Guest / Limited Access /
Why Can't Men Be Friends?
Offset / Cavan Images

In January 1944, several months after he had been imprisoned by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge. In it, he reflected on what their relationship meant to each of them. Bonhoeffer wrote that, in contrast to marriage and kinship, friendship "has no generally recognized rights, and therefore depends entirely on its own inherent quality."

As he penned those lines, Bonhoeffer must have had his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, in mind. With Maria, Bonhoeffer knew where he stood. They were pledged to be married, and all their family and acquaintances recognized their love and were prepared to witness their wedding ceremony, provided Bonhoeffer was released. With Eberhard, on the other hand, Bonhoeffer admitted there wasn't a similarly public recognition. That led to a question: What were Eberhard and Dietrich to one another, and how might their love be preserved and sustained?

Years later, Eberhard addressed an audience member who had come to hear him speak about his friendship with Bonhoeffer (one explored in depth by Charles Marsh in the acclaimed biography Strange Glory). Surely, the questioner said, theirs "must [have been] a homosexual partnership." What else could Bonhoeffer's impassioned letters to Eberhard have signaled?

Bonhoeffer was aware that his friendship with Eberhard was breakable—that no public ceremony or vow kept them tied. That awareness that friendship is fragile has grown more pronounced since Bonhoeffer wrote his letters from prison. Words like suspicion, unsettledness, and doubt best describe our instincts about friendship. We are uncertain about it—perhaps especially between people of the same sex. And, like ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this IssueThe Midlife Church Crisis
Subscriber Access Only The Midlife Church Crisis
In Christ, there is neither empty nester nor new mom.
RecommendedHenri Nouwen’s Weakness Was His Strength
Henri Nouwen’s Weakness Was His Strength
How a gifted, high-achieving spiritual guide learned to share his wounds with others.
TrendingTrump Adviser’s Megachurch Withholds Major Donation from SBC
Trump Adviser’s Megachurch Withholds Major Donation from SBC
Prestonwood Baptist diverts denominational giving over concerns about Russell Moore’s ERLC.
Editor's PickThe Title IX Lives of Christian Colleges
The Title IX Lives of Christian Colleges
Why CCCU schools are split on claiming one of their legal rights.
Christianity Today
Why Can't Men Be Friends?
hide thisSeptember September

In the Magazine

September 2014

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.