Friend has become a spongy concept in the span of my lifetime. Supposedly, I become a “friend” of public radio, the library, or the animal shelter by making a donation. “Friend” me on social media and you gain access to a carefully curated (hence mostly phony) account of my life, all in exchange for becoming a potential target for my next book launch or multilevel marketing effort. My kids are encouraged to refer to every other student at school as their “friend,” including the ones they never meet.
But I had never considered that “friend” could refer to a co-conspirator in a subversive act of faith that defies racial, cultural, and political powers to testify to the kingdom of God. Not, at least, until I read Dana Robert’s Faithful Friendships: Embracing Diversity in Christian Community.
Robert, an expert on global Christianity, makes a more measured claim. “Christians,” she argues, “have the responsibility to make friends across divisions that can separate us from one another.” She insists that cultivating these friendships is “an ethical and spiritual imperative.” These risk-taking “faithful friendships” are mustard seeds of hope that may have generational, regional, and even global impact. But whether they change the world or not is beside the point. The point is, boundary-crossing friendships are part of the Christian calling. “When followers of Jesus Christ retreat from the personal responsibility to create diverse and loving communities,” Robert claims, “they betray the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Robert begins by showing how Jesus “befriends those who follow him” in the Gospel of John. ...1
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