“The Problem of Gay Friendship”

I’ve got an essay in the new issue of The Other Journal, which is now available online. It’s called “The Problem of Gay Friendship,” and it will give you some idea of how the book I’m writing is taking shape. Here’s an excerpt:

Going back to Aelred, it’s significant that most of the saint’s gay admirers admit that, although the eleventh century abbot likely experienced what we now call a “homosexual orientation,” he himself was celibate. The man who could describe a friend as one “to whom you so join and unite yourself that you mix soul with soul” and one whom you could embrace “in the kiss of unity, with the sweetness of the Holy Spirit flowing over you” apparently never had gay sex. What Aelred called “spiritual friendship” was a form of same-sex intimacy that sublimated or transmuted erotic passion, rather than sanctioning its genital expression. In light of this, I wonder what it might look like to part ways with Aelred’s largest circle of admirers today and attempt to recover the abbot’s original vision of an intimacy between friends that didn’t involve a physical, sexual union.

I’d love to hear from you in the com-box if you have a chance to read this. (That would help as I work on revising my manuscript.)

My main gripe about my own essay is that I think I should have engaged more deeply and carefully with the objection Gerald Bray raises—that speaking of “gay friendship” runs the risk of making sexual desire part of the definition of a friendship and therefore subverts friendship’s true character. Bray is not the only one to voice this worry, and it’s a question that deserves more of a response than I was able to give in this article.

Here’s how the piece concludes:

To the John Boswells and Elizabeth Stuarts of the world, I want to insist that Aelred’s vision of spiritual friendship need not, and ought not, be coopted for the project of overturning traditional Christian sexual ethics. But to my fellow traditionalist believers, I want to place Aelred’s vision as a disturbing question mark over our pastoral approach to the question of homosexuality. If we can’t envision a way for celibate gay Christians to embody his ideal of same-sex companionship today, what is our alternative way of ensuring that those Christians aren’t asked to shoulder a burden beyond what they can bear? Outside the cloister of an eleventh-century abbey in North Yorkshire, what is our solution to the problem of gay loneliness?

Wesley HillWesley Hill is an assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010). He can be followed on Twitter: @WesleyHill.

38 thoughts on ““The Problem of Gay Friendship”

  1. I definitely get what you’re getting at in your essay but I find that we need examples of how that kind of intimacy is lived out. Is it simply a sexless marriage? Would that be putting oneself in the near occasion of sin? I’m a very romantically inclined person, I was in a committed relationship for five years before deciding on following church teaching. Sometimes I think it was a good decision, sometimes I think I was incredibly stupid for letting go of someone I still love and that was perfect for me. For someone who has had a full level of intimacy it is hard to be satisfied with friendship. Also we’re still young. I’m not sure how the things we discuss and comment on here at SF will look like to us when we’re middle aged with most of our friends married with children while we live in an apartment by ourselves. I worry about my future and that of those like us. The fun theological and philosophical discussions we have here can only get us so far. there’s a world out there that is more accepting and sympathetic to our feelings than many of us are to ourselves. I had a relationship that could’ve lasted a lifetime. Now I have great friends in my church and a leading role in ministry. Yet the truth is that honesty about myself in my context is dangerous and no matter how good friends are once there’s a significant other everything changes. we’re being naive sometimes about what’s in store for us once everyone is neatly married and most of the gay Christians we know buckle under the pressure. We’ve only just begun.

    • It keeps people from following inordinate passions and expressibg good ones productively. It tempers the truth and instructs charity and has two millenia of pastoral info. to share. It knows people, as peoplee, in general, don’t change, so it doesn’t make stuff up to control or take away their fun, but the doctrines are divine from a loving God. People do the divisive separating; not God

  2. It has been nearly fifteen years since I read Aelred (and lived in North Yorkshire), so I’m ill-equipped to think about this question with respect to Aelred himself, but it’s a question which seems latent/implicit in your presentation of Aelred: does his theory of friendship presuppose a monastic context? He may or may not address the question explicitly in the text, but do his ideas about friendship rely on a broader monastic context in order to hold water? (In the same way that the older theologians in Creation and Covenant rarely address sexual difference directly, even as their ideas about marriage depend on latent premises and beliefs about it which one can identify by reverse engineering their arguments.)

    In other words, in the same way that sacramental marriage presupposes “church” as its context (rather than merely a freestanding autonomous couple), does Aelredian friendship presuppose “monastery”? If Aelred suggests to gay Christians “be chaste celibate friends,” do we also have to address the possibility that he might also be saying “but you can only do it if you are willing to be monks.”

    Is there a reason friendship outside the monastery feels so elusive? Does the tradition in fact have a monastic answer to “what is our solution to the problem of gay loneliness?”

    Sort of reminds me of how I used to ask Ron: is there a danger in single life of “being your own abbot”? Why not be a monk? Or why not acknowledge that this whole attempt at being “single” (maintaining one’s own single household, from which one ventures out to manage various friendships) is a modern experiment, and that the tradition is not necessarily at fault for failing to offer a for single people how might live because singleness has not developed as a Christian lifestyle for good reasons. Is it possible that non-monastic singleness is as anachronistic as gay marriage in so far as both are refusals to accept the vocations which the tradition has developed over time for meeting human needs?

    I do not know. I apologize for these questions. Asking you “why not be a monk” makes me feel like an elderly father asking his adult daughter “when are you going to get married and give me grandchildren.” I don’t want to nag about something that isn’t my business, and may very well represent a projection of my own monastic daydreams. But on the other hand, I really don’t know the answers to these questions; they are pressing questions for me. Hearing you would help me and I hope talking it through would help you account for one possibility that I think your essay raises but doesn’t address (probably for reasons of space – but maybe in the book?).

  3. “…what is our solution to the problem of gay loneliness?”

    Why should there be one? Isn’t loneliness part of the burden that gay people must accept in order to bear faithful witness to the teaching of the Church?

    I don’t understand why those gay people who believe that God requires celibacy of them complain about loneliness. I’m sure they feel it, but aren’t they supposed to? And aren’t they supposed to unite any suffering their condition causes them to the Cross?

    If there is a solution to gay loneliness, surely it must be the Cross. God never sends us more than we can bear, so the best advice you can give to a lonely gay person is to buck up his ideas and stop complaining because God has said that he CAN bear this, so if he claims he can’t then he’s really saying that God is a liar.

    Given that God does not lie, straight believers when faced with gay claims of unbearable loneliness only really have one choice, which is to dismiss them as the falsehoods they must be if Scripture and Church teachings are to be believed.

    So maybe that’s the real solution to gay loneliness: to accept that although it exists, it’s never unbearable and that any claims to the contrary are just lies and can therefore be ignored.

