I have been blessed with a few friends. They have heard my confessions and pronounced my sins covered and forgotten. They have laid their hands on my shoulders and prayed for me in my darkest moments of doubt.
No one has many friends like this, but I have just enough—barely enough, I would say. Several live in far-flung cities, and when travel takes me there we seize the opportunity to enjoy one another’s company. Often we make time for a long dinner at a nice restaurant. And over 20 years of friendship with these men, we’ve become accustomed to knowing glances from our servers and fellow diners. They see us laughing unrestrainedly, talking deeply, listening intently. With reactions of enthusiastic approval or mild discomfort, they let us know quite clearly—once in a while, in so many words—what they think they know.
What they think they know is that we must be gay.
In the cities where I live and travel, a display of open, honest love and affection between two men is linked, it seems, with the assumption that those two men must be romantically involved, or at least attracted to one another.
Elsewhere in the world today, male friends still hold hands as they walk down the street. At other times and places, men would sleep with their best friend rather than sleep alone. They would read of David’s all-surpassing love for his friend Jonathan, of the one Jesus loved leaning on his bosom at the Last Supper, and see those friendships reflected in their own: intimate without being in any way sexualized.
But today intimacy means sex, and sex means love. Our age has almost forgotten a love between brothers that is more than awkward slaps on the back, bro-ing and dude-ing our way through performances of emphatically nonhomoerotic masculinity.
This is why I find Wesley Hill’s eloquent call for a return to deep friendship (p. 38) and
Kate Shellnutt’s delightful refusal to limit best-friendship to marriage (p. 46) especially timely. If more of us modeled this kind of intimacy, we might confuse our neighbors even more. And for those of us who believe the Christian story is still good news for our masculinity and femininity, for our sexuality and our longings for intimacy, that would be a very
healthy confusion indeed.
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