Spreading the “Spiritual Friendship” News

And one more thing, before I stop blogging for a couple of weeks of vacation!

Here is a conversation I had recently with Katelyn Beaty, published in The Living Church, about (among other things) the Spiritual Friendship blog.

Please do check it out. Here’s an excerpt:

I became interested in the topic [of friendship] because of my concern for the flourishing of gay people in the Church. As someone who is gay, and who holds to the Church’s traditional view — that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman ordered toward the bearing and raising of children — I am committed to celibacy. And I’ve gotten to know many others who are in my shoes, which means that I’ve become interested in how we might learn to practice a healthy and fruitful celibacy.

C.S. Lewis notes that we in the modern world don’t pay nearly as much attention to friendship as we do to romantic love, but Scripture and the Christian tradition challenge us on that point. You can’t read someone like Aelred of Rievaulx or Bonhoeffer and not conclude that friendship is just as honorable, and worthy of time and energy, as marriage and family. Friendship, too, can be a site of sacrifice and devotion, a place where we give and receive genuine love. And for me, that opens up fresh ways of thinking about celibacy. Outside of a monastic context, as someone who lives and works as an ordinary member of an Anglican parish, I am still called, precisely as a celibate man, to make binding commitments and promises to my fellow Christians.

You can click through and read the whole thing here.

3 thoughts on “Spreading the “Spiritual Friendship” News

  1. Thanks for this Wes, and the interview – you made some great points!

    Here is my query:

    In the interview you say, “I am still called, precisely as a celibate man, to make binding commitments and promises to my fellow Christians”.

    I guess you would speak about this and Christian friendship as your particular vocation – the “yes” that is offered you as a gay man who wishes to adhere to traditional Christian sexual ethics. But the thing that you outline in that response – the “spiritual friendship” – is something that I think all Christians are called to, whether straight or married. Does vocation not imply something unique? Something that *you* specifically are called to?

    I can’t see a “yes” there that really shouldn’t be expected of *all* Christians. So, if I were cynical (and let’s be honest, you know me too well nowadays to pretend otherwise – I *am* cynical), I still don’t see anything other than being offered less than what other Christians are as a gay man. I’m all for that theologically, btw, I mean, why should God have to give us gay Christians something specific? – or even something the same as straight Christians (He is God after all and can do whatever He likes, He’s surely not in my debt)?

    But maybe it would be worth acknowledging? Maybe we need to face up to that fact that if we want to hold to a traditional Christian teaching for gay Christians, that God is indeed calling us to a vocation of “no”; one of suffering, and one that is, as is often the case, worse than the one that is offered to many straight Christians. I see no reason why these offers need to be equal.

    If God’s offer really is all its cracked up to be – and I believe that it is – then no price is too high, surely? And no demand too costly.

    But, anyway, this is all posturing for *your* sexual ethic – which, as you know, I’m not convinced by anyway! 😉

    • Hi Ladenheart!

      The way I see it vocation has two aspects to it: The ultimate goal it tries to attain and the path it takes to attain it. But it is always a positive calling and doesn’t have to be unique. In fact I would argue that the ultimate goal of vocation, the vocation to love, is obviously not unique. Instead we are the ones that make such a vocation unique with our unique gifts, our unique personalities, our unique bodies. We are unique and we all have a common vocation: to love God and our neighbors.

      When it comes to sexual love we are all called to chastity. To be chaste is the way to express our love in a sexual way. In our uniqueness we might be called to take different paths. The path of celibacy and the path of marriage are opened to all. Friendship of course is common to both the celibate and the married. Celibacy and marriage are specific commitments to live chastity (positive sexuality), love and friendship in a specific way. You might decide you are better fit to live celibacy or you would rather be married and at some point you make the commitment to either one… Or you decide to reject chastity altogether… But that’s a different story.

  2. A traditional interpretation would say that obligatory celibacy for gays puts us in no worse of a position than anyone who, for whatever reason, cannot marry. Our obligation as Christians is to obey God’s commandments and adapt our lives to their requirements no matter how personally unhappy that may make us.

    Of course, I’m not a Christian, but I am trying to understand the Christian position. I have Christian aquaintances and neighbours and would like to understand what motivates them to call for society to discriminate against us by denying us the right to marry and stigmatizing our sexuality in an attempt to shame us into what it considers to be virtue.

    So far I’ve reached the conclusion that the Christian God is nothing like the popular caring, kind and fluffy image we have of Jesus and his sacred heart. He’s actually more like a demanding martinet of a father who requires strict obedience from his children and makes no allowance for what he sees as their personal shortcomings and weaknesses. Thus he sets the same standards for all his children and woe betide any of them who don’t make the grade. It’s his way or the highway.

