Tag Archives: cross-gender fiiendships

The friendship is the benefits (on Christian egalitarianism and cross-gender friendships)


I haven’t been blogging much lately apart from last weekend, but I seem to be full of thoughts that need out, and I’m trying to rely less on Facebook than I used to do -battling an addiction and winning?-, so I might return to blogging here more.

I’ll start with saying that I’m not following everything that’s going on in the US or in US Christianity, but I’ve been following a bit of the situation with the megachurch of Willow Creek from here. and the possible sexual misconduct of Bill Hybels -a man who always seemed rather respectable to me by the way- .  I am by no way qualified to say something about that situation, but the legendary blogger Andrew Jones has a good overview here with some important questions at the Tall Skinny Kiwi blog. (glad to see him blogging again by the way!)

One of the links that Andrew has collected in his post is a very interesting analysis of Dan Brennan here. Dan is one of the biggest experts in this age on Christianity and cross-gender friendships in the world as far as I know, at least in the English-speaking world. (See all my posts about his book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions’ here) HE has some interesting observations about a certain kind of ‘anxious’ egalitarianism that he sees as quite pervasive in certain American circles:

I was in for a big surprise when I started to go public about my friendships with women a little over ten years ago. I thought evangelical egalitarians would enthusiastically see all the benefits of intentional spiritual friendships out in the open. It was quite a jolt to me when I began to run into skeptical egalitarians.

To say I encountered spiritual anxiety among these unconvinced Christians would be an understatement. It was not that they were opposed to cross-sex friendships. They had plenty of opposite-sex friends.

What, then, were they anxious about? It soon became clear to me: my intention to practice dyadic opposite-sex friendships before a watching world. They were highly anxious in men and women sharing authentic power and risk in one-on-one relationships with no one else around. Friendship was not foundational to any Willow Creek model. It was not even up there on the high priority list.

Again, note here I can’t comment on whether this is actually true for certain circles, and my goal here is not to point my finger to certain groups that are on another continent from me, but to find out what the most Christlike way of living and interacting is, and which examples should be emulated and which examples are lacking. And what we can learn from that, either by seeing what we should do, or what we shouldn’t do.

Let’s first say that I certainly am an egalitarian and strongly believe that cross-gender friendships are a healthy thing, for several reasons. When it comes to the reasons that some Christians want to hear first, the ones derived from the bible and the Christian tradition, both more or less have the same foundation:  Jesus who broke all rules of gender segregation that his culture had is an important one to start with. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, the story of Mary & Martha, and as I pointed out in my last post Mary Magdalene in the garden-. Paul speaking of ‘no male and female in Christ’ is another one. And just the idea of calling each other brother and sister is also a quite powerful -that’s not just a metaphor, people-. Every person is our brother and sister, and needs to be treated as such, with the same love and respect we would treat an actual sibling. (Yes, looking at our sisters as sex objects would be creepy and evil if looked at it that way.)

I also am naturally inclined by my personality type to friend women as easily as men, and any person who will tell me than male-female friendships are impossible is more or less doing something like telling Mr. beaver of Narnia that animals cannot talk.

I’d also say people who are unable to have equal cross-sex friendships are missing something in their humanity, and that New Testament Christianity quite easily leads to the conclusion that all people of all genders should be treated as friends. And that looking at people as sexual objects, either as a prey in our fantasy or as a temptation that we should get away from at all costs is, is a serious disregard of the humanity of our sister.

(Note that I’m speaking as a straight male here but that you can fill in whatever gender  or sex you are that fits for yourself and whom you’re attracted to. It’s applicable to all genders and sexual orientations)

I’m not the only one who has picked up on Dan’s important observations. The internetmonk blog also extensively quotes his blogpost in a post called “Friends without benefits“. Chaplain Mike ends his post with the following points:

In our sexualized society, it is easy to understand why some people might want to erect strong, rule-based boundaries about cross-sex relationships. I have news for you. Those boundaries haven’t stopped or even slowed down immoral behavior, and if I read Paul correctly, trying to control sin by implementing law only exacerbates the problem (Romans 7).

I believe God calls us to maturity and wisdom in all of our relationships. I have long been “egalitarian” in my theological position (I’d rather say I believe in full partnership and mutuality between men and women). But this article has caused me to question a huge blindspot in egalitarian teaching and practice. We have not truly learned to welcome each other, live with each other, and serve one another as true brothers and sisters until we can learn to be friends. Without benefits.

Very important points again, although I have some quibbles with his title. I’d say that the friendship itself is enough of a benefit, not? I already don’t like the expression of just friendship’. There is something very wrong if there’s an actual friendship going on and you call it being ‘just’ friends, a if being friends is not something worth celebrating in this superficial lonely culture… So as my own title here says, I’d say that ‘the friendship is the benefits’!

In a world where people of the other sex (or any sex you find attractive) are so often reduced to a commodity to satisfy your lustful thoughts actually seeing people as humans like us made in Gods image, and treating them as friends, and sisters and brothers of equal value as we have ourselves might be a revolutionary way of living. But in the end it’s just a very logical application of ‘love your neighbour’.

Not dehumanising people into sex objects -to abuse or run away from as a temptation- and just being friends with them are two extremely basic ways of loving your fellow human I would say… And that’s the core of the question. When we grow on our spiritual Path with Christ -who friended all kinds of women including prostitutes, which were never referred to as sex objects of either category by Him, but as fellow human beings in need of love- we should  be able to go much deeper than that. Just being brothers and sisters is the beginning, like learning the ABC when there are whole libraries to read, and all of us will add our own book to them.

