Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Can We Be Friends? (A woman asks a married man.)

posted by Scot McKnight

Gilbert Meilaender, in a well-known essay originally published in First Things, explored the classical issues surrounding an issue that emerged yesterday in our reposting of Carolyn Custis James’ post. The issue is this: Can a married man be a serious “friend” with a woman who is not his wife? And, alternatively, can a married women be a serious “friend” with a man who is not her husband? 

Meilaender explores this question through the lens of the classical world where there was a general and widespread conviction that men and women didn’t do well as friends. Meilaender then explores the nuances of the question for a world that has changed dramatically: “Are there reasons why friendship between men and women may be more difficult to sustain than same-sex friendships?”
Yes, there are many differences between our world and the classical world, not the least of which is the gradual and greatly improved equalization of women in our culture and the education of women. But there remains the obvious: the sexualization of the other, and this often is expressed in terms of the man not being able to handle the woman’s sexuality.
A scenario: your daughter or your son is now married, and delights in his or her spouse. Your son or your daughter come to you and says, “I have a close friend, of the opposite sex, who is not married. That person would like me to have coffee alone just to chat. Mom, Dad, what is your advice? What is your wisdom?
Scenario two: what are the principles you use in your cross-gender relationships? Do you have any conscious principles? What are they? Any concrete lines over which you will not cross?


There is, of course, the exclusivism of the married: Lewis says man and woman in marriage are “face to face” while friends are “side to side,” creating an exclusive no-third-party-allowed dimension to marriage. And a cross-gendered friendship, if it is indeed serious, threatens the face to face exclusivism of a married couple. Meilaender comments: “Friends, therefore, are happy to welcome a new friend who shares their common interest, but eros is a jealous love that must exclude third parties.”

I submit that this is an issue of degree not an issue of either/or, but safeguards are to be in place so as not to threaten the face to face love of a husband and wife.
Which is where a new book comes in: Dan Brennan, a married man with at least two close relationships with two females (other than his wife), both known to his wife and known well, has self-published his longtime interest in this topic. His book, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women
, which is nothing if not a strong defense of the legitimacy of cross-gendered relationships even for the married, explores all the topics.


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dopderbeck

posted March 18, 2010 at 12:03 pm


I suppose I am an old curmudgeon on this, but I’ll say it again: marital infidelity is one of the great destroyers of churches today. It’s a plague. Of course men and women can be friends with each other without the relationship being inappropriate or sexual. If one or the other of these friends is married, however, that friendship simply cannot have the degree of freedom and intimacy of a “Jonathan and David” relationship.
“Crossgendered friendships” and “the sexualization of the other” are cool, PC-sounding phrases for us enlightened folks. Intimacy between a man and a woman in marriage, however, is about much more than sex. Close individual friendships between men and women who are married to other people, IMHO, should in most cases be avoided, because they inevitably will impinge on the sanctity of the marriage.



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RJS

posted March 18, 2010 at 12:09 pm


dopderbeck,
Do you think that you could have a friendship with a male of the “Jonathan and David” sort – intimate, not sexual – that did not impinge on the sanctity of marriage?



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RJS

posted March 18, 2010 at 12:17 pm


Interesting questions – with respect to the second set: what are the principles you use in your cross-gender relationships? Do you have any conscious principles? What are they? Any concrete lines over which you will not cross?
A few jump to mind -
1. Friendship, coffee, meetings, should always be known to your spouse.
2. Never, ever criticize or complain about your spouse. You two are a team in the face of the world. This is a good general rule for same-gender friendships as well. Occasionally one does need mentoring or advice – but general gossip should always be avoided.
3. Maintain space (physical space).
4. Groups (3 or 4) are good.
5. Public places



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Daniel

posted March 18, 2010 at 12:30 pm


Dopderbeck, I agree with you. There were two girls who were my best friends in college, one older than me and one younger. Both were like sisters. The older one got married first, and I watched her withdraw from our friendship as she drew closer to her husband. At first it was weird, but also the way it should be. As I was getting more serious with the girl I was dating (now my wife), I found myself pulling away from the younger friend who was like my sister. It had nothing to do with “jealousy” from my wife, because she is not jealous. But I am VERY conscious that she is to be my deepest relationship and every other relationship with the opposite sex cannot be anywhere as close.
But I also have a male best friend that is a confidant and sounding board. We support each other, check up on each other’s marriage and life, etc. There are things that we talk about that I don’t share as in depth as I do with my wife. And my wife has another woman she does the same with. It has helped our marriage and relationship grow as we have developed trust and friendships outside of our marriage.
Does that make sense?



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Joey

posted March 18, 2010 at 12:33 pm


This is near and dear to my heart. Two of my absolute closest friends are married females.
I admit, it is a bit odd. We have worked hard for our friendship (which were established before they were married). Their husbands are near and dear to my heart as well and I am their biggest advocate and their personal cheer squad. But, as Scot (I assume he wrote this post) suggests I have intentional conscious principles that have been important to these relationships. As they both became married I very intentionally talked with their husbands. I told them that I expect them to be honest with me about their feelings and that I will respect their wishes in regards to my relationship with their wives.
When one came to me upset using the word “divorce” I, along with three other close friends, helped coach her away from that language. I also advocated for the husband and encouraged him in any way that I could becoming a bit of a liaison for a period of separation for them. They are now as happy as they have ever been but it took a lot of hard work on their part.
I believe it is possible for this to work because it does in my life. It has taken commitment to principle, honesty and openness, and a lot of hard work but our relationships are healthy. I have no problem taking either woman out for dinner alone and their husbands have complete confidence in my relationship with their wife because they know that my love for their marriage is greater than my love for either of them individually.



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Jeremy

posted March 18, 2010 at 12:42 pm


It seems to me that what we want to be true is for friendships to be safe and appropriate regardless of gender, but due to human failure, it may not be worth the risk. This is not to say that we can’t have good cross-gender relationships, but that the line is somewhere farther out than it would be same gendered.
RJS (#2), I think the problem is that there is an unavoidable sexual component. We are inherently sexual beings, whether we want to admit it or not. The question to me is how do we allow for that danger yet interact with each other in a way that neither demeans or minimizes the other sex?
To be completely fair, some platonic “Jonathon and David” relationships may cross the line of marital priority and intimacy too.



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Joey

posted March 18, 2010 at 12:44 pm


To affirm what others are saying a bit: our relationship did change after they were married. That is important and necessary as they learn to face one another. It has been a joy watching them grow deeper in love and I’m happy to have my role shifted for the sake of their marriages.



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Steve

posted March 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm


Coupla thoughts:
1) Personal experience has led me to believe that men aren’t friends with women. I have yet to meet a man who would say of his female ‘friend,’ “I would adamantly refuse to take this relationship to a romantic level, even if she were to initiate and pursue this.” There may be all sorts of reasons why this particular female friend is not more than a friend, (they are married, I am married, they aren’t interested, etc.) but I have yet to meet someone who was not at least open to the possibility of more under different circumstances. This makes the term ‘friendship’ misleading. I am not open to any romantic involvement, under any circumstances, with any of my male friends.
2) The conversation always seems to focus on male sexual desire to the exclusion of female sexuality. It is my observation that males and females ‘lust’ in different ways. Men lust after women. Women lust after being lusted after. While I am not a woman (and so this is an observation made from the outside looking in), it seems that women who claim “It’s not sexual,” are not being completely honest with themselves when evaluated the way male attention (and specifically this male ‘friend’) contributes to their own self-image and sense of personal worth. It may not be sexual in the sense of a desire for ‘skin on skin,’ but there is still a sexual aspect to all male-female friendships that simply isn’t present in female-female relationships. This is why women are confused about men who can’t be ‘just friends.” But it isn’t friendship…
3) The main issue should not be seen in terms of ‘skin on skin’ sex. The deeper issues at work in both men and women who have ‘friends’ of the opposite sex have more to do with identity and worth on both sides. It is this underlying search for connection and affirmation that is essential to human sexuality. It is this aspect of relationships that we must be cautiously aware of; this type of intimacy is not healthy for men and women to find in each other when they are not married to each other, and this type of intimacy is hard to avoid when men and women spend significant time with each other.



