A common critique of celibate gay Christians is the perception that we attempt to swap out romantic intimacy for friendship. Instead of having same-sex romantic partners we simply have spiritual friends and too often are seen as playing a semantics game. I believe though, as do many of my fellow side-B Christians, that friendship was never meant to take the place of the intimacy that comes about in romantic relationship. Much of what we do is an attempt to celebrate the beauty and benefits of friendship as a good in and of itself and not as a new outlet for romantic and sexual desire. Friendship and relationships in general are not some equal alternative to marriage where finding the right partner becomes finding the right best friend. Friendship inherently makes room for not only the “other” in relationship but for others. I have quite a number of friends who I am quite close to. Some I live in close proximity to and others live thousands of miles away. Each is different and as a unique experience and relationship is worthy of celebrating. Like all relationships there are certain people with whom the bonds of friendship are especially close which allows for deep intimacy. Within an exceptionally close friendship there can exist the full sense of being known, being understood, and being cared for. But at no point in that relationship does my friend’s identity merge with mine. There is no “one flesh” aspect of friendship. This I think is the beauty of friendship and its contrast to a romantic and sexual relationship.
This is just a quick post to note that we don’t use sibling metaphors a lot on this site, and maybe we should. They played an important role in articulating the meaning of vowed friendship in both Eastern and Western Christianity (the terms adelphopoeisis and “wedded brotherhood” both use this metaphor) and they reflect an understanding of friendship as a form of kinship.
Wesley Hill quotes me talking about the way that certain friendships, over time, take on the quality of givenness which we associate with familial relationships: You’re stuck with your brothers. You may not be able to see or speak to them, but they remain bound to you, a part of your family for as long as you live.
This shouldn’t be the only language we use for friendship, or even for spiritual friendship. Many people value the choice and freedom of friendship, whereas sibling language emphasizes givenness and permanence. The people who prefer free friendship kind of baffle me, to be honest–to me, rituals, promises, and obligations are adornments which beautify any relationship!–but our different personality types should be able to coexist.
Josh Gonnerman has already written a fine response to Austin Ruse’s Crisis Magazine article. There is one point that I wanted to address that I didn’t think he covered, which is the belief within a lot of conservative Catholic circles that any kind of intimate friendship between men and women is “playing with fire.”
I suppose that I should begin by pointing out that I am a convert—that’s true of most of the people here on Spiritual Friendship, but many of my friends and colleagues here are converts from Protestant churches that share this kind of suspicion when it comes to mixed-sex friendship. I’m a convert from liberal Anglicanism via atheism so I was never raised with any of these ideas. It was always just normal for me to have male friends, and it was normal for my male friends to have female friends.