Can Men and Women Be Friends?

Can men and women be friends? Our society often says we can’t. As Billy Crystal explains in When Harry Met Sally, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” And sex is what everything is about these days. We’re so saturated in it that we don’t realize how much sex has influenced even the meanings of words.

Intimacy? Sex
Relationship? Euphamism for sex
Affection? Sex
Attraction? Precursor to sex
Friendship? Euphamism for sex (friends w/ benefits), a brief stop on the way to sex, or a demotion from a sexual relationship (“just” friends, the friend zone)
Purity? Not having sex outside marriage

It’s like a Freudian Rorschach test. No matter the question, the answer is always sex.

If the world’s right about the meaning of friendship, intimacy, affection, and attraction, then how can godly men and women possibly be friends? Avoiding interactions between men and women would be the safest option if we want to be sexually pure and holy, right?

But what if the world’s wrong? What if the Bible has a better way for us to pursue purity and holiness through our friendships, even the coed ones? Those are the questions that Aimee Byrd answers in her latest book, Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Aimee explains that the reason we get tripped up on the question of coed friendship is we’ve forgotten who and whose we are. As believers, we are brothers and sisters united in Christ (14). We’re family! And as such, we have a shared calling and purpose. We were made for communion with God and with each other (49). That’s true for us here and now, and especially true for us in the new heavens and new earth that are to come (142).

We are called to be “sacred siblings” (174). And when we consider our questions through the lens of family, of brothers and sisters, we can see not only how men and women can be friends, but how we must be friends. Family relationships are the key.

Seeing each other as sacred siblings changes our understanding of intimacy, affection, attraction, friendship, and purity. As Aimee explains, “We know how to promote holiness in brother-sister relationships” (67).

What does intimacy mean in a family setting? As Aimee notes, “We associate all intimacy with the bedroom, so we expect every meaningful interaction between a man and a woman to be laden with repressed sexual desire” (35-36). But, “If we treat the intimacy appropriately as brother-sister intimacy, then everything stays properly platonic and our affections are rightly ordered” (93).

What about affection? When we listen to the world, we see affection through Freud’s eyes, “Freud reduced all affection to erotic desire – to our genitals – meaning that every look, gesture, touch, and thought holds sexual motives. … This view reduces friendship, whether it is same-sex or cross-sex, to role-playing for sexual gratification (35). But, when we remember we are brothers and sisters in Christ who are called to communion with God, we can see affection as God teaches us. As Aimee says, “We can share in his love for his people with godly, appropriate affection, and all our affections will be returned to him in fullness of glory” (73).

And attraction? We associate attraction with sexual interest or lust. But that’s a very limited meaning of the word. We’re “attracted” to people who share our interests. We should be “attracted” to admirable qualities in others: kindness, gentleness, joy, humility, generosity. Aimee explains, “Attraction is not impurity … We should be attracted to godliness in a godly way. … Finding someone attractive doesn’t mean that we should pursue them romantically, however, or allow our thoughts to wander into sexual fantasy” (87-88).

What does friendship mean in the context of sacred siblings? Between social media “friends,” “friends with benefits,” and “we’re just friends,” we’ve completely lost the meaning of friendship. “On the one hand, we have trivialized friendship through technology; on the other, we warn against real friendship between the sexes” (96, emphasis original). But as Christians, we know friendship means more. As Aimee writes, “Spiritual friendship among those of us who are united in Christ is eternal and is the highest form of friendship” (98)

What about purity? We should want to pursue purity, but is purity found in simply avoiding members of the other sex? Aimee explains, “Purity isn’t merely abstention. It isn’t practiced by avoidance. Purity isn’t just a physical status for a virgin, nor is it even the success of a faithful marriage. Purity is preeminently about our communion with God – a fountain that overflows into our other relationships (69).

And that’s Aimee’s point. We don’t pursue purity by avoiding each other. “The virtue of purity rightly orients sensuality before God and others. It perceives and responds to the holistic value in human beings” (76).

Does that mean we should just throw caution to the wind? No of course not. We must use wisdom and discernment. We need to be serious about sin, temptation, and our role in promoting the holiness of others:

Of course we promote one another’s holiness, take sin seriously, and realize that we can easily fall into it. We don’t think of a bunch of reasons to be alone with the other sex, we don’t naively assume that everyone is safe, and we don’t overestimate our own virtue. But, rather than creating extrabiblical rules, we are to do the hard work of rightly orienting our affections and exercising wisdom and discernment with others. We live before God in every situation. And in this manner, we will be able to perform ordinary acts of kindness and business without scandal. (77)

Is Aimee simply naive about the way the world works? Not at all. In fact, she offers practical advice on how to exercise discernment.