    One gets the feeling that if this father decided his children were going to live on a diet of milk and honey and then along came a child who was allergic to these substances, his only response would be to shrug his shoulders, pat the poor child on the head and then calmly watch it starve to death. His rule about only eating milk and honey would be more important to him than any pain and suffering his child might experience as a result. Obedience to his will would be all that mattered to him and even though he might shed a tear for his starving child and be quite sad when it died, any grief he felt would be tempered by his unshakeable belief in the sanctity and primacy of his will over everything else, including the lives of his own children.

    The unfortunate child would be expected to bow to his father’s will and go meekly to its death, refusing all food other than milk and honey. When its body rejected these and left it craving sustenance in the form of fruit or meat or water, it would be expected to eat none of them and sacrifice its life to its father’s will. For any pain or suffering it felt, it should thank its father and revel in the pain as proof of its fidelity, obedience and love. The child’s only aim in life should be to obey its father no matter what the personal cost. To it and to anyone else. Thus the brothers and sisters of the starving child should praise it and encourage it to keep on starving itself, and then lionize it and declare it a saint when it died. At no point should they resent losing a beloved sibling or question the absolute righteousness of their father’s will. They should just obey and feel quietly relieved that they don’t have to go through what it went through. “Oh dear, how sad, never mind … haven’t we got it good?” should be their motto.

    I wonder, am I the only one who sees Christianity as innately inhumane? In placing God’s will above every other consideration, is it not a religion of tyranny and subjection? If it’s God’s will that I should remain celibate forever no matter how much I suffer as a result, how am I supposed to love and obey him? How do you love your torturer?

    I’ve just finished reading C. S. Lewis’s “Perelandra” for the second time in as many years and have been struck this time round by one of its ideas that didn’t seem so very important the first time I read it, but which now seems to be almost the central point of the story. It is that while some of God’s commands may be arbitrary, we must obey them anyway out of love and deference to his will no matter what the personal cost to ourselves.

    In Perelandra the arbitrary command is never to live on the fixed land but only on the floating islands. This is easy enough for the king and queen because they view the islands as their natural home and are perfectly at home there. But what if they had a child who experienced acute sea-sickness and for whom being on the islands was pure torture? What should that child do?

    This idea is never explored by Lewis because in his theology, as the islands were made for man, man must be perfectly happy living on them. He never envisages the possibility that one day a man might be born for whom life on the islands is impossible. What is this man to do? Obey God’s command and shun the fixed land, which is the only place he can live, and spend his life in torment at sea because that’s what God wants? The only thing preventing him from living in comfort on the fixed land is God´s will that he should not. Living on the fixed land will otherwise cause no harm. So he’s faced with a choice between a life of abject misery or disobedience. Which should he choose? Which would you choose?

    The only Christian response to such a dilemma is for him to stay on the islands and suffer. If he moves to the fixed land, he’s doomed. He might be able to get away with it by acknowledging his sinfulness, repenting and moving back to the islands while praying for forgiveness for his temerity in wanting to live a life free of nausea and suffering, but wouldn’t that rankle just a little ?Wouldn’t he start resenting a God who pinioned him between a rock and a hard place and forced him either into constant suffering or constant disobedience?

    Would you love God if you were this man? I know I’d have a hard time doing so. How do you love the author of your suffering, or at least he who refused you comfort and succour and demanded you live by his arbitrary will no matter what it cost you?

    Of course, in my case this question is moot because I don’t believe God exists and how can you love something that doesn’t exist? You can love the idea of it, I suppose. But that’s about it.

    I would however like to know how gay Christians whose beliefs force them to live in unwanted celibacy can reconcile this with a love of God. How do you love your oppressor, the one whose arbitrary rules cause you so much suffering? It really does baffle me.

    If I believed in God, I’m not sure what I would do. I’d be damned whatever I did, you see. Either I would obey the commandment, dump my partner and end up hating God for forcing me to live in celibate misery. Or I would continue to disobey, stay with my partner and try and extract the maximum happiness from life until death took me. In both cases I’d be damned. But in the second case, at least I’d experience some joy, albeit only temporary.

    Surely if I’m to be damned if I do and damned if I don’t, I might as well seize whatever joy is available. The memory of it may be all I have to cling to when I’m burning in hell for all eternity, which if you people are right, is assuredly the fate that awaits me. Only the love of God can save me, and how can I love God (imaging for a moment that I can also believe he exists, which seems even more unlikely to me) when he makes us live by such inhumane and cruel laws? Did the Jews love Hitler? Do blacks love the KKK? Do Catholics love Obama? Some may, but only the ones who worship in cafeterias …


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