In chapter 3 of Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian, Wesley Hill gives a biblical argument for friendship. You could call it a theology of friendship. This might not seem to be a typical category of theology that you’d think of, but Wesley points out several arguments that have been made against friendship by Christians before pointing to primary passages for it. The main argument against friendship is that it is based on preference, while as Christians we are called to love all, even our enemies, without partiality.
John 15:13, Proverbs 18:24, Proverbs 17:17 gives biblical vocabulary for friendship, and Wesley spends time showing how the friendships of Ruth & Naomi, David & Jonathan, Jesus & Lazarus, and Jesus & John give biblical examples of the types of deep friendships Wesley describes. These are friendships that go as deep, if not deeper than a familial or even romantic relationship would.
The idea that friendships can go deeper than family or romance is a pretty bold claim in a culture that worships romance, is built around family ties, and only sees friendship as casual relationships, typically based around recreation and fun, that come and go as life circumstances change.
In Mark 3:32-35, Jesus talks about how these Christian friendships will be deeper than familial ties. Referencing Galatians 3:27-28 and 1 Corinthians 12:13, Hill concludes that,
Gradually, then, the ancient idea of friendship…wasn’t so much abandoned in the early church (as Kierkegaard thought) as it was transformed…friendship was now shaped by the cross and the empty tomb. No longer would believers gravitate only toward their social equals; now they would form committed, permanent relationships of affection that cut across lines of enslaved versus free, wealthy versus poor, highborn versus peasant.”Spiritual Friendship, PAGE 57
A question I plan to ask Wesley in our upcoming interview is in the tension between this wide definition of friendship and where he talks elsewhere about deep, committed, 1 on 1 lifetime covenant friendships. I love this Christian understanding of a widened friendship, one that doesn’t create friendship bonds over self-serving affinity, but forms them based on the relationship we now share in Jesus. But I can’t have a 1 on 1 lifetime covenant friendship with all of those people. That level of commitment just isn’t sustainable with more than 1, maybe 2 people. And in those lifetime covenant friendships, it seems that those must be forged through mutual affinity and connection, where you’d choose this type of friend in a similar way you would choose a spouse. Because otherwise, how could this friendship be life-giving and again, sustainable?
The beginning of chapter 4 marks the beginning of Part 2 (of 2) of the book, where Wesley really starts to get into the weeds of living out covenant friendship, particularly as a gay Christian. He begins the chapter describing a conversation he once had with a reader of his first book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, whom he calls Conor. Conor is gay / same-sex attracted and committed to being celibate, like Wesley. He affirms the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sex being between a man and a woman, as Wesley does. Conor’s conundrum is when he tries investing in friendships with guys, he many times will unintentionally develop romantic and/or erotic feelings toward the man he is trying to be friends with. He comes to Wesley for help.
What you have to love and appreciate about Wesley and his writing is that he is dealing with real issues for real people. I find it is so easy for heterosexual married pastors to come up with cookie cutter sermons and treatises on what the Bible says on homosexuality that are just preaching to the choir. They are really only intended to help biblically conservative, heterosexual Christians feel good about their biblical position on a sin that they don’t struggle with at all. These teachings have little-to-no intention of actually helping gay / same-sex attracted Christians who are held in a daily chokehold by their same-sex attraction, something they have little-to-no control over. These church leaders give them very little in the way of options or action steps, which is why so many end up turning away from the Church and pursuing gay sexual relationships and/or keep things bottled up inside with no one to help them as they struggle down paths of deep depression and suicide.
What would you say to Conor? I am thankful that Wesley is willing to walk the difficult path with gay / same-sex attracted Christians. Even if you disagree with all of his conclusions, you have to see that we must deal in reality and with grace and compassion to those who experience same-sex attraction and give them real options for getting their relational and emotional needs for love met.
Things get real here and I’m sure will provide for a lively interview with Wesley. He asks the question often posed by those concerned with gay / same-sex attracted Christians vowing a lifetime commitment of friendship:
If friendship becomes a solution to loneliness, won’t that make it edge ever closer toward becoming just another form of romance, all the more complicated because it’s calling itself “friendship”?Spiritual friendship, page 69
Friendship is seen as being blurred and confused with romantic, sexual love.