    • There is truth that all Christians are called to bear a cross – this inherently points to the gospel. If some burden does not point to the gospel, then what good is it? And indeed, we gay Christians carry a cross in the consequences and implications of our sexuality.

      I think though that your argument rests on an idea that the church plays no role in the amelioration of suffering. Let’s approach this first Biblically and then more practically.

      My first thought is to Mark 10:29-30. “29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

      Let’s break this down. When we leave our families for the sake of the Gospel (and in fairness, this passage does not explicitly mention spouses), we are told that “in this time” we receive these back a hundredfold. I think, and have always heard this interpreted as, that this is the church. We see here the church being a means of grace for the Christian, and certainly this is an extension of the Cross. And we can look beyond this to the operation of the early church as seen in Acts – they cared for each other in prison and in many dire circumstances. Paul repeatedly calls for churches to care deeply and practically for their members.

      Now, let’s think about this in terms of a hypothetical. Take a Christian who is a poor, single mother. She is beleaguered, tired, in need of assistance in many ways. How would we think of the church that says “Miss, this is your burden to bear. Understand that Christ is your strength and that though you might lose your children to starvation and you might be constantly depressed, that you are to lean on him.” I don’t think that we would encourage such a practice. It seems strikingly unbiblical and downright wrong.

      Now, notice that in our hypothetical that truth is spoken to the woman. Just as you advocate, correctly, that the loneliness inherent to the life of a gay Christian was nailed to the Cross. But, as with the case of the single mother, there is a component here of “completed, but not yet”. Yes, our present sufferings are covered by Christ’s grace. But, who is to say that this isn’t through the church? Who is say that what makes it bearable is the role of the church?

      At no point in his essay does Wesley suggest that spiritual friendship as Aelred describes it completely negates the loneliness inherent to the gay Christian. Rather, this is just an aspect of how God, in his goodness and love, through the power and grace of the Cross of Christ, provides companionship.

      And think of what glory this brings God! A suffering that is met in Christ is a suffering that points to the sufficiency of his work on the cross! And this doesn’t need to happen in some abstract – it can well happen through the church!

      So maybe that’s the real solution to gay loneliness: to accept that although it exists, it’s never unbearable under the grace of Christ exhibited through the church and the brothers and sisters therein. If indeed it were bearable apart from the church – there would be no need for such!

      • How then do you explain the existence of so many partnered gay Christians? The grace of Christ exhibited through the Church and the brothers and sisters therein doesn’t seem to suffice for them. If all it takes is reliance on Christ, why aren’t they all living happy – or if not happy, then at least not excruciating – celibate lives?

        The only answer that fits with Church teaching is that even though their suffering is not unbearable, they’ve selfishly chosen to follow their own desires rather than God’s commands. They justify this by dishonestly maintaining that their suffering is indeed unbearable when, according to your explanation above, this cannot be the case if they are members of the Church because Christ’s grace MUST be sufficient for them.

        So we end up with the same argument slightly modified: if you’re a gay Christian, the Church MUST be enough for you and if it isn’t then you’re just a liar who’s trying to squirm his way out from under the very reasonable Cross that God requires you to bear. Repent, take up that Cross and marvel at how regular parish coffee mornings and a quarterly Courage Apostolate meeting transform the agony into a perfectly bearable dull ache that you’ll have no problem at all living with.

        Ah yes, the Gospel is such Good News for gays. What gay 16 year old doesn’t aspire to a lifelong dull ache as the best that life will ever offer him? I’m surprised they’re not clawing their way into the pews by the thousands…

    • There’s thousands upon thousands books on marriage and making married life better and more fruitful.

      Should we just say to married people: “Well, obviously there will be difficulties. It’s never unbearable and any complaints to the contrary and can therefore be ignored. So maybe the solution is to realize the problems, the conflict in marriage, are always going to be there.”? I don’t think so.

      Sure, it is correct that conflicts arise in any relationship. Yes, it is true they will always be there. But considering people (mostly rightly) seek to make married life better and consider the questions of how to do so why should single people (whether gay or not) neglect the same.

      For many this is a new project. Something they may not have even considered was an _option_ growing up with families always talking about “when” (never “if”) you get married.

      And so, in many ways, this conversation, for many is in its infancy. As others have pointed out, lay celibacy was never and has never been predominant. Obviously, the minority of the minority who practice it will have concerns. Problems with married folks are A) No less important but B) Talked about often and C) Well-explored (and will be continued to be explored as we translate such commitments, such church teachings, into different cultural contexts as different challenges arise).

      The same depth of attention has not been paid attention for single folk and single folk are in a wildly different situation than they may have experienced in the past. So it may take some reflection and adaptation. I mean to be understanding of your concerns about complaints of single folk but I don’t think single folks are always being so whiny or that they’re asking too much when they say: “Okay, this is my commitment. How is it possible for me to flourish in the context.”

      That’s not asking to be happy every moment of every day. Loneliness can and will happen. But it’s not an inordinate request to ask what can be done better, from my limited understandings as a young person.

      • “Okay, this is my commitment. How is it possible for me to flourish in the context.”

        Why the assumption that you’re supposed to flourish?

        Some commitments preclude the very notion of flourishing. For most of us celibacy is a cross that we have to bear because God requires it. So how is it possible to flourish when you’re nailed to a cross? Not even Christ could do that. He died after all, did he not?

        Look to flourish in the next life because if you’re gay and you want to follow God’s word, you’re going to have to suffer in the here and now.

        There are exceptions, of course. Not all celibates suffer. There are some who even enjoy a celibate existence. But most of us don’t. Most of us want a partner. Most of us want love. Most of us want intimacy. But if we’re gay and want to be faithful to God’s word, we can have none of these things. We can try and replace them with good deeds, pious acts and platonic friendships, but all these things, although good in themselves, will never fill the yawning pit left by the absence of a partner.

        No, to be gay and faithful to God’s word is to live a life where flourishing is what other people do. We can distract ourselves with good works, which may provide us with enough meaning to make what we think is unbearable just about bearable. But the point is that we have to bear something because that’s how God has decided it’s going to be.

        So if I were you, I’d put all idea of flourishing out of my head altogether. Better to inure yourself to suffering than to raise false hopes of flourishing.

      • Stephen,

        I disagree. The way I see it, there are two types of Christian ethics: (1) Ethics based on natural law, and (2) Eschatological ethics. The type of ethics based on natural law is (roughly) focused on the goal of human happiness, both here and beyond this world. Eschatological ethics is based on the notion that this world is merely a vale of tears, and nothing good is to be found in this world.

