I find this to be a fascinating development among gay Christians (evangelicals and Catholics) who embrace a traditional sexual ethic. These dear brothers and sisters are forging new territory in a post-Freudian world in understanding how to integrate their ethic and remain celibate.
For several years I have been deeply curious in watching this unfold. How are conservative celibates going to integrate their sexuality with friendship? I’ve had such a keen interest in this because I was waiting to see if they were going to follow the same path I've chosen to explore in intimate friendship between men and women.
You know, in the seven plus years I’ve been writing about intimate cross-sex friendships in this blog and in my book the biggest fear I have encounterred among conservative evangelicals has been the sexual attraction issue. I’ve experienced sexual attraction in friendship. The conservative ethic of wisdom has been that if you experienced sexual attraction in any kind of close friendship, you are playing with fire. Today you’re friends, tomorrow, you’re lovers. Conservatives not only fear sexual attraction in friendship, they fear deep attraction in friendship. That’s why for example, author Haylee Gray Scott could describe me as a “daredevil.” Or, why Anna Peterson could propose that intense friendship between men and women can be a form of “emotional dating.”
I’ll unpack this in a future post in this series but I’m sure you are all following with me. The logic has been either to see sexual attraction as a bad thing or to see it as something where you are skating on razor thin ice. In the conservative ethic sexual attraction can even be named as something “good” among some evangelicals but for many of those same evangelicals sexual temptation cannot be resisted. You must avoid all behaviors that trigger sexual temptation and lust.
So now there is a new cluster of conservative gay Christians who are engaging the conversation from a different angle. They are exploring the wide range of deep attraction in friendship. They are naming sexual attraction in friendship as something good. I've predicted a path like this for gay Christians who are committed to celibacy. This is where integrating sexuality and friendship takes you in a post-Freudian world. Notice too, how they intentionally "blur" the lines between friendship attraction and "romantic" attraction.
Wesley Hill is an assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School of Ministry and he blogs at SpiritualFriendship.org. On June 5th, he tweeted a quote from Jean Paul Sartet
Sartre: "all friendship, even between two red-blooded men, has its moments of love..." http://tmblr.co/Zhxeby1Htk4b6
Kyle Keating, an M.Div. candidate at Covenant Seminary wrote a post last year for the spiritual friendship blog. He’s straight and married. But in this post he blurs the lines between attractions:
“I initially offered the tripartite physical/emotional/spiritual grid for attraction in an attempt to demonstrate that any romantic relationship operates on more than just the physical or sexual level. It seems to me that the nature of attractions themselves are actually much more complicated than this, to the point where trying to make clean distinctions between these three categories may prove problematic. I personally feel this difficulty when I try and describe how my attraction to Christy moved from being primarily emotional to substantially physical, as well as the place that spiritual attraction fit into that process.”
Ron Belgau one of the blog’s creators, recently wrote:
“It would be extraordinary to read this story and deny that David and Jonathan feel a deep attraction for each other (and thus attraction to someone of the same sex). But there is not even the slightest evidence that this attraction includes sexual temptation, let alone sexual activity.
Thus, the term “same sex attraction,” whose champions introduce it as a way of distinguishing between orientation and activity, end up blurring a critical distinction. There is nothing in the Bible, or in the Christian tradition, which says it is bad for a man to be attracted to another man, or for a woman to be attracted to another woman. Both the Bible and Christian tradition commend the sort of healthy and holy same-sex friendship experienced by David and Jonathan or Ruth and Naomi. On the other hand, the Bible and tradition both condemn same-sex lust and relationships that include homosexual activity.
One of the things that I have noticed is that those who embrace the term “same-sex attraction” usually have greater difficulty talking about healthy chaste friendship, because their terminology invites persistent confusion about how to deal with “attraction” in friendship. This is a place where Aelred’s terminology about carnal and spiritual friendship is helpful for avoiding confusion.
Chris Damian a regular contributor to the blog has written this:
Many (if not most) Christians interpret the words “same-sex-attraction” to mean desires for same-sex sexual pleasure. Attraction is seen as intrinsically tied to intercourse.
If one turns away from anti-Christian interpretations of the human psyche, however, one can realize the breadth of human attraction. It occurs at a variety of levels and in a variety of ways. The need and desire for others is an important aspect of what it means to be human. Aristotle has argued that friendship is necessary for happiness.
However, friendship has become narrow in its scope and practice. Freud has struck fear into the institution of friendship. One could hardly imagine the reaction were a young man to lay his head against another’s chest during dinner, one who had been called “beloved” by the other. Even the words of John 13:25 have become subject to contemporary “queer theory.” If two men were to do this in today’s world, many Christians would denounce these men as “queer,” despite these same actions being done by their own Lord. Today, such intimacies are seen as bound up with “being gay” or, at the very least, being unmanly.
For centuries, however, such affection was seen as a natural part of intimate friendship. It was natural for men to desire such intimacies. For Newman to say that Ambrose St. John loved him “with an intensity of love” or for Michelangelo to say of Tommaso dei Cavalieri, “my lover stole my heart,” was to speak of intimate friendships that had a natural place within society and within Christianity. Today, however, most Christians see such intimacies as only appropriate for those who may one day marry. The scope of physical intimacy in friendship has narrowed, and so has the scope of emotional intimacy
Here is an excerpt from his second post:
My proposal is this: Like opposite-sex-attraction, same-sex-attraction is a potentiality that may or may not be realized in a particular person, and, insofar as it is actualized, it is a good. Like any good, it may be perverted or corrupted, but it may also be subject to purification and sanctification and, as such, may be a positive means for friendship, community, service, charity, and sanctity. And insofar as it is a potentiality given to man for such a realization, it is a unique gift and a special means for full self-realization and gift of self for others.
