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.