Why I Don’t Want Diverse Friends


Yesterday, Darrell Vesterfelt wrote a piece asking if it is possible to disagree and still be friends. In it, he writes about wanting to have a diversity of friends. And while it sounds like something that I would be all about, it’s been bothering me in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until today.

And then I realized, it’s because I don’t want to have those friends.

I write about my gay friend and my atheist husband and my married male friend. I love these people with my whole being. They are profoundly important to me in ways that I can’t even begin to explain here. But they aren’t the friends that I wanted.

I was friends with a girl who was in the marching band with me and liked They Might Be Giants and The B-52′s. I married a guy who made me laugh and introduced me to some really great music and wrote fantastic letters. I became friends with someone who asked if I’d play Neil Diamond with him in his band and who liked Stephen King books as much as me.

I have gay and atheist and male friends, but that’s not because that’s what I wanted

And I think that’s a lot of the problem that we have with friendship in general, particularly in the Church. We want diverse friends because we feel like we should want diverse friends. We don’t want to become this person who only has friends who think like us or who act like us or who look like us. We want that moment where we look around the room and say, “Oh, thank God I’m not some terrible human because look at this lovely collection of diverse friends that I have! There’s the gay one and the black one and the Reformed one and the atheist one! I’m so open and accepting and wonderful!” We become very self-congratulatory about just how diverse our friends are and how awesome that makes us.

Except when we start looking for friends to fit in certain categories, there’s no way that we can avoid doing that. We become collectors of people, rather than friends. Even if our agenda isn’t to change the other person, we still have an agenda. And friendship based on any agenda can never be truly authentic.

What I wanted (and what I picked) were safe, church-approved friends. A pastor’s kid, a Bible college student, a worship team leader. There wasn’t anything about these relationships that stretched me at all. They were just people who I liked. But because I liked them, when things changed, it didn’t matter. Because our friendship wasn’t built on them fitting categories for diversity, they were just people I loved.

I don’t want any gay friends or atheist friends or cross-gender friends. I don’t want friends who hold different theological or political positions. I don’t want friends who are a different race or socioeconomic background. Because the truth is, I like people who are just like me.

But I want to be open to friends. Just…friends. The kind of friends who gets excited about the new season of Arrested Development. The kind of friends who can argue about feminism with me and then go for coffee. The kind of friends who stay up late at night quoting movie lines and sharing a bottle of wine. The kind of friends who know what pictures on Facebook will crack me up and is sure to tag me in them. The kind of friends who see what I’m not saying and don’t let me get away with that.

And if they’re gay or atheist or male, then that’s fine. Our disagreements and differences won’t be a problem, because they’re not what define our friendship, they will be what adds beauty to it.


By Oregon Department of Transportation (2011 Diversity Conference  Uploaded by Smallman12q) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Emily_Maynard

    Oh, ALL this up in here! I’m amazed at how diverse my friends are and in some ways how undiverse they are. Because as we all change and grow, we are becoming like and unlike each other. And that’s okay.

    I don’t choose my friends based on what they believe or their sexual orientation or their race. If I did, I’d be making decisions about them based on one small part of them. And that’s shitty friend behavior.

    Screw false categories. Screw checking boxes. Love people. Stick with them and let them stick with you as you both change. Set boundaries sometimes. But because the relationships are unhealthy, not because they’re too/not diverse enough.

    Thank you so much for putting words to something that was bugging me, too. You’ve given me a new call. And a new appreciation for my friends.

    • http://www.andygill.org/ Andy Gill

      agreed. i think it becomes bothersome when we see and find others refusing to become friends with someone based off of their sexual orientation or race, as opposed to becoming friends with someone based off of their sexual orientation or race… both make me uncomfortable as a minority, hah.

  • http://www.fromtwotoone.com/ Danielle | from two to one

    Your second to last paragraph? We would totally be friends. And yes, I’m SO EXCITED about the new season of Arrested Development.

