection of the body in the future, we're groaning. We don't yet see everything we want to see."

When I read that, I thought: That's exactly where I am. I haven't been miraculously changed or healed or transformed yet in terms of my sexuality, so I am waiting. I am waiting for the redemption of my body. I am waiting for the time when even my very DNA will be rewired in the eschaton.

That image of being both washed – cleansed and forgiven and given a new identity and yet still waiting, still groaning, and hoping for a future that I don't yet see; that became a paradigm for me to think about my sexuality.
Darrell Bock
The subtitle here has Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, and really it is about – I take it – your journey to figure out how to be faithful to this tension that you found yourself in.
Wesley Hill
That's right. I tried to just describe for readers what would it feel like to find yourself in that place. What kind of questions would you have? So, I spent a lot of the book talking about loneliness because I think that in our culture so much of our emphasis – even in the Church – is on the nuclear family and marriage and parenting. I think if you are choosing to live a single life, a chaste, celibate life, you are almost always having to grapple with loneliness and you are having to feel like, "What does it look like for me to be faithful if I am not going to have a spouse and standard heterosexual experience?"

I wanted to write in such a way that people could read that and say, "Oh, so that is what it would feel like to find yourself in Wes's shoes. That is what it would feel like to be a same-sex attracted Christian." That is the kind of question you might be facing.
Darrell Bock
A question that pops immediately to mind is: At some point, obviously, you had to have this conversation with your parents and pursue that. What was that like?
Wesley Hill
I think it was hard initially. I was a "pretty good, straight-laced" kid in high school and I had already told them, before I went to Wheaton, that I thought God might be calling me to ministry. I worried that they would somehow not be able to assimilate this new reality that I was going to present them with with who I knew I was in Christ. So, I was very nervous about it.

They are both very loving people, very godly people, but as far as I knew when I was growing up, our family didn't have any gay friends; certainly openly gay friends, so I just didn't know how they were going to respond. But I sat down with them and told them.

It took us a while. I would say it took us months to work through all their anxieties, and I think they dealt with a lot of guilt. Was there something that they did to cause me to be same-sex attracted? We had to work through all those things, and I am happy to say they know I am doing this podcast today and they are praying for this. So, they are very supportive now, but as you'd imagine, there was a lot we had to dialogue about.
Darrell Bock
Yes, and fresh space to negotiate in many ways in terms of mutually understanding each other.
Wesley Hill
That's right.
Darrell Bock
Did this happen during your college time? When did this happen?
Wesley Hill
It happened after college.
Darrell Bock
After college? Okay.
Wesley Hill
Yes. I took a while. I had a counselor one time who used the phrase, "We all need circles of appropriate transparency." It took me a while to find those. I first told one of my professors, and then I met with Stan Jones – who I know you've got on the _____. Then I began to meet with pastors. It took me a while to even feel comfortable telling my peers about this.

I think regardless of where you are on the spectrum, and regardless of where you are theologically, it can be very hard and it can feel very costly to come out, to talk about this part of your life. I guess I would want to say to your listeners that if you can, find those trustworthy few. It doesn't have to be a lot, but if you can find those few people who can walk with you in this and listen to you and support you, that is pretty crucial.
Darrell Bock
It strikes me – and we've spent a lot of time talking about this – that one of the names that I didn't mention to you before we went on the air was David Bennett. We did a recent podcast with him. He works in this area for Ravi Zacharias and is in exactly the same kind of situation that you find yourself in. We spent a lot of time talking to him on the podcast about how does the church rally around someone who is in your situation because there are multiple things. There are not just the sexuality issue. There is the whole awkwardness the church sometimes feels with single people in general.
Wesley Hill
Yes, that's right.
Darrell Bock
So, figuring out how to incorporate people who are single into the life of the church is itself a hurdle without having this alongside of it.
Wesley Hill
Yes. I think that is absolutely right. I've started trying to answer that question in three different ways. The first way would be: I think we as the church really have to find a way to rediscover what the Bible teaches about singleness. It was a surprise to me. It shouldn't have been, but it was a surprise to me when I began to realize that the Bible has a very, very elevated view of singleness.
Darrell Bock
Yes, in First Corinthians 7 it is pretty high.
Wesley Hill
Yes, I grew up in singleness. It is kind of what you do when you can't get married. It is kind of a leftover option, and that is not how Paul presents it and it is not how Jesus presents it.

