You Can’t Be My Friend Because Why?

Why is it that men and women are taught to be enemies instead of friends?

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Sure, lots of books have been written to determine the answer to this question. The cynic in me says that it is for political reward and fiduciary gain. As long as there is war between the sexes, books can be written, policies can be enacted, money can be raised, candidates can be put forth, etc.

Perhaps it’s more basic than that: we’ve been taught to be possessive and jealously guard the things we think are “ours.” We’re told to share, but the underlying current is” don’t share too much.  Really, we learn to be selfish.

Oddly enough, I must have missed the day when I was supposed to learn that girls were stinky and gave you cooties.

As far back as I can remember, I have enjoyed the conversation and company of the fairer sex. Perhaps it’s silly to remember, but I recall that as a little boy I had 5 “girlfriends” (at one time) in kindergarten and 3 in first grade! This trend did not continue afterwards, but I recognize looking back that during my stint in elementary, middle and high school, I had lots of “friends who were girls.”  There was no romance involved. We just did not make a big deal out of the fact that our biologies differed.

In high school, I played an active role as a member of the marching band and represented our school in drama, debate and other clubs. In the community, I spent my teenage years as a police cadet and served on the drama and puppet teams at church.  All of these experiences were mixed-gender and I developed lots of friendly and beneficial relationships.

It never occurred to me that I should consider these women friends as targets for conquest or equally that I should be afraid of them. Yet I have noticed as a married adult, not everyone approves of innocent friendship between the sexes.  It’s as though optimism is taught while pessimism is practiced. In fact, there’s a strong undercurrent against mixed-gender friendships that has erupted in American culture–especially Christian culture.

So it’s with interest that I received a request from Pastor Joshua D. Jones to review his upcoming book, “Forbidden Friendships: Retaking the Biblical Gift of Male-Female Friendship.”

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One fall day during my freshman year of college I walked into a huge lecture room for Anthropology class.  As I sat down, I noticed a pretty girl reading a magazine article about Christian pop music.  Class had not started yet, so I tapped her on the shoulder and asked, “What are you reading about?”

That’s how I met Andrea. We were married a little less than two years later during the summer break between our sophomore and junior years and this July, we will celebrate 19 years of marriage.

Ah, some might say, now you’re done! You’ve found “the one” so you don’t need to be friends with women any more.

Except, remember, I was absent that day in culture school.  Yes, that conversation I began 21 years ago resulted in marriage, but even if it hadn’t, I may have gained a friend. Had I been taught to distrust women, I probably would not have ventured to introduce myself that day.

But where did this idea come from that once you’re married, you have to ignore half of the population? I still benefit from friendships with ladies I met when we were children.

Pastor Jones writes that this disparity of true friendship has created a plastic situation where “men and women are friendly towards one another but rarely “friends” in the historical, robust sense of the word. We say “hi”, talk and perhaps give a polite mini-hug – but there is rarely any deep engagement or sharing of lives.”

In my study of history, I have learned that it was not always the case that married people stopped being friends across gender lines. Some of our most beloved American founding fathers shared this viewpoint. Thomas Jefferson and Abigail Adams were close friends for decades. Benjamin Franklin’s best friend in Europe was a Duchess.

The famed evangelist Billy  Graham made a rule for himself that he would never be alone with a woman, whether in a vehicle, an elevator, a room, etc.  I understand the pragmatism of such a rule, yet I’ll add that Mr. Graham’s rule comes not from the Bible, but from his own heart.  Before we adopt such thinking, recall that leaders of the same caliber and impact such as St. Patrick, St. Francis, John Wesley, John Knox and others never had such a “rule,” and that these men each had good friends who were ladies. One could not even say that Jesus himself adhered to the “Rule.” While I would not be critical of Billy Graham’s personal decision, I would also point out that we need to pray and get our own convictions from the Bible and our unique situations.

What about people who mess up?

Will people occasionally fall into improper behaviors by allowing themselves to be friends? Sure. But the truth is that this can happen no matter what boundaries are created and what hard lines are established. I can think of three or four famous hard-line anti-mixed-gender Christian leaders who have fallen from the public spotlight just in the last couple of years.  Apparently establishing such boundaries failed to keep them from failing. Pastor Jones writes:

For thirty years now broad gender boundaries have been preached and practiced but we do not have less immorality than before. Not only have these rules failed to deliver us from lust, but one of the devastating side effects has been that it is now hard to see many local churches as an expression the Family of God. Instead we seem to be a collection of tightly defined “couples with children” of God.

These leaders thought that if we just separated the sexes that we would have less sin.  The truth is, when the family of God was separated artificially, we ended up with more sin… and less family.

Truth is hard. It’s often hard to learn. It rubs us the wrong way. To be changed by it, there are layers to be shed, wrinkles to be smoothed, edges to be washed away. And that takes time and abrasion.

What can we do?

We can either harden our hearts or soften them.  Think of yourself as a rock in a stream. The softness of your material determines how quickly the rounding process takes place.

Perhaps what we all need is more brothers and sisters and less “couples with children.” Jones again:

“When a legitimate need goes unmet, we can become so desperate to have it filled that we often grasp at false solutions which make the problem worse. A man turning to porn, when he is really hungry for meaningful relationships with women, is like turning to salt water when one is thirsty.”

In his book Pastor Jones touches on what got us to this odd 21st century segmentation of the sexes and how cultural, extra-biblical ideas shape us more than biblical ones do. The latter is a topic near and dear to my heart and one I write extensively about in my own upcoming book.

So, without giving away too much, I recommend Pastor Jones’ book to you.  I could continue quoting my favorite parts, but I want you to discover them for yourselves.

Forbidden FriendshipsThis world we live in is saturated with sex, suspicion and sin. It is polluted with porn, but starved of intimacy.” – Joshua D. Jones in Forbidden Friendships