Why can’t we be friends?

So we read Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  holding hands

And we’re great, as a Church, when we see those barriers fall. We love to see blacks and whites and Hispanics and Asians all worshipping together. We love to see Israelis and Palestinians joined in worship. We love to see rich and poor together, the celebrities and the anonymous together, Republicans and Democrats, the happily married and the thrice-divorced, the young and the old and all in between, the men and the women….

Oh wait. ’Cept not that last one. THAT barrier must needs stand.

Because (thank you Freud) we all know that, at our most basic, men and women are just sex drives with legs.

So it’s awesome – we stand and cheer – when a black pastor and a white pastor become close friends. It’s outstanding when avowed Republicans and avowed Democrats are also avowed friends, and serve others alongside one another, with compassion and selflessness. It’s superb when the hedge fund manager and the homeless guy go on a mission trip together and end up becoming good friends. (I’m assuming – optimistically & probably naively – that’s happened?)

Unless, of course, any of these friendships are between a man and woman who are not – nor plan to be – married to each other.

Then it’s not okay.

Never mind that Jesus had women following him everywhere when he was on earth. Not just following, but financially enabling his ministry.

Never mind that Jesus apparently disregarded all social custom and in fact seriously endangered his reputation as a minister when he did the first century equivalent of letting a call girl lavish him with kisses at Billy Graham’s house (See “Prostitute visits Jesus at Simon’s house,” Luke 7).

Never mind that Jesus entrusted his closest male friend (John) with the complete care of his mother (Mary) – who was only about 15 years older than John. (See “Jesus gives Mom to John,” John 19.) Gasp.

Never mind that Jesus was alone with a woman – and a committed immoral one, at that – in a public place. (See “Samaritan woman,” John 3.) Gasp again.

Never mind that Jesus’s first appearance after his resurrection was to a woman. Alone. In a garden. Oh my.

Contrast this with the teaching and counsel of the church today. Here are the rules. If you’ve been in church any length of time at all, you’ve heard these or some close version of them. And you’d better believe these are RULES; they are not recommendations.

  1. You may not be alone with a person of the opposite sex in public unless you’re related or dating.
  2. You may not be alone with a person of the opposite sex in private – unless you’re related or dating.
  3. You may be friends with a person of the opposite sex, even if one or both of you are married to someone else – but the friendship should be carried out in group settings, and it should NEVER get intimate or deep.

To stray from these rules is to put yourself on a “slippery slope,” to “play with fire,” to “unwisely test the boundaries.”

Do we not see that, at its most dumbed-down (which doesn’t take long), all of these rules are based on the assumption that, again, at our most basic level, men and women are sex drives with legs? These rules have a stain of “protection” (of marriage, ministry, and witness), but underneath the stain is crumbly particle board.

Can you imagine Jesus saying to a woman in today’s church, “Love you, dear, but we can only talk at the church office with a big window in the door”? Can you imagine Jesus saying to a man in today’s church, “Yeah, I see you have a potentially rich friendship with this woman, but since you’re already married, you’re gonna have to nip that. Too risky”? Can you imagine Jesus saying to the lifelong singles in our church, “Sorry, real oneness is reserved for married people, but don’t worry, it’ll all be okay in heaven”?

It seems to me we’re okay with Jesus breaking down every barrier but this one. The male-female divide, we’re basically saying, is just too deep and wide for even the blood of Jesus to bring unity and peace to.

Because, you know, we’re “wired” for sex.

Thanks a lot, Freud.


Jesus came to destroy barriers, to demolish walls, to bring peace to those who were far away and peace to those who were already near. How can we think that Jesus can bridge the vast, immeasurable chasm between sinful man and holy God, but is unable to help men and women be genuine friends? Really?

Now, I know all the reasons the contemporary church gives for all these rules and boundaries. Do these sound familiar?

“Protecting the sanctity of marriage.”

“Protecting the reputation of Christians and especially ministers of the gospel.”