I was just talking with someone recently about how socially revolutionary it is when Jesus says in Matthew 19 that there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, there are people who are voluntarily choosing to be single because they are setting all their hope on the end-breaking reign of God. That is pretty radical, so I think we have got to rediscover that.

Second, I would say I think we need to really recognize that there are specific needs that single people have, and specific concrete needs that same-sex attracted people have to learn how to steward their sexuality. I think we have done a good job in the church recognizing that you can't just send two people off to lead a married life without giving them good tools to do that. We offer premarital counseling and we offer all kinds of support for marriage.

I think we need to recognize single people have their own needs and we need to offer pre-celibate counseling maybe, or certainly we need to be grappling with the nitty-gritty realities of: What do you do with ongoing sexual desire when you are single. What do you do with temptation? What do you do with relational longing? None of that stuff goes away when you are single. It is still there for you to deal with and you need to learn how to deal with it in a Godly way.

The third thing I would say: I think we've got to learn how to point same-sex attracted people and single people in general toward the fact that they too are called to love. As I look at our culture, I think we've almost exclusively used that word "love" in relation to romance and erotic love and marriage. I think we have got to get a kind of expanded view if love that everybody, regardless of marital status, is called to invest in deep relationships, deep commitments to one another. That is sort of where have I have gone in recent years in some of my writing and speaking.
Darrell Bock
This makes for a nice transition towards the spiritual friendship emphasis of the second book. I just read it before we are recording this. There were just lots of levels of things that I saw and reflected on.

In particular, I want to start off with a quote that I wrote down that came to my head as I was reading the middle portion o the book. It goes like this; it says, "The opposite of love," or the competition of love, or the association of love, "is not about sexuality" – nor, thinking about opposites, hate – "but loneliness; the idea that I don't matter."

It seems to me that what spiritual friendship is about is moving toward the point of saying that people matter and relationships matter, and the relationships that really matter that we don't give enough thought to aren't preset for us, like family.
Wesley Hill
Yes.
Darrell Bock
Or marriage. Marriage, you think about entering into it. You take vows. Family, there is no choice. But friends you very much choose along the way. We're setting this up because we are coming up to the break here, but it seems to me that that is a first step.

Briefly, what caused you to think about writing this book, because it is a little bit different than the earlier book?
Wesley Hill
Yes. Well, I sort of think of them as companion books. If Washed and Waiting is focused on some of the suffering that is involved when we follow Christ, I also wanted to write about what we are called to, positively, when we follow Christ.

My friend Eve Tuchnet has this great line that she repeats whenever she speaks. She says, "You can't have a vocation of no." In other words, you can't build your sense of Christian calling around what you are denying yourself. You can't just focus on the "no." You've got to focus on the positive as well: What is God calling you toward.

I began to wonder why I have spent so many years of my life focused on all that I am saying no to, like marriage and parenting and all these things. I haven't devoted much thought at all to what kind of future God might be calling me toward.

So, that was the motivation for writing about friendship, is trying to explore what would it look like for me as a celibate man to find real love in the church.
Darrell Bock
And help the church community understand the role that they have. It strikes me; this is actually an echo of where David Bennett's podcast ended up when we talked through: All right, how does the church minister to and rally around someone is same-sex attracted but celibate. Really, the role of community and friendship became very, very central.
Wesley Hill
I've thought for many years about that passage in Mark 10 where Peter wants Jesus to focus on all that Peter has left behind and he says, "Look, Lord, we've left everything to follow you." Jesus shifts his perspective. He says: Look, no one who has left father and mother and brothers and sisters and all these things for my sake, and the kingdom, will fail to receive a hundred-fold in this life. There are new mothers and fathers and brother and sisters. Then he says, "along with persecutions," and "in the age to come eternal light."