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RJS

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:01 pm


Jeremy #6,
Substantially further out, and it depends on what we mean by friendship as well.
How is friendship defined?



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Fisher

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:07 pm


As a married man, I have close female friends in really only two ‘categories’: pastors and lesbians. In both, any kind of sexual attraction is just not there and they’re like sisters. My wife sometimes wonders why I have this network of female pastors (I find them easier to talk to about faith, forgiveness and such, having had some bad experiences with macho hellfire-and-brimstone male preachers), but she jokes about my lesbian sisters (who I met in church).



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Sue

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:09 pm


Steve, #8
Wow, do you have any kind of sociological research to back up anything that you say, or are you just generalizing from your own experience? Could it be that other people’s experiences are different from yours?



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dopderbeck

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:12 pm


I think Jeremy (#6) is right. Much as we like to think we can be enlightened and post-sexual, we cannot. Human beings are sexual beings. An intimate friendship with someone of the opposite sex (or the of the same sex if that is your orientation) will always have a sexual component at some level. It may be possible to choose not to act on that component, but the complications for married people are vast.



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Andrew Kenny

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:13 pm


AS Paul told Timothy
Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
If you do it any other way you may get burned!



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Don Hendricks

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:17 pm


As I near 60, I can truthfully say that I have had many many women who were friends, some younger and some older. It is because I am a minister
and their was a degree of trust and many structures to facilitate deep conversations and friendships. It never reached the coffee shop and dinner level because of the conventions of living in the south.



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Scott W

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:19 pm


As one who has been in three contexts in ministry situations where cross-gender relationships with married women have proved tricky, I see this as reflection on how superficial cross-gender relationships are in practice because we are not 1)honest with ourselves about the sexual energy at play and 2) are inexperienced with the emotional dynamics of such relationships. We tend to address this by simply trying to be “good Christians,” quoting Scripture, telling ourselves that we are better than “non-Christians” or if we not full of hubris we live in unhealthy fear of our sexual energies, suppress them or live in a type of denial by not dealing with the opposite sex in such a way to expose our emotional vulnerability, which is problematic in itself.
When I was in seminary I read a empirical study of Southern Baptist ministers involved in sexual misconduct. The two variables that were problematic were 1) lack of self-knowledge and 2)the inability to deal with transference issues in ministry. These two factors are two sided of the same coin. Often instead of doing the painful, difficult work of coming to terms with our humanity (including our sexuality) and the distortions thereof we suffer from, we settle with “objective” means which such as repression, suppression, denial, fear, and exclusion. What has to happen is a psycho-spiritual purification which can only from ongoing work with a good spiritual director/couselor and facing ourselves honestly without emotional projections. In other words, we have to become truly mature. For some, this can only happen after they’ve had some kind of crisis and they humble themselves. And sadly sometimes our “Pharisaical” attitudes about sexuality (in cross-gender terms) in some Christian circles actually set us up for problems and failure.



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Peter

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:28 pm


34 years this June we’ve been married. Probably can’t remember all the people that we’ve counselled or comforted while they cried over marital stress or even fracture because of one party’s friendship with someone else, almost always someone of the opposite sex. Paul, in the interest of unity in the body, asks, “Why not rather be wronged?” In the interest of my marriage, I ask a similar question: “Why not work on your relationship with your spouse and let someone else be this person’s friend?” Harsh, painful but not as harsh nor as painful as divorce.



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Jeremy

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:30 pm


RJS, Not nice! Never ask a philosophy student to define anything. We tend to either write 800 page treatise or melt into puddles. I am of the melting variety. :(
Joking aside, defining friendship seems to be the important issue in this thread. As a businessman, I wouldn’t blink at taking a female colleague to lunch or coffee. It wouldn’t bother me at all to talk about somewhat personal stuff either. There is a level of “colleague-ness” that can be held on to that helps define the boundaries of the relationship (usually).
However, it seems to me that true friendship involves some level of intimacy and self-giving, and “close friendship” tends to also imply a great level of both vulnerability and trust. I think the danger lies in close or overly intimate friendships that cross gender. Vulnerability has a way of making us stupid, especially when things aren’t so grand on the home front (which they will inevitably be at some point).



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Priestly Goth

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:38 pm


Various comments here have hinted at my first question: Why is it assumed that intimate same-gender friendships do not pose a threat as cross-gender friendships? My wife and I have gay and lesbian friends, so for both of us the issue of considering gender when it comes to close an intimate friendships can hardly be a criterion for what entails a safe non-sexual non-erotic friendship. Once you set aside the idea that gender is the locus of threat in friendship to a marriage, and you admit as both comments and the post itself admit that non-sexual intimacy can be a break of the marriage vows, than one simply has to conduct oneself in a disciplined fashion in all ones relationships male or female, or gender queer.
It seems to me that if intimacy and not merely sexual act itself may be a violation of marriage vows then one could violate those vows with a friend of the same gender even if there is not sexual attraction or same-sex orientation. Thus in the final analysis I would argue it is the marriage vows themselves that can be the only defense against marital infidelity, and it makes marriage itself a highly ascetic and disciplined life in which one must look at all ones involvements, relationships and intimacies and see if one has become “married” in action to those other than ones spouse. For pastors it could be their congregations, we even speak of being married to ones work or career. Focusing on gender of a friend distracts us from the potentiality of infidelity beyond lust and follow through of lust.
Focus on the gender of a friend and thus insisting on same gender friendships as a means to preserve fidelity, is a cop out in my view: an easy way to think one has ensured fidelity when the question of marital fidelity is much larger and more demanding than this question. One’s vows and thus ones own psychology then are the principles from which one would make principles for yourself in this area. I am sure some are incapable of cross gender friendships as married individuals, but my suspicion would be that other things in that persons life are also a threat to fidelity, not simply the gender of their friends.



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Jennifer

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:43 pm


Scot – I am so gld you are talking about this book. Dan has written something very substantial on ths subject that goes far beyond anything that has been written before.
I get so tired of hearing (in subtle ways) that women are too dangerous to be friends with – or ride in a car with, or ride in an elelvator with, or meet with alone, etc. Real, deep, serious friendship is possible and I have enjoyed such for years.
I agree that close friendship between men and women should be open – that is, the spouses should be aware. But it is possible for it to be “real” friendship where the friends spend time just like “normal” friends would. Dan explores these issues well.
I think this will be a very good book for moving the conversation forward.



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Kenny Johnson

posted March 18, 2010 at 2:04 pm


I don’t think I could have a close friendship with a woman who is not my wife. Before I was married I had a female friend and things didn’t stay completely platonic — and my current wife was originally “just a friend.”
I have female friends: Co-workers who I have had lunch with and casual friends I see at work or church, but none of these friendships could ever be like some of the male friendships I have. Nor do I desire them to be. My wife and I both agree that there needs to be clear boundaries in regards to our friendships with the opposite sex — and generally speaking that means that the friendships aren’t anything more than casual.
I’m sure it is possible to have non-sexual feelings towards a person of the opposite sex who you are close to — but I also know that it’s easy for those feelings to change. I will not risk my marriage for the sake of additional companionship. I also don’t need anyone (including my wife) to ever be skeptical of my marital fidelity. That’s much easier to do when I keep clear boundaries.



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kent

posted March 18, 2010 at 2:07 pm


Edwin Friedman, a rabbi taught very clearly that in order for temptation or illness or anything that is trying to make us do or be something, there has to be a receptor, or receptivity for it. If I am without question committed to my spouse I can have any friend regardless of gender. If there is no receptivity there is no problem. Thus the issue is with me not the other person.



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RJS

posted March 18, 2010 at 2:21 pm


Jeremy (#17),
Not nice perhaps – but the crux of the issue. And it meshes a bit with the conversation on yesterday’s post. We have many different kinds of friends.
Presumably your female colleagues are friends of a sort – although not intimate friends. There are lines – and it is important to maintain appropriate limits, with a self-awareness to the potential problems.
Take a specific example … I’ve never met either David Opderbeck or Scot face-to-face and we live in well separated places, but clearly share some common interests. If we were in the same place would it be acceptable to go to Starbucks occasionally and discuss some of these interests face-to-face as friends – or is that off-limits?
In the play it safe at all costs view – this would be off limits. (No “colleague-ness” to define the boundary and no business need to meet.)
I have struggled at times with how to live as a Christian in the (very competitive) secular academy – and the struggle has been made harder by the lack of Christian mentors or “friends” who understand. This gender boundary has been the biggest factor – because without a business related “need to meet” it is viewed as not quite right – and all of the (very few) I knew who might have been in a position to provide a useful sounding board and perspective are married and male, while I am married and female.



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DRT

posted March 18, 2010 at 2:22 pm


A couple points
- My Pastor (a wise and very accepting person) shocked our church one Sunday a couple of years ago by making, then repeating, the statement that if you are married you cannot have a best friend of the opposite sex. After wrestling with this for awhile I agree. It is a good rule to live by. The reason is not purely sexual, though that is a component. Presumably, one is “getting something” from that relationship that you should cultivate in your spouse. Several people in the congregation freaked out because they had best friends of the opposite sex ……
- My wife and I implicitly know that we cannot have close friends that are potential sexual partners due to jealousy of the other. Having said that, she allows me to push that limit as far as I want.
- My close to 50 years of experience show that close friendships with potential sexual partners (hows that for PC) is frequently fulfilled in the biblical sense…..
Dave



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Jennifer

posted March 18, 2010 at 2:23 pm


dopderbeck and Jeremy (in particular):
I am a single female who has had several true, intimate and holy friendships with men, both married and single. Is it always possible? No. But when it is, what a rich blessing! We are indeed always sexual being, and always relate in relationships as sexual beings (with those of the same as well as opposite sex). The problem arises when we as believers (often without realizing it) echo the unredeemed world and reduce sexuality to the genital. Sexuality is much deeper than that (even in marriage!), and it is not something to fear, but to respect and submit to the glorious power of redemption. I like how Lewis Smedes has put it: ?Male and female relate to each other as sexually defined persons, and sexuality infiltrates and permeates every personal relationship. . . . The more we affirm it with thanks the less likely we are to be deluded by the fear that any sexually exciting relationship will lead to the bedroom.?
It is true that sin is a serious danger in relationships between men and women in a way that feels different to most of us than the dangers that exist in relationships with the same sex. But we are called to do much more than manage the sin in our lives – we are called to walk in redemption! That redemption can bring us to a place where we can delight and rejoice in the sexuality of our friends, both men and women, in holiness and purity (as indeed, I believe Jesus, in his own fully masculine humanity, did). Stanly Grenz does a job of describing what this looks like:
“. . . a distinction exists between sexual desire and the desire for sex, both of which arise out of our basic sexuality. ‘Sexual desire’ refers to the need we all share to experience wholeness and intimacy through relationships with others. It relates to the dimension often called eros, the human longing to possess and be possessed by the object of one?s desire. Understood in this way, eros ought not be limited to genital sexual acts, but encompasses a broad range of human actions and desires, and it participates even in the religious dimension of life in the form of the desire to know and be known by God. For many people, the desire for sex, the longing to express one?s sexuality through genital acts (venus), is psychologically inseparable from sexual desire. Nevertheless, for the development of true sexual maturity, a person must come to terms with the differences between these two dimensions and learn to separate them both in one?s psychological state and in overt action.”
Life in Christ makes this become more fully human in this way possible. Praise god that we do not need to be inherently dangerous to each other in our sexuality.



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Your Name

posted March 18, 2010 at 2:26 pm


Kenny,
I think it is possible to have both – a strong, protected marriage where faithfulness is not questioned, and close male-female friendships.
For example, my husband loves St Patrick’s Day, but I had to go to a meeting last night. He had a female friend over (who is newly married, but her husband is out of town) for corned beef and cabbage – which I made for them. While I was sitting at my meeting, I wished I could have been home to have fun with them, but it never crossed my mind to question anyone’s fidelity.



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Kenny Johnson

posted March 18, 2010 at 2:43 pm


Your Name,
I am not prescribing any advice to someone else’s marriage. I can only speak of what is true for my marriage. With that said, I never said that we wouldn’t have dinner or coffee with someone of the opposite sex. In fact, I stated that I have had lunch with female co-workers.
For me it’s more about the nature of the relationship. I don’t think it’s right for me to get too emotionally close to a woman other than my wife. I think it’s dangerous for my marriage. I don’t trust myself.



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Your Name

posted March 18, 2010 at 2:55 pm


Kenny,
I get curious when people say “I dont trust myself.” I just dont know what is meant by that. Most people trust themselves to go into a store and not steal – would it be possible to steal? Of course, it might even be tempting. But most people come to a place of being okay with a low-level kind of temptation around that. Why are issues of friendship so different?



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Brian

posted March 18, 2010 at 2:59 pm


When I married it was my hope that my friends would become my wife’s friends also.



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Bob Smietana

posted March 18, 2010 at 3:14 pm


“Affairs do not begin with kisses; they begin with lunch. Or something like it.”
That’s a great line from a story on Salon.com from a couple years back.
http://www.salon.com/sex/feature/2003/02/28/email/index.html
The author’s point was that if you’re married, and you have lunch with someone of the opposite sex and don’t tell you’re spouse, that’s the first step to an affair.
I have a number of women friends. If I’m having lunch with a woman, I tell my wife about it. Seems like a good habit.



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Jennifer

posted March 18, 2010 at 3:20 pm


Bob,
Your comments make me think of my very close friend’s wife. She has full knowledge of my friendship with her husband, and she has prayed some of the most beautiful prayers over me on that subject – asking God to bless my friendship with her husband, asking it to prosper and bring good things to both of us. She not only knows about our friendship, she blesses it deeply.



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Mark

posted March 18, 2010 at 3:47 pm


There is no singular answer to this. I love how people take a very complex situation with many variables, and try to distill it down to something very simple, and straightforward.
Every marriage is different. Period. Every relationship has it’s own unique boundaries, and characteristics. Although some generalizations can be made about certain aspects of many relationships, each specific situation would need to be evaluated individually.
Can men and women be friends with someone of the opposite gender who is NOT their spouse? Absolutely. Although some of these relationships may eventually cause marital issues of varying degrees, there is no singular answer to either of your scenarios. Too many variables, too many personalities, too little time.
Generally speaking though, I would personally discourage these kinds of relationships for the majority of couples I know. Although my wife and I are VERY much in love after 18 years of marriage, we seem to be in the vast minority. Too often these kinds of relationships lead to a bad place, though when done right, they can be wonderful for all involved.