Thinking of Conor’s, his own, and so many other gay / same-sex attracted Christians’ experiences, Wesley says:
If we couldn’t eradicate our homosexuality, and if we couldn’t, therefore, entirely separate out our romantic attractions to men from our desire to be friends with men, then were we simply in a situation that meant we would never experience real friendship–friendship, that is, unalloyed with erotic feelings? Were we double doomed…What were we supposed to do?spiritual friendship, page 73
Hill concludes that giving up one thing (gay sex, in this case) is always about the embrace of another.
A loss or a place of pain becomes a gateway into a greater benefit that one wouldn’t have been able to find without the loss and pain. And that benefit is best described as a “vocation,” a calling and a divinely given commission, to make one’s loss and pain a means of service to others.spiritual friendship, PAGE 75
My being gay and saying no to gay sex may lead me to be more of a friend to men, not less.Spiritual friendship, page 81
Hill gives this specific clarification on friendship among gay / same-sex attracted Christians:
Perhaps celibate gay and lesbian Christians, precisely in and out of their celibacy, are called to express, rather than simply renounce and deny, same-sex love. And perhaps this is where, for all the potential trials and temptations that come with this way of thinking, same-sex friendship represents one way for gay Christians who wish to be celibate to say: “I am embracing a positive calling. I am, along with every other Christian, called to love and be loved.spiritual friendship, page 76
I think one reason it’s difficult for biblically conservative heterosexual Christians (myself included) to digest what Hill says here is because when we hear “same-sex love,” we instantly think of sex and romance. But the love I have for my male friends is same-sex love. Our culture’s obsession with sex has made it so it’s hard to even think of the concept of love outside of sex anymore, which is precisely the problem making so many so lonely. Single people are lonely because they don’t have a sexual partner and married people are lonely because they bought the lie that sex would extinguish their loneliness.
At the end of the day, Hill is saying that his same-sex attractions are inescapably bound up with his gift for and calling to friendship (pages 78-79).
As far as the many temptations this calling brings, particularly when the friendship is between two gay men in Wesley’s case, he says he knows he needs accountability. He needs trusted counselors who can serve as his sounding board and reality check, making sure he isn’t allowing himself to rationalize immature, irresponsible sexual behavior in his quest to find deep friendship (page 79).
He goes on to say:
Despite what you might conclude from cultural sound bites, being gay isn’t only, or even primarily, about what people choose to do in bed…being gay colors everything about me, even though I’m celibate. It’s less a separable piece of my experience, like a shelf in my office (separate from other shelves)…and more like the proverbial drop of ink in a glass of water: not identical with the water, but also not entirely distinct from it either.spiritual friendship, page 80
This is a huge topic amongst Christians trying to navigate this topic. Many teach that everyone should use the label “same-sex attracted” instead of “gay” because of the sin and sexual connotation that “gay” brings, particularly as an identifier (versus identity in Christ as a new creation). There are good points to be made with that argument and it’s not my intent to refute that teaching here. What I want to do is bring up one of the sticking points in this debate, and that is the inability of heterosexual Christians to understand how being gay colors everything about a gay person, not simply their sexual actions. (And how could we? We aren’t gay. We think that since our heterosexual attraction is like one shelf on our wall, separate from the other shelves of our life, it is this way for gay/SSA people as well. But once you start talking to gay people, you discover this is not the case for many, if not most of them.) And if the sexual actions are what God calls sinful, then many Christians with same-sex attraction still choose to use the identifier of “gay” as Wesley shows here, as it allows them to simply be themselves, but not be in sin. This is a huge topic with more branches than I have room here to write on here, including our fallen nature and sinful desires, different from willful or actual sin, which we’ll get into another time! But we need to chew on and consider both sides of this question. I’m looking forward to hearing Wesley’s perspective here.
I will conclude this post with words Wesley uses to conclude his chapter and words he spoke to Conor:
Perhaps, in the end, that determination to make the best of a complex, fraught set of circumstances is where those of us who are Christian, gay, and committed to celibacy all find ourselves, sooner or later.Spiritual friendship, page 84
Wesley is trying to make the best of the situation he was given, and trying to help others make the best of theirs as well. The waters are murkier than we’d like, but I hope you and I are helping gay / SSA brothers and sisters make the best of it too.
