I have been long awaiting this new book from Wesley Hill. Hill is a pioneer when it comes to the murky waters of affirming celibacy and a traditional sexual ethic within the church. But this does not mean Hill is asking for those (“celibate, gay christians”) to pursue a life without intimacy, certainly not. This is where Hill challenges us to a rekindle a better understanding of friendship in a more holistic manner.
In “Spiritual Friendship”, Wesley Hill poignantly crafts his own experiences into a rich telling and exposition on the long, lost tradition of committed, spiritual friendships. Hill expertly takes a look at the world & culture we live in and shows how friendship has in several ways become a foreign language to us. Without becoming unrealistic or overly sentimental, Hill also begins to express both personally and theologically what a transformed view of friendship might look to us practically.
It’s not uncommon when talking about friendship as a celibate person to begin to idealize friendship especially when one’s own sexual orientation and theological beliefs seem to almost hinge upon it for survival. But Hill does not do this. Hill, with a heart-breaking and common-to-me honesty, really speaks into the hardship of friendship: “that’s the perfect description of trying to love your best friend when he doesn’t love you back, or at least not in the way you wish he would.” Hill doesn’t only just speak of the potential byproducts that occur with intimate friendships but also speaks of the suffering that must occur with and within friendship, “The calling of friendship is, in other words, a call to pain. Joy, yes, and consolation, but not as a substitute for pain…Friendship, then – for Christians who take their cues from the arc of the scriptural story – lives with pain.”
Hill then leaves us readers with practical steps to take towards cultivating friendship itself, not leaving us on a pessimistic note. The life of a celibate christian does not have to end (or worse endure) in loneliness as Hill reminds us, and I’m thankful to be practically reminded of that.
Overall, this is a book that the church needs to consider. Not just for the sake of ____ in our churches, but for the church herself. And for that, I’m grateful.