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Your Name

posted March 18, 2010 at 3:48 pm


The fact of the matter is self control! I am still “best friends” with my very first love. We met when we were 13yrs old. We tried several times through the years to have a relationship, but found out that we were better just “best friends”. Almost 40 yrs later, he is still my best “guy friend”. I know that I can go to him for help, or just call him when I need to talk.
Did I mention that I am happily married to the man of my dreams. I got married five years ago for the first time.And I told my husband to be, about the special friendship that I have with this man right from the beginning. My husband knows where my heart is, as does my friend. As long as the lines do not become crossed, yes you can be friends with the opposite sex. However your best friend should be reserved for your spouse.



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DCP

posted March 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm


If your spouse is your first and best friend, and you’re regularly investing in that relationship, other relationships – male or female – shouldn’t threaten that. If that relationship is shaky, then one should proceed with caution in other relationships, especially cross-gender. How many women have issues with their husbands going off with their male friends at times? I have several male friends; I will meet them in a public place for coffee (usually for specific reasons (working on a project, etc.). I would be careful about going places with them in a car, except for a quick ride to drop off somewhere. That’s just me. I know where our relationship stands. Others may not. And my husband is always aware of these friendships and meetings. If I felt that any of these guys were having issues with their wives, they shouldn’t be looking for something from me and I should be aware of the problems weakness can bring.
I think we are missing something if we limit ourselves to only relationships with the same sex – if we have likeminded friends of the opposite sex – we should receive that as a gift, without fear.



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Kenny Johnson

posted March 18, 2010 at 4:04 pm


Your Name,
I can say that I am almost never tempted to steal when I go to a store. Shoplifting is not something I have any desire for. I can’t say that I’d have the same mental restraint of a sexual advance by beautiful woman who I was also emotionally connected to. I’d like to think that I could, but why make things harder for myself?
Do you truly not see a difference? I suppose it because you never deal with feelings of lust?



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DRT

posted March 18, 2010 at 4:08 pm


Am I the only one here now secretly wanting to see pictures of everyone writing in :0 (only for scientific purposes, of course)
I wasn’t thinking that way when we talk about all the other subjects on this blog.
Dave



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Jennifer

posted March 18, 2010 at 4:20 pm


I think my biggest concern with this issue is the way we as Christian communities so often limit our spiritual growth. We are satisfied with practices that are sin management rather than challenging each other to press into deeper healing of our brokenness that can lead to a freedom of holiness and truly loving the other. As a friend of mine recently observed, we can be sexually “pure” without being sexually healthy.
Having read Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, I think one of the best things about the book is the way it challenges us to a broader and deeper vision of what being fully human in the community of Christ calls us towards in the ways we relate to each other as men and women.



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Karl

posted March 18, 2010 at 4:27 pm


I like RJS’ advice in #3 and agree with Mark’s comments in #31. Such friendships can exist. So, the following is written against that backdrop.
I do think though that generally speaking, there is a difference in how the sexes experience such friendships. I realize it’s dangerous to speak in generalities. But I think most women would be shocked and appalled to know the specific details – rather than just giving a nod to the broad category of “temptation” – of what goes on in the minds of most men over the course of a lunch with a female friend who the man finds physically attractive (note – that last is an important distinction). Not that every single man would have such thoughts. Nor that those who do, would necessarily act on them or even give an inkling of what just ran through their mind. But I’m convinced that most women only *think* they know what it’s like for most men in the area of broken male sexuality.
Cue The Police: “Don’t Stand so Close to Me”
and
the “Men and Women Can’t be Friends” scene from When Harry Met Sally.



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Kenny Johnson

posted March 18, 2010 at 4:31 pm


DRT,
For the record… I didn’t mean to imply that I am some catch and I have to beat off women with a stick. :) And no, you can’t see my picture. ;)



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Jennifer

posted March 18, 2010 at 4:36 pm


Karl, I think most men would be stunned if they knew what goes through the minds of many women, including Christian women, when they are in the presence of attractive men. Especially when they are ovulating.



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Jennifer

posted March 18, 2010 at 4:37 pm


Karl,
Yeah, that is an issue. I think what Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions is suggesting is that men (or women) dont have to be slave to feeling attracted. Honestly, attraction exists in every friendship – you are attracted to friendship with that person for a reason. I’ve read this book and it’s not suggesting that attraction doesnt exist, but rather, that attraction can be shaped into something honoring to everyone involved.



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Jennifer #39

posted March 18, 2010 at 4:40 pm


Love it :-)
…and there are 2 Jennifer’s in this conversation. I’m not talking to myself. :-)



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Chrissy

posted March 18, 2010 at 4:45 pm


I personally think that friendships between a married person and a non-married person of the opposite sex are dangerous.
So quickly, things can turn and all of a sudden the relationship takes a romantic turn. Sometimes this happens before either party is really, truly aware that it’s happening.
I don’t mind IN THE LEAST if my husband has casual female friends. I’m absolutely NOT the jealous type. But if he befriends a woman and then suddenly begins to confide in her, or begins spending time with her that could be spent with me and our family, that’s when I really have an issue.
I believe God intended husband and wife to be best friends. I realize this doesn’t always happen, but rather than making other opposite-sex friendships, couples should work on strengthening their own, if you ask me.
Thankfully, my husband feels exactly as I do.



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Jennifer in Chicago (comments 24, 36, and 39)

posted March 18, 2010 at 4:57 pm


Making sure your spouse is your best friend and has ultimate priority doesn’t have to preclude deep, intimate friendships with others. In fact, I don’t think it *should*. To put the burden of fulfilling all our significant relational needs on one person asks them to do the impossible.
Don’t get me wrong, some people because of weaknesses they themselves have, their spouse’s vulnerabilities, and/or the fragility of their marriage, shouldn’t go their. But we need a vision that reaches for a way of being and living that is more healthy and whole in our sexuality and relationship in a world that is so broken and deceived.



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dopderbeck

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:01 pm


RJS (#22) said: I’ve never met either David Opderbeck or Scot face-to-face and we live in well separated places, but clearly share some common interests. If we were in the same place would it be acceptable to go to Starbucks occasionally and discuss some of these interests face-to-face as friends – or is that off-limits?
I respond: I think that clearly would be ok — and I hope we can do that some day! Here’s where we’re wrestling with different kinds of “friendship.” I’ve never had an issue with women as “friends” who share various interests — for example, my best friends in the legal profession are mostly women. But the example here is, let’s go to a public place like Starbucks to talk about theology. A clear boundary can be set around that with a defined set of expectations.
My concerns are more over the kinds of friendships I’ve seen happen in local churches, where the person becomes a close personal confidant, they start getting together socially without the buffer of the spouse or other people being present, they start sharing things about their marriages, they start emailing and texting private personal notes, there’s a little flirting …. boundaries small and large start getting crossed…
My sense of the original post was a ruing of the fact that a man and a woman can’t have a “normal” friendship without being concerned over propriety, and that most of these concerns about propriety have to do with the male sexualizing of women in our culture. My pushback is that the concerns and the boundary expectations that have to be set are in many ways legitimate, particularly in the context of local church leadership.



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Karl

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:02 pm


Jennifer (39) I’m sure that’s true. And you made me smile. But I still think there is – generally speaking – a difference. Take what a woman feels and thinks one or two days a month while ovulating, make that a month-long condition, and amp it up several notches in both intensity and specificity/graphic detail, and you might get an idea. Again, generally speaking. Individual men and women will vary. I don’t want to get into a “who lusts more” contest, nor am I trying to paint men as lust-driven animals and women as pure, shrinking violets who have nary a lustful thought or feeling. I just think that because women DO have lustful thoughts and feelings as you describe, they believe they know what it’s like for men. And usually they don’t, IMO.



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David P Himes

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:04 pm


Well, I’m a 60 yr old guy. And I have a number of female friends. Several of which have been so for 20+ years. None have been a threat to my wife or our relationship, and she knows of them all.
Part of the reason, I’m sure, is that I take my faith very seriously and have at times overtly avoided situations which I thought might leave inappropriate impressions.
But I also think Chrissy made an important observation, when she spoke of sharing confidences and taking time away from wife and family. In general terms, I think women are more likely to seek emotional intimacy in friendships than are men. And when a cross-gender relationship crosses into emotional intimacy, men are more likely to be tempted to translate that into sexual intimacy.
I think that is the line — emotional intimacy. The difficulty is staying sufficiently aware of where that line is. Which, of course, is also why, as Chrissy observed, “friendships between a married person and a non-married person of the opposite sex are dangerous”.
If dangerous is too strong, let’s at least agree on “risky.”



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Jennifer (in Seattle)

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:05 pm


Dopderbeck
Would it make a difference to you if the friends were doing something socially (or writing emails, or sending texts, or whatever) with the full knowledge – and blessing – of the spouses? Would it make a difference if the spouses blessed the friends time – if they prayed for good connection between the friends?



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Julie Clawson

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:10 pm


I think PriestlyGoth (#18) hit on a good point – anything can come between a married couple. It could be a cross-gender friendship or it could be a non-sexual same-gender friendship – or work, or video games, or shopping, or church. I think to blame marriage issues solely on cross-gender friendships ignores the issues. It is easy to say a male pastor can’t ever be friends with or mentor women, but a lot harder to say his commitment to church is causing him to be unfaithful to his wife.
The underlying issue that arises here is that in our culture of fear on this issue it is generally women who end up hurt – we are kept out of the boys clubs, left out of business trips, barred from church boards and ministry positions, bereft of mentors in our fields because the guys in church think it is “too dangerous” to spend time with us and get to know us. That line ends up being just another support keeping the glass ceiling firmly in place.



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Jeremy

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:18 pm


RJS,
Let me be clear up front: I’m not one of the safe-at-all-costs types. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to have friends of the opposite sex, and I think there should be any problem with you sitting down with Scot or David for coffee or lunch. There is a shared interest and mutual respect that would act as a sort of “colleague-ness.” There’s a line somewhere that I think may shift depending on the individual instances, but I think it’s a far cry from Graham’s refusal to get on an elevator alone with a woman.
I’m still struggling to define ‘friend’ in any way that isn’t overly complex or long. I would personally shy away from the scenario given in the post on the “alone” bit…if my relationship with you somehow requires the exclusion of my wife to maintain its level of intimacy, then I think there’s a problem. Remove that, and I’d have asked my wife, not my parents.
Jennifer (39): In my experience, when it comes to sexuality, women are by far the stronger sex. I know that women are just as sexual as men and struggle with lust. However, it is telling that the sex industry is geared largely towards men, and I think it’s more than simple socialization.



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Jennifer (in Seattle)

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:22 pm


Jeremy,
I think the situation changes if the spouse is blessing the friendship though. I bless my husband’s friendships with women, and dont feel like I need to be there to act as a chaperone. He had a woman friend over last night while I was at a meeting and I blessed their time together (I even made their dinner before I left!)



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Jennifer in Chicago (comments 24, 36, and 39)

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:24 pm


Karl,
For many if not most women I know, it is a “month-long condition.” It just gets kicked into the stratosphere a quarter or so of the time.
I don’t think I know what it’s like for men. I’m not a man. But I’ve listened to them, and I know there are huge assumptions generally about women and sex drive that are ridiculously naive. (I’m not using the term lust because I don’t believe sexual attraction and/or sex drive equates with lust. But that’s my nuance, and I believe I understand what you mean in using the term.)
In many situations (though not necessarily yours, Karl) men are naive about women and sex because there is such a stigma on women who talk about it, particularly in mixed company. For what at least seems like good reason, women are usually silent on the subject.



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RJS

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:29 pm


Jeremy, dopderbeck, and Julie Clawson,
This is where I think it is crucial to be self-aware and prepared – but to think things through. I agree that the “alone” is a problem in the question Scot posed in the post – all meetings may not have spouses present, but it should never be a requirement to omit the spouse to maintain an exclusivity. And David I agree with all of your points about becoming confidants and sharing things about marriage and so forth – which was behind the list I gave in #3.
The problem arises when caution (a necessary and wise thing) leads to complete separation. Then the issues along the lines of Julie’s comment #48, which also reflects the point I tried to make both today and yesterday, become real problems.



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Jennifer in Chicago (comments 24, 36, and 39)

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:37 pm


Jeremy,
There is a huge sex industry focused directly on women – it’s called romance novels. I’ve told this to male friends in the past who later told me they thought it was maybe bad, but not really that bad. Until they saw one in a family member’s house and checked it. They were stunned. One of these is a friend with his own struggle with porn. His comment was that, while it was words rather than images, it was at least as graphic if not more so. The industry has the same kind of levels to draw addicts deeper that “traditional” porn does, with introductory, relatively innocent seeming “soft” porn all the way to hard core. And they send you your monthly fix in an unmarked plain brown box.
And the level at which women are becoming addicted to “traditional” porn as well is remarkable.
If women are “stronger” in dealing with sexual temptation, I believe it’s only because our culture has been more ready to form in them the belief that they can control themselves. Sexual formation, in some ways, has possibly been slightly better for women. But that should be a challenge to us as believers and churches, not an unavoidable reality.



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Bill

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:39 pm


Maybe this is showing my age, but wasn’t this question answered in the classic When Harry Met Sally movie – not entirely tongue in cheek



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Jennifer (in Seattle)

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:42 pm


Bill
LOL…that’s a great movie :-) But, its not what I want to base my theology of friendship on. I think Christian brother-sister love speaks much more deeply than Harry and Sally. You should read “Sacred Unions Sacred Passions” – it deals with this very example so well.



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Jeremy

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:48 pm


RJS, We’re in complete agreement then. I think ‘zero tolerance’ sort of stuff does more harm than good. Women should not be excluded from friendships and social situations on the basis of gender. I think a lot of women experience the problem my wife has: Where does a professional, non-girly sort of girl go to get discipled? She’s had no real desire or interest in being a housewife and enjoys laying out a retirement fund more than scrap booking. She’s more at home with the guys than with the girls and often feels like she has absolutely nothing in common with many of the other women in our church. To exclude her would be to shut her out completely.
Jennifer (50), I understand what you’re saying, but to be completely honest, I think you’re playing with fire. Blessed or not, boundaries are absolutely critical and ‘home alone with a woman that’s not my wife’ seems waaaaay across it for me. While I can’t speak to your situation, I can say from personal experience, some doors are best left closed.



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Jennifer (in Seattle)

posted March 18, 2010 at 5:54 pm


Jeremy,
I hear you. I’m not suggesting that other people do what we do. The reason why I mention it is to show that other people have boundaries which protect marriage, but allow for close friendships. I would never want to tell anyone what their boundaries should be – but I do want to push a little and say that other configurations of boundaries works too.



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Bill

posted March 18, 2010 at 6:01 pm


Jennifer
I agree much deeper than the movie but again only partly tongue in cheek – while our understanding of friendship and relationships should be an alternative to the world, I am afraid that is not always the case. While I have had dinner with female friends and been to the coffee shops with a female friend, my caution is also along the lines of not wanting any discussion to arise not only between the brothers and sisters but others who are looking in, so in my poor and often times haphazard way I would hope to project a life that is somewhat different than the more casual lifestyles apparently more acceptable in today’s culture



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Priestly Goth

posted March 18, 2010 at 6:11 pm


RJS (#52) I agree with you in your comment here, but if and only if this is applied to any intimate friendship not simply cross-gender relationships. I would say that there would be a problem if my intimate friendships with my male friends included the action or stipulation of always excluding my wife in our times together than that would be as problematic as such a scenario with any of my female friends.
Therefore the issue isn’t cross-gender friendship but the ways that friendship of whatever gender configuration in fact is in violation of my marital vows. If this is my criterion for friendship outside my marital vows than the vows and my self awareness and discipline are the primary defense. but now I am repeating myself.



