We are people who enjoy comfort. It is easy to exist within a bubble where our ideas and world-views are only confirmed and never challenged. We are prone to shy away from opportunities for our own growth by allowing possible friends to remain strangers. Ideological differences are allowed to define and enforce separation often under the guise of safety. My own experience has shown that the bubble is never safe. It is far too easily ruptured when an uninvited co-worker, family member or classmate who would otherwise be an ideological object becomes a real person. When this happens we are forced to grapple with the tension that relationship creates in our lives. We must embrace a biblical calling to be “all things to all people” and by doing so understand our own convictions. It is only through relationship with others that our own understanding and faith can be fully deepened and formed.
I spend much of my time living in the tension of disagreement. Most often this tension comes from either my Eastern Orthodox theology or my traditional views on gay relationships. I am proud to have quite a number of friends who are not only Protestants but who also embrace a gay marriage affirming theology. These friends continue to shape and bless my life in numerous ways and I have often seen Christ reflected in their lives and even in their relationships. This can, and does, however present a challenge to me holding convictions that lead to disagreement. I’m not a fan of disagreement and I often go out of my way to emphasize commonality and de-emphasize differences. But, at the end of the day disagreement does exist and I can’t gloss over that fact. This is where relationships can get interesting.
Living in this tension is a beautiful challenge. It can also be exhausting. It’s easier to have disagreement over politics, random points of theology, art, etc… than to have disagreement over the very way in which we live our lives as Christians with gay desires. I see the steadfast teachings of the Church on homosexual behavior to be fixed and not up for reinterpretation. This leads me to pursue a life of celibacy where I seek deep friendships and faithful community for support and intimacy. I have close friends who are also Christian but see God as blessing same-sex romantic relationships and see marriage as something open to all loving and committed couples. In some cases they have found other like-minded Christians and developed Christ centered gay relationships. I’ve gotten to know some of these couples quite closely and to be quite honest, many of my straight friends could learn a thing or two about communication, spiritual support, and reaching embracing others from them.
The very ways in which we live our lives differ based on our views and this is bound to lead to conflict and be a challenge. In my life I’ve seen two options with these kinds of relationships, I can either choose to circle the wagons and avoid friendship with affirming gay Christians or I can continue to pursue friendship knowing that at times it will be a difficult to live in the tension of our disagreement. For some, depending on their life circumstances, it might be helpful to surround themselves with like-minded Christians and focus on finding support rather than challenges to their convictions. I though have found it to be beneficial to deconstruct the bubble and cultivate friendships on both sides of the divide. By having gay friends who I disagree with, I take what might once have been “those people” and allowed them to take on flesh and blood. No longer allowed to remain as abstract ideas they have become names, faces and hearts that I know and am able to love.
This isn’t always easy though. There are hard conversations where this tension is manifest and where we ultimately must agree to disagree. It is amazing though how different disagreement can be between friends as opposed to outside of the context of relationship. At the end of the day there is still a commitment to the friendship and the knowledge that we will continue to partake in each other’s lives regardless of our differences. This sense of loyalty allows these conversations to be honest and in love rather than abstract and impersonal. I can be honest about my struggle to find the right way to interact with my friend’s relationships, and they can be honest with me about how they think I may be denying more of myself than God calls me to do. Few people have heard me more fully articulate my convictions than some of these dear friends. This friendship in the tension of disagreement can only exist though when there is honesty and maturity. You can’t love someone in a healthy way when a friend is seen as a threat to your own stability.
For myself, part of how I can maintain close friendships with my affirming gay Christian friends is by having a supportive community of like-minded friends as well. There will always be a sense of support and understanding when you have other gay Christian friends who like you, are trying to pursue celibacy and faithfulness to a traditional view of Scripture. These friends are helpful to process and support my own convictions and often are what allow me to have the strength needed to live in the tension. In a similar way, my Orthodox friends grew even more valuable to me during my years in an Evangelical college ministry.
This is what living in the tension has looked like in my life and I’m sure that as I continue to mature, my understanding of these friendships will continue to deepen as the years pass. I share this with the hope that some of you will accept the challenge to welcome diversity into your friendships and allow your life to be impacted and grown from these relationships. The challenge is real but the benefits often vastly outweigh the difficulties. As long as we are honest with each other about where we are coming from and are willing to listen with love, beautiful things can happen.