Recently, one of my friends on Facebook pointed me to an article on the Gospel Coalition blog about a man who experiences an intensely deep friendship with another guy. It really is beautiful. The author’s name is Chad Ashby, and in the article, he makes what I would consider to be a correct distinction between deep love between men and homosexual attraction. He says,
To love another man as your own soul (1 Sam. 18:1) is not homosexual love; it is the love of Christ. It is a true willingness to lay down your life for your brothers (1 John 3:16). We must build these kinds of relationships with one another: men who truly love other men.
As I read Ashby’s description of his friendship, I found my heart soaring. It is this type of deep relationship that I long for (and experience with a select few of my close friends). This “Spiritual Friendship”, it seems, is one of the many life-saving graces that God has given to me and many like me in order to successfully live a chaste life.
And yet, as I read the article, I also felt strangely alienated. Ashby makes it very clear that the type of love he is referring to is not homoerotic. But what about when this type of love is also accompanied by a homosexual orientation? What happens when I, as a Christian celibate gay man, experience this type of love, but right alongside of it experience erotic attraction as well? Would Ashby be so quick to tell me to pursue close, intimate friendships? Or would he tell me that it now becomes too dangerous? I’m not sure…
In the conservative circles that I run in, intimate, loving friendships are often praised as beautiful, and guys are told to “recover” them and “pursue” these Jonathan-David relationships. But when people find out that I am gay, they sometimes hit the brakes pretty hard. “Oh, you are physically attracted to guys? Well then you need to be really careful to NOT get too close to them, because sexual attraction is dangerous.” This seems quite ironic to me. We Christian gay folks are often the ones who desire these friendships most intensely but who are often told to “not get too close.” It’s like we are told, “Here is an answer to many of your deepest yearnings, but you can’t really have it. Or if you do take it, if you passionately pursue close male-male friendships, we are going to constantly look at you sideways and wonder what is really going on.”
I get that the heart is deceptive and wicked above all else (Jer. 17:9). I understand the dangers of lust and evil thoughts. I am not advocating for the abandonment of wisdom in relationships. But it seems to me that Christian celibate gay people should be encouraged to form these types of friendships just as heartily as everyone else. In order for this to happen, however, nuanced thinking is required.
We need to start distinguishing between sexual and non-sexual attractions in order to deal with each accordingly. Sexual attractions should be fought. Non-sexual attractions (whole-person attractions to personality, character, etc.) need not be fought, but rather pursued toward God-glorifying, Jonathan-David relationships. Yes, it becomes tricky when both types of attractions are felt toward the same guy. Because of my homosexual orientation, this happens fairly often. But if I were to abandon all close friendships when I experience a sexual attraction, then all of my male friendships would be in a constant state of uncertainty based on my attractions in a particular moment. Instead, I need to discern what type of attraction I am experiencing, fight the disordered ones, and pursue the pure ones.
When this is done well, when I fight sin and pursue godliness in my attractions, I find that my friendships become less and less sexualized and more and more life giving, making celibacy that much easier. So, should I not pursue intimate male relationships because of the dangers of attraction? I don’t think so. I think the opposite true. Gay people like me who want to please God should fervently pursue intimate male friendships. They are a means of grace, providing emotional intimacy, pure physical touch, and sacrificial love both given and received.
One of the greatest steps forward for me as a celibate gay man was when I stopped being scared of being sexually attracted to friends. Once I stopped running from that attraction, I found that I was able to make friendships that were deep and intimate in many ways. I also found that the attraction fades with time and when it does then I was left with the valuable relationship that I had made with that person, rather than running away scared, which left me alone and isolated. Two caveats: One, I found that it was usually best not to share the fact that I was attracted to the person with that person. Two, I am talking about friendships with straight guys. It is a lot more tricky if the guy is also same sex attracted.
I think your two caveats are very wise, and should be taken under advisement for anybody interested in the topic of this blog post.
I would echo David’s comment. In my experience, it’s pretty rare that I feel physical desire for someone who’s a friend. Also, I think it’s more accurate to distinguish aesthetic attraction and physical attraction. I identify as “gay” because I have a general aesthetic preference for the male form over the female form, and because, when I feel an aesthetic attraction to someone else, it is generally (although not exclusively) directed to a guy. Even so, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I would prefer a physical relationship with someone of the same sex over someone of the opposite sex.
In the US, we have a tendency to make the facile assumption that aesthetic attraction and physical desire are closely linked. Few other cultures in the world make this assumption. Just take a look at differences in apparel advertising in the US versus that in western Europe. Apparel advertising in Europe tends to focus much more on physical beauty, and relies less on presenting the model as an object of sexual desire. In the US, however, it’s almost assumed that we can’t sell clothes without sexualizing the model.