(You can read Part 1 of this series on chapters 1 & 2 of Spiritual Friendship here)
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I haven’t read the book and didn’t want to be the first to comment but I have to give you props not only for these posts, but for picking this book, and props to any straight guys taking the time to read it. It’s appreciated as much as it is unexpected, kinda like if Side B guys had a book club and picked a book about troubles guys have dating girls 🙂 Tbh, I wanted to leave a comment after the last post to describe what it’s like following Jesus with ssa to brothers and sisters who are straight, and say it without it being a self-centered exercise in sorrow and pity. Let me say it is a narrow road, a continual fast, with many hard days and especially difficult nights. But it is a blessed road, a journey where the reality of spiritual truth in Christ is experienced.
In the last post, there was a quote by Wesley I want to leave a little pushback:
“Perhaps, in the end, that determination to make the best of a complex, fraught set of circumstances is where those of us who are Christian, gay, and committed to celibacy all find ourselves, sooner or later.”
Nothing wrong with the quote, but “make the best of” has baggage: “make the best of a bad situation”, picking up the pieces as it were, has the negative connotations of settling for less. If that’s a takeaway, it will miss what’s good about his thoughts on Side B as vocation, a positive calling to embrace love of others in faithfulness. I hope in that faithfulness brothers and sisters who are straight are encouraged too.
Ever since I’ve heard of the persecuted church I’ve shared an affinity for their stories and a love for them. Most often, they live lives with few political rights and fewer material blessings, and altho they are targeted and pursued for their faith, their lives are a testimony that Jesus is more than enough, that He is worth everything. Altho they have so little of the satisfactions this world offers, Jesus is all-satisfying. Seeing Christ in them has been a vital encouragement on this Side B journey, a path that offers few satisfactions in this world for the longings of physical intimacy and connection. My prayer is that this Side B journey would minister to straight brothers and sisters in the church in the same way, that it’s not just the struggle they see, but the faithfulness in the struggle, that the worth of Christ is seen more clearly, and they would be encouraged in their walk and in their struggles that Jesus is worth it.
One other encouragement if you’re a straight Christian guy reading this, be encouraged to walk with your Side B brothers. A lotta the Side B guys I know are hurting cause they can’t find straight guys who will stay as friends. A lot of us just wanna be guys with other brothers. There’s a ministry aspect to friendship that’s healing when you’re Side B trying to find your identity as a guy.
Thanks again for choosing this book and your posts as well as your contiuning conversation about this over the years. It’s been years since I first came across one of your posts, and I think you were the first straight Christian I shared with about my ssa. I don’t have words to describe how encouraging it was that you not only listened without dismissing me but responded back. It was healing where the message from the church so often has been “Don’t”, not only “Don’t do that” but also “Don’t be that.” Whatever hits you’ve taken for continuing this conversation, know that your voice is as much needed as it is appreciated.
Something I wrote is bugging me and I wanna clarify it so it’s not taken the wrong way. “…the longings of physical intimacy and connection” doesn’t mean a desire for sex. Sex with another guy is not a desire of mine. But being physically naked one-on-one with another guy has come to represent intimacy and connection and an answer. It’s a lie, the one doesn’t mean the other, but the longing for connection persists even tho it won’t be the answer. If that doesn’t make sense that’s ok, a lotta times it’s confusing to me too.
Hey, this is gonna be my last comment. I’m texting about these things with a friend who also came to Side B by way of bad history. This is from our conversation yesterday, hopefully it provides better context if my last comment confused or offended anyone.
“…after talking about longing for this connection that represents a key and an answer, I find myself wondering if it’s just an illusion and a lie. I read Jesus’ words that if you save your life you’ll lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will save it, and I wonder if that is what Jesus calls us to give up and lose. What if finding that key and answer that seems so much like saving our life is actually losing our life that we’re called to in Christ? It can be painful living without that key and answer that would at least make sense of everything that’s happened in our pasts even if not making it right. It can be even more painful giving up the one thing that seems like the key and answer, and the hope they seem to hold. But sitting here, I find myself wondering if all that is what we’re called to give up, however painful that might be, believing that we’ll find in Jesus the healing for the deep hurt within. What if the answers we’ve come to on our own are the self Jesus calls us to deny and let go.”