        I see no possible reason for God to have instituted eschatological ethics. Why would God make the world so that the natural result of sin was earthly happiness? That is not only nonsensical, but it’s also evidently false. The worst sinners are the least happy people. Sure, they have pleasure, but it is a miserable type of pleasure, because it must end.

        The good things you’re talking about that proceed from gay relationships — friendship, companionship, love — these are things that God wants for people, whether these people are gay or not. That does not mean that it is easy to obtain them, and it does not mean that we should choose sin because of the (truly) good things that might accompany the sin.

        When you tell yourself that God is content to have you miserable in this world and blessed in the next, you are telling yourself a blatant lie. You are being a Stoic, not a Christian. The truest, most vibrant Christianity rejoices in this world, and brings heaven down to earth. Sure, Jesus was crucified, but he spent most of his life rejoicing: enjoying people’s company, loving and being loved, eating and drinking and living in the moment.

        Human beings are made to flourish. It is only when we seek flourishing with full hearts that we can recognize suffering in our lives for what it really is: a distraction, a means to an end. Suffering is the shallow end of the pool. The real good stuff, in this life and beyond, is joy. We should find joy in service and in love for others, but we should never stop insisting upon joy and flourishing for our own lives and the lives around us.

        Imagine how sad if Jesus came to heal a person, and the person said, “Lord, I am content to suffer now, and live forever.” No: God wants to make you whole, to make you shine like the sun, to make you filled with life and vibrancy beyond your wildest dreams. Don’t settle for a god that has a treat for you in the afterlife, but withholds it here!

    • It goes for divorcees, as well. One can still have friends, though. No one is a sinner for having our man-made divorce or having same sex attraction.

  4. Wes, I briefly introduced myself to you at AAR with gratitude for your work and that of others on this blog. A couple comments:
    First, I suspect that women often seek women after disappointing encounters with men who cannot be friends in the way women can with one another. These relations are now sexualized/eroticized, even as they may involve more cuddling and affectionate touch than genital engagement alongside shared life. I suspect this is many women’s response to a failure to learn (or lack of a context to learn) how to be deep friends across the difference of gender/sex.
    Second, I hope I take your comments on gay loneliness seriously. However, just how distinctive is such loneliness, esp in churches that are predominantly female in this era? That is, many devout Christian women know that they will not find a mate who is also a believer as they are. Are they, too, damned to the loneliness that gays who choose traditional understandings experience? How are they not deeply disrespected and ignored by the common refrain that it is “cruel” to “damn” gay Xns to abstinence from genital sex?
    My suspicion is that loneliness is an inevitable outcome of the “couplism” that has falsely promised happiness in our culture; the church often does little to combat this, in either liberal or conservative camps. Even couples prove to often be intensely lonely; they may then seek out other partners in what is our society’s cycle of serial monogamy. See for eg The Lonely American [http://www.amazon.com/The-Lonely-American-Drifting-Twenty-first/dp/0807000353] for a highly readable review of social science literature in this regard.
    While none of these isolations is exactly the same in its form, I do wonder if gay loneliness may serve as a gift to awaken us to the profoundly flaccid choices for “community” that pass for church these days. (And thus back to Roberts and to your comments about the monastery.) Hardly spaces in which we lay down our lives for one another a la Aelred. We can’t even bear to worship with one another if we disagree ideologically or theologically about gay marriage. But perhaps your work, witness may yet remind us of the good news of obedience and service of one another in ways that cost us. Then maybe the world will see that such friendship is indeed possible.

  5. As others have hinted above, I think part of the answer lies in the fact that Aelred resided in a monastery. I think of the relationships I have formed with men & women while on summer mission trips– intense experiences with shared goals, shared lodging, and almost daily fellowship. In fact, I remember one particular trip where our lodging situation changed and the team was practically at each others’ throats during a 2-week period where we all had to stay in single rooms.

    Thus, while I think that a gay *couple* would be a rare circumstance (akin to some situations with patients where I have seen two elderly neighbors care for one another for many years while never having an erotic relationship), more “monastic communities” made up of families, singles, & couples– with intentional time together for prayer, study, worship, fellowship, & service– are probably a significant part of the answer. Of course this raises more questions than answers (what if it’s two gay men and a married couple, then a baby comes along and there’s no more room in the house…?), but I think it’s a better place to start than our modern, atomized conception of human living.

    • Side B “couples” do happen. That’s where I have found myself – but the “spiritual friendship” grew in the context of a shared activity (related to ministry). Maybe outsiders view us as ‘partners’ since we live and go on vacations together – but neither one of us view or attempt to portray our relationship as anything but friendship.

      I think it happened because we both thought/said “I don’t want to live on my own” and stuck with it – brushing off the modern idea that every person *should* have their own place.

      • What about scandal? Aren’t we told that we must not only avoid sin, but also the appearance of sin? Don’t two men living together give every appearance of sin (even if they’re as pure as the driven snow) merely by living under the same roof in a society where cohabiting men are generally assumed to be sexual partners?

        Or does your personal desire for companionship outweigh scriptural exhortations to avoid scandal? If so, would a personal desire for intimacy outweigh scriptural exhortations to chastity? If not, why not?

      • Stephen, we are not a couple. We are close friends in the context of not having our own families – just as Aelred had close friends in the context of monastic life. Who invented this rule that friendships are scandalous when two people live in the same house?

      • I shared an apartment with a same-sex friend from college. We both would only be in a union with a woman, but liked similar movies and eating pizza and drinking pop in the process. When he married, that ended. : ( It’s been lonely, since. All my other friends are in far away states or too busily married and the guys in the family all talk mostly all sports. I miss the fellow expats in Korea. We got along well enough. My roommate friend was Assemblies of God, I’m a politically conservative Catholuc snd yhey were not religious.

  6. Some of you talk as if Christian people hadn’t been living single lives for thousands of years. Here’s a good case: Jane Austen. Does anyone imagine that Austen was alone? Of course she wasn’t! I’m sure she was lonely, though.

    But she had good, intimate friends. This did not “make everything better”. It did, however, make some things better. And it satisfied, to some degree, her deepest need: to know and be known.

    The problem SF is encountering isn’t homosexuality — that’s a problem Christian people have been dealing with for centuries. The problem is modern fractured families and homes. The problem is a bizarre and historically unique situation where a “home” can consist of two or three people, and where single people often live alone. These circumstances are historically bizarre, and it is an evil zeitgeist that makes us confront them.

    Hamlet cries: “The time is out of joint: O cursed spite / That ever I was born to set it right!”

    I would love to see SF as a voice crying in the desert, crying out that the modern world is a wasteland bereft of intimacy. When the average person thinks that being unmarried equals being alone, you know that something has gone wrong. Where are the relationships that Christian culture ought to be built on?

