Summary: We may be able to live without sex, but we cannot live without friendship.
In Wesley Hill’s earlier book Washed and Waiting, Hill makes a case for the reality and immutability of same sex attraction and Gay Christians and also the importance of maintaining traditional Christian teaching on sex and marriage. Which leaves Hill and all other Gay Christians with celibacy as their only option.
I am not completely convinced that Hill has made a universal argument with his first book, but I do think that Hill understands the purpose and meaning of sexuality better than most and that he has insight into sexuality in the modern world that can only be obtained by one that is observing it from the outside.
Spiritual Friendship seems like the natural next step. After reading his first book, I thought that deep friendship was absolutely necessary for those that have decided to be celibate (whether Gay or straight) because despite the fact that some are called to be celibate within Christianity, we are all called to be in a church, a part of the universal body of Christ, and as Hill argues, involved deeply in the lives of particular friends. And I became a regular reader when he and Ron Belgau and others started a group blog called Spiritual Friendship.
As with his first book, this book is memoir-ish. He is making an argument (in the original book for celibacy and here for the importance of deep friendship) but he is not making an abstract or theoretical argument. Hill has lived in the brokenness of needing friends, of the joy of finding friends, of the pain of losing friends and the fear of deep friendships that might be lost.
Regardless of your position on the role of celibacy for Gay Christians, Hill makes a clear call for deeper friendships. Friendships that are so deep we may not take offers of new jobs in different cities because that would take us away from friends. Deep friendships that are intended to be something that moves us to God and in many ways are deeply countercultural in our world.
Much of the early book talks about how we all, but men especially, have lost out on deep friendships because of a fear of intimacy with other men (or women that are not spouses). Freud has affected us all, we are all ‘bowling alone’. But as important as friendship is and as clearly as Hill makes the case, he does not view friendship as a silver bullet or panacea. Toward the end of the book he says:
“I believe in what I’ve written here so far. I believe that friendship can become something much stronger and more robust than what we’ve often made of it in the modern world. I even believe gay and lesbian Christians who choose celibacy can find friendship to be a form of love they, specifically, are gifted and called to pursue. I believe the lonely can find familial bonds, and I believe in the ideal of spiritual brother- and sisterhood in the church. And yet the danger is that, believing all those things, I would treat friendship as a kind of panacea, an easy way of mitigating the pain of our various circumstances in a world enthralled with the myths of family, sex, and individualism. “Having trouble feeling fulfilled in celibacy? Here’s a great solution to your lack of intimacy and closeness with others—it’s called friendship!” “Down on your marriage? Not to worry: you, too, can find love and meaning in friendship!” The danger is that I’ll idealize friendship as a quick fix for loneliness and relational burdens rather than as something requiring substantial burden-bearing itself.”
Spiritual Friendship is a quick, but important book for a church that calls for deeper involvement in the world or in the church, but has not yet understood that the means of that involvement is with individuals, one at a time. We all need to invest in friendship.