Apologies if needed for using your blog to try to make sense of the unresolved tensions you wrote about. At the end of the day it’s not just about finding truth, but being true.
Noah Filipiak says
Thanks for the amazing comments, Alan. I appreciate you letting us in to your journey and walking with you on it. One thing I have gleaned from you and other SSA guys, including Wesley’s books, is that intimacy is essential. Where our culture gets it wrong is that it says intimacy = sex. And/or that intimacy must be romantic. But intimacy is found both in Jesus and in friendship, both are essential forms of intimacy. What is so tragic is how the church has said so often to SSA/LGBT folks “get out, we are not offering our intimacy to you” when the very thing they/you need is intimacy!! And the very best place to get it should be the body of Christ. Thank you for reminding us of this Alan. And for the reminder of the blessing that comes with the vocation. I love your words on the persecuted church. You have really helped me care more about the persecuted church, so a big thank you to you for that. And yes, I can definitely see your connection with what they have given up for Jesus (the cross they carry), and what you/SSA Side B folks have to give up in following Jesus. I just read “Impossible Marriage” by Laurie and Matt Krieg which is on mixed-orientation marriage and a great read, highly recommended. Matt referenced the book “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripkin and shared a story of the persecuted church from it — for the very reason you mentioned. I bought it right away and have started reading it; such an encouragement!
If you haven’t talked with Wesley yet, can you ask him what it means to overcome as a Side B Christian? What does it mean to overcome the attraction, and does taking up the cross mean only that I don’t act on them? The call of Christ seems more than only what we do, a greater longing for purity. Are the attractions only part of the old self that we’re called to lay aside and let go of completely, or in vocation are they redeemed, and they themselves become as it were a vehicle of grace to ourselves and others? For me, the answer lies somewhere in between.
Noah Filipiak says
Alan! You rock brother. Thanks so much for the comments. Wanted to give you a heads up my blog did the dumb thing again where it didn’t email me a notification that I had new comments. I just checked my comments to make sure I hadn’t missed any (which I need to do more often) and saw yours. Wanted to let you know I will respond asap, might still be a few days though.
Noah Filipiak says
Unfortunately I got your comment after my interview with Wesley. But do listen to the interview if you haven’t already, I think what we went over will be a big encouragement to you.
I probably left the questions after you did the interview, so that’s on me. I did listen to it, twice, and it was encouraging. It’s the 1st time I’ve listened to him, so thanks for doing the interview. The guy seems so grounded in his faith and his sexuality. I like how he looks for what’s true but not in terms of black and white; wisdom not law as he put it.
My two cents on labels, I’ve gone by ssa rather gay cause for me they’ve always represented the level of engaging the attraction, a measure of willingness, rather than trying to peg good and bad. Both labels come from the same source, the same attraction, so at times it seems more semantics than dealing with reality. But I know others look at it different. Wes said he felt using ssa is kinda dishonest, and I get that, especially if it’s used to look better to others, or yourself, without acknowledging that both gay and ssa are the same at the source.
Noah Filipiak says
I’d highly recommend Wes’s book Washed and Waiting. I listened to the audio book. If you are an audio book listener at all, I’d go that route. He’s not the reader, but listening to it just really felt like hanging out with Wes. I think you’d love it.
And great thoughts on the labels. I genuinely think there are valid (biblical, integrity, etc.) reasons for an individual to use either and it’s not right for straight pastors like myself to tell them which label to use. There may be invalid reasons for using a label, and those can be explored with a person. But there are lots of valid reasons for either one. And those need to be respected.
You’re gonna love The Insanity of God, not only the stories he shares but his as well. What a life! There’s a film of his book that’s really good that you can get as a dvd for $15. He also wrote a followup called “The Insanity of Obedience” that has a story that’s in the film about a Russian named Dmitri that you won’t forget. I’ve heard interviews Nik has given, you guys would be awesome together on your podcast. Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, “Free Burma Rangers” is another film that changes the conversation of what it means to follow Jesus. Check out the trailer.
Hey your comments are spot on. Maybe intimacy isn’t the best word to use cause of its layers of sexual and emotional meaning. Connection that ‘s true might be better. There’s something really good and pure when I read the Bible about God’s thoughts on brothers and sisters, and the body in Christ being one. For a lotta guys church could be that better, but for ssa guys, the reality walking out Side B can be really isolating. For me, being connected for real and it not just be doctrine, there’s so much hope and grace in that.