If we are weak in this area, or with a particular person, we should certainly not put ourselves in situations where we know we will stumble or cause a brother or sister to stumble. We should never feed temptation to sin. Doing so is a red flag that you are not genuine in godly friendship. (88)

If you are married and find yourself romantically attracted to someone other than your spouse, or if you are single and find yourself romantically attracted to someone who is off limits for any reason, then you need to confess this to the Lord in prayer and not put yourself in situations that fuel romantic feelings. You may need to avoid car rides or eating together with this specific person. The same applies if you discern that others have inappropriate romantic feelings toward you. (91-92)

If you are married and your spouse is uncomfortable with your friendship with someone, whether it’s a man or a woman, listen to their reasons. (92)

Is Aimee trying to undermine holiness and purity? Quite the contrary, “We all agree that Christians should care for purity. I wholeheartedly advocate sexual purity and would never want to influence anyone into promiscuity or sexual sin of any kind” (63).

What she wants is to encourage us to pursue actual holiness and purity but not by “pickpocketing purity, stealing unearned virtue at the expense of another’s dignity” (77). What does she mean by “pickpocketing purity”? She means that by avoiding each other we end up thinking we’re being pure but without actually developing purity or holiness. “Many of the hard-and-fast rules that we add to protect ourselves work against Christ’s sanctifying work, because they point to ourselves rather than to dependence on him” (81, emphasis original).

Without spoiling the book, if avoidance isn’t the answer, how should we pursue holiness and purity?

[B]ecause we are God’s people, siblings in Christ, we are to promote one another’s holiness, which includes rousing one another to active, godly love, assembling with our siblings to publicly worship our God, and encouraging one another in godly living. These are the practices of sacred siblings. (174)

How do we do that? “Be a friend and promote holiness in everyone whom you encounter and whom God trusts to your care. Look at one another through the eyes of Christ” (232).

By doing so, we can witness to the world that there is a better way. We can demonstrate the intimacy, affection, and friendship that we can and must have as brothers and sisters in Christ:

The church should be the very place where the world sees genuine friendship, no matter what sex you are. No matter what race you are. No matter what your social status is. This is where the world should be able to look and see what friendship is and how to do it. (232)

Aimee’s book is a much-needed one in our overly sexualized culture. I’m thankful for Aimee’s work and her willingness to step into this particular minefield.

Do you want to know more about how to be sacred siblings, about the challenges and blessings of spiritual friendship? Read her book. Aimee gives a thoroughly biblical answer to the question, “Why can’t we be friends?” Men and women can be friends but only when we remember who and whose we are, brothers and sisters united in Christ. We’re family, and it’s time we start acting like it.

A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in your Church

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by a reader of this blog and asked if I would be willing to read and review his book on abuse and the church. The author, Jeff Crippen, is a pastor and former police officer. His book, A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in your Church, was written after his church went through a terrible and eye-opening experience. Pastor Crippen’s desire is to equip pastors, elders, church leaders, and even church members to recognize the signs of abuse and to be prepared to help the victims.

I agreed to read Pastor Crippen’s book, and he was kind enough to send me a copy. After reading it, I decided to write a series of articles addressing the main themes of the book. The first article, this one, will be on the basic premise of the book: what is an abuser, what typically happens in a church when a victim seeks help, and how to help a vicitim. The second will be on recognizing and dealing with abusers in other relationships. The third will be on the very sensitive topic of divorce, remarriage, and abuse.

First off let me say that I highly recommend Pastor Crippen’s book. It is an extremely important topic, and I believe all pastors and anyone else in leadership would benefit from reading this book.

Now, to get down to the purpose of this article, Pastor Crippen begins his book by explaining that there is a growing problem within the evangelical church:

The local church is one of the favorite hiding places of the abusive person. Conservative, Bible-believing religion is his frequent choice of facade. Within the evangelical church, women (and sometimes men) are being terribly abused in their homes and marriages. The children of such abusers are suffering as well. And when those victims come to their churches, to their pastors, and to their fellow Christians, pleading for help, well … Victims of abuse are often discounted by their churches (12).

According to Pastor Crippen, the church doesn’t understand the true nature of abuse and the effects abuse has on its victims. (128) His goal in writing, then, is “to educate the reader in the nature and tactics and mentality of abuse and, in doing so, to help us all to come to understand the pathology of this unique sin (15).”