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Dan Brennan

posted March 18, 2010 at 6:15 pm


Thank you, Scot, for your kindness in mentioning this and raising the subject. I have enjoyed the conversation so far.



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Sheila

posted March 18, 2010 at 6:19 pm


Dan asked me, “Are you going to chime in?” I replied, “Nope, I did my chiming in the book.”
That said, I urge y’all to read Da Book! You’ll be surprised and blessed, regardless of the position you’ve taken – really!!



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Your Name

posted March 18, 2010 at 6:39 pm


There is a great Facebook group on this book too
https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=283234117101&ref=ts



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an_anonymous_guy

posted March 18, 2010 at 6:50 pm


Ok, let me start this out by saying that I’m a celibate, gay guy. Besides the fact that this conversation has not really addressed how these issues would come into play for gay individuals, I’ve noticed that you’re treating everybody of the opp. sex equally. What I mean is that you’re not leaving much room for preferences. I mean C’mon there are certain people of the gender to which you’re attracted that you would never be interested in getting involved with. right?



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DRT

posted March 18, 2010 at 6:58 pm


Julie (48),
Your point really hit home for me. Yes, if men have the attitude that they have more/irresistible urges combined with a Christian ethic of avoiding sin can easily lead to discrimination. I dare say it definitely does, particularly in the churches.
But, the workplace is almost totally integrated at this point (IMHO). Is the big difference the fact that the more conservative personality of the stereotypical religious types make it OK to discriminate in church?
BTW, I did not realize how big of a problem this was before this post. Call me ostrich, but i did not.
Dave



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Treeman

posted March 18, 2010 at 7:19 pm


I have a number of female friends, although I am married. (This is mostly because of the fact that I work in a female-dominated profession.)
However, one married woman slipped in under my radar with emotional needs that friendship alone could not address. When I was forced to break off the relationship, she asked me point-blank: “Can’t a (married) man and woman be friends?”
My answer to that question was this: “Not this man and this woman.”
I believe that since each relationship is unique, we must allow the Holy Spirit the latitude to reveal to us whether a particular relationship is permissible, or whether it carries the potential to infringe upon the sacred bonds of matrimony.



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Dan Brennan

posted March 18, 2010 at 7:23 pm


Hi An anonymous gay guy,
On attraction, I think you are spot on. There are also different kinds and levels of attraction. A huge part of friendship though, is preferential love/attraction. For the gay community, at least for those outside of the Christian community, there are studies suggesting cross-gender friendships are entirely fruitful.



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Mike

posted March 18, 2010 at 8:55 pm


All of these comments and yet no mention of the timeless classic, When Harry Met Sally. Possibly there are many altruistic men out there who would never find themselves attracted to a good friend of the opposite sex, but I doubt it.



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Jennifer

posted March 18, 2010 at 9:00 pm


Mike – I think someone did mention it…a few dozen messages back.
The thing I like about Dan’s book is that he deals with the issue of attraction – the book isnt hiding from that reality, it recognizes it, and then talks about how attraction can be shaped into something that fits into Christian friendship.



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Helen

posted March 18, 2010 at 9:25 pm


I find it frustrating that if I as a woman say “I have good friendships with men” a Christian man is likely to say “You might THINK you do but you have no idea what is going through their heads”, invalidating what I said. Are all men so alike and so different from women that men can be sure how other men are thinking, yet women have no idea?
It also seems to me that married men who aren’t Christians don’t make such a big deal of male-female friendships as many Christians do and it’s not necessarily because of different values i.e because they don’t care whether those friendships lead to affairs – since many married men who aren’t Christians are committed to their marriages, which means their marriage values are similar to Christian married men.
Are Christian men more tempted sexually than men who aren’t Christians? Or do Christian men just worry about it more? Or am I wrong to think men who aren’t Christians make less of a big deal about male-friendship than Christian men?
I also think it’s extremely ironic whenever men who have public rules about not being alone with any woman who is not their wife then turn out to be having secret sexual liaisons with other men.
I’m glad Julie raised the point about how Christian mens’ fears of being with women easily lead to discrimination/perpetuation of discrimination. It does seem that women suffer because of the fears, not only by being shut out but by being implicitly portrayed as ‘temptresses’.



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Your Name

posted March 18, 2010 at 9:32 pm


An interesting post with some very interesting comments. RJS made some points early on in these comments that I very much agree with. In fact, I like her five points in her first comment.
A couple of things I want to emphasize (in addition to what RJS said):
1. Secrets have a way a fueling intimacy. I question the wisdom of developing a friendship that becomes secretive, where the spouse is on the outside looking in (emotionally).
2. Even with the best of intentions, I really question the wisdom of sharing information about one’s own marriage and in particular the sex life of one another.
If I were to talk with my daughters about this, they would know that whatever I said would probably be shaped by 30 years of pastoral ministry, I have been with too many people who just didn’t manage their friendships very well. Does this mean that a cross gender friendship is destined to cross that line? No. Not at all. At the same time,I would probably want to talk about how to approach such a friendship with wisdom, discernment, and good judgment.



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Jennifer

posted March 18, 2010 at 9:42 pm


70 – I don’t think anyone is talking about secretive frie
dships. I know dans book isn’t about that.



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Helen

posted March 18, 2010 at 10:34 pm


Is it friendship per se that threatens a marriage or the way a married person allows themself to think about the friend?
Is friendship a problem if the married person doesn’t compare their spouse unfavorably with the friend and doesn’t indulge in fantasies about the friend?
How do you decide when to avoid something altogether to avoid temptation and when avoiding it would cause you to miss out on too much that is good and God-given in life?



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Dan Brennan

posted March 19, 2010 at 12:07 am


Helen, some great thought-provoking questions!



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Juliet

posted March 19, 2010 at 1:05 am


Curious as to whether there are other women here at Jesus Creed, other than the two Jennifers (seattle and chicago) who are intimate, cross-gender friends of Dan Brennan, and Sheila, Dan’s wife, who share these three women’s viewpoints?



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Juliet

posted March 19, 2010 at 1:10 am


Jennifer #43, you said: “Don’t get me wrong, some people because of weaknesses they themselves have, their spouse’s vulnerabilities, and/or the fragility of their marriage, shouldn’t go their.”
Why is it that those of us who disagree with the intimate friendships some of you describe are being told that we have “weaknesses?” Perhaps we’re just wise. It seems rather a put-down, actually, to refer to those of us with a different view as being, somehow, “weak.”



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RJS

posted March 19, 2010 at 8:52 am


Jeremy (#56)
Your wife and I are in the same boat – and one thing I value about this blog is that, even when the conversation partners are almost all male (as is true on some topics here, but not all) I can participate equally on the topics that interest me (which is most of them). Typical women’s ministries, while valuable for a large cohort of people, simply don’t hit me where I am.
Your name (Jim?) (#70),
I agree completely on your 2 additions – especially #2.



