"The intense friendship of the two Israelities, lasting till death, depended upon the willingness of each man to give for that which is received, to forgo self-interest, to convert separate identities into togetherness" writes Robert Brain.
If I understand what some Christians are saying in the emerging conversation, there is a fresh cognizance to pursue both Christians and nonChristians in authentic friendship. Mak is the one who most recently wrote on this although there are others encouraging authentic friendship outside the church as well.
It will come as no surprise to my regular blog readers that I believe union-love is a virtuous expression of authentic friendship--women/women, men/men, women/men.
Mark Vernon comments, "With utility, the threat to friendship comes from a suspicion of being used. In a utilitarian culture, such as obtains in the workplace, this is compounded by the diminishment of excellence for excellence's sake. People are valued for outcomes, they tend to be thought of as means to ends, and when treated as such become, in Adam Smith's words, unlovely...When utility undermines friendship it does so in part because the development of deeper friendships is stunted in a culture that in practice values productivity over praiseworthiness."
Before Christ, the David and Jonathan story is the clearest example of a passionate nonsexual union-love. The story reminds all Christian communities (including Protestant missional communities!!) of the virtue and wonder of nonsexual union-love in Christian community and friendship. While Protestants historically have shunned this union-love in friendship it is found in Catholic and Orthodox spirituality throughout the centuries. I'm not talking just about union-love in cross-gender friendship.
Our Protestant culture (and even more so evangelical ecclesiatical culture) has fostered a climate where many pastors are either afraid to pursue union-love friendships in their own faithful communities or assume leaders are virtuous if they remain "detached" from union-love in their communities. If Protestant pastors do not see union-love as virtuous in their own lives and practice, they will not model or teach union-love to their faith communities.
If missional communities do not have at the heart of their ministry, union-love, they will never model the depths of personal Trinitarian love to their communities or to the world.
What kind of friendships and love are we pursuing and presenting to the church and the world?
Of course, the Protestant line has been we pursue all friendships with unconditional neighbor-love. But neighbor-love is not the same thing as marital love; nor is it the same thing as the union-love that we see in Jonathan and David. Neighbor-love may be intense and authentic in moments of crisis. It is an improvement from the evangelistic "love" that came across as utilitarian on college campuses and evangelical communities in recent decades.
Unlike Catholic and Orthodox spirituality, Protestants have been satisfied with a virtuous union-love exclusively in marriage. This has undermined Christian spirituality and formation in several areas::
1. Protestants have continually sent a message to singles that unless they get married, they will never experience union-love in their present experience or the rest of their journey.
2. Protestant culture has fostered a climate of possessive jealousy in marriage when it comes to spouses enjoying union-love beyond marriage. (If there is only one relationship in all the world where I can enjoy union-love, I must jealously protect time, energy, time. etc). Let's call this the marital zero sum game fallacy when it comes to union-love.
3. Protestants don't know how to invite and encourage union-love among its converts after neighbor-love has drawn them in.
And, at the end of the day, it seems to me that if all we offer people is authentic neighbor-love in our missional communities, we may end up creating another Protestant version of a missional utilitarian culture.