So what, then, is an abuser? How does one recognize him? [As Pastor Crippen points out, the vast majority of abusers are men. Because of this and for the sake of brevity, he (and I) will use the masculine pronouns, although we are not suggesting that men are the only ones who are abusers.] Pastor Crippen spends a good majority of the book explaining the “tactics and mentality” of abusers. Here is a brief definition of “abuse” and “abuser”:

Abuse then, is a mentality of entitlement and superiority in which an abuser uses various tactics to obtain and enforce unjustified power and control over another person. The abuser thinks that he is absolutely justified in using these tactics to maintain this power and control over his victim. Abuse is effected in many ways: both physical (including sexual) and non-physical (verbal). It can be active (physically or verbally) or passive (not speaking, not acting). Abuse, therefore, is not limited to physical assault. Indeed, the non-physical forms of abuse often are far more damaging, deceptive, and cruel (18).

And,

An abuser is a person whose mentality, mindset, and even worldview is dominated by:

  • Power

  • Control

  • Entitlement (to that power and control)

  • Justification (in enforcing that power and control) (19)

Pastor Crippen points out that “it is a serious mistake to assume an abuser thinks like everyone else does.” (19) An abuser has no problems doing horrible things to others and then sleep like a baby at night, without any remorse or attacks of conscience. (42) This is because very often abusers “operate in a world largely or entirely devoid of a functional conscience.” (48) Because of this abusers do not act like everyone else, instead they:

  • Lack shame.

  • Have no empathy.

  • Experience little or not real anxiety.

  • Display false repentance very convincingly.

  • Lie, even in the face of plain facts that controvert their lie.

  • Use what appears to be real emotion or feeling, but in fact is just an act designed to manipulate. (49)

Pastor Crippen believes, despite the fact that many of these abusers are members of churches, that abusers are very likely unregenerate as they do not show evidence of saving grace or true repentance. (43)

While I’m sure that certain abusive tactics are familiar to most people, Pastor Crippen give a list of common tactics used by abusers. Some of these are: controlling the activities of others, abusing things that belong to the victim, harsh criticism (usually with very vulgar language) of victims physical appearance, isolating his victim, sleep deprivation, keeping his victim in poverty, preventing adequate medical care, cruelty to pets, and alienating the children from the victim. (33-34)

There is a great deal more information in A Cry for Justice on the tactics and mentality of abusers. It’s important to remember that not all abusers will use exactly the same tactics. However, after familiarizing yourself with the typical behaviors described in the book, you will be much more aware of the warning signs.

One of the main reasons that Pastor Crippen wrote A Cry for Justice is that all too often churches, pastors, and well-meaning Christians end up hurting victims and protecting abusers. Here is an example from the book that outlines what happens when a victim comes to her church for help:

1. Victim reports abuse to her pastor.

2. Pastor does not believe her claims, or at least believes they are greatly exaggerated. After all, he “knows” her husband to be one of the finest Christian men he knows, a pillar of the church.

3. Pastor minimizes the severity of the abuse. His goal is often, frankly, damage control (to himself and to his church).

4. Pastor indirectly (or not so indirectly!) implies that the victim needs to do better in her role as wife and mother and as a Christian. He concludes that all such scenarios are a “50/50” blame sharing.

5. Pastor sends the victim home, back to the abuser, after praying with her and entrusting the problem to the Lord.

6. Pastor believes he has done his job.

7. Victim returns, reporting that nothing has changed. She has tried harder and prayed, but the abuse has continued.

8. Pastor decides to do some counseling. …

9. As time passes, the victim becomes the guilty party in the eyes of the pastor and others. She is the one causing the commotion. She is pressured by the pastor and others int he church to stop rebelling, to submit to her husband, and stop causing division in the church.

10. After more time passes, the victim separates from or divorces the abuser. The church has refused to believe her, has persistently covered up the abuse, has failed to obey the law and report the abuse to the police, and has refused to exercise church discipline against the abuser. Ironically, warnings of impending church discipline are often directed against the victim!

11. The final terrible injustice is that the victim is the one who must leave the church, while the abuser remains a member in good standing, having successfully duped the pastor and church into believing that his victim was the real problem (21-22).

It may sound far-fetched, but I know of a woman whose experience fits this to a “T.” This is the all too common experience for many, many women (and some men) in our churches. This should not be so.