  7. Oh, and a comment for Wes, specifically: I wonder why *any* emphasis needs to be put on gay people having friendships with each other, as opposed to just having friendships (perhaps with a gay person, perhaps with a straight person). There are, after all, single straight men in the Christian population, and they need intimacy too. If they’re not inclined to be close with gay or bisexual men, then that’s a problem that the churches need to solve. (We don’t have cooties.)

    I think Esolen is right, by the way, that the taboo of same-sex sexuality was a protection to close friendships like the ones we’re discussing. So, sadly, those who look askance at your project have at least some amount of ammunition. Some days, I think the ideal of deep and intimate friendship between two men attracted to one another, but chaste, is realistic and wonderful. Other days, it reminds me of Socrates “testing his mettle” by lying naked next to Alcibiades — probably not a good risk to take.

  8. I think that same-sex male friendship is one that struggles in general. As a by product, gay friendship also faces equal difficulties. I use “same sex” on purpose, because I am not limiting that statement to those who are gay. Rather, I think males in general struggle to have deep relationships with one another. This may be due in part to post-college lack of proximity, but may also be due to the fact that our churches are designed around families. Thus, those with whom we ought to be in community are either, the married bunch or those who await that “glorious” day. There is no room for the “friend.” Now, back in college and in some communities the exceptions certainly exist, but I am speaking in generalities. Males struggle to relate with one another intimately–that is, with depth and substance, and friendship is not a focus nor popular teaching of the church. As such, gay friendship suffers from the same ills.

    That said, Chris Robert’s comments seem to fall into this same issue. He notes the context of the monastery, but maybe the issue isn’t so much the monastic context. Rather the ecclesiastical context males in general and celibate gays in particular face is one that is, from the ground up, built on a foundation, which is not designed to foster deep friendships. We focus on the family, and in turn, forget the church, which is both broader and deeper than familial ties.

    Because of this, I think that Bray brings up a good point. Maybe we have a deficit in substantive male friendship. The “desire” aspect need not have a role per se. If the male friendship issue in general were remedied, it seems the loneliness that exists for those for those who want to have a deep relationship, both gay and straight, would be overcome by a renewal of that friendship. To me, the church has failed on this. Men’s groups are centered around football games, financial seminars, and purity talks. Rarely does there seem to be room for anything more.

  9. After reading through the article, I think there are a couple things that should be fleshed out more. The first is trying to deal with how to bridge Aelred’s and our contexts. As others have pointed out, Aelred was addressing a particular monastic context, those who were dedicated to service in an order. In that sense, his idea of intimate friendship follows a particular logic in that those all in the monastic community are indeed linked through a Christo-centric vision, as you highlight in your article; but also linked through an avowal and shared commitment to Christ, a very different kind of lifestyle that naturally demands a different perspective. In my opinion, the problem then is in definitions of “celibacy” and the particular demands that are made on the person who is celibate (cloister, oblate, community-centered, etc). Based on Wesley’s conversation with the Orthodox priest in California, Wesley has a broader definition of celibacy that tries to offer a new kind of Christian community with “lay” celibacy and partnership between the Church community and the celibate individual, undoubtedly with a strong theological and philosophical defense, as well as trying to meet modern culture; by contrast, however, Aelred’s context speaks of celibacy in terms of religious vocation, not just a contrast between “married” and “un-married” life. Medieval conceptions of celibacy are highly linked with eschatology, spiritual purity, mysticism, and subject to church debate. They are notoriously difficult to navigate. All that to say, I think these differences in definition have direct implication on the argument, because it raises the question of how to interpret medieval notions of celibacy and friendship within our different context. One solution that is interesting to me might come through an investigation of later Renaissance renewals of these topics through such works as St. John of the Cross or in Matteo Ricci’s On Friendship, an influential Jesuit work that became a source for intercultural dialogue based on virtue ethics, and while composed in the tradition of monastic intimacy by its circulation in Jesuit communities nevertheless came to apply to non-religious ideals of friendship, especially in his missionary work in China.

    The second issue, which has also been raised in these comments, is how to account for such a deep friendship and differentiate philia from erotica. I think the article gives a good summary and broad overview, but this is truly a challenging problem and demands greater exploration and answers. The whole problem of this is that while Aelred tries to limit his own view of friendship as “spiritual” by using Christ as a center point, the tradition that he is inheriting and trying to interpret is far more complicated than that. The Symposium (as someone referenced above) is the classic example of this, where erotica leads to philia which leads to contemplation of the Good. Even in Cicero, this concept lingers; for he inherits this Greek idea of friendship which maintains sexual intimacy in friendship. Of course, the goal is to move to such a place of contemplation of the Good and Beautiful that one is no longer bound by physical distractions, but those are not necessary conditions for classical friendship. Augustine is a unique exception in the way that he uses the classical ideal of friendship but brings it into marriage instead of same-sex relationships, which seems to be his way to overcome the problem of sexual temptation in these kinds of relationships by which he subverts friendship as a lower love to the highest love which is divine charity. In this sense, Aelred also attempts to “baptize” the sexual language by speaking in “spiritual” terms. To summarize then, while I hope to see “friendship” becoming a recovered idea in Christian communities, I still think the concept is fraught with difficulties in same-sex relationships, that require more work in the argument, in particular if one wishes to speak of friendship in as admirable terms as gay liberation without accepting the sexual components that are immanent in these perspectives on friendship.

    I love the conversation and think this is an important concept to wrestle with for the modern church. We have become a hopeless consumer culture that suffers from severe alienation (loneliness is not just a gay phenomenon or even most felt by LGBT people in my opinion, saying this as a gay, celibate Christian who is completely removed from community and home, for I am working abroad) and the recovery of classical views on love and community are vitally important. I especially think that the classical ideal of friendship is one of the most important concepts we can recover, that can help enrich relationships and build unity in the Body of Christ, while reaching those who may have been excluded or struggled to find identity in the Body of Christ.

  10. I’m wondering if the response to Bray’s rejection is to re-frame the conversation. Bray says (per Wesley’s article): “To suggest, however obliquely, that friendship can be a homosexual substitute for marriage is dangerous and potentially destructive of the whole concept.”

    I think the problem is that friendship cannot be construed as a “substitute” for marriage. To understand spiritual friendship as a substitute for marriage is to cast marriage as the normal, healthy choice. When I hear the word substitute, I think of something that can step-in in a pinch and perform the basic tasks, but is not the ideal. Another word to use would be “alternative”. But this too indicates that somehow marriage and friendship are equivalent. I don’t think they are. Ideally, both can fulfill the needs for intimacy. But they are different things. They do not necessarily fulfill the same tasks as one another. So, when someone says, “Friendship doesn’t do a good job of meeting my desire for (erotic) love,” one can answer, “Of course not; it wasn’t meant to perform that task”. The next question is whether or not erotic love is a need or strong desire. I think Christian tradition answers that pretty clearly.

