August 17, 2022

Opinion: A Fourth Type of Friendship

Josh Peters '23

Growing up, my grandmother was a large part of my life. Whether it was Christmas sleepovers with the cousins, garden chores for quick cash, or mall trips to Game Stop and Taco Bell, she was always around, and I always enjoyed that. As I got older and started to define my own values, I realized at some point after my teenage years that we disagreed on some really important issues. She liked Fox News. I thought Tucker should be off the air. She campaigned against abortion. I thought the government shouldn’t have any say. And so on. 

Throughout that movement away from each other ideologically, we never moved away from each other emotionally, and that was one of the biggest blessings of my entire life.

A friendship that looks past differing values is a friendship that is hardly ever endorsed, let alone utilized, in present day America, and my generation certainly did not grow up with it. In the world I grew up in, polarizing politics, social tensions and, partly, the Christian church have given us hatred, disunity and self-centeredness to work with—which is not much. 

Recently, I read excerpts from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics for a Jerusalem-Athens Forum discussion on friendship. Aristotle says there are three types of friendship: 

  1. Friendship of utility: Two people are friends because they each can provide something for the other
  2. Friendship of pleasure: Two people are friends because they each can provide something for the other
  3. Friendship of virtue: Two people are friends because they share similar values.

I’ve thought about those. I’ve thought and thought, and I certainly see some of my different friendships falling into these categories very clearly. But where would my grandmother go? We weren’t just friends because we were of use to each other; that would be tragic. And surely our presence was pleasurable to the other, but we must have been more than the second type — we weren’t just a means to an end for the other. But we don’t quite fall into type three— we disagreed over some things, and strongly. 

I suggest there’s a fourth type of friendship. Aristotle, one of the world’s greatest philosophers, missed the important one. 

Christians are called to a certain type of love; just as Christ loved us unconditionally, we ought to love Him and our neighbors unconditionally. This is different. This means that we don’t befriend someone just because they’re useful, or pleasurable, or even because we believe the same stuff. This is the type of love that says, “I love you and it wouldn’t matter if we were the opposite. I’ll still love you.” 

My grandmother, Nancy Elliott, one of my best friends, passed away recently on October 20th, 2021, and all the ideological disagreements we had are things I will never fault her for. 

I struggle with the fourth type of friendship. I struggle to love and to keep loving when things change. My friends know that. 

Aristotle’s writing came from his observations about how the world works, and that makes the lack of the fourth type even sadder- perhaps he never saw it. If Aristotle observed millennials and Gen Z, would he write about the fourth type? 

And yet, whether it’s here or not, it would glorify the name of Jesus for my generation to display it, which they will only be able to do with the power of the Holy Spirit. 

We live in a world defined by difference; questions a person might ask when getting to know another betray this. Some common ones are: “Where do you stand politically?” or “Are you affirming?” or “Do you stand with BLM?” 

Brothers and sisters, Jesus never asked these questions when He sat with sinners for dinner, before He chose Judas and Matthew for His disciples, after He publicly protected the adulteress from stoning. In the same way, we cannot “decide” to befriend or to oppose a stranger based on what they said about an election, we cannot forsake friendships that were based on shared values because someone had a heart change, and we cannot abandon people because we didn’t like an answer.  

It would help the church immensely if, instead of standing to our feet and marching boldly in the name of “the right causes”, we fell to our knees and prayed boldly in the name of Jesus, who models for us what unity with others looks like. Until the church has learned to love like Jesus did, their efforts to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven will be in vain. 

Lord, give us the strength to pursue the fourth type of friendship. 

2 Comments on Opinion: A Fourth Type of Friendship

  1. Good reflection on friendship. I have wondered recently
    How does the role of a friend reflected in Proverbs 27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” fit into our modern notion of friendship?

  2. This is a beautiful story and it is great that you had a meaningful relationship with your grandmother. However, a common theme I see within center-left spheres is advocating for friendship with people who have severely different beliefs from your own. While this seems like a worthy idea, I think it can often manifest itself in apathetic ways that we need to be aware of. It is easy for someone to advocate for friendship when they are not receiving the brunt of hatred. When you are not POC, LGBTQ+, or a woman needing an abortion. When it’s not your rights that people fight against, you can continue to have a friendship with simply a difference of political opinions. For others, that friendship is based on whether or not the other person sees them as an equal human being worthy of rights. It is always good to treat others with respect and civility, I’m not arguing to make others your enemy. But it’s important to recognize that there is justification for not being someone’s friend. Advocating for policies that cause pain to others is, in my opinion, a justifiable reason. Asking if people are affirming or supporting certain movements is understanding their values, and sometimes that’s important for people’s own safety. This comment is also coming from someone whose entire family is alt-right, so I understand the dilemma of loving people who have terrible beliefs. But I also know first-hand the pain of those beliefs, and wouldn’t wish that on anyone, even if their intentions for friendship are good-natured. I’m sorry for slightly disagreeing, I just wanted to present this nuance for anyone who feels that they aren’t a good Christian for adhering to their boundaries in this way.

Leave a Reply to Jane Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.