So, how then can churches, pastors, and concerned Christians help the victims of abuse? The first step is to become very familiar with the tactics and mentality of abusers. Books such as A Cry for Justice can help a educate leaders and others on what abuse looks like and how abusers and their victims often behave.

When a victim comes to you for help, you will need to be ready. Pastor Crippen lays out some guidelines to help leaders do the right thing. The first is to believe the victim. Pastor Crippen points out that this is not blind acceptance but that “in most cases those who report abuse are speaking with honesty.” (186) Other guidelines include not being swayed based on who the abuser is, understanding that all forms of abuse (not just physical or sexual) are serious, reporting abuse to police and allowing the justice system to act, protecting the victim from accusations, a warning not to attempt to cover up the abuse, and preach

ing on the topic of abuse to prepare and protect your congregation. (186-188)

In addition to giving guidelines on how to help victims, Pastor Crippen also gives a list of rules for how to deal with abusers:

1. Question everything. Even “facts” he states with absolute confidence.
2. Believe nothing without corroboration.
3. Assume he is attempting to deceive you.
4. Accept nothing less than full, unqualified repentance.
5. Do not pity him, no matter how emotional he might be.
6. Accept no excuses.
7. Do not let him blame others. (237-238)

If this seems harsh to you, remember the definition of abuse and the abuser:

Abuse then, is a mentality of entitlement and superiority in which an abuser uses various tactics to obtain and enforce unjustified power and control over another person. The abuser thinks that he is absolutely justified in using these tactics to maintain this power and control over his victim. Abuse is effected in many ways: both physical (including sexual) and non-physical (verbal). It can be active (physically or verbally) or passive (not speaking, not acting). Abuse, therefore, is not limited to physical assault. Indeed, the non-physical forms of abuse often are far more damaging, deceptive, and cruel (18).

Abusers are not acting and thinking like everyone else.

In closing, I’d like to say to anyone who recognizes her (or his) situation in reading this article, to please seek help. There are good resources available to you. If your church will not help, please find one that will. My prayers are with you.

Lord willing, parts two and three of this review will be finished soon.

Book Review: A Cast of Stones

ACOS-Current-Cover-300x300Occasionally I have the opportunity to review new Christian fiction for Bethany House Publishers. The great thing about that is I get to feed my book habit without spending money. All that Bethany House asks in return is that I write a review of the book (positive or negative) and publish it here and on one of the major book sales websites. The book I read this time was A Cast of Stones by Patrick Carr. I was really excited to read it because it is from one of my favorite genres: Christian fantasy.

A Cast of Stones is set in the fictional world of Illustra, a medieval-esque country where the Church maintains great power both sacred and secular. In this world, there are a group of gifted people who have the ability to cast and read lots. Readers, as they are known, work for the church to provide direction in important decisions. When information is needed, a reader carves a pair of spheres out of wood or stone while considering the question. The spheres are then cast, and the answer is read from the one lot drawn.

The King of Illustra, Rodran, is aging and has no heir. The kingdom is at risk if a suitable replacement isn’t found. So, the church is gathering the readers to cast lots for who will be the next king. The enemies of the kingdom are doing their best to prevent this from happening.

Enter our hero, Errol Stone. He is not a likely hero: the town drunk and an orphan. He seems to have no ambition other than to drown his sorrows and memories. He seems to have no particular skills except getting into trouble. He is chosen to deliver a message. He agrees in order to earn money to feed his love for ale, and then his whole world gets turned upside down.

Someone tries to kill Errol on his way to deliver the Church summons to a reclusive priest. And so our hero finds himself at the start of his own epic journey of adventure and discovery. Where will it lead? What will he learn about himself and his place in the kingdom?

A Cast of Stones is without a doubt the best book I’ve read in a really long time. The story was very fast paced. I could hardly set it down. I never have liked long-winded paragraphs that many authors use to explain the setting or scenery. This book does not do that. The descriptions were vivid and helpful. The characters were well-developed and fascinating. The fantasy elements are not distracting from the story; they add surprise and depth to the overall narrative.

This is the first book by author Patrick Carr. I can’t wait for book two: A Hero’s Lot. I would highly recommend A Cast of Stones for anyone who enjoys a great adventure. The book is written for adults, but there isn’t anything that would be questionable for teens or even pre-teens. The book is available in paperback or e-book. If you read it, please let me know what you think!

Here is a book trailer for A Cast of Stones. It gives a brief synopsis and an overall feel for the book: