Spiritual Friendship at Biola University

I spoke in a chapel service at Biola University last month on the themes of gay experience, Christian faith, and spiritual friendship. Here is the video:

I gave a very similar talk at Calvin College the week before, and I’m still working on trying to refine this and figure out exactly how I want to talk about these things. If you have any feedback for me, I’m all ears!

4 thoughts on “Spiritual Friendship at Biola University

  1. I really enjoyed the talk. It was engaging and helpful. A few thoughts and questions:

    1. A lot of your discussion of friendship is implicitly about pairs. However, much of the time, the experience of friendship is less focused on pairs than on groups and contexts. Even though friendship groups may involve lots of one to one relationships, much of the time those relationships are explored and enjoyed in the context of the group and do not possess the same intensity as the pair friendship. My impression is that, while both may face difficulties, it is the former mode of friendship that is most particularly at risk and in need of recovery. I also wonder whether there are different concerns, practices, and virtues that relate to these different forms of friendship and whether there is a need to make distinctions between them.

    2. At certain points, you seem to be setting the valuing of the family over against the valuing of friendship (not putting them in competition, but representing them as rather distinct realities). However, in many ways the Christian practice could be understood as being about situating the deep natural bonds associated with procreation and resulting kinship within the context of the practice of committed friendship(s), and situating the bonds of friendship within the context of a profound (fictive) kinship. Husband and wife are not just the servants of a biological imperative, but are loving companions through life. My own experience is that my three brothers are also my closest friends and my relationship to my parents increasingly takes on the character of deep friendship over the years. It would seem to me that the family is the primary formative context within which we are to encounter friendship and to learn the virtues associated with it, especially by witnessing the bond between our parents. Rather than putting friendship over against marriage/family, why not explore marriage/family as one of our primary forms of friendship and broader friendship within the church as a new way of practicing family?

    3. You mention Jesus’ friendship with Lazarus in your talk. What do you make of the suggestion that Lazarus was the Beloved Disciple (cf. John 11:3, 36; 21:20-24)?

    4. One of the things that are striking about reading about friendships in the past and seeing pictures from the 1800s, for instance, is the physical intimacy and expressions of affection that can pass between persons of the same sex. Having travelled in parts of Asia, similar things can often be seen there in certain contexts. Men hold hands, embrace (and not the man-hug, or the side-hug…), kiss, routinely put their arms around others shoulders, etc. No one blinks an eye. One sees the same thing in Scripture. There is also an emotional intimacy. Men can cry together, for instance. Our concept of friendship is quite impoverished from this. Friendship can offer an emotional and physical intimacy that satisfies some fairly deep longings for the close presence of others that many people experience.

    However, one of the things that pretty much all of these cultures have in common is a strong taboo against homosexual practice, presenting sexual relations between persons of the same sex as ‘unthinkable’ on some level. As this taboo and ‘unthinkableness’ of homosexual practice assures the non-sexual character of the attachment and the affection and intimacy enjoyed within it, non-sexual friendship can explore realms of closeness that are completely unknown to us. The incest taboo functions in a similar way to allow close affection between related persons. Conversely, the increasing perceived ‘thinkableness’ of paedophilia has limited the degree to which men in particular can be physically affectionate in their relationships to children.

    It seems to me that one of the means by which homosexuality has been normalized has been through the sexualization of intimate male friendships, through the reading back of prevailing sexual identity narratives into past and fictional relationships between men (something that hasn’t happened to quite the same degree with women’s friendships, I don’t think). People speculate over whether Newman and St. John, Lincoln and Speed, Frodo and Sam were ‘gay’. The closer a friendship is, the more homoerotic it is perceived to be. Consequently, homophobic or not, most men in Western countries now carry out friendship in a far less intimate manner.

    As the line between non-sexual and sexual intimacy has been erased in large part through the increased thinkableness of same sex sexual relations, how can a clear distinction be established again? I believe that you are quite right to point out what a recovery of friendship has to offer Christians with same sex attraction and what such a recovery of friendship has to offer the entire church. My question is how, if the recovery of friendship is being closely or implicitly tied to the needs of gay Christians in particular, a sense of the clearly non-sexual character of the profound intimacies that are constitutive of it can be re-established? My concern is that within such a framing, the relation between friendship and the prohibition of same sex sexual relations will come to be perceived as the imposition of a difficult and restrictive ascesis upon a sexual minority, rather than as the precondition for the opening up and exploration of a realm of intense and life-giving non-sexual intimacies. Also, it risks presenting friendship as something that primarily exists for the unmarried or for gay Christians, rather than something that is being recovered for the whole church.

  2. Pingback: Wesley Hill Speaking on Spiritual Friendship at Biola University

  3. Pingback: Sexuality Conversations at Evangelical Colleges | Spiritual Friendship

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