FYI, I still get email notifications of new posts but not comments. I checked back on this post and found your comments. BTW, I’m really enjoying the Psalms devotions and your thoughts and insights. The Psalms are heartsongs that can be our’s, I especially love David’s where he talks to God as You, not just as Him. For you to take on all 150 Psalms is an epic journey that I’m here for.
Noah Filipiak says
How does Nik do DVD’s, interviews, etc. if Nik Ripkin isn’t his real name / to hide his identity for safety reasons? Because I had thought of that, but thought there’d be no way to find him since Nik Ripkin doesn’t exist, or that he wouldn’t be able to show his face.
Do you have any other books on martyrs that you’d recommend?
Did you click the box for wanting to receive email notifications on comments? You have to click it for each individual post you want to receive comment notifications on. It’s in the same area as where you are leaving your comment. Super dumb limitation on the settings, but that’s the best I’ve been able to find so far.
Thanks for the encouragement on the Psalms! I am writing them for myself and for God, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to hear some feedback or that someone is out there walking with me through them! So thank you for that. And yes, God played a nice practical joke on me by telling me to write a daily devotional on the longest book chapter-wise in the Bible!! lol. My frequency of posts has gone down, but I am committed to it and will go all the way through. It’s been a great journey so far.
You can reach Nik, his ministry website is nikripken.com. He’s really public now. At his site there’s a list of upcoming speaking engagements and a contact page. You can also find him on YouTube. Maybe he keeps the name now to protect others overseas when he went by his real name, but I’m not sure. He’s the real deal tho and would be great on the podcast.
There’s a lotta good books looking at persecution, but I tend to migrate to stories, especially those where you’re not just hearing the circumstances and how bad things are, but you hear or see something from them that looks and sounds like Christ. You can find stories thru VOM, Open Doors, ICC and other ministries as well as news sites such as World Watch Monitor and Morningstar News. There was this recent story of this guy in Kenya who came to the Lord in 2012 and 2 months in he started to be pursued. They don’t even give his name cause his family is still going thru it. You can read his story at
What hit me after reading his crazy journey was his quote, “…I am sure that I will overcome all these persecutions with the help from Christ. Our lives are in the hands of Christ. We need prayers at this difficult moment and for the recovery of my son.” What’s good about current stories is that you can be blessed to bear them in prayer over time, and when their story changes, you share in that.
If you’re looking for books, Richard Wurmbrand’s Tortured for Christ is good, it combines story and perspective. He’s written a lotta books tho, many which you can get used for like a buck on Amazon. Fair Sunshine by Jock Purves is a good read, it’s stories of the Scottish Covenanters from the 1600s, including their words facing persecution. A Cloud of Witnesses from the 1700s is good too, reissued in 1989. The full title is “A Cloud of Witnesses for the Royal Prerogatives of Jesus Christ, being the Last Speeches and Testimonies of Those Who Have Suffered for the Truth in Scotland since the year 1680.” There’s also Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, VOM offers an updated version with newer accounts. If you’re looking for full length bios, The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun is awesome, also Song of the Nightingale by Helen Berhane from Eritrea. If you’re looking for devotionals, Jesus Freaks by DC Talk, and Extreme Devotion are really good. If you’re looking for theology, In the Shadow of the Cross by Glenn Penner and Suffering, Martyrdom and Rewards in Heaven by Josef Tson are both solid reads.
You just asked for some book recs so that all may be way too much. Any of the books are good tho, brothers and sisters who live faithful thru persecution have a ministry to us here that points to Jesus and life when we look past only what they’re going thru. Their lives are sermons that we need.
Thanks for the rec that Washed and Waiting is worth the listen. I picked up listening to audiobooks over the last year and sometimes it’s like you say, a really good listen beyond just the content.
Good news, I found the checkbox for comment notifications using the laptop, it’s not on mobile. There’s a link on your post on mobile for “Manage my Subscriptions’ which may do the same thing tho.
Noah Filipiak says
Yo, this is fantastic, thank you Alan! I knew you would have a treasure trove, I appreciate it.