I was watching soccer yesterday at a local bar, and noticed that nearly every guy in my general vicinity was dressed like crap. In contrast, it’s almost inconceivable that any self-respecting non-working-class European man would go out in public attired as poorly as these American guys. Most of my male European colleagues want to be viewed as attractive, and work hard to be able to present themselves as beautifully as possible. In fact, few of them would be bothered by the notion that other men find them to be aesthetically pleasing. Meanwhile, American guys seem to fall over themselves to look as sloppy as possible, especially when they’re planning to be in predominantly male venues.
In that sense, I think it’s hard to discuss homosexuality without giving some weight to the strong degree to which American culture condemns same-sex aesthetic attraction. In contrast, western European culture tends to be much more accepting of same-sex aesthetic attraction.
David — this mirrors my experience to. a. tee.
It’s a paradox isn’t it? It’s a desire for connection — very discouraging that it often gets muddled at the beginning. Physical, emotional, character attraction does mellow into something closer to the Platonic Ideal. It’s not always a sexual crush. I still grieve profound friendships that slipped into carnality; thankfully it is a short list.
Have found it is impossible to describe this paradox to allegedly empathetic Christian friends — upon sharing what is behind this bent (at least for me) is a crave for friendship. A feel defeated and disqualified merely by initial attraction.
And you’re right about keeping some things hush-hush. I am trying to progress beyond a mad crush right now (my first in five years). He is part of our tribe, Christian, and grounded but has no idea I am overinvested. At least I hope not 😦
Hi BOSCO. I relate to what you say about attraction/friendship. It used to be the way one made friends was to sleep with them first and then they became non-sexual friends. Back in the old days I think we were told that being Gay was all about having sex, so we bought into it, but it was really a way to meet people. We may have all (many) been just trying to connect but did not know how to without the having sex part. Do you think being infatuated means you may not really want to be celibate?
I am 57. I am walking in victory over, and freedom from, homosexuality and depression. I have been, for over 10 years. Second Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 17: “If any man(woman) is in Christ, he(she) is a new creation; old things are passed away, and behold, all things are become new.” If we have a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, then we are men and women whom God loves, for whom Christ died, and in whom the Holy Spirit lives. We are men and women who have been redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb! We learned to fill our legitimate, God-ordained need for love from those of our own gender, in illegitimate ways that originate in the heart of the evil one. God did not create anyone “hardwired” to be homosexual, genetically. Feeling a temptation to do something God said to not do does not define us. We still feel the old desires partly because of habit. Before we encountered God, through Christ, if we saw a person of our own gender, who was physically a “10” in the looks department, our minds immediately started wandering. We did it so much it’s now automatic. When I see a handsome guy, and feel the old desires, I immediately start praying for him. He, too, is a man God loves, for whom Christ died, and in whom the Holy Spirit can live and empower, if He doesn’t, already. Each and every time we’re tempted, we can choose to cry out to God, and ask Him to help us through it. Ephesians 6:10ff is the Spiritual Warfare passage in which God tells us to “…stand in the power of (His) might. We should not run from anything the enemy throws at us. Whatever comes at us, does so with God’s approval. Therefore we can glorify Him, by standing in HIS might, wearing HIS armor.
Larry, why do you say people are not born hard wired to same sex attraction? Why would someone become habituated to same sex attraction, how does that get started if not hard wired? I really like how you reframe your attraction by praying for him, I assume this diminishes the initial attraction and thus relieves any sinful thoughts. I have found that instead of getting angry when encountering a rude driver if I pray for them (their internal inner turmoil) my own anger goes away. When I decided to become celibate it seemed that I was constantly looking at other guys in some sort of sexual way. Praying for sexual thoughts to go away made me weary so I stopped beating myself up about those thoughts. I have accepted that I was born homosexual with a reason beyond my understanding, so I let the thoughts go without dwelling on my “evil nature”. I think resisting the thoughts made them stronger and more menacing to me. I finally gave up and had a heart to heart talk with God about my sexual thoughts – giving them over to Him. I can look at a good looking guy now without sexual thoughts and not feel guilty about noticing. God bless you my brother.
Lross, we are all born sinners. We are not born genetically and prenatally “hardwired” to be homosexual, any more than we are hardwired to be drug addicts, alchoholics, abusers, adulterers, or anything else. We ARE hardwired to have needs. We need love, and we ARE hardwired to want to give and receive love. We ARE hardwired to need God. But the enemy of God offers us ways to fill those needs without any commitment on our part to the source…OR SO IT SEEMS BECAUSE THAT’S HOW THE ENEMY PRESENTS IT TO US. After a while what we think is wonderful, demands more and more of us while giving us less and less. No one chooses to be homosexual, or an alcoholic, or anything else. One chooses something that appears to be love, if one does not choose God and His way. I never looked at homosexuality as a source of romantic love; my dad was an abusive alcoholic, and I wanted a “stand in” dad. Satan cannot create a genuine or an original thing. He can only imitate, and he does not intend to be kind. He DOES intend to be deceptive.