He is trying to get Peter to recognize that when we come to Christ we are grafted into a new family. We have a new calling. We have relationships that we can pour ourselves out into. That is really the thesis of the book, that someone like me – even though I am voluntarily living without a spouse and without children, that does not mean that I am called to loneliness. That does not mean that I am isolating myself or that God wants me to be alienated.

I am called to community; I am called to friendship. So, I stole my title because the title of my book is actually the title of another book written in the 1100s by this English monk named Aelred.
Darrell Bock
At least it was out of copyright.
Wesley Hill
Exactly.

Aelred talks about friendship in really high terms. He says a friend is someone that you would be willing to lay down your life for. A friend is someone that you would be able to unburden yourself and disclose your heart to.

I'm reading this in the context of a world where we use the word "friend" so casually. We talk about "friending" someone on Facebook, or something like this. Aelred is using it in a much more serious way. To me, that was really encouraging because what that meant is that I can be a single man, by choice, and I can still – even though I am unmarried – be called to the kind of love where I would actually give my life for someone and they would give their life for me, and I can disclose my true self to someone.

It opened up my imagination. It calls me to think this celibate life that I am living does not have to equal loneliness.
Darrell Bock
Of course the classic example of someone who gave their life for those around him and didn't end up being married is Jesus himself.
Wesley Hill
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
There was the disciple whom He loved. There were clearly relationships that he had with Lazarus and others that He pursued and that represented good friendships.

At one point in your book you go through the famous friendships that we sometimes trace in scripture: Ruth and Naomi; David and Jonathan. You mentioned Christ and the disciple John, and Lazarus. Then, in the midst of reading that, it struck me – an interesting thing because in talking about friendship you sort of contrasted it to the familial category at the start. Yet, scripture, when it addresses us in community, puts us in a family.
Wesley Hill
That's right.
Darrell Bock
We've got brothers and sisters who aren't biological brothers and sisters but we're supposed to have a regard for them that is like the way people regard their families.
Darrell Bock
That's right. That is something. As I was doing the research for this book, there is something mysterious about how do we discuss the closeness that we feel with a friend because sometimes a friend can actually feel closer than a brother. Proverbs even says that: There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

So sometimes I might even say, if I am feeling particularly close to my brother, "Wow. You are like my best friend." What I am recognizing when I say that is there is a sense in which friendship can be even more meaningful than a biological kinship.
Darrell Bock
That's right.
Wesley Hill
But on the other hand, sometimes when I want to talk about close a friend is to me I might say, "Well, you're practically my brother," or my sister.
Darrell Bock
That's right. We're terribly inconsistent, aren't we?
Wesley Hill
There is this intermingling of the familial and the friendly that I found really fascinating.
Darrell Bock
I think that's very, very profound. Reading through the book I think particularly of two friendships that I have. One of them goes back to someone who I have known since I was five years old; lived down the street.
Wesley Hill
Wow.
Darrell Bock
We are both in ministry.
Wesley Hill
That's great.
Darrell Bock
He grew up in a Christian home. I certainly didn't. He was partially responsible for my coming to Christ. There was a time, for four or five years, where we lived literally six houses away from each other and we were together almost 24/7. There was hardly a weekend that went by where we didn't want to spend a night at the other guys' house. Then I moved about five or six miles away. The only way we could get together was if I rode my bike to his place. So I would do that regularly. We went to different schools but we held together in a friendship and it went through college and it has proceeded on through life.

The other close friend I have I have known since second grade. Actually, he teaches Old Testament at Wheaton, Danny Carroll. We went through elementary school, junior high, and high school together. We went to separate colleges but stayed in touch. I was partially responsible for his coming to the Lord, and in the midst of that we've stayed together.

