On cross-gender friendships and christians…

hi readers;

Sometimes I am amazed how some things, while they are totally non-issues to me, can be such big issues to others. I suppose that this statement may mean that I’m just an unworldly weirdo, but the only perspective I can speak of is just mine. So if I’m not convincing in my arguments, listen to me as a native of another world… One of those issues, and the topic for this post today is that of cross-gender friendships, non-romantic friendly relationships between men and women or boys and girls. Everything I know and have experienced says that this is not only possible, but also good and healthy, and something we as Christians should offer to this lost and broken world. But yet some people live in a world where the opposite truth is proclaimed and lived and even institutionalised, and to my big surprise and frustration a lot of them appear to be christians.

Currently I’m waiting for a very interesting book to arrive in my mailbox: Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women” by Dan Brennan. I’m glad to finally see a book like this on the Christian market. I will definitely be writing more about it when I have read it. I think it’s a very important subject, when we talk about love and following Jesus and overcoming the brokenness of this world in our own life.

But some christians do think differently. They are affraid to be seen with a member of the opposite sex, because ‘people might think something’. They are affraid to be alone with a woman that’s not their wife, and will refuse to be wlone with a woman in an elevator or a car. There probably are good explanations for all this stuff; but to me it’s as alien as a little green man mith antennas flying a saucer-like vehicle… And not very Christlike. and very sexist, and mostly I’m just shocked by hearing about such things.

It has always been a total non-issue for me… And for most of my friends, who were mostly somewhere between students, artistic/hippy and middleclass people. Maybe it’s me who has always connected with like-minded people, but I’ve hardly ever seen male-female friendship considered a problem for people people my age and younger (I’m turning 30 in october) And yes, I’m the kind of guy who tens to friend girls more easily than guys… Mostly even girls that I would never have a relationship with. I Have always been this way, and getting married didn’t change much in that area. My wife is my best friend, and we both do have friends of the opposite sex, and it would be very strange in a world where such a thing would not be possible. And it would be a stupid world and not much fun.

But I know it’s not the same for everybody. It was a big clash for me when I worked with working class people,  the way the sexes were segregated. There were indeed guys for whom it would be unthinkable to be friends with a woman, or even true to look at a women that where even the least bit attractive without thinking about having sex with her. Some of these guys were so porn-minded and women-unfriendly. Men who were hurting and hurt by women because of this big division and misunderstanding between the sexes, and I think it must have been the same at the other side of the great divide with the females… I only saw hurt and brokenness and nothing I would ever want in my own life or the life of anyone I love. Nobody should be so sexually fucked-up, broken and disconnected and there are big groups of people for whom this seems to be the norm. (This is not meant to be judgenmental on working class people, it only was in such an environment that I encountered this. But there also are lots of sexually fucked-up and disconnected people who are middle class or higher class, and there are fanstastic loving people in the working class)

So… This kind of disconnect between man and woman is not very healthy… And the christian version to me seemed to come out of a similar worldview, with a reduction of the opposite sex (mostly the female from a male perspective) to merely an object of sexual desire in the first place. And this alone is a big evil that hurts and destroys people and makes a lot of money in our entertainment and advertisement industry. But no woman on this planet (even if they themselves are hurt so bad that they can only believe it that way) is just a body a man can have sex with. Even sexy lingery models on a billboard are persons like us. Just think about this the next time you see one of these billboards… Think about this girl, her hopes and dreams, and how heartbroken and hurt she might be.

The answer to this is not to run away from every woman we see that is not our own wife. The answer is to see and appreciate women as the persons that they are. I would think that for a Christian such a thing is 100% logical, but how naieve can I be sometimes…

Jesus was a very cool example for me. His talk with the woman at the well crosses all this kind of taboos and barriers like they existed in his culture. So why don’t we break loose of this nonsense? We are called to love. Friendship is a form of love.

