I Support Men Loving Men
Love is not sex and sex is not love. Although few would outright reject this I believe that whether consciously or not, many people in western culture have sexualized love. Sexualisation is the process of making sexual, or sexy, something which is not inherently so. For example, a clothing brand is sexualized by placing models in provocative positions, or situations when modelling the clothing. The goal is for the viewer’s attraction to the model to become intertwined with their attraction to the product. There is nothing overly attractive or sexy about a bottle of cologne but if you mix it in with shots of two lovers kissing on a boat, all of a sudden a whole new array of emotions are experienced by those who view the ad which could never be brought on by a glass bottle with clear liquid in it.
So what does this have to do with love? Love, I would argue, is not inherently sexual, nor is sex inherently loving, however through the process of sexualisation, people have come to subconsciously equate the two. Perhaps the most powerful experience of love we see modeled on earth is the love between a mother and her child. Across time and culture, this is a powerful bond which is not easily broken. Apart from extreme examples of poor mothering, most women would give their life to save their child without a moments consideration. This love which is so committed and so complete is in no way sexual.
On the other extreme, rape is an example of sex which is in no way loving. In fact rape is the antithesis to love. A rapist is thinking only about their own desires and cares nothing about the other person’s feelings. There is nothing mutual or loving about rape.
As I said, I do not think it needs argued extensively that love does not equal sex and I hope I have demonstrated this in my examples above. What do I mean then that love has been sexualized? I could go on a rant (as we religious conservatives like to do) about how it seems that nearly every love story in today’s books and films inevitably leads to sex sooner rather than later and often the “love making” is used as the evidence that the characters are now “in love.” The very title of a “love story” immediately implies that the tale is romantic and thus sexual. However, we’ve all heard those rants before and most who disagree with that line of thinking have become very skilled in tuning them out. Rather I want to take this down a different path and explore the love between friends, specifically same gender friends which is at risk of and is already being damaged by the sexualisation of love.
I am blessed to have friends in my life who love me. I once heard a preacher talk about the importance of having “3am friends” who you can call for help at any time of the day with no risk of anger or rejection. As I thought about this I realized that I knew dozens of people who could fall into this category. My family, my friends, my friends’ family, and I believe even many members of my church and community whom I barely know would be there for me at 3am if I really needed them. The 3am test demonstrates the self-sacrifice which I believe is at the centre of real love. Not only do I have friends who are theoretically willing to demonstrate this kind of love should the need arise; I have friends who regularly show me love in word and deed. One such friend comes to mind who, for my birthday, wrote me a heartfelt letter telling me how much he appreciated our long standing friendship. I am also reminded of a weekend last year when I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with some circumstances in my life and instead of being able to go to church on Sunday which helps to get my mind off myself I had been called into work. That afternoon a friend who had noticed I was not at church and figured out that I was working, decided to stop by my workplace with a Timmy’s and some words of encouragement. Be it coincidence or divine sovereignty, It was exactly what I needed that day to remind me I was loved and not alone. That is love in its purest form: genuine, others-centred love, which expects nothing in return.
Where is this love in the movies, books and music? This love between friends which is in no way romantic but is as powerful as anything a “love story” can tell of. I believe western society has, for the most part, forgotten this love because love has been sexualized and so “love” is so intertwined with sex that a non-sexual friendship is not really considered love or at least a lower form of love. Even within the Church we have come to hold the love of marriage and thus sexual unity on a very high pedestal, almost suggesting to those of us in “a period of singleness” that we have not yet experienced love. I would argue that the Bible does not promote this view of love and it is rather our culture’s sexualisation of love which has influenced how even the Church views love. Love as described in the Bible, even in its deepest forms is not sexual in any way.
One of the clearest examples of this is the love between David and Jonathan. It is clear from reading the Biblical accounts that these two friends had a very deep love and commitment to one another. In 2 Samuel 1:26, David says to Jonathan that “your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.” How can this be if the sexual relationship and covenant of marriage is the deepest form of love on earth? The solution for some modern scholars is to suggest that David and Jonathan had a homoerotic relationship. This verse is held up as the key evidence in their argument. Essentially the reasoning is that if two men loved each other even more than the women in their lives then they must be having sex even though no biblical or extra biblical sources provide evidence for this. This line of reasoning demonstrates that in the minds of these scholars, love has been sexualized. They cannot comprehend or envision a deep, passionate and committed love which is not sexual.
I am fortunate to have grown up in a somewhat sheltered community, free from at least some of the pressures of the wider society which influence what we perceive love to be. Although I still saw evidence of love being sexualized, it was certainly less so than the wider western society. This sheltering allowed same gender friendships to be allowed to deepen and grow without questions or thoughts of sex. Throughout my life I have had many close friends tell me they love me. I thought nothing of this until I spent more time in larger cities and got to know people from the rest of Canada and beyond. Other than those who grew up in small, close knit communities like my own, most had not experienced friendships to the depth which I had and certainly didn’t have any same gendered friends who would say the words “I love you” to them. I believe this is because love has been sexualized and so the words have become limited to romantic relationships, with the only remaining exception being amongst blood relatives.
There is a reason why Christian men traditionally greet one another as Brother, for we are God’s family and are thus called to love each other as family, not just those with whom we share a bed or bloodline. This news should be liberating and exciting for all those who are not married nor have a sexual partner. Hear this: you can experience love in its deepest and most intimate form even if, like Jesus himself, you live a life of celibacy. Sex is not love and love is not sex. Sex is primarily for procreation with the added gift of enjoyment and further bonding of complementing partners who together are best suited to raise and care for the resulting offspring who share their DNA. Sex is primarily biological. Love is primarily supernatural and, as the Bible teaches, is the very essence of God for God is love (1 John 4:8).
How will society know what true love (God) looks like if even we the Church have sexualized love and have thus taken something supernatural and transcendent which is offered to every man, woman and child and dumbed it down into a function of biology which is only permitted between a man and a woman in a marriage relationship. Where does that leave everyone else? Can they never know Love Himself because they cannot have sex? I believe this is at the heart of the promiscuous man, the homosexual and all those who have sexual desires which cannot be fulfilled in a God honouring way. It is not sex that is their deepest desire, it is Love for Love is drawing everyone to Himself (John 12:32).
We the Church must model for society what love is apart from sex and I believe that men having strong, committed loving relationships with their Brothers is the beginning of this. We must resist and oppose the sexualisation of love in society and especially in the Church for the sake of protecting loving friendships and so protecting true love itself. As 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, love is many things. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” And to this great quote I humbly add: love is not sex.