    I think the wonderful part about re-discovering the ideals of spiritual friendship is that it challenges the tyranny of thought pattern: “romantic love is the only way to find relational intimacy.” It’s part of rediscovering different kinds of relational intimacy.

    Of course, this is all theoretical and doesn’t help me when I am feeling alone…but then again, marriage, so they tell me, isn’t an antidote to loneliness by itself, either. (See: http://www.rabbitroom.com/2013/04/a-different-kind-of-lonely/)

    • There are good and bad marriages, so while all marriages may not be an antidote to loneliness, a good marriage is, I think.

      I’m not married but I do have a partner and although we don’t (yet) live together, we are intimate on every other level.

      Over the past few months I’ve had to go to Venice on business several times. When I’m in the city, I’m lucky enough to have the use of a beautiful apartment in a palazzo on the Grand Canal.

      Every morning I wake up to possibly the most beautiful view in the world. The basilica of Santa Maria della Salute stands proudly across the water, so near that it feels like I could reach out and touch it. San Giorgio Maggiore beckons seductively from the other side of the bacino San Marco. And the churches and palaces of the Giudecca and the Lido float mysteriously on the horizon. It’s the stuff of dreams and I have to constantly pinch myself to make sure I’m not imagining it all.

      No matter how beautiful the backdrop however, work is work and at the end of a trying day spent with charming but excitable Italian colleagues whose sole aim in life seems to be to rush around generating stress and conflict just for the sheer fun of it, I come back to my beautiful apartment and collapse in a senseless heap. The extravagant scene outside fades into the background and I could be anywhere. Or nowhere. I’m alone and my fatigue and the thoughts swirling around in my head are all I’m aware of. That’s what being alone does. Or at least, that’s what it does to me. I turn inwards and the outside world just fades away.

      The apartment is huge. Four bedrooms and multiple reception rooms and it can make you feel like a small bolt rattling around alone in a very large biscuit tin. My partner is busy at work back home and can’t often take time off to be with me, so on a few occasions I’ve invited friends to stay. The idea is that they get to experience something wonderful and I get the pleasure of witnessing their pleasure, as well as their company, which forces me out of my end-of-the-day sinkhole and makes me appreciate my surroundings a little more.

      And it’s true that I do appreciate the scene more when friends are with me. Watching them gasp at the views, hearing them tell me about their day of sightseeing and enjoying a glass of prosecco and dinner with them on the terrace as the sun sinks over the Dorsoduro … all these things force me to leave my stressful day behind me, take stock of where I am and enjoy my surroundings in a way that I wouldn’t if I were alone. Company pulls me out of myself. I love my friends and they love me. We can and do share many things. But not everything.

      Friendship is wonderful as far as it goes, but it only goes so far. Eventually it runs into a physical barrier, a limit defined by sexual intimacy beyond which friendship turns into something else. Friends never cross that barrier, or if they do then the relationship changes forever and becomes something other than friendship (or more often than not, fades away completely in embarrassment and awkwardness). It’s a bit like being one of those floating islands in C.S. Lewis’s novel “Perelandra”. Friends float on the same sea and draw very close and may even float along together in the same direction for a good part of their lives. But they never merge. They never become one island. No matter how close they come, they always stand apart. Which means they’re always essentially alone, even when they’re together. The greater part of them is always held in reserve, sometimes visible, sometimes hidden, but never accessible to anyone but themselves.

      Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. Friendship is a good and essential part of life. We need friends and we need company. But we should never make the mistake of thinking that we can find true intimacy in friendship. That’s just not what it’s for.

      Last week my partner was able to take time off to be with me in Venice. It was one of the best weeks of our lives. Looking at the florid baroque curves of the basilica shrouded in mist across the silvery waters of the Grand Canal with friends is a wonderful experience. Watching their little islands of experience light up and float along with mine is heart warming and comforting. But feeling my partner’s island come alongside mine, feeling his arm around my waist and his thoughts and emotions wrapping themselves around mine so that it’s hard to tell where his start and mine end is pure magic. That’s the intimacy that sexual union allows and that’s where celibacy can never go.

      If you live a celibate life then you confine yourself to your own island and can only ever relate to other people across the physical gulf that separates you. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you’re willing to accept it. Where I think this blog gets it wrong is that its authors seem to be looking for a way to bridge the gap and experience intimacy while still remaining an island. What you want is a contradiction in terms and must therefore remain an elusive dream, rather like a vision of Venice from landwards when the Ponte della Libertà has been thrown down and every vaporetto and gondola and other embarcation has sunk beneath the waters of the lagoon. You want so badly to get there, but you can only get there by getting your feet wet … and yet the idea of wet feet fills you with horror.

      Checkmate…

      • Stephen, I love Venice too. My wife’s grandmother, still living, is from there. Venice’s physical environment, to me, is the apogee of what built Christendom could be. As you say, arguably the most beautiful views in the world. Heartbreaking to consider the contrasts between American’s broken inner cities and our utilitarian automobile-dominated suburbs. Venice shows what humans are capable of building. Its humane and humanizing neighborhoods, and its constant architectural invitations to consider the glory of God, are breathtaking. People did this. We humans can build like that. Wow. Why on earth don’t we do it more often.

        But, as the many romantic appropriations of Venice also reveal, going back to at least the 18th century grand tour but also including contemporary mass tourism, the beauty of Venice can also be appropriated in a decadent fashion. People can commodify Venice, and, in today’s terms, use it as a backdrop for Disneyland experiences.

        Most of us today have a bit of both going on inside ourselves when we enjoy Venice, and the other glories of old Catholic Europe. We are partly pilgrims waking up to what the built environment and the landscape ought to be, and partly tourists consuming views and “experiences .” Something about these places touches a deep true spot in us, something real is going on, but there’s also quite a lot of fantasy vacation happening, a vacation purchased for quite a lot of money (or, if we’re there on work, then we’re not technically on vacation but we are self-evidently members of an elite that has something of the fantastical about it).

        I say these things as a prelude to making an observation about your blog post: there’s no theological premise or analysis going on. Your presentation is pretty much entirely romantic, and seems premised on a privileged bourgeois or aristocratic economic experience. Probably underneath there is more going on – I note your passing reference to CS Lewis – but just dealing in the terms of what you wrote, that’s what you offer for us to discuss (and with a curious air of finality – checkmate? huh? are we discerning together or trying to win something?).

        Within the framework you give us, I don’t doubt that satisfying the sexual ache is necessary, the deepest two people can go, the best and most satisfactory way to deal with the longing for ecstasy that we all feel.