Like I’ve said at the beginning of this piece, some people live in the opposite world, where heakthy cross-gender friendships are taboo, unhealthy, dangerous and a very subversive idea. It might be like a self-fulfilling prophecy, and if that’s the case, I choose the side of love, the side of friendship, and the example of Jesus, even if it would be against the whole world, to love every woman as my sister, mother or daughter…

Isn’t that just basic for us followers of Jesus?



ps: there is more that can be said about this subject. I hope to blog more on this when I’ve recieved and read Dan Brennan’s book.

14 responses to “On cross-gender friendships and christians…

  1. Wow, This is an AWESOME post!

    You’re right, so many friendships are sacrificed in the name of ‘it doesn’t look right’ etc. But what we fail to realize is that members of the opposite sex have so much to offer outside of a traditional romanticism, their perspective and companionship is priceless.

    I love your site! You might like mine too… here’s my latest post: http://wp.me/pq3cW-gV Leave a comment if you can!

    God Bless,

  2. Great points, Bram.

    In my neck of the woods, we realize there is nothing intrinsically wrong about cross-gender friendships. However, the folks around here want to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22 KJV). In our culture these types of relationships are often frowned upon.

    The same principle is applied to abstaining from alcohol and tobacco products. Since much of our culture views these things (albeit hypocritically) as somehow intrinsically evil, many of the Christians in my community choose to forgo their use so as not to have “the appearance of evil” and therefore “hurt their witness.” As a matter of fact, this is required of anyone serving as a deacon or elder (although this has more to do with the fact that we minister largely to people who have and continue to struggle with these things).

    Now this is of course a misinterpretation of a dated (and terrible) translation (KJV–not the whole, just this verse). A better translation reads, “Avoid every kind of evil” (NIV), or “reject whatever is harmful” (TNIV).

    In context, this verse has nothing to do with avoiding what others may see as sinful. It is about rejecting false prophecies.

    “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject whatever is harmful” (1 Thess. 5:19-22 TNIV).

    This is pretty obvious in just about every translation that is NOT the KJV. With that, however, their intentions are good. Their hearts are, I think, in the right place. They are merely attempting to live up to a misinterpretation of a poor translation that has carried over from previous generations (here in the southern US).

    What you say is true though. This is something that needs to be undone. We don’t often find Jesus bending over backwards to not offend His culture. On the contrary, He went against the grain precisely to demonstrate how backwards their culture was, and to reveal to them what God’s love looks like in society.

    Honestly, I think as time goes by this has less and less to do with offending our surrounding cultures, and more and more to do with doing what other Christians around you perceive to be right. The sad reality is that it was to these types of people that Jesus spoke out against the most.

    stay salty,

  3. @everybody

    If anyone is offended by my use of the f-word, I’m sorry, but we belgians learned it from your popular culture and it does not offend anyone here. Moreover I hate most uses of the word, because it shows a very low and negative view on lovemaking to use it. But ‘fucked up’ is still the perfect word to describe the sexual brokenness of this world, that should offend us way more than any inappropriate word can…It’s like Derek Webbs wong ‘what matters … See Moremore’, which ironically got a lot of people upset over a word that just means poop. (something I really don’t understand, but I know cultures have irrational taboos) but because that one word, nobody even listened to the other (controversial and needed) message of that song.

    @jordan: thanks. I’ll be reading your site another time.

    @zack: thanks for the explanation about the KJV verse. KJV english is sometimes too hard for me (as is the dutch statenvertaling from the same time) and some words have shifted meaning since that time… But like you said Jesus is never bending over backwards to not offend his culture, in fact he is offending it lots of times, and he would be offending belgian culture as wel as american if he would be here… You don’t have to be a christian anarchist to see that…



  4. Wonderful post, hope a lot of people take notice of it!

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  6. Yeah, you should lose the f-bombs. I actually wondered if you were a non-native English speaker when I read them…

    Totally distracting, and a huge cultural taboo (for Americans at least).