“Protecting the witness of the Church in a world that sees sexual scandal in the Church at every turn (sometimes for real, sometimes just rumor).”

And of course those lines about slippery slopes and playing with fire.

Yes, yes. But look at those phrases and those defenses. Every one is based on fear, distrust, and suspicion.

We are afraid of our own bodies, and others’. And the church reinforces this.

We are afraid that any time a man and woman forge a close friendship, it will inevitably end up in the bedroom. Or at least they’ll want it to. Freud said it, the world believes it, and now the church reinforces it too.

We are afraid of the world’s censure. Because there has been so much sexual scandal in the church, and the world (rightly) condemns it, we walk on eggshells around people of the opposite sex. Especially those of us in church leadership.

As an aside here, may I remind us that the world will never understand the unity Jesus can bring among his followers? The world is shocked when victims offer forgiveness to perpetrators (see the families of the Charleston Nine). The world is shocked when reconciliation happens at the nation-state level (see Rwanda). The world is shocked when Israeli and Arab believers come together. The world is shocked when black and white worship together. The world cynically dismisses it all as political posturing.

Does this mean the Church ceases to seek reconciliation between historically divided parties? Not at all!

Unless, of course, again, we’re talking about the divide between men and women.

In that case, the Church not only is not really seeking reconciliation, it’s actively counseling against it.

Unless you’re lucky enough to be married. Not just married, but to your downright absolute one-and-only soulmate. (Is there such a thing?)

Didn’t Jesus come to bring peace among his followers? Why do we think that stops at the male-female wall?

Can you imagine what the world would say if the Church began to encourage genuine, close, intimate friendships between men and women, regardless of marital or eventual-marital state?

I can imagine. It would go something like this: “Look at those Christian men and women, thinking they can be tight friends without the sex card getting in the way. Either they’re hiding their affair, or they’re suppressing their desires.”

But what if believing men and women continued to live in the unity that Jesus does offer? What if they served and worshipped and played and worked together, year after year, with never a hint of sexual involvement? (Yes, it IS possible. We are more than our sex drives, y’all!) What then?

Is it possible an unbelieving world – just a few of them – might take notice and say, “Well, hmm, maybe there is something to this notion that Jesus can bring reconciliation. I mean, I know these Christian men and women who are really tight friends, and there’s nothing sexual about it, but they are seriously tight and it is cool and I wish I could have a friendship like that with a person of the opposite sex.”

Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Wouldn’t that be reconciliation on a beautiful level?

Oh, and this isn’t purely theoretical to me. I have male friends I once was dear friends with – back before we both got so into church and things got weird. I mourn the distance and odd boundaries between us now. I am sad at the loss of what used to be an intimate friendship.

And I have male friends now with whom I distinctly sense the possibility of deep friendship – if only we weren’t both part of a culture that would look with such distrust and suspicion on its development. I am sad at the loss of that.

I need all the meaningful friendships I can get – don’t you? Don’t we all?

I want the unity Jesus died to bring. I want the freedom to pursue rich and meaningful friendships with my brothers and sisters of different skin color, different cultural background, different voting habits, different socioeconomic status, and, yes, even with those of the opposite sex.

We are more than our sex drives. We are brothers and sisters in a family created by the sacrificial shed blood of Jesus. How I long to live in true community, walls down, barriers gone, freedom and grace given free rein.

Doesn’t that sound nice?

Published in: on September 24, 2015 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

On Sexual Lust, or “The Problem Isn’t in Your Eyes – or My Body”

The Continuum:


I’m not the problem.

Really, I’m not. Just because I’m female…not overweight…and wear a bikini on the beach – none of this makes me the problem for any male believer dealing with lust.

And because I’m not the problem, I’m not the answer either. The problem, my brothers, is in your heads and hearts, and therefore the solution also lies there (via the Holy Spirit). Sorry, I can only help you by praying for you to think like Jesus. ’Cuz I sure would love for you to look at me like Jesus does.

