My friend “Cyril” and I are no longer speaking. After more than a decade of friendship, we stopped talking recently. We didn’t get too busy for each other; we didn’t have a misunderstanding. We stopped talking because of abortion and sexual ethics.
Cyril and I met at a time when I was first coming back to Christ at the very end of the 1990s. Infatuated with progressive evangelicalism, I found a natural ally in Cyril, who was slightly to my right but still deeply committed to social justice. For years, we met for breakfast to talk theology and politics — and to talk intimately about our personal lives. He was the first person I told when I started dating Eira. Cyril and I drove half-way across the country together many years ago — to his wedding. We ran together, lifted weights together. For the better part of a decade, Cyril was my best male friend.
In 2004, when I left the Mennonite Church, I also abandoned the “seamless garment” position on the life issues I had taken since my conversion. A staunch pro-choice advocate from the cradle, a fourth-generation Planned Parenthood supporter (my great-grandparents gave money to that fine organization back when it was still the Birth Control League), I briefly turned in my religious enthusiasm towards an anti-abortion position. It was always nuanced; I never favored making abortion illegal, but did regard the termination of pregnancy as deeply tragic and problematic. I soon came back to the more emphatically pro-choice position, and that caused tension with Cyril.
We agreed to disagree about abortion, about gay marriage (he favored civil unions only), and about pre-marital sex. We were so fond of each other, and found each other’s company so refreshing, that we made our friendship work despite those differences. As I moved back to the left and he skewed more and more to the right, we each remained the other’s loyal interlocutor, debating enthusiastically over vegetarian burritos and guacamole each week at our favorite hole-in-the-wall.
But then came my post on Dr. Tiller’s assassination last year: â€œWhen Christ calls a man, he bids him come and dieâ€: of a doctor, an usher, and the answerer of a call. Writing in explicitly Christian language, I compared the martyred doctor to the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Cyril and I had read Bonhoeffer together and discussed his influence. For a staunch pro-lifer like my friend, the post (every word of which I continue to stand behind) created deep cognitive dissonance. Cyril loved me, but couldn’t comprehend how I could speak of a man whom he saw as a murderer as a martyr. Though Cyril repudiated violence against those who perform abortions, he had grave doubts about the state of Dr. Tiller’s soul. I made it clear that I thought the doctor had been doing God’s work. And the gulf between us, Cyril realized, had now grown too vast for even a history of deep friendship to span.
We didn’t speak for several months. I had moved to West L.A. and was busy with my expanding family; Cyril and his wife had also just had a child. My calls weren’t returned, but I figured he was just incredibly busy. Finally, I sent him an email, and got a kind, serious, thoughtful reply. Cyril explained that he loved and respected me and was grateful for our years of mutual friendship. But, he said, ideas have consequences, a view he knew I shared. None of us agree with one another on everything, but there are certain core issues that are so central that the absence of a common view can strain even the best of friendships.
Cyril suggested, and I agreed, that to smooth over our differences over abortion for the sake of friendship would do violence to the seriousness with which we held our positions and to our long history of mutual respect. We would still be cordial when we happened to speak; we are both men for whom civility is an important value. But we are also people for whom there are higher values still. And because of those higher values, our friendship has ended.
(Parenthetically, we both agreed that this was where friendship and family relationships differed. Neither of us would ever abrogate a relationship with a relative over even this issue.)
I miss Cyril. But I honor both what we had and why it ended. Politics is not sports; it does have consequences. Our beliefs should never be so passionately held as to render us incapable of decency and empathy. But our core beliefs shouldn’t be worn so lightly that they can be tossed aside for the sake of amiability. I’ve lost friendships in the past because of my reckless behavior (sleeping with other people’s spouses, for example). If there is a good and honorable reason to lose a friendship, it’s the way Cyril and I lost ours. I love him and his family very much, and they remain in my heart. But my commitment to justice (as I prayerfully understand justice) trumps even friendship.