I think of both of them very much as family. In fact, I think of their parents almost as surrogate parents for me because I was in and out of their house so much.
Wesley Hill
Yes.
Darrell Bock
So, you get this intermingling and you begin to ask yourself – now that's community at about its highest level.
Wesley Hill
Right.
Darrell Bock
The question becomes: How does the church create an environment, particularly in the midst of very busy lives that we tend to have. They tend to get in the way.

I think one of the things that has kept our friendship strong is our history goes back so far there is no way to deny that. We know each other better than we ought to.
Wesley Hill
Right.
Darrell Bock
So, that drives it. It seems to me that your book is driving towards something in that direction, recognizing that isn't going to happen with everybody.
Wesley Hill
That's right. I don't think every one of our friendships has to be this kind of enormously deep, spiritual friendship. But, I think that should be more available than it is. I think a lot about something my friend Chris Roberts has said in his writing, that when you think about the whole push towards same-sex marriage and what the motivation is behind that, that most of us in the modern world can't imagine living without marriage because our capacity to belong to one another in more chaste ways is so limited. In other words, we have such an impoverished imagination when it comes to how we belong together, how we forge deep relationships, that some of the only ways we can imagine doing that is with romance and marriage and sex.

I was even watching a silly sitcom recently. The comedian was making a joke about the fact that he wants this deep relationship with this other man but he doesn't know how to get it, so maybe he should just sleep with him. Everyone laughs, and you chuckle, but you think: Wow, there is something poignant about that. What he is saying is that our culture has sort of lost a vocabulary and a mechanism for pursuing closeness with someone of the same sex without somehow immediately jumping to sexual innuendos or the category of gay or mock or make light of it.

I think we are living in a time when friendship is kind of ambiguous. So many of us love our friends, so many of us want friendship, but we don't know how to speak about that and we don't know how to pursue that. Some of the social structures that have supported that in the past have become weakened.

You mentioned our busyness. I would also mention our mobility. We are so much more mobile than a lot of previous generations that it makes it hard to forge these kinds of deep friendships like you're talking about when we are so committed to always being on the move.
Darrell Bock
In fact, one of the impediments potentially – at least to the friendship I described – initially is as I move further and further away from my friend, my ability to stay in contact with them altered.
Wesley Hill
That's right.
Darrell Bock
What's fascinating to me is that in older forms of life there was much, much less mobility. Some peoples' lives never ranged very far and wide at all. I remember a story – you'll enjoy this having lived in the UK.

We lived in a little village outside of Aberdeen called Torphins. It had about 800 people in it. One of our closest friends in this little village's father had spent one night out of his 75 years, in all his life, outside of his home.
Wesley Hill
Isn't that amazing.
Darrell Bock
And it was by accident; he got fogged in in Edinburgh so he couldn't get back home. He was describing this to us and we were going, "That's a foreign world."
Wesley Hill
Absolutely.
Darrell Bock
That is so much lack of mobility that I can't even imagine what that would be like. So, you are right. We've got this mobility. On the other hand, we have opportunities with friendships to do things that were in some ways not possible in terms of communicating despite our mobility.
Wesley Hill
That's right.

It grieves me that I live so far away from some of my dearest friends, but one of the things that our world has made possible is – I make it a priority to go and visit them. The technology we have makes it possible for me to do that in a short amount of time. I can fly down to Florida and spend a week with them rather than have to take several days to get there.

I don't want to say that all of the modern technological advances have been detrimental to friendship, but I do think we probably have more of a commitment to autonomy than ever before – certainly in the western world. I think that works against our forming the kind of friendships you are talking about and I am trying to talk about in the church.

When everybody is so committed to setting their own timetable and their own schedule, and even where they live, that is a force that I think is in tension with this kind of deep spiritual –.
Darrell Bock
Well, the static of all the choices that we have of what we can do with our time, which certainly is much more multiple than it used to be, I imagine – again, I am thinking back to earlier times – times when the day went dark; it was dark. You might take a candle or an oil lamp or something, but that is going to be pretty limited.
Wesley Hill
That's right.
Darrell Bock
There are just these sociological factors that come in. In some ways, it demands that you have to work harder at friendship today.
Wesley Hill
That's right. I think a lot about the fact that the research I've read from sociologists would suggest that some of the best glue for friendship, some of the best cement that will draw friends together, is regular unplanned interactions.

