Skip to main content

A Response to Desiring God's article on male-female Friendship

I was delighted Saturday morning to see an article on the Desiring God website entitled ‘Can Christian Men and Women be Friends.’ I had a book published under this title (Here) that was later republished under the name ‘Forbidden Friendships.

Admittedly, I was also nervous. Having dialogued extensively on the issue of cross-gender friendships (CGFs), I know what a controversial subject this is. People can take extreme views on both sides of the issue and the debate can be explosive. Fortunately, the author of the article, Paul Maxwell, displayed not only courage in taking on this taboo subject but a recognition of both the complexities involved as well as the type of balance that is needed. I’ve since been in touch with Maxwell who had not heard of my book, but who was kind enough to request an e-copy for review.

I want to highlight viewpoints in the article that I think deserve recognition as well as where I wished there could’ve been space for more nuance. Maxwell's original article can be found Here. I'm posting this article with his permission and with him having read it. 

The Cross

First of all, Maxwell roots male-female friendships in the cross of Christ. I'm so grateful that he's does this. He writes, ‘Friendships between men and women in the church are one holy expression of the hard-fought intimacy God has earned for us in Christ (Galatians 3:28)’. I was especially excited to read this as it’s the cornerstone of all I’ve taught on the subject over the last few years. In Forbidden Friendships, I remark ‘We were strangers. We are now brothers and sisters. Christ’s work transforms the full spectrum of human relationships be they between race, class, age or gender. (Galatians3.28)’

Jesus prayed that his followers would be ‘one’. There’s no sub-clause that says ‘except men and women’. We should be displaying the type of relationships that aren’t possible in the world. We should be displaying meaningful relationships across the races, across the generations, and across the gender divide. When done right, this glorifies Christ.

No Rose Coloured Spectacles

Secondly, Maxwell does not see male-female friendships in a naïve way. He acknowledges that there are real pitfalls and he is cautious about them – strongly so. He wisely writes, ‘Wisdom requires some no’s in order to maintain the safety and integrity that leads to life, and not the carelessness or liberty that leads to sin’.

Sin seeks to pervert good things. For that reason, some people teach that we should not even engage in meaningful male-female friendships. Fortunately, Maxwell doesn’t take that stance. Just because something good can be perverted, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t value or seek that thing out. Parenthood and spiritual leadership can become toxic. But we still keep parents and pastors – even if abuse in both roles is regular. Friendships with the same gender can also be distorted by sin – not just CGFs.

Maxwell cites some examples of boundaries that some people set in order to help keep CGFs from becoming corrupted. The examples that he cites are stricter than the ones my wife and I personally have adopted. But I find that Americans often have tighter boundaries on certain things (alcohol, music, etc) than we do on this side of the pond. It may be that some couples need those sorts of strict boundaries – there should be freedom and flexibility for married couples to set their own guidelines.

The Romantic ‘Other’

The last thing I want to praise about Maxwell’s article is that he acknowledges dynamics change depending on whether the people in the CGF are single, dating, or married. Since it is a blog – and not a book – he does not have space to fully unpack the significance of these relationships, but I am grateful that he acknowledged them within the limited word count he was given.

If you or your friend have a romantic ‘other’ it will affect that friendship. But this does not have to be bad – it’s just different. I have consulted female friends on gifts to get my wife. I’ve given female friends advice on how to make their husbands feel honoured. Your friend having a romantic other doesn’t have to kill your friendship – but it can complicate it. And it can bring insecurities to the surface from any number of directions.

Once again, he Maxwell didn’t have the space to unpack all this, but making clear that these were factors right at the beginning of the article was wise of him.

Secret v. Private

If there was one thing that I thought could’ve been done to improve the article, it would’ve been to make more of a distinction between private and secret activities in the context of a CGF. This could include meeting or texting.

Now in my discussion with Maxwell, he acknowledged that Desiring God’s word limit kept him from nuancing as much as he would’ve liked. I do wish this one point would’ve been clarified because it has significant practical implications.