And I’ll tell you, Jesus doesn’t avoid looking at me any more than he looks at me “lustfully in his heart.”

That’s because Jesus never forgets what he’s looking at when he looks at a woman (beautiful by her culture’s standards or not): a beautiful and holistic creation of his Father – a body with a soul and spirit and intellect, all so intricately bound together they are inseparable.

Oh, my brothers in Jesus, that you would look at your sisters in Christ – indeed, at all women – through this lens!

You see, to indulge in the thinking at either end of this continuum (see above) is to think – and therefore behave – askew.

Believers generally agree on the base problem with the libertine approach. Full indulgence of  lust leads to all kinds of havoc, which hardly needs to be listed here. (And, I might add, even our licentious culture reluctantly concedes outright libertinism is a dangerous path.) What’s the bottom line sin with this thinking and behavior? Women become purely sexual objects – harmful to them, and a blatant disregard for the fact that their Creator made them complex creatures – body, soul, and spirit – in his very own image.

Bad, bad, we say. “Don’t go there!” churches and leaders scream, plead, exhort, and rebuke men. “Stay out of Hooters and strip clubs and get the protective software to keep you away from porn.”

And the solution that gets touted by Arterburn & Co.? “Stay away from women. Don’t look. Whatever you do, DON’T LOOK!!!” As if they’re seizing Lot by the hand as he runs wildly from the burning cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. As if women were the equivalent of those cesspools, and these brothers are in danger of turning into pillars of salt if they turn their eyes towards the wickedness of womankind.

There are two problems with this line of thinking. First of all, it simply doesn’t work. Our culture is awash, positively swimming in sexual temptation; a blind man can see it. So unless my brother retreats to a desert hermitage, he will be exposed to this temptation, “parental controls” on or no.

Another reason it doesn’t work is that even believers cannot sustain this kind of thinking forever. We men and women are frail in the sinful nature, however willing our spirits might be.

To put it more theologically, this type of discipline is based on the Law, not Grace. And we all know where the Law gets us: fallen and condemned, however hard we try.

The second problem with this line of thinking is that it does the same thing to women as the licentious approach: it objectifies us. The guy who ogles me objectifies me as a sexual object; the brother, however well-intentioned, who avoids me (including eye contact but especially any kind of touch) also objectifies me. Worse, he makes me the source of temptation.

I am not. Unless I’m genuinely being tempting (and it will be obvious), I am not the temptation. Please, don’t look at me as an evil to be avoided, and don’t quote the Psalmist in the process (“I will set before my eyes no vile thing,” Ps. 101:3a).

I am a complete person. I have a body, a soul, a spirit, a mind, a heart. No one part of me defines me. God made me complex in so many ways. And I invite you to appreciate all of me as a reflection of God’s beauty, God’s creativity, and God’s holiness.

Look at me, please, the way Jesus does: straight in the eye, with a smile of acceptance and hands outstretched in friendship and strength. Don’t turn the other way because I’m female.

Please – will a man in the church stand up and teach this? I will applaud, “amen,” and happily pitch in to see this message make its way into the hearts of my brothers who so want to walk in holiness. Many of these men work so doggedly to stay sexually pure, constructing all the defensive behavioral barriers Arterburn & Co. tell them to put around their eyes, minds, and marriages.

But my brothers in Christ cannot win this battle by taking only a defensive stance. The true freedom – with any issue – comes when our minds are transformed and our hearts renewed. I want to see you men set free from the long and futile slough of self-help, into the light of thinking and seeing like Jesus.

In that place, you will find a rich, beautiful world of rich, beautiful relationships with beautiful (because they were made by your Father) women.

I long to see us all free of the Law, and I long to see women free of objectification.

Because we sisters (we women) are weary of being seen as a problem to be avoided. We want to walk in dynamic and rich friendship and partnership with our brothers in Christ – to show the world how Jesus sees…and how he loves.

Published in: on August 2, 2012 at 1:20 am  Comments (24)