I very much understand where you are coming from Larry. Our mind/heart/soul can be influenced by outside sources, both good and evil. I do not believe the devil is in every detail, but do my best to not sin and trust God will do the rest. I know when I am doing something sinful because the Holy Spirit reveals that to me in prayer. Evidently SSA is not a sin, but since I haven’t had same sex (since being saved six months ago) I do not know if same sex monogamy is a sin. It is difficult to be honest and refute the scripture, despite efforts to find a loop hole. Hard to admit, but I had become a sex addict and finally God could not take it anymore and knocked on my door.
So, I am going to go out on a limb and guess that back when you were living as an openly gay man that your relationships with other men were rife with envy and unhappiness. I am going to guess you probably drank a lot, cheated on partners, and essentially went crazy for awhile. Maybe were bitter at your parents (or parent, as the case may be). I am going to guess you sexualized all of your friendships with other men and had poor boundaries, in general. Are these guesses all or at least mostly right, Larry?
I ask because this is the common story I hear from Ex-Gay folks. The problem is that not all of us are the same. Just like not every straight person sleeps around on their partners or engages in auto-erotic asphyxiation recreationally, so to not every homosexual has your experience of it. I didn’t “become” gay until I was in my late twenties, for example. I am monogamous by nature and have many male friends who I do not sexualize. While moving past it may work for you, it isn’t for all of us and not possible for those of us who are romantically attracted to the same sex (not merely just sexually attracted, as I suspect you were).
[We should not run from anything the enemy throws at us. Whatever comes at us, does so with God’s approval. ]
So He beats us because He loves us? That is one hell of a God you bow before, Larry. I think I prefer to think of God more as a loving parent than some petty lover who continuously sh– tests us to make sure we really love Him. Your view of God makes Him seem really petty and insecure.
Whoops. I responded without realizing you had already responded to Lross. My bad. That said…
[I never looked at homosexuality as a source of romantic love; my dad was an abusive alcoholic, and I wanted a “stand in” dad.]
Your issue was less being gay and more you using guys to fill in the role for your dad. You are better off not acting on your desires if they lead you to using others and harming them for your own benefit.
That isn’t my experience though. If I am being honest and only counting the sexual component of my attractions without taking into account the romantic aspect then I would say I am bisexual. If doing the whole official title, I am bisexual homoromantic. I call myself gay because I am monogamous and because I could never form a real love for a woman – it would just be sex.
In my late twenties I met a guy who helped me at the tail end of a nearly fatal illness. We were writers and we edited work for one another. He was a bit effeminate and I found his experiences fascinating as there are not many like that where I lived in the country at the time. After years of talking and him proving to me I could trust him during one night of weakness, I fell in love with him. It was a sudden realization; something I had never felt before.
It wasn’t even sexual, initially. Even when the sexual attraction formed, it was more a yearning to give him pleasure because I wanted to see him smile. I yearned for what was best for him. I began to worry about him and care for him. I wanted him to take care of himself and overlooked flaws in him that I never would have with women. My physical attraction may have initially been from his feminine features but I have come to find his masculinity more and more attractive. We never had sex. I have never had sex.
He was scared away. Worried he would hurt me and needing time to find himself. I still love him and if he came back into my life, would likely be with him. My experience is not yours. You cannot make generalizations about homosexuals. What you suggest here comes from a good place, but please understand that if you take nothing else from this site.
This is a good illustration of the difficulty inherent in putting oneself forth to the world labeled “gay”. I get the desire to be known and understood and accepted, but it is bound to create pitfalls between you and other men. One of the ways temptation becomes irresistible is when it is perceived as attainable. I believe this is one of the good reasons why taboos around homosexuality evolved in the first place. When a taboo becomes passe, well then you have to find new ways to avoid the temptation that taboo used to guard against, which may turn out to be far more complicated option than the taboo was. I think this is what Christian culture is trying to do nowadays: reinvent the wheel in a manner of speaking, “wheels” having been discarded as old-fashioned and dogmatic and discriminatory and anti-woman and anti-sex…
To some extent we all kind of figure it out as we go along. But still, there are certain sensible principles that have stood the test of time. Fr Thomas Dubay directed spiritual people, irrespective of orientation, to avoid too-close friendships with anybody one is sexually attracted to. I think there is a lot of wisdom in that advice. For straight people it is a bit more obvious, because when people see a man and a woman together, a possible attraction is more obvious to the community, simply because everybody can see there is a man and a woman there. But with 2 men or 2 women, it is more ambiguous, since it is not always readily apparent if or how much any particular person might be inclined toward homosexuality. If one of the parties presents himself as “gay”, it is hardly possible to stop speculation from arising in people’s minds.