My suspicion of the goodness of such attraction is derived mainly from the idea that sexual attraction can be directed towards a variety of ends. This is certainly true of opposite-sex-attraction, which may be directed towards lust or chastity, fornication or marital congress, life or death, self-gift or selfishness, destruction or beauty, transcendence or damnation. In general, sexual attraction can be directed towards eventual friendship (good or evil), physical intimacy (pure or impure), emotional intimacy (ordered or disordered), sexual union (chaste or unchaste), or sanctity (real or imagined). As one form of sexual attraction, same-sex-attraction can also be directed towards this diverse list of ends (with the exception of chaste sexual union, as understood by traditional/orthodox Christianity).
I recently heard the story of a gay man (we’ll call him John) who has a very intimate friendship with another man. This friendship has, in many ways a “romantic character.” This friendship is celibate, and it helps John to cultivate a lifestyle of purity. Whereas John may have been tempted to accept the advances of other gay men before this friendship, John sees himself as committed to this friend and does not want to do anything that would be a betrayal of the intimacy of the friendship. While John doesn’t see the other man as his “boyfriend,” this very intimate friendship helps him to cultivate and maintain a life of purity, partly because John would see an act of impurity as a “betrayal” against this friend. John sees himself as committed to this man, and this commitment enables him to transcend beyond desires for sexual intercourse. Such is the power and beauty of same-sex-attraction when ordered towards proper ends.
"In broadening the concept of 'same-sex-attraction' to indicate attraction generally (emotional, physical, spiritual, etc) to another person of the same sex, we may be able to rebuild concepts of human relationships that could help preserve the institution of marriage, create space for healthy relationships for those who are “gay” or “lesbian,” and allow for intimate friendships for men and women generally...
We can see the relationship between Newman and Ambrose St. John as a model of intimate chaste friendship that can be an example for those who are “gay” or “lesbian.” Like Newman, many of my “gay” friends are capable of intense emotional intimacy and loyalty. They tend to be excellent empathizers and very sensitive, in a good sense. Many of them work very hard in long-lasting and fruitful friendships, in contrast to many of their “straight” counterparts. Their friendships can be models of friendship that their “straight” counterparts would be good to imitate. Our “gay” friends have the ability to teach the world once again about the breadth and power of intimate friendship."
Melinda Selmys, a contributor recently wrote a post called Looking Still to Desire:
I’d like to apply the same hermeneutic to same-sex attraction. When I look at a woman, and see that she is beautiful, that she is desirable, that she is enticing, I’m seeing something that is objectively true: she is objectively a manifestation of the imago dei, she is objectively attractive, and it is objectively legitimate for me to desire to be united with her in the vast communio personarum which is constituted by the Church and by the whole human race. My desire is not disordered in and of itself: it becomes disordered when I direct it, or allow it direct itself, towards something which is forbidden. If it leads me to fantasize about homosexual acts, or to think of the woman as a sex object, then it becomes disordered, that is ordered towards an end which is not in conformity with Truth and with the dignity of the person. But what if I make the act of will to redirect that desire, to use it as an opportunity to give glory to God for the beauty which He has made manifest in that particular woman? Or to meditate on my desire for the one-flesh union of the entire humanum in the Eucharist where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, slave nor free, woman nor man? Or as an opportunity to contemplate the relationship between the doctrines of the Communion of Saints and of the resurrection of the Body? What if, by an act of will, I take that desire and order it towards its proper end: towards the Good, the Beautiful and the True?
Eve Tushnet also contributed to the blog wrote last year:
Your chastity and your unstinting fidelity to Christ are so much bigger and more beautiful than any one theological framework. So yeah, don’t have gay sex; but you can think about that sacrifice and challenge in a whole lot of different ways, including ways which might shock your local priest.
Having said that, here’s my problem with the “intrinsically disordered” language: I think it relies on a mechanistic understanding of eros. If sexual desire can be easily tweezed away from nonsexual longing and love and adoration then yeah, sure, I guess I can see the point of calling homosexual desire “disordered.” But that’s not how eros actually works! My lesbianism is part of why I form the friendships I form. It’s part of why I volunteer at a pregnancy center. Not because I’m attracted to the women I counsel, but because my connection to other women does have an adoring and erotic component, and I wanted to find a way to express that connection through works of mercy. My lesbianism is part of why I love the authors I love. It’s inextricable from who I am and how I live in the world. Therefore I can’t help but think it’s inextricable from my vocation.
When you take what I've written in my book and what I have written here on my blog the past few years into consideration, these excerpts above correspond to the same depth of my approach to integrating sexuality and friendship. If conservative evangelicals are open to the virtue of deep attraction in same-sex friendships, such virtues are real and worthy to desire in straight male-female friendships. All of these musings too, fit in quite well guest posts written by therapists and pastors on my blog last month concerning cross-gender friendships. It's exciting to see this shift among Christians engaging sexuality and friendship in a post-Freud world!