        What’s missing from your account is Jesus. I think if you backtracked and relativized your romantic framework, and made it more theological, then the whole train of reasoning would change.

        To think about a few of the regulars on this blog: when I read Eve Tushnet talk about connecting with women in the crisis pregnancy centers, and the cruciform shape of a vocation… When I read Wes Hill talk about church and Christian community (his latest post on avoiding fantastical weddings is pitch perfect)… When I read Ron Belgau or Joshua Gonnermann or Chris Damien’s patient engagement with the tradition… When I read Melinda Selmys’ candor about suffering and perseverance… When I read any of these things, we always meet Jesus. Sometimes they are talking about Jesus directly, sometimes implicitly, but there’s always the sense that true redemption, beauty and human fulfillment comes by walking the way of the cross. (And that’s something they have in common with the architects and artists who made Venice so beautiful.)

        Your post? Where is Jesus? If the high point of human experience is arm-in-arm watching the sunset over the Grand Canal, where are Jesus’ many friends? Where are the least of these, where are the suffering, where are the poor? Where is the ecclesial hospitality of a monastery or a good church? What about all the people who will never get a passport, much less have the disposable income to travel? What about all the people who aren’t beautiful and attractive enough to find a partner for a honeymoon experience? I understand how these people fit at the Eucharist or in the Rule of St. Benedict. I understand how ecstasy and longing are fulfilled both personally and communally if our guiding image is the heavenly wedding banquet. I’m not sure how Jesus and his band of friends fit in your account.

        I love Venice and my wife, and I’m thankful for the moments, much like yours, that I’ve shared in Venice with her. But you’re presenting these moments as if they are a real viable alternative to the type of searching discipleship at stake in this blog. I don’t buy it. (About this blog’s purpose: see the upper right hand corner of this blog’s home page, about firstly rediscovering the Christian tradition and secondly about new ways of living today).

        If your portrait of those moments in Venice is really the good news of life’s true meaning (aka, what Christians call “the gospel”), then only a thin sliver of humanity will ever get there. If your Venice moment is what life is all about, then I guess it makes sense to be a Marxist revolutionary, because most of humanity is entitled to be bitter for missing out, and it makes sense to fight and grab a piece for themselves.

        But there’s another alternative. What seems to me missing from your account of friendship, intimacy, and the best of life is Jesus and his cross. If you take Jesus and his passion as the basis for one’s life, then everything unfolds differently. You have written about good things – sexual intimacy is good, being with an intimate friend is good, seeing beautiful old Catholic Europe is good – and you’ve put them all into one tantalizing package. But most people most of the time, if they take your image and use it as their North Star, as the compass point guiding their choices through life, they’re going to end up bitter and disappointed. Because for all its goodness, what you’ve offered should not be idolized or idealized. Your Venice moment is not a true portrait of life. Jesus and his cross is true, is the guiding light. And the purpose of this blog, and the way its leaders talk about intimacy and friendship, is always touched by this Christological realism. That’s why celibacy is in the mix, and not your romantic apotheosis. Because when we loosen our romanticism, and ask how to be present in the suffering world, and how to be in solidarity with our neighbors, there’s a reason why the spiritually wise have, for centuries, counseled celibacy. I believe the people who built Venice would understand that, even if it seems dim to the tourists who visit today.

  11. You’re right Chris. Jesus is entirely missing from my account.

    This is because Jesus is really no more than a character in a book to me. I’ve read the book and I know the basic Christian narrative. But Jesus is no more real to me than Aslan or Gandalf the Grey. All of these literary constructs are interesting characters in compelling stories, but just as I wouldn’t think of Aslan or Gandalf while standing with my partner on a terrace overlooking the Grand Canal, Jesus isn’t the first thing that springs to mind in such a situation either.

    Now I realize that to you Jesus is as real as any canal, church or palazzo you might see in Venice. But to me he’s just a fictional character, perhaps based on some form of historical reality, perhaps not. I’m not sure we have any convincing proof that a man called Yeshua Ben Yossef really existed, although he may have. And as for the events recorded in the Gospels such as the virgin birth and the resurrection, well let’s just say that my attitude towards such miracles is very similar to my attitude towards elves and trolls and unicorns. If ever any hard archaeological evidence comes to light that a subspecies of horse with a big horn ever existed, then I’ll start believing in unicorns. Until then they’re just a nice story.

    And I think you mistake my attitude to Venice also. It’s really just a convenient backdrop to illustrate the point I was trying to make, which is that when special things happen to us (which might be a trip to Venice, or a trip to the mountains, or the achievement of some long held goal, or even something as simple as the sharing of a meal) they mean more when they can be shared with the one we love. The merging that takes place in a sexually united couple brings us closer than friendship ever can. It knits solitary islands of experience together in a way that friendship never can.

    I used the example of Perelandra only because of the convenient island metaphor, which tied in with my experiences in Venice because Venice too is built on a series of islands. I wasn’t attempting any kind of theological analysis because I’m no theologian. And as far as I was aware, this blog isn’t just for theologians, although if I’m wrong and it is, then should I infer from that that only theologians have what it takes to be celibate?

    Cast around for gay theologians and you won’t find many. And if you can only be saved by devoting your life to the study of the Bible then there are an awful lot of gay (and straight, for that matter) hairdressers and bartenders and cleaning ladies and property developers going to hell. A lot of children too, because if Jesus really did exist and was who he said he was, but his remark about us having to have faith like children didn’t count and it’s only via the study of theology that we can be saved, then hell is stuffed full of children whose chances of salvation evaporated into nothingness once their mothers gave them Lego bricks or Tonka toys to play with instead of Johannes Duns Scotus’s “A Treatise on God as First Principle”.

    My own view is that theology is important only to theologians, and only then in the same way as hairdos are important to hairdressers and fabulously refurbed palazzos on the Grand Canal are important to property developers. But as a skeptic in the realm of religion, perhaps my opinion counts for little and I should give way to those who believe that salvation depends on reading five theological papers before breakfast and seeing Jesus’s reflection in every glass of water, cup of tea and glass of prosecco they drink. You may be right and I may be wrong, but when I was standing with my partner on the terrace of that palazzo, Jesus was neither here nor there, nor anywhere in particular. An image of him was hanging in the church we were looking at across the water, as well as in many other churches throughout the world. And I’m sure thoughts of him were swirling around in your brain, and in the brains of many others around the world. But I’m not aware that he was anywhere else that night. Had he suddenly appeared on the terrace and thrust a copy of the Bible under our noses saying “here, you need to read this or you’re in trouble” then I think we would have taken note and would now be poring over Aquinas and Bonhoeffer. But he didn’t, so we’re not…

    • Stephen,

      You say, “The merging that takes place in a sexually united couple brings us closer than friendship ever can. It knits solitary islands of experience together in a way that friendship never can.”