  • Kristin Herdejurgen

    oh, I love this. And we should/would totally be friends, and not because you’re different from me, but because you sound like me. I don’t want to have a collection of people types, I want friends, that will build me up and who I will build up because we like and appreciate each other.

  • http://twitter.com/sharideth Sharideth Smith

    Lord, you’re good at writing my brain/heart.

  • r.

    Speaks to me in a way. I’ve always had a hard time making friends within the church. Feels like you’re all there because you ostensibly have the same beliefs, but it so rarely goes beyond that. Like all that ever gets talked about is God, or service, or ministry. I was never a ministry dude, I got tired. When we got married, the “young marrieds” groups just talked about boring shit all the time. Mortgages, or all this psychobabble pop psychology about marriage or a person’s role or ‘what god is doing.’ Like it’s so rare to just sit down and play a video game or watch a movie or just hang out with these people and be like, hell, yeah I love Futurama too.

    I do have friends based out of faith, but most of my good friends are based out of some shared interest. Music, games, pop culture, whatever. Some become closer, some remain friends you do certain things with (which is not a bad thing). Some are friends because we can engage in really deep, philosophical and spiritual talks. But nobody is a friend “because” they are christian or because I wanted a gay friend. My last band’s drummer was gay. She isn’t my friend because she’s a gay chick drummer (which is, I mean, in some ways kind of awesome), she’s my friend because we like music and get along. Won’t pretend learning she was gay didn’t take a little time to reformat but then it was nothin’.

    I’ve just made so few friends “in the church.” One of many reasons I don’t really go, even if I still consider myself a believer.

  • http://twitter.com/antoniaterrazas Antonia


    I do love/want friends that challenge me, but that is it’s own quality that doesn’t have to be a result of what level or niche of “diversity” they bring to the table. it’s usually just because I have feisty friends :-)

    also everything @Emily_Maynard:disqus said.

  • http://www.andygill.org/ Andy Gill

    Hm – super thought provoking. I think I agree haha, still chewing on it. Though what’s going through my head is who is Jesus inclined to be friends with? (I think the answer is everyone) But it’s arguable he was more “friendly” and better received amidst the marginalized, poor, outcast, the minorities of his time.

    So as Christian’s should we be more inclined to hang with whomever the marginalized are of our day and within our context (the poor & powerless)? And if we’re not what would that mean or say…?

  • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

    “Our disagreements and differences won’t be a problem, because they’re not what define our friendship, they will be what adds beauty to it.”

    YES. This post and all of the comments you have shared over at Prodigal this week have been so insightful, Alise. Thank you for this.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    I read this earlier today and I’ve been pondering it ever since. On the surface, I agree with you. We shouldn’t be friends with people for the sole reason of a diversity checklist. On the other hand, not many people seek out friendship with those who are different from them and I think we all miss out when this happens. Having a diverse group of friends requires some intentionality. There was a time when I only had single friends and I didn’t like how insular we could become so I started going to a Women’s Ministry Bible study so I could meet other women in the church- married, divorced, widowed, single but not a part of the young adult group. It’s a small example but it was so helpful for me to get out of my comfort zone and reach out beyond the church confines. At the bottom of all of it though should be a sincere interest in the other person. Does that make sense? I think we’re on the same page here but just wanted to offer my two cents.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      I see what you’re saying. I wonder if maybe searching for specific kinds of friends, we just need to put ourselves into situations where we could meet someone who is different? I know that I have an element of that in my church situation. I could PROBABLY find a church where I just agreed with everyone, but I love that I get to go to a church where I don’t so I can interact with people who stretch me. I’m not friends with everyone there, but there are some who I click with.

      So yeah, I think we can be intentional about the situations we place ourselves in and be open to friendship in those situations. Thanks for helping to clarify that!

    • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

      I found that what I needed to get intentional about was simply loving everyone around me. I did this just because God is love and he loves me and everyone, and I wanted to love like him.
      But lo and behold, some of them even love me back. I’ve always had a diverse set of friends, but now it’s pretty much everyone.
      “Oh, yeah? Got a left handed mulatto cross-dressing Bulgarian touch typist friend?”
      “No clue, because I don’t have an inventory and don’t know everything about every one of them. But if I were a betting mad, I’d say yes.”

  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com/ Jennifer Luitwieler

    My friends are the weirdest bunch of beliefs and appearances and I love it. I don’t really think I collect them on purpose. I am drawn to eclectic. And yes. Their descriptors don’t define them or how I engage with them. Of course we can have friends with whom we disagree.

  • dan mcm

    Good thoughts, Alise.

    Another way to look at it (that says sort of the same thing you were saying) is that we define our friendships by what we have in common with people, not the things that make us different. That was the thought that hit me as I read the list of things you’ve bonded with friends over (music, books, movies, coffee, tv shows, etc.) If I’m your friend, it’s not because either of us was looking for a particular type of friend, but rather that we discovered we had something in common.

    Will Rogers was famous for saying “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I think part of what he was saying was that he could always find something to relate to people about, something to build a relationship on. If my friendships are diverse, it’s not because I intentionally sought out a diverse group to relate to, it’s because I hit it off with different people around different things. (Sports, theology, music of various genres, kids, food, math, geek stuff…. you name it.)

    As you talked about seeking friendships and the type we seek, I was thinking… in general, I don’t think I actually seek friendships — they just happen. We can facilitate that by looking for things we have in common with people we meet, or we can shut it down by finding something to judge someone by, a reason to exclude them. I think I’d rather play things by ear than try to ‘prequalify’ someone to meet whatever criteria I’m looking for in a friend.

  • pastordt

    Nice reflection on the word ‘want’ here, Alise. I also hear Leigh’s heart – in that sometimes we do have to deliberately step outside our comfort zones to meet people who are maybe just a little bit more diverse, who are different than we are. So I think it’s a bit of a mix. Like most things in life!!

  • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

    I’m rather meh about Arrested Development

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  • http://www.facebook.com/DLeePingster Donnalee M. Ping

    It seems to me that this article is cleverly hiding the fact that you indeed do not like people other than the ones in your church group. I find it disturbing that you are not clear and decisive in your wants, and that you caim to “love” the diverse people in your life, but in the same breath detail what friends you actually DO want. Your article is conflicting and not very gallant. No matter how hard you try to prove you are not who you SAY you ARE NOT. Sigh. Just another person lost under the delusion of god. So sad. You could have been an excellent writer if you were to indeed WRITE the truth. Not what you think people want to read.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      I don’t think I understand how my faith plays into this. That seems to be a huge leap. And given that I was recently accused of not having enough church friends, I’m going to go ahead and say that I just split the difference on those accusations.

    • Agrajag

      I think you’re being unfair to Alise. I’m sure, like most of us, she has many friends who come from a background similar to her own — including religious views similar to her own. But I, being a vocal atheist, has read her for years, and not once has she given me the feeling that she does not like people outside her own church.

      And she’s written plenty that I’m certain has caused raised eyebrows aplenty in her church, I think your allegation of writing just what people want to hear, rather than her honest opinion is unsupported.

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  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    Good point! ~Tim

  • CrazyFor Kate

    My friends can be whatever race or religion or political ideology or sexual orientation under the sun. But if they don’t like Harry Potter? Dead to me.

    • Agrajag

      Is that really true ? Are there not opinions or religious views that are so abhorrent to you that you find it difficult to be *friends* with someone who holds them ?

      I’m an atheist. I’ve got many deeply religious friends, both christians, muslims and hindus.

      But I don’t have any *friends* among the subset of religious people who think that they’ve got the right to dictate what *others* should do. For me, that’s the line, I can live with people believeing pretty much whatever they want. Aslong as they acknowledge that religion is a personal thing of *theirs* and not something that can, or should, ever be forced on the unwilling.