I think about how hard it is in my life to have regular unplanned interactions. When I see my friends, it is almost because we've said, "Hey, our lives are so busy. Why don't we plan to have dinner next Tuesday?" It is not regular; it is something we carve out time for. That makes it harder to form a kind of relationship where you are just kind of falling into conversation; you're not necessarily working off of an agenda. You are simply spending time together and deepening the relationship.

I confess; I don't exactly know what to do about that. I suggest in the book some practices we might begin to think about to work toward becoming better friends with each other. But I think there are a lot of, as you say, sociological and cultural forces that are working against us here.
Darrell Bock
When I think about friendship, I think about it in three categories. There are the friends that you have because of the context you find yourself living in. That is the friendships that you develop because of your work, the networking that provides, or the church that you are a part of, that kind of thing. That can come and go, and the real test of that is when you move. How many of those people do you continue to have contact with? You might have been seeing them every day at one point of your life. Now you might stumble across them now and again, and some of those people you never hear from again, not that you have lacked the interest of staying in touch with them, but just the pull of life.
Wesley Hill
They're kind of seasonal friends.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right.

Then of course the family connections, which can be a mix-and-match, as we all know, because some of those are comfortable for us and some of them aren't. But they are there. They are an odd kind of given, in some ways.

Then there is this third category of the thick and thin, the person who – for one reason or another, because of the way your relationship has overlapped and the diligence with which really both of you pursue it; in many ways it takes two to make it work – it doesn't matter how far away you are form one another; you stay in touch.
Wesley Hill
I think you are exactly right. I read one book that kind of memorably said there are "just friends." There's the friend you might meet once a month to watch a football game together. These are your "just friends."

Then there are "rust friends." Those are the friends where the friendship is so old and so creaky that it's got rust all over it and you could pick right back up where you left all.

Then there "must friends." This is the friend that, when something huge in your life, something life-altering happens, they're the one you must call first. They are the one that you can absolutely rely on and trust yourself to.

Distinguishing those different levels can be helpful. I think it is a reminder that not everybody has to be in that "must" category. Not everybody has to be in that "I'm going to keep in touch with them through thick and then" category. We can rejoice when we find one, or two, or three. I think Abraham Lincoln said: Consider yourself if you have two of those kind of friends your whole life long.

That doesn't mean we have to devalue the friends that we just have for that season or that we have more casually. I think we need to recognize we all have different needs and many of us really need and are hungry for those deeper kind of friendships.
Darrell Bock
Those other friendships really can come in and plug holes at certain points. I think about the person who is on the other end of marriage who ends up being a widow or a widower, and to have other people who they can connect with in that season of life is important.

You mentioned, at one point when you were talking about the different ways in which friendship can be pursued, that we are really not just talking about singleness and being married here. There are cases of couples who, when one couple doesn't have a set of children and another couple does, the potential of what that relationship can mean to the childless couple can be significant.
Wesley Hill
That's right.

To sort of bring this conve3rsation back to the issue of same-sex attraction, I think particularly people in my shoes are often not lacking in community. Many of us are part of churches and we know that we have people that we can share meals with and do things with. But we do sometimes feel like we're lacking that deeper level where I can go and really disclose the heart of who I am to you.

Sometimes it just feels like if you're not married where do you find that level of commitment. So, part of what I am trying to do in my book is to say: Let's provide the kind of care for same-sex attracted Christians that would actually make sure they have people in their lives that they can truly be utterly themselves with.