For example, one of my wife’s CGFs is a single man. He is very shy to speak of his romantic relationships with me, or other men, or most people. But for some reason, he feels safe asking my wife for perspective and advice. When they talk, those are private conversations. They are not secret – just private. I know they are happening. I know where and when my wife speaks with him. But I do not press my wife for all the details of how he had his heart broken. If he knew that I knew those details, he would be embarrassed. Now I could demand that my wife tell me – and she would – but that would be unhealthy and hurt her friendship with him. So I don’t.

The reverse is true with me and some close female friends. We talk privately – not secretly. This is the difference between someone who if a friendly acquaintance – and someone who is a true friend. In the course of any friendship, there is a unique connection between two individuals – and we are able to speak one on one about things that matter to the both of us. It’s like when one has to use the toilet: it’s not a secret that it happens - but it’s still a private experience.  So though I know how to check my wife’s text messages (we have no secret passwords) - I don’t. That wouldn’t be healthy for her friendships or our marriage.

All in all, I thought this was a well written and balanced article. I appreciate that a man committed to scripture is willing to publically engage the issue and I look forward to engaging with him more in the future.
_______________
[Please Share]

bkFor more on how the Gospel helps build satisfying friendship across the gender divide, check out Forbidden Friendships - available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle in the USA and the UK.

Comments

  1. I'm so glad I stumbled across this! I have been soooo confused as to whether having a male Christian friend was even allowed. I have put so many restrictions upon myself all in the name of being "holy". I'm going through a big learning curve right now.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Dear Pro-Gay Christian Friend

[Response to the letter Dear Non-Affirming Christian]
Dear Pro-Gay Christian Friend,
Thank you for taking the time to write me. Sadly, it seems you misunderstand why I met with you for coffee. Please let me explain my motives by defining the words in my salutation above. Would this be too terrible a way to go about it?
Let’s start with ‘friend’ shall we? You rightly question this term as an accurate description of our relationship. For now, let's simply say I mean it as an expression of good will - but will return to it again at the end of the letter. Then there's this term, 'pro-gay'. By this, I don't mean your personal sexual urges. There have historically been – and are today – countless godly leaders in the church who have deep sexual and romantic attractions to people of the same gender. In spite of their desires, they remain celibate and teach orthodox views of gender and sexuality. In your letter, you repeatedly refer to me as a ‘non-affirming Christian’, but I …

Where I Turn Down a Gay 'Wedding' Invitation

Dear Katie,
I hope this letter finds you well. You’ve been on my mind lately as it’s been a few weeks since we’ve met up. We’re overdue to grab a coffee – I hope we can soon. I also want to thank you for thinking of me as you sent out invitations for what I know will be a big day for you and Joanna. I’ve known you since before you met her (two years ago now, is it?) and I appreciate all you’ve shared with me about how meaningful that relationship is to you. It was especially kind of you given my Christian faith. You've never directly asked me my views on gender or sex in much detail. But I think our conversations must have touched on it enough times to at least make you a bit unsure of my reaction when you sent the invitation. I have to say 'no' to your kind invitation. You know that I care for you and that I value our friendship. You know I don't reject you because you are gay. So, would it be too much to ask of you if I explain why my faith would make attendance at your…

Driscoll Returns, ‘Christian Today’ Melts.

Sometimes in the course of events, a peculiar thing happens that then triggers a response more peculiar still. This is what we now see with the return of Pastor Mark Driscoll to the church scene.
For those unfamiliar with the drama, Mark Driscoll was a church planter and Bible teacher who made a big impact in the least churched city in the USA: Seattle. Thousands professed faith in Christ through his ministry. But he left the church that he had started under dark circumstances. No, it wasn’t adultery as is so often the case with some of these big-name preachers. Rather, it was heavy-handed leadership―resulting in many spiritually crushed church members―that drove him to resign.
Now, three years later, he is leading a new church and many are downloading his sermons once again. This is not without some valid controversy―for reasons we’ll mention soon. But what is most noticeable is not his peculiar return. It is the reaction among those who lean left of classical Christian teaching: the …