    That aside, you seem to focus primarily on men and women spending time together and how that is avoided for the sake of appearances. That seems somewhat the ‘straw man.’

    I think most people would say that relationships between two people of the same gender are fundamentally different than relationships between people of the opposite gender. The question is not so much about avoiding contact, as what are appropriate forms of contact. The question is absolutely not about appearances as it is about the fundamental nature of the relationship, and the health of it.

    I don’t have female friends, never have once. I have female family members, I have had females in working relationships (teacher, coworker, etc), and I have (since coming to Jesus) begun to have healthy relationships with women that don’t fit into those categories. I have never had a female friend, however. There is always some sort of recognition that they are not someone I can treat as a friend. There is a type of intimacy that can happen with a friend that I will never be able to share with a woman other than my wife.

    Perhaps it is better to say that I have friendships with women, but they are fundamentally different than those with men. They are friends with boundaries. I have no boundaries around my emotions or thoughts when with men, they are my constant companions when with women.

  7. The world is full of cultural and personal differences, which can make it hard to even communicate in the same language…

    I never meant to offend anyone, it’s one of the few cases I would use the f-world in english, calling sexual brokenness f*cked-up (and censoring it feels even weirder) I would think that the thing I try to describe with the word should make us sad and offend us, more than the use of any word can do..
    I’m dutch-speaking, and I partly did learn english from hollywood and rock music like everybody here. And I’ve never seen that kind of taboo on the f-word in english-speaking parts of europe either… (If that would be the case Mumford & sons would not sing it in their debut single I guess…)

    It reminds me a bit of the name Voldemort in the Harry Potter books hehe…

    I didn’t mean to use a straw man fallacy when I lumped a broad spectrum of male-female together. But I’ll write more specific about Dan Brennans book in the days to come.

    That being said, the only reaction I can give is a very postmodern one: Your experience is yours, and mine is mine, and people do form their ideas out of what they experience… And I’ve noticed that 2 people of the same sex can differ more than 2 people of the opposite sex. some males are too different for me to connect with on a deeper level (like the Mark Driscoll macho type). So when I read a mars/venus kind of book I feel like coming from somewhere on the earth, just like my wife, and the women who are my friends don’t come from further than the moon… While some other men I’ve met seem to come from maybe Pluto and some women from Mercurius….So it must have something to do with personality compatibility I guess… And with culture and experience…

  8. All true, I had quite a sexually broken past, from a young age, so that naturally colors my relationships with women.

    I would ask you though, are there truly no differences in your relationships with male friends than with female? Aren’t there places emotionally and mentally that you can’t go with women, that you can with men?

    Even just the natural physical limitations that I assume you place on those friendships (no nudity, no body contact, etc) seem to me to indicate some level of difference.

    PS Did you follow the conversation on Jesus Creed on this topic/book?

  9. And don’t worry about the f-word.

    I hear it at work all day long, it is just something that is considered to be vulgar and juvenile.

    When I hear American Christians using it, in my mind it casts serious doubt on their spiritual maturity. If you weren’t a Christian I wouldn’t have brought it up in my first comment…

  10. Steven;

    No 2 friendships are the same. And surely there are differences, but I don’t think it’s a difference of quality, just different. It’s true that you can share other things with men as with women, but even there the individual differences can also be enormous…

    Those physical boundaries to me are just natural. I don’t have a sister, but I think it’s more close to having a sister than to other male female-relationships. And it’s not 100% non-physical, we do greet each other with hugs and kisses very easily in some circles, and that has no sexual connotations… But I don’t see any need to cross the sexual line any more than a kitchen knife invites me to kill people with it, even if that is perfectly possible with the knives in our kitchen…

    I did follow the Jesus creed discussion, but it would be more interesting to discuss the contents of the book than painting the idea broadly as Scot did. there’s a lot of interesting discussion about the author and subject here also @ zoecarnate: http://zoecarnate.wordpress.com/2008/11/14/cross-gender-friendships-too-hot-for-christians/

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