      In my experience with my wife, this is precisely backwards. Our emotional intimacy comes first, and sexual intimacy is a physical manifestation of this emotional intimacy. If I or my wife became incapable of sexual union tomorrow, we would have lost one particular expression of love toward one another; we would not have lost anything absolutely central to our connection with each other, however.

      When emotional intimacy isn’t there, on the other hand, sexual intimacy is hollow. So I think that sexual intimacy pretty much always takes a backseat.

      That’s why I think — regardless of one’s opinion about the morality of gay sex — it’s just false to say that, without sexual intimacy, two people must be always irrevocably divided (“solitary islands of experience”). Having sex with a person does not magically create a closeness that was not already there. It may make that closeness more experienced — or experienced in a different way — but it does not make the closeness exist.

      Some people can’t have sex. Some people can’t live in Venice. Some people struggle to make ends meet every day. Some people are surrounded by sickness and misery and death. If, as you say, Jesus is a fiction, then Jesus sure as hell is a necessary fiction. Even a fictional Jesus does a hell of a lot more for the suffering than a factual Venice.

      • I don’t know whether Jesus is a fiction or not. All I know is how he seems to me: a two-dimensional character rather sketchily described in the Gospel accounts, onto whom those who believe he was real project a LOT of their own wishes, desires and other baggage.

        The Jesus I hear Christians talk about bears little or no relation to the bare-bones character of Scripture. He’s been fleshed out and colored in with every personal desire and prejudice of every believer until he resembles some kind of romantic fiction superhero. Strip away the cultural accretions though and you’re left with something so bland and impersonal that adding your own embellishments is pretty much compulsory otherwise what are you worshipping? A shadow on a page?

        I certainly don’t like the Jesus-as-superhero figure worshipped by the Church, but I think the shadow on the page troubles me even more. God came to earth and none of his contemporaries can give us a decent description of him? Nobody thought to write down and preserve his every word and utterance until a couple of generations had passed, by which time only second and third hand accounts of him survived? And we’re supposed to accept these stories as infallible truth?

        I remember my grandfather’s accounts of his father’s experiences in the Boer War. If I believed every word he uttered, my great grandfather was some kind of superhuman cross between Indiana Jones, Mr Darcy and Sir Galahad. The official records tell another story, one of some bravery it’s true, but also of abuse of power, arrogance and a carelessness with the lives of the men under his command that borders on criminal negligence.

        So who should I believe? Sweet old Grandpapa and the hero-worship complex of a boy who lost his father in a far-off and exotic war? Or the bare-bones, dry and clinical information gleaned from records of war dispatches, gallantry award reports and court marshal proceedings? None of these sources tells me who my great grandfather really was. That’s something I’ll never know. So if I invent a character for him and then assign him all the virtues I want him to have possessed, am I being honest with myself? Or with him?

        This kind of personal fiction writing is dangerous, I think. It divorces us from reality and at the end of the day reality is our only anchor. Facing reality is the only way we can get by in life. And hiding behind a fictional construct who only exists in our heads in a vain attempt to flee from realities we don’t like is not, in my opinion, a particularly useful way to spend a life.

        But that’s just me. I’m happy to allow others their opinions and beliefs as long as they let me live by mine. And as for the Christian obsession with controlling who can and can’t have sex and what importance they’re allowed to assign to it, all I can say is that if sex is ancillary to your relationship then all power to you, but thank God (if he exists) you’re not shackled to me for life. It wouldn’t be pretty…

    • You wrote: “And as far as I was aware, this blog isn’t just for theologians, although if I’m wrong and it is….”

      The blog isn’t just for theologians. I’m neither the blog’s policeman nor its creator. I take the blog seriously, however, when it says at the top that it exists for rebuilding Christian friendship and rediscovering Christian tradition. If that doesn’t interest you, then I suggest maybe think about how the obligations of hospitality are two-way, and how to be present helpfully in somebody else’s discernment.

      If you want to know what the premises of Christianity entail – even merely as a hypothesis, just to see where the Christian line of thinking leads – then I think there’s a lot of people on this blog ready to talk and discern together. If you want to have a discussion about the new issues you’ve raised – whether Jesus really existed, whether/why he might be different than Gandalf – let’s take it off blog, because that’s a new game. Let me know and we can set up an off-blog way of communicating.

      • The concept of Christian friendship does interest me from a gay perspective. As a gay man myself with no fixed religious beliefs or understanding of why celibacy is any use to anyone, I am mildly curious about why someone would choose to live a celibate life and also how they seek to justify such a choice to themselves and others.

        I accept that my own thoughts on the subject of Christianity may be superfluous to these conversations. I’m quite happy not to share any more of them if they’re deemed to be out of place here.

        And thank you for the offer of taking my personal religious education in hand, however I should warn you that others have tried and failed to inculcate any kind of Christian belief in me, so having a crack at it over email probably won’t result in my conversion. But if you’re the kind of evangelist who just can’t resist the challenge of tilting at windmills then I’m quite happy for the people who run this blog to supply you with my email address, if that’s what they want to do…

  12. Why can’t we let bachelors be bachelors and not attach stigma, suspicion, or man-up sexism to it… Unless you are gay… then the women will like you but the Church will still not. The church has ceased to offer solutions through which spiritual and physical nature can be realised productively for single men. Or even for older single women. It assumes the only capable context is by marriage or waiting. One is left to figure life out in another context.

    Likewise, the 98% of pastors who are married are at a loss for an answer. They go to bed each night hoping their blessed wives don’t divorce their workaholic selves.

  13. The problem of gay friendship. The only problem I would see with a same-sex friendship is if the friendship were intentionally established by those involved as an alternative to an erotic/amorous relationship. In which case, they’d both be subject to the same dangers/problems a similar heterosexual relationship represents. Since there’s no smoke without fire, one must give regard to why heterosexuals will not accept (platonic) ‘friendship’ with someone one or the other is already in love with. The faucet of hope and fantasizing of what could ‘miraculously’ be, cannot be completely turned off. In which case, one carries ‘fire in one’s bosom,’ hoping one will not be burned!

    However (speaking as a heterosexual), in my four decades plus existence, my experience has been that ‘close’ friendships are rarely planned, nor do people ‘choose’ *who* their ‘close friend’ will be. Rather, it just happens, sometimes over long periods of time. As life happens, certain people begin to stand out as those with whom you can have a close relational experience and as this realization becomes mutual, outstanding friendships receive their labels.