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, and the Risen Jesus
Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’
On nudity in game of thrones, and some American bloke again…(the ‘bloke’ being John Piper)
On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?
‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa
A Christian reaction to porn that doesn’t dehumanise the objectified further?
sexual dominoes vs the fruits of the Spirit
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Meditating on sexy models

Sacred unions, sacred passions II: Freud and the irresistible sex drive


So right now I’m blogging about Dan Brennans book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions‘, subtitled ‘engaging the mystery of friendship between men and women’. I’ve started this series with a musical prelude, and part 1: beyond the the romantic myth but I had already introduced the subject in another post earlier this week.

So Dan writes in his book about cross-gender friendships, a topic that is naturally to me (and him) but still it is very controversial for some christians, and some others in this world. One of the reasons for having problems with the idea of cross-gender friends  is the way we view sexuality as an all-controlling power in our post-Freud age. Freud himself reacted rightly againt the repression of sexuality in his victorian age, but what he gave in return was the other evil side of the pendulum… He sexualised and genitalised every form of human tenderness, and interest between the sexes and even within the same sex(even between mother-son and sister-brother pairs) and this myth has been deeply injected in the fundaments of our modern western way of viewing relationships, even for conservative christians.

If you combine this with an almost medieval worldview on creation order, that is still alive in some more conservative strains of evangelical christianity, you get a very deterministic view on any kind of relationships, which does in fact not differ much from St-Augustines, who was so affraid of women that he didn’t let his widowed stepsister stay in the same house as himself. but those were they days the church was absolutely negative about both sex and women (which is not very biblical, just read the song of Solomon…) and I don’t think anyone wants to go back to that time…

Like Dan points out: For many conservative believers, sexual drive towards the other sex is almost embraced as a nonnegotiable part of the created order. A number of Christians, like my former pastor (who told me I was playing with fire), believe men and women are hardwired for sex, as if that is the sole purpose for female-male relationality in Christ’s Kingdom and the world. It is “natura!” and therefore predictable for men and women who enter into any kind of close relationship with each other to take it to the next and ultimate level—which would mean having sex. Romantic and sexual coupling is in our genes as a man and a woman get close to one another, according to this interpretation.
Nature takes over and overrides the best of intentions between the sexes with irresistible force. Conversation, then, about male-female relations before marriage or in addition to marriage immediately goes toward temptation, lust, avoidance, rules, and boundaries. The discussion quickly degenerates into finding a list of rules to stave off powerful sexual urges. This common approach, however, is in danger of reading into the divine order a narrow, Freudian view of human nature as well as the romantic myth.

And from elsewhere: When Christian communities make Freud’s view of sexuality (even modified) and the romantic myth “compatible” with their biblical principles, the idealization of marriage becomes coherent with the rejection of intimate male-female friendship beyond marriage or outside of marriage: all the gestures, pleasures, emotions, and desires of nonromantic love are genitalized on this side of Freud. (..) As Lisa McMinn comments: “Although Freud has been misunderstood and criticized for saying so, hè saw sexual energy as the life force that motivates all human behavior. When conservative Christians adapt a modified Freudian view of sexuality and conflate the romantic myth with the meaning of one flesh, one wonders how Christian husbands and wives are able to pursue deep intimacy and become companions on the marital journey. Perhaps the greatest enemy of marriage when the notion of one flesh has been made synonymous with the romantic myth is the one flesh vision of marriage itself. When the romantic myth makes sex and romantic passion the end of marriage, it creates impossible standards. As Tallis notes, in romantic idealism “we unwittingly expect love to deliver the kind of happiness that was associated with a direct experience of the numinous. In effect, we look to another human being to give life meaning and purpose.

So what is the problem? First that those 2 cultural myths are adapted and used as foundation of bible-exegesis, on which we build our view of relationships. And worldviews and expectations are really self-fulfilling. If you just believe self-control does not exist, and that it’s only logical to look at women like sex objects, it will be that way. I am reminded here in a scene of the narnia book ‘the magicians nephew’, where the evil uncle Andrew, who does not believe in talking animals, tells to himself they are just making animal noises. And in the end he isn’t able to hear anything but animal noises, even if he would try (and the speaking animals don’t recognise his speech as language either.) I believe it is the same with the way how we look at the role of our sex drive: if we genitalise it all, all will be genitalised. If we start from friendship, mutual respect, and love, we will end with them…

It is not true that when I’m in love with a girl, that I have to start a relationship with her. Au contraire, even if you’re both in love you can decide to not start a relationship if you know it wouldn’t work… Like I did once. Neither is the sexual drive ever irresistible. If you really cannot fight temptation, you have a problem, and might even be a danger to society. There are enough people whose life proves that the irresistible sex drive is just a lie, christians and non-christians alike. And others who’ve made it truth in their own universe…

And especially we as Christians should not fall for such determinism that gives our flesh so much power! Don’t we believe in the fruits of the Spirit, including self-control? Don’t we believe that we are called to love each opther (a command which is never sex-segregated) and that in christ we as brothers and sisters live in a new reality, in which there is neither ‘greek’ or ‘jew’, nor male and female? We may do like the bible as a source for abstract truths, but when will we learn to live inside it’s new reality? Did Jesus die in vain to reconcile us, if all we want to believe is exagerrated psychological and biological determinisms, and the power of our flesh? shouldn’t we be living in the law of love, the resurrection and the new life?

shalom

Bram