As Aelred would put it, "They can disclose the secrets of their heart to someone." I don't think that has to be only found in marriage. I think you can also find that in friendship.
Darrell Bock
In fact, in some cases I think the great irony is that sometimes marriages need that other kind of relationship. So, it's the wife who says, "There's something here. I can't really engage with my husband but I've got this close friend; maybe she can help me through it and understand it," or vise-versa, this is something only the guys can talk about – that kind of thing.
Darrell Bock
I think that's exactly right. One of the most meaningful things in my life was I have a very close male friend. His wife, early on in our friendship, came to me and said, "You know, Wes, I know that my husband needs you. I know that I can't be everything to him, and I just want you to know that I am honored that you are his friend and I want you to be his friend." I have to tell you; that was so reassuring to me and it was so consoling to me.
Darrell Bock
It leads us into: Okay, how do we get in this direction. Towards the end of your book you do discuss possible ways of doing this. First it is just sensing the need for this kind of friendship, allowing this category to exist – if I can say it that way.
Wesley Hill
Yes.
Darrell Bock
Your second suggestion is to start small. Let's take them in pairs. So, the need for friendship and starting small, what do you have in mind there?
Wesley Hill
When I think about the need I would love for the church to be a place where someone could say: This is the shape of my life right now; I am a single man; I am a same-sex attracted man. This is what I feel like I am needing from my community. And to go into real concrete honesty there.

Then, with the starting small, I think sometimes I have a tendency to romanticize friendship and think, "Wow, I've got to go off in quest for a friend." What I do when I do that is I sometimes overlook the people who are already right here.
Darrell Bock
The quest for the holy friend.
Wesley Hill
Exactly. I think sometimes pursuing spiritual friendship can look like maybe mending a fence with a friend who you've known for ten years already, or maybe you are just reinitiating with a friend that you have fallen out of touch with.
Darrell Bock
The next two are interesting. You do make the point that there are multiple layers of friendships. I think this is true. We connect with different people for different reasons in different ways and they fill different needs in that relationship, so that deepens them.

The other one that you have is the idea of serving in such a way, that serving together sometimes can strengthen those relationships and can build those bonds.
Wesley Hill
Yes. C. S. Lewis talks about the first condition of finding friends is wanting something other than friends. In other words, if you are engaged in a goal; if you are serving, if you are pursuing a hobby or a service project, you are actually more likely to find real friends than someone who is just sitting at home saying, "Wow, I really want friends. I need friends. I crave friends," because it is actually the thing that you are both pursuing that will allow you to become close with one another.
Darrell Bock
The last two are that sometimes friendships are built through the doorways of hospitality where people extend in a good way their space to you. You mention one example where a couple was going on a vacation and they extended the hand of including you even in a way that was almost surprising and really spoke to you.

Then, of course the next, and last category is working hard to stay connected, so two other important elements.
Wesley Hill
Absolutely. Some of the ways that my friendships have flourished is when people who, when I look at their lives I think, "Well, they don't necessarily need friendships," but they've admitted their need. Married couples have said, "Wes, we need you as much as you need us, and we are going to fold you into the life of our family." That has been very meaningful to me.

The final point is I just talk about what we can do to push back on this culture of autonomy and selfishness and mobility that we have? How can we actually chose to stay rooted more? Could we imagine actually turning down that better paying job halfway around the world because we say, "You know what? This community that I am a part of, this church that I am a part of, this friendship that I am a part of is worth staying put for."

I don't think everybody is called to that, but I think that should be a question that more of us are thinking through.
Darrell Bock
Wes, this has been an absolutely delightful conversation to work through, to talk about both your experience in the church and how it has led you to contemplate community and friendship in a fresh kind of way. I think it is a significant topic. It is very under-discussed, if there is such a word, so I really appreciate your willingness to take the time with us to discuss these topics with us.
Wesley Hill
Well, Darrell, it has been a joy and I am honored that you asked me, and I look forward to meeting you in person some day.
Darrell Bock
We'll for sure do that. We look forward to having you back some time as issues come up.

We thank you all for joining us on The Table and we hope you will be with us again soon.
Darrell L. Bock
Darrell L. Bock Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 30 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
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