      • CrazyFor Kate

        If you use your religious views to be a jerk, then I’m not going to be your friend, most likely. But most religious views are pretty much cool as long as you’re a nice person.

        • Agrajag

          I was thinking primarily cross-cultural. Inside a single culture, there’s usually enough shared norms that we agree what a jerk is, even if we disagree on religion. But cross borders, and this changes.

          When I first ran into Naourez (tunisian), I’m sure she considered -me- a jerk for supporting the right to draw caricatures of whomever I please. Meanwhile in -my- culture it’s pretty much unthinkable to call for lynch mob killings of a person who’s guilty of no crime other than drawing a caricature of a religious figure.

          We worked it out, and became friends, but I don’t think that’d have been possible for me if she’d stuck with her original viewpoint. It’s hard to be friends with someone who honestly thinks it’d be right and proper for you to be killed.

          And she’s -NOT- a jerk, you know ? She’s a kind, considerate and loving woman with everything I wish for in a friend. But her cultural background is just so different from mine that what seems outrageous to me, seems mundane to her and vice versa.

          • CrazyFor Kate

            Ah, gotcha. I’ve definitely had experiences like that. Well, my original message wasn’t meant to be taken 100% seriously anyway ;)

          • Agrajag

            No worries, I only took seriously the part about Harry Potter. :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/kristin.o.cruz Kristin O’Donnell Cruz

    What a fabulous, beautiful, incredible post!

  • Zmar

    Great article and I so agree. In my life I have gathered an amazing array of friends. I certainly have never gone out and looked for a specific ‘type’ of person to be my friend and I don’t categorize them into different factions. I simply call them friends! Thanks for explaining the why of it!

  • http://twitter.com/caramac54 Cara Meredith

    Love this. Thank you!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.driscollhemingway Susan Driscoll Hemingway

    wonderful post! And as I’m sure most people have noted, it made me think about the reasons I choose my friends. I’m a progressive humanist and so are most of my friends but not because we go to the same church or actually believe the same things, Unitarians tend to be all over the place, but because we enjoy some of the same things. We laugh at the same shows, talk about the books we’ve read, enjoy doing some of the same activities. We’re alike in so many ways, yet each part of who we are is a small part so we can come together on many levels, have varied relationships but still have common ground to enjoy ourselves as a group.

  • http://www.theworld4realz.com/ Andi-Roo

    I love this post because it is so thought provoking. I hate this post for the same reason. I don’t have very many friends, but it’s by personal choice. I don’t like people. For good or for bad, I *DO* judge people based on their beliefs and actions. And I pretty much only want to hang out with people who think like I do, because hanging out with people I don’t agree with is mentally exhausting and I end up feeling either small or pissy by the end of a conversation. The people I tend to get along with best are generally agnostic / atheist / humanist… because these groups are generally more open to science and nerdy-ness, both of which are super-appealing to me. If you accept science and enjoy nerdy-ness even though you have faith in a higher power, we MIGHT be friends, but I’m not holding my breath. Also? I like to be able to drop F-bombs without worrying that I’ll offend someone’s sensitivities. I know I’m stereotyping here, but folks who go to church regularly aren’t usually cool with that. I want to be able to talk about Doctor Who without having to bite my tongue while some smug person who has all their shit together explains the evils of sci-fi. Basically? I don’t give a crap what people look like or their sexual orientation (cuz picturing other people having ANY kind of sex is kinda ick, IMO) or where they are from. I care about people who are boring d-bags. And most people? Sadly fall into that category. I’m not saying you’re on of them. Your writing indicates you are one of the few exceptions. But if we have to argue over the merits of Harry Potter (as one comment mentioned), then YEAH, we probably won’t be getting together any time soon. There’s being stretched, and then there’s breaking. I’m all about self-preservation at this point in my life.

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  • Aud Bergquist

    Thank you for writing about this :-)