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AR

posted March 19, 2010 at 10:04 am


A couple of comments to add to the mix:
1) I have not yet read the book, but I have heard that Mr. Brennan bases at least part of his argument for intimate cross-gender friendships in a particular theological understanding of the Trinity. For those of you who HAVE read the book, is this accurate? If so, at least for me it complicates this already complicated discussion.
2) One issue that I’ve not yet seen addressed here (and forgive me if I’ve simply missed it) is the issue of whether or not the “third party” is single or married. For example, if a man or woman is seeking to fulfill a deep emotional need for intimacy with someone other than their spouse, it seems to me that that friendship might be more problematic than a friendship between two people who are both having their primary emotional needs met elsewhere. As a single woman myself, I understand how painful it can be to long for a partner with whom I can share all of me, and I think it could be dangerous (spiritually as well as emotionally) to become too emotionally intertwined with a married person of the opposite sex, even though it might feel so deeply satisfying.
The bottom line is that our hearts are easily deceived, and what might seem innocent to us, and what might actually begin as innocent, may actually be unwise and lead us astray. This is a wisdom issue, not as black and white as “right or wrong.”



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Jennifer (in Seattle)

posted March 19, 2010 at 10:33 am


AR,
Dan’s book is talking about both – married and single. But, just to clarify, he’s not saying that married people should go and seek to get their primary emotional needs met outside their marriage. He addresses spouse-as-friend and has very high priority for marriage…he’s just allowing for the possibility that other close friendships can exist too, and they can be with the same or opposite gender.



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AR

posted March 19, 2010 at 10:46 am


Thanks, Jennifer (#78) — I’m still concerned about the dynamics if, for example, the woman is single and the man is married. For those of us who are single, it could be very tempting to seek emotional connection that perhaps should be reserved exclusively for marriage.



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Jennifer (in Seattle)

posted March 19, 2010 at 10:51 am


AR,
I’m curious – do you see the kind of connection formed between very close same-sex friends to be a threat also?



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AR

posted March 19, 2010 at 11:00 am


That’s a good question, Jennifer — I think that will vary from person to person, and even between the sexes. The fact remains that there is something unique about male and female relationships — we are created in the image of God as male and female, together. So, for the typical woman who is longing for the intimacy of marriage, close relationships with other women can only satisfy her to a certain extent. The question, then, becomes whether or not it is appropriate for her to satisfy her desire for emotional intimacy with a man who is not her husband.
To me this is not just a question of “can men and women be friends safely” — it’s a question of how God has designed for human relationships to function. That’s why I’m curious to hear more about how Mr. Brennan grounds his beliefs theologically.



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Jennifer in Chicago

posted March 19, 2010 at 11:11 am


Juliet (75),
I think everybody has weaknesses or vulnerabilities they have to deal with, and those look different for different people. When someone says it is “wise” for them not to engage in a particular kind of activity, that seems to be saying that that activity seems somehow dangerous to them, i.e. they are vulnerable. I’m sorry if “weakness” is a loaded term for you. I did not intend it as a “put down”. If there is real weakness/vulnerability to sin in a particular area for a person, then various cautions are indeed wise. And it is a wise thing indeed to have (and seek) the kind of self-knowledge to recognize that. (As well as to have the kind of sensitivity to a spouse to recognize their vulnerabilities, as well.)



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Jennifer in Chicago

posted March 19, 2010 at 11:18 am


AR (81),
I believe (and if I remember correctly, this is a key theological point in Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions) that the call to be mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers in the church is key. Biblically, I believe it is appropriate for a woman to satisfy her desire for emotional intimacy (though I don’t think this desire will ever be completely filled this side of glory)with a man who is her father and brother. I believe scripture extends what are typically blood relationships to the church. It’s interesting to note than in a culture where opposite gender siblings were treated in a way that was quite distinctive, the early church followed this directive closely enough that they were accused of incestuous marriages.



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Jennifer (in Seattle)

posted March 19, 2010 at 11:18 am


AR
I think you would be very interested in his book. He spends a lot of time grounding the idea theologically – much more thoroughly than I could sum up here.



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Laura

posted March 19, 2010 at 11:20 am


Consider this scenario: a single, thirty-something pastor-type arrives from out of town. He walks to a local spot alone and asks to share a drink with a woman from this supposedly seedy town. She?s technically single, too, but is currently shacked-up with some guy. They talk about details of her personal life, and he shares a pivotal secret about himself. His associate pastor-types walk in, and the accusations start flying.
Scandalous, huh? Perhaps our one-size-fits-all guidelines can potentially get in the way of the Holy Spirit?s work.



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AR

posted March 19, 2010 at 12:13 pm


Thanks, Jennifers :) for the comments. I’m still curious about whether or not there is an argument based on the Trinity in Mr. Brennan’s book.
Jennifer in Chicago, perhaps we just fundamentally disagree about what is and is not appropriate in terms of emotional intimacy outside of marriage. Also, it seems to me that physical and emotional intimacy go hand-in-hand, so it is very difficult (and perhaps paradoxical) to keep strong physical boundaries while developing deep emotional intimacy.



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Peggy

posted March 19, 2010 at 1:58 pm


…I was glad to see that I didn’t have to bring up “When Harry Met Sally”…especially because that was almost the first thing to pop into my mind.
The second is that both me and my husband have long-term other gender friends from childhood. My friend has been married for years; his friend is still single.
My friend had to say to his wife (before they married) that I was a very important part of making him into the man she was marrying, so she was going to have to deal with our friendship. When I call, she and I can talk for hours. It is a good thing. He is the only person in the world who has the ability to look at my life from a perspective covering every stage, as I have moved so often that there is no one else who has never lost contact with me.
It is important to note that we have never lived in the same location…letters and calls and Facebook and occasional visits at camp or for conventions, etc. But he is very much the brother-type that I didn’t have (my own brother is almost 9 years older, with 4 sisters in-between, so we are, sadly, not close).
My husband’s friend is also a friendship from youth … someone who had a crush on him but it was never that way for him. He is also that one friend who has life-long continuity and is like a brother. She also does not live in our area anymore (she did when we moved up here).
We sometimes joke about what would happen if I died while our children were still at home … and I laugh and say that he may not marry her and allow her to be step-mom to our boys. He laughs because that would be an absolute no-go for him.
Great post, Scot…and great discussion, everyone.
Lots and lots of wisdom here.



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Jennifer in Chicago

posted March 19, 2010 at 2:50 pm


AR,
You’d have to look at the book and make up your own mind, but to the best of my memory, what trinitarian theology which is referenced is not foundational to everything in the book. There’s definitely some trinitarian theology there, but I think the argument is not dependent upon it, fwiw.



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Gerald Hiestand

posted March 19, 2010 at 4:08 pm


I’m a newcomer to this conversation, but I’ve done my due penance and read through all the preceding comments. Here’s my two cents:
1) I think there?s a legitimate point to be made that in our effort to protect ourselves from sexual impropriety, we can draw boundaries that rob of us God-given gifts (i.e. relationships with the opposite sex), and that seem to negate the power of the gospel to redeem our sexuality. That Christ had intimate, non-erotic relationships with women is clear from Scripture. In as much as Christ represents for us the imago dei into which we are being formed, I think we must not fall back to a simple (even if effective) “avoidance at all costs” way of relating to the opposite sex. I recall awhile back when my wife (then in her early twenty’s) went to give her Dad’s uncle a hug (he being in his 70′s) and he went as stiff as a board and did not return her hug. It was his rule not to hug any other women besides his wife. And while it was “safe” I’m not sure it was particularly loving, or reflective of the gospel.
2) And now for the proverbial “but”… Having noted Christ as the ideal to which we must all press (and which is the destiny of every Christian), I suspect some here are arguing on the basis of an over-realized eschatology. We simply aren’t fully redeemed yet. There’s the question of how we should be able to relate to the opposite sex, and then there’s the reality that God’s work in us in this life remains provisional, even for the best of us. Insisting that cross gender friendships should exist as easily and as healthily as same gender friendships is asking for more sanctification than God has granted the vast majority of his Children in this age.
As God has worked in my life, I’ve found myself able to relate to women without the need to sexualize them. I have healthy working relationships with women, and I enjoy the company of women in social settings. I like women and do not view them as objects to be feared. But I remain aware of my fleshly propensity to reduce people (both male and female) to objects that serve my own ends. And as such, I do not pretend to be more sanctified than I am, nor do I think it wise to counsel people to act more sanctified than they are. Maintaining intimate relationships with women, even with my wife’s approval, would create a context that is ripe for moral failure. In spite of the assurances to the contrary, I think this is true for nearly all of us.
Appreciate the conversation–blessings to all.



