Just friends? Young Evangelicals and opposite gender friendships.

As a young adult in university, relationships are somewhat of a popular topic of discussion. What are the appropriate boundaries of relationships? What is biblical dating? Can Christians of opposite genders be close friends? And I must admit, I am weary and tired of how Evangelicals tend to treat relationships between people of opposite genders, especially for me as someone who is single but not actively seeking a relationship. And you know what, I think how we say we should treat people of the opposite gender, I think, undermines our redemption in Christ.

A common line in Evangelical treatment of opposite gender friendships is that they are things to be wary of. This can be seen in books such as one of the most popular Christian books of all time, Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It can be seen in blog posts from Mars Hill or the Christian relationship advice site Boundless. There is a common line that men should be careful, that they should make intentions clear, that temptation in times alone should be avoided. However, in all this where is grace? Where is redemption? Where is our identity in Christ? A common, unthought acceptance of common Evangelical media reduces women to sources of temptation. Evangelicals destroy the imago dei, the image of God in each person, especially those who are among the redeemed, by promoting the view that opposite gender relationships of any sort are inherently dangerous. It is therefore unsurprising that so often Evangelicals have very little idea of how to treat people with same sex attractions. We have such a low view of friendships between people who might be attracted to each other that when this idea of same sex attraction comes around, we lack a framework to properly care for people who at once want to serve Christ in orthodox doctrine, and also remain within the church (Will a gay man be a source of temptation for a woman; will a man be a source of temptation for the gay man? All friendships become dangerous and in this common Evangelical framework this man would be left entirely alone.) This cannot be so!

The framework that we should be using must not be encapsulated in the question “how far is too far?” Much rather, the question that frames all that we do is “is what I am doing glorifying God.” Ultimately as Christians our defining view of ethics must be sourced in the concept that each and every person has worth as bearers of the image of God. More than that though, as Christians, we believe that we have the Spirit of God leading us and guiding us and helping us to defeat temptation. Yes, Paul says flee from sexual immorality, but we cannot quote this verse as a be all end end all of Christian gender relations because he also gives marriage as a concession to human weakness in the next chapter. Excessive boundaries are a concession that may be helpful to some, but they should not be the forced norm. The truth is if we have Christ as our centre and our vision, the gender of our friends ceases to matter because we are all one in Christ.

One final truth is that if both participants in the friendship are Christian then no, we can’t just be friends. We are already more than more than just friends, because we are already brothers and sisters in Christ, the single quality that overrules any mere human barrier. If we are truly one in Christ then why must we say that the opposite gender is a source of temptation? Why can we not, in the Spirit, look past and fight temptation while keeping Christ at the centre of all things. Women in the New Testament had a far higher role in the story of the gospel than in society; why must we now (for men are often the teachers) reverse this and treat women worse than the society around us? I object to this and in all people I shall strive to see the image of God in them, anything less is living a life unworthy of the calling to which I have been called.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

— Galatians 3.27-29

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