Saturday, November 30, 2013

Surprised by a Book

One of the great pleasures of my life is being surprised by a book. A friend recommended one to me and so I read it. I didn't expect much from this thin book by an Eastern Orthodox theologian. But, as I read it, I began to realize that, despite the short chapters, it was a dense and biblical analysis of the topic of same-sex attraction. The book is called Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections; written by Thomas Hopko. Not only does it deal with same-sex attraction, it has many helpful insights regarding sexuality and relationships in general. Chapter 15, on friendship, is worth the price of the book itself. The following quote is from that chapter.
People of predominantly or exclusively same-sex attractions and desires will know that they must work and pray to find and nourish deep, close, and lasting friendships with persons of their own sex with whom they have no erotic sexual relations. . . . Whatever the causes of a person's sexual feelings and desires, however, it remains a firm conviction of Orthodox Christianity that healthy and holy people always have friends of both sexes with whom they learn to love in all ways God commands human beings to love. Another firm conviction is that some of these spiritual friendships have to be older and wiser than they are.1
In one simple paragraph Hopko lays out a very helpful theology of spiritual friendship. It seems to me that he is saying something that is badly needed in our hyper-sexualized culture. It is important for each of us to have non-erotic friendships with both genders. Women in business lament that older, experienced men in the business world are hesitant to mentor women because of the optics (see Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In). Yet, these kind of mentoring relationships are just what many women need and there are too few women in senior leadership to mentor all of the women who wish to have such a relationship. Yes, men and women need to take proper precautions and define appropriate boundaries; but, there is tremendous value in friendships with those from the gender to which we are most strongly sexually attracted.

It seems to me that some church leaders who express a hyper-complementarian understanding of gender relationships would do well to have spiritual friendships with persons of the opposite sex. Some may need to change their thinking about the opposite sex and control their sexual feelings to a greater extent. The sexualization of most relationships that often occurs in the predominant culture of our time is an aberration. It does not need to be that way. In the same chapter, Hopko gives examples of significant spiritual friendships between persons of the opposite sex that were perfectly chaste and wonderfully healthy. There is something important for us to learn from such spiritual friendships. Like Hopko, I call on us to seek to live holy lives in which we are free to have healthy friendships with both men and women.

1. Hopko, Thomas. Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections. Ben Lomond: Conciliar Press, 2006, p. 69.

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