I think this is one of those unavoidable things, based on the nature of gender, where it seems “unfair” to homosexuals that they might experience a type of suspicion that 2 straight same sex people do not. I think it’s another illustration that the current cultural attempt to try to make homosexuality and heterosexuality absolutely analogous has limits, because they are not in reality completely analogous.
Maybe this situation can be compared to the question “Can a [straight] man and woman really be just best friends”? Sure it’s POSSIBLE. But in practical reality, they are sure to encounter suspicion here and there.
It is not healthy to limit our actions and friendships based on what others may think. We are only responsible to what God thinks.
We’re talking about friendship with other men, correct? So what they think must be taken under consideration too, correct?
Great post, Nick. I’ve run into this logic a lot from family and the church. I never quite get what they expect as an alternative. But running away and isolation aren’t the answers to an abundant, flourishing life in Christ.
I really appreciate you Nick for sharing these thoughtful and nuanced observations. The typical generalizations, assumptions and boilerplate responses offered by too many Christians can leave one feeling dismissed and willfully unknown. The varied experiences and circumstances of our lives are minimized and unacknowledged. In addition to cultivating richer and more authentic relationships with our same-gender peers, we should do the same with our faith communities.
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I wanted to add a couple of further reflections on the GC piece. While the piece reflects a significant step forward compared to what one usually sees on the GC website.
I was disappointed that Ashby blames the current situation in the church on the Devil. While that may be true, it doesn’t excuse the church from its need to repent of this sin and to make an effort to change. In our culture, it’s impossible to discuss homosexuality meaningfully without also discussing the ways in which we have valorized heterosexual desire, redefined masculinity in terms of heterosexual conquest, and redefined marriage as an institution whose primary purpose is the fulfillment of heterosexual desire. These changes are utterly foreign to the way in which Christianity has viewed marriage, sex, and masculinity for nearly 1800+ years. Yet, in the evangelical circles where I was raised, these departures from orthodoxy tend to be viewed as virtues.
The emergence of same-sex marriage provides a wonderful opportunity for the church to examine its ways and to seek repentance for our sins. But this doesn’t seem to be happening. Instead, in most cases, churches seem to be retrenching themselves further into the sinful hyper-masculine models that are largely attributable to much of our current conundrum.
Agreed on all of this.
If I understand this correctly, you’re arguing for Jonathan and David-like friendships (if we assume they weren’t lovers, which I don’t think has been conclusively proved either way), but only with guys that don’t turn you on. If they do, drop ’em like a hot potato.
Interesting concept. In effect you’ll be banning all good looking men from your life forever. And never mind how they feel about it or what effect it may have on their lives to be suddenly ignored by someone they considered a friend. Just dump ’em and run.
So it’s self-preservation before all else, and the exclusion from your life of every man who stirs your blood, is it? That would be quite a challenge for some of us. I generally find that every man has something attractive about him. Obviously some are more attractive than others, but maleness in and of itself is an attractive quality and one that draws my attention and holds it in a way that femininity just cannot.
So should I shun every man on the planet and only make friends with women? But what if they are attracted to me? It happens, if not all the time, then at least often enough to make it a regular occurrence. So should I cross women off my dance card as well? Lesbians might be OK, unless some of that pesky female sexual fluidity crops up and they end up making an exception for me, which again has happened to me more than once in my life. I’ m going to have to live like a real recluse, aren’t I? An empty dance card at every ball. No, wait … what am I talking about? What balls? Dens of iniquity with incipient temptation infesting every corner and lust lurking at the bottom of the punch bowl. Fuyez, Etienne ! Fuyez !
Looks as though it’s going to be a hermit’s life for me. And imagine how someone like Zac Quinto or any other gay sex symbol would fare. The sexual solitary confinement the Church expects us all to live in would for them be true solitary confinement. Sexual temptation, theirs and other people’s, would preclude the possibility of pretty much ALL friendships.
The curse of beauty, eh? I guess most Christians must be so relieved at their legendary homeliness. I wonder, do they dress that way on purpose? Potato sack chic and razor-sharp creases down the front of their jeans to scare away any potential sexual temptation. I guess that explains their love of Chick-fil-A. And Krispy-Kreme too…
RE: “…Jonathan and David-like friendships (if we assume they weren’t lovers, which I don’t think has been conclusively proved either way)…
David’s first 6 sons all had different mothers. The failure for which David is best known involves sexual sin with a WOMAN. Therefore I believe we can truthfully say that David and Jonathan’s relationship did not involve sexual acts.
Just want to say how much I benefit from reading these posts. Even when viewpoints differ, the mutual respect is refreshing. Please pray for me as I continue my journey into wholeness. I want same sex closeness as God originally ordained. I want to love and be loved unconditionally. That is from my heart.
Let’s start up some good discussion again!
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