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Dan Brennan

posted March 19, 2010 at 5:26 pm


Great discussion,
I list 12 biblical reasons for a constructive chastity for singles and married. As Scot has noted in some of his works, we are called to a life of oneness–and I extend that into cross-gender relationships. What does a life of relational and social oneness look like for men and women? It is documented by several historians that brother-sister relationships within ancient cultures (including Christ’s) had strong emotional bonds even deeper than what was expected for the husband and wife relationship. Jesus and the authors took a metaphor that was a picture of strong intimate ties, and applied it men and women who were not related to each other.
Relational oneness looks different in marriage than it does in community or friendship. But a serious look into Christian friendships prior to Freud and the romantic myth reveals men and women (cross-sex and same-sex) thought that friendship was an expression of pursuing that oneness in the here-and-now.
While in the contemporary Western world, we allow brothers and sisters deep intimacy and freedom–even if they are married–this has not always been true in Christian communities. For many communities, adult biological brothers-sisters were forbidden to come near each other or to have a private conversation alone for fear of sex–the same fears that some have expressed here. That was done with with good intentions and in the name of wisdom. Jane Schulenburg in her excellent book, *Fearful of Their Sex* documents this. Imagine the scenario Scot pointed out earlier about a married daughter coming to her father. In many Christian communities in medieval times, if the daughter had asked something like that concerning her real blood *brother* the father would have forbidden her. In other communities, though real blood brothers and sisters were permitted great freedom and blessing to be alone, to work side-by-side with no one around, etc.
I echo Julie’s concerns. As a matter of fact, women in the 1800′s were yearning for *friendship* with the opposite sex. For that would open the door for greater equality and vocational opportunities. Challenges to “friendship” outside of marriages were based on created order and kept women from many expressions of equality and in nonleadership positions.



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Dan Brennan

posted March 19, 2010 at 5:37 pm


I should make my point a little clearer. Not all women in the 1800′s were yearning for friendship with men. I meant to say those women who would have been considered “feminists” in that era, who were looking for equality.



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brambonius

posted March 21, 2010 at 11:11 am


Maybe I’m too late for this discussion, but I’ll give my opinion anyway…
I live in belgium, a higly secular country. I sometimes hears christians talk about it (like the ‘don’t go with a woman in an elevator) but I always thought it was as alien as a little green man mith antennas flying a saucer-like vehicle… Everytime I’ve encountered this subject, I was kinde shocked that it was even an issue…
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. Maybe that I didn’t have much time for some friendships…
But it has always been a non-issue for me… And for most of my friends, who were mostly in the scope between artistic/hippy and middleclass. There might have been people who did unhealthy sexual things, but male-female friendship in general was considered not even a issue for people my age (turning 30 in october)But when I worked with working class people, the atmosphere was different for some of the people I met. There were people for whom it would not eveBut they also were much more 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…
I know it’s also a matter of personality type and stuff, but I firmly believe that we followers of Jesus are called to love. To love our spouse as a best friend, but also love the others of the opposite sex as persons not sexual objects. And my biggest example would be Christ himself, who broke all the male-female conventions of his age to talk with the samaritan woman, and who as a rabbi let Mary and Martha listen to him, etc…
(And Dan I’m still looking out for the book to arrive; I see again that it is a very needed book for our christian subculture…)
peace
Bram



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floss

posted March 21, 2010 at 11:44 am


I am female and married. I have a good friend who is male and now married. We pray together, which means we see each other alone and talk about deep stuff and see each other vulnerable before God.
I also have female friends who I talk to about all sorts of things and pray with alone.
Is there a difference? Yes. For me, it is that I never compare my husband to my female friends, but there is the possibility to compare him to my male friend. I try not to, but sometimes it happens.
Consequently, there are times when my male friend and I don’t meet, because it would make things too difficult for me to cope with.
It is this, rather than any sexual element which is the issue for me.



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Richard

posted March 25, 2010 at 11:09 pm


I believe that a married person can have a casual friendship with a person of the opposite sex; on the other hand, there are reasons why it is both unwise and dangerous to spend one ? on ? one time with that person after you are married.
The most important human relationship one has it with one?s spouse and it the early years of a marriage it is especially critical that you invest as much time and attention as possible in cultivating that important relationship. One accomplishes this by spending time with, listening to and talking with your partner; he or she is the one who needs to become your best friend.
Above all, it is important for a couple to develop a trust and a shared history with each other; where they once depended on their friends for comfort and advise, they must now develop that safe place with each other. I know of several instances where a spouse?s reliance on an opposite sex friend hindered, significantly handicapped, and in two cases almost destroyed a marriage.Likewise, we live in a world of poor judgment and a rationalized relationship can and does lead to compromised values that result in broken vows, promises and emotional and physical affairs. Unfortunately affairs usually begin as innocent friendships??We are just friends.?
My wife and I both have casual friendships with members of the opposite sex; however, we do not spend extended time with them or talking to them. We do not share intimate details of our personal life, our married life or our sexual relationship. Similarly, we do not vent our frustrations over our relationship .Equally important we do not speak negatively about each other or tolerate the opposite sex friend doing so. We never met that person for coffee, lunch or dinner without the each other being present; nor do we accept after work invitations to happy hour. Do you trust each other you ask? ABSOLUTLEY! By the same token, what we do not trust is our fallen human nature. We promised each other to avoid even the appearance of evil, thus we will be more effective in avoiding evil denying it the opportunity to compromise our love and commitment to each other and our marriage.
In short, all friendships are valuable, but cultivating friends and maintaining friendships require time, effort, and commitment. The most important friendship married men and women have is the friendship with and commitment to each other, and that precious relationship needs to be where the most time, effort and commitment is invested!
Moreover, we both do not desire to share each other with an opposite sex person physically, or especially emotionally. We feel that a deep personal friendship or relationship with a member of the opposite sex where one of us gives their heart or part of their heat to that other person would devastate our partner as well as our marriage. We strongly believe in the oneness of our marriage and constantly remember our vow to forsake all others, while still maintaining our individuality. I guess we are one of the lucky couples who found our one true love and soul mate?.thank god!



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LV

posted July 5, 2013 at 2:33 am


Viewing every member of the opposite gender as a potential sexual threat is so toxic and insulting to both men and women I don’t know where to begin.

Imagine if gender was removed from the question: what we’re really asking is whether Christians can trust themselves in relationship with other Christians without it devolving into lust, shame, fornication and broken marriages.

What kind of message does it send to our youth that their parents and mentors are unable – in fact, opposed! – to modelling healthy, holy friendships with members of the opposite sex?

That the ONLY safe interaction between men and women is within the confines of marriage or the biological family? That a marriage is only as safe as it’s insular? That friendship between the sexes is just a gateway to sex, a pitstop rather than a destination in its own right?

What about individuals who never marry? Are they to be excluded from relationship with HALF their spiritual family based solely on their genitals?

Segregating men and women from each other out of fear can only promote unhealthy interactions between the sexes. I believe men and women are called to be partners, not just sexually and exclusively, but as equals and colleagues in community.



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