    I would not be surprised if this was what Aelred experienced. I doubt that in devoting his life to celibacy, part of his thought/plan was to find a friend with whom he could share the journey. Especially since there was no proof of his homosexuality (as I doubt that such a spiritually conscientious person would have entrusted himself to a community of same-sex individuals, had he seriously considered himself homosexual. One of the respects I have for the early saints, comes from seeing their total ‘sold out,’ giving it all (no matter what it was) for Jesus. Maybe I still see them through my childish eyes, when even as a child, their stories helped me understand the ‘all or nothing’ law of Christian discipleship.

    I struggle with attributing a homosexual interpretation to Aelred’s passionate descriptions of ‘his’ friend. I find it hard to believe that was the intent/purpose. People who feel intensely and who are equally passionate, lyrical and expressive, tend to use words/terms that many reserve only for romantic affiliations. Yet, that is not necessarily the case with them (I know because I am such a person). I have not studied the life of Aelred, and so may be ignorant of other evidence for homosexuality as those who have. But in my ignorance, I ask, what ‘if’ that romantic love was not what Aelred meant? What if he was just *reaching* *deep* within his soul (as I believe David and Jonathan did) to ‘find’ the words to express their friendship, i.e., sweeter than the love of a woman?

    My concern would be why not let ‘friendship’ occur for the gay, the same way it occurs for the heterosexual, i.e., at random? Just as with heterosexuals, who’s to tell if the ‘friend’ one seeks will be same-sex or opposite sex? From my limited view, I would think I’d be creating more problems for a homosexual who was trying to be faithful to traditional Christian sexual doctrines/ethics, by counseling him or her to find/pray for a same-sex friend. I would rather say, pray for ‘a’ friend. Everybody needs one and there’s no telling who (male/female) that ‘will’ *be.* Some heterosexuals are lucky to have their best friend(s) be of the same sex. However, as a heterosexual, I can honestly say, that’s not always the case for everyone, and it’s not because we want it to be different. Some of us have ‘found’ our friends in the opposite camp, and when happens, it is just as problematic from the eyes of the world as it is for modern day same-sex friendships/relationships. One then has to be aware of and observe (when/where possible) the many rules of propriety that govern Christian sexual ethics, as the person who experiences same-sex attraction would have to in a same-sex friendship.

  14. **“If we can’t envision a way for celibate gay Christians to embody his ideal of same-sex companionship today,what is our alternative way of ensuring that those Christians aren’t asked to shoulder a burden beyond what they can bear? Outside the cloister of an eleventh-century abbey in North Yorkshire, what is our solution to the problem of gay loneliness?”

    I’ve been wrestling with the above question and just wanted to throw some of my thoughts out there (please pardon their non-sequential order):

    Is the concern of the above paragraph about attempting to ‘provide’ for celibate gay Christians what Aelreds had with his ‘friend’ or is it about finding space for full inclusion of celibate gay Christians in the Body of Christ?

    I would think the primary question would be, what does celibacy *mean* to the celibate gay Christian? Does it mean just abstinence from the physical involvement of a personal intimate relationship with another same-sex individual, or does it mean an offering one’s self (body, mind and soul) as a ‘sacrifice’ to God because of one’s homosexuality?

    If it means just abstinence, then one would do well to be concerned about finding that ‘one’ friend for life. However, if celibacy is about ‘rendering service’ unto God, then (here’s where my thoughts go crazy):

    -Might they not consider becoming part of a ‘separate/unique’ holy order created just for celibate gay Christians, and

    -Might this order not be somehow incorporated into Church life and become a means by which these ‘consecrated’ folks are released into and serve the Church in the capacities of their gifting/calling/etc., whether clergy, worship leader, writer, teacher, etc.?

    So my thinking is this, you all have already come a long way in fighting to ‘show yourselves approved unto God.’ Perhaps, *it is the TURN of the Church to acknowledge that commitment and effort by publicly and deliberately CREATING pathways for celibate gay Christians to put the consecration/sacrifice of their bodies to good use. Therefore, the Church needs to get radical on behalf of celibate gay Christians and create an order that publicly and ECCLESIASTICALLY AFFIRMS their CONSECRATION/celibacy.

    So I guess I’m saying, Church, create a *new* monastic order, because you’ve got enough reason in the lives of celibate gay Christian, to do so.

    If such an order were created, then might it not be easier for celibate gay Christians to live out this new purpose for their celibacy, i.e., as an offering given in service to God and His Church? Considering Matthew 19:12, it appears to me that a celibate gay Christian would need to go further than ‘choosing’ to be celibate, to realize that his/her celibacy is not so much his/her choice, but rather a way of recognizing God’s call to ‘holy orders.’ In which case, God knows how/what kind of relationships to provide for his/her emotional/relational needs. He already does this for others who although not celibate, equally have to make ‘core’ relational sacrifices to fulfill His call (Matt.19:29). I can testify that He is faithful with that promise.

    It might be worth considering to identify the areas of shared/common suffering with non-gay Christians, because although the causes may not be the same, our sufferings some extent are the same. Thus, we can draw strength from one another’s experiences. So I’d say, *direct some of SF posts to/at non-gay Christians* and *ask* how they deal with those areas common to the *cost* of Christian discipleship. That is something we all share in common, and the cost is not (supposed) to be less for one than it is for the other. So therein we have common ground about dealing/coping with consequences of sacrificial obedience.

    My understanding from Scripture and Christian living is that God never lets us suffer or ‘bear our burden’s’ in isolation and the help doesn’t always come from someone ‘carrying/sharing’ your load (as you all do here as community of celibate gay Christians). Sometimes it comes from learning ‘how’ others (i.e., non-gays) suffer and ‘how’ they *are* helped by God in that struggle (2 Cor.1:4).

    I think the celibate gay Christian struggle was ‘meant’ to be shared by the larger Church. There’s a sense in which the Church is not complete without the celibate gay Christian, and a sense in which the celibate gay Christian is not complete without the Church. By this, I mean our gifts (gay/non-gay) are meant to ‘serve one another.’ For example, my personal discipleship has always been encouraged and inspired by your testimonies. Likewise, I believe you all equally *need* to be strengthened and encouraged by the testimonies of non-gay Christians in areas common to discipleship. Thus, the juice of life in Christ Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, can flow continuously and uninterruptedly from one organ (individual/group/community) to the other.

    To all the celibate gay Christians: thank you for your faithful witness to the Church *and* to the world. You’re the modern Church’s three Hebrew boys and we’re very thankful for you! Please know that you all are always in our prayers. We love you! God bless you!†

  15. Tega, thank you for these recent comments. I’m moved and encouraged by what you’ve written. Next time I see you on campus, let’s talk about some of these matters… Until then, God bless.

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