A couple of days ago, Beth Moore posted on her blog “A Letter to My Brothers“. It’s a moving account of her experience in the world of the church as a female leader. Please read it before reading this, as you won’t get the same sense by skimming over a few quotes pulled out from it.
I have a few thoughts on reading it, which aren’t really in any particular order at the moment, but I think what Beth was saying and what Friend Zone is about are connected.
To begin with:
- It’s possible to have the right theology without the right practice. I’ve been in churches where the right things have been believed, but these have not been put into practice. In particular, it is possible to have the right theology of men and women without a corresponding practice of valuing women and treating them with the appropriate respect. This is, of course, no surprise – but it’s a shame when it seems to happen to such a big extent.
- The church is not immune from worldliness. Over the past few years, as I said on this site, there has been a rise in the number of accusations of sexual harassment and so on. The church has never been immune from the world’s influence, and this is a sad illustration of exactly that.
What to do? Near the end of her letter, Beth writes:
Finally, I’m asking that you would simply have no tolerance for misogyny and dismissiveness toward women in your spheres of influence. I’m asking for your deliberate and clearly conveyed influence toward the imitation of Christ in His attitude and actions toward women. I’m also asking for forgiveness both from my sisters and my brothers. My acquiescence and silence made me complicit in perpetuating an atmosphere in which a damaging relational dynamic has flourished. I want to be a good sister to both genders. Every paragraph in this letter is toward that goal.
But how do we actually go about doing that?
And this is where I think Friend Zone comes in. There are two (wrong) approaches when dealing with sin such as those mentioned here: (1) Licence – simply giving into it; (2) Legalism – setting up rules and regulations to try and prevent it happening (such as the Billy Graham Rule). The world flits between one and the other, especially on this issue. Sadly, these attitudes can also often be found in the church – the Billy Graham Rule is perhaps an extreme example, but many Christians have similar rules they abide by (even if not articulated).
I wonder whether the attitude which Beth describes is the product of a church which has tried to deal with sin through legalism. I have seen it far too often: many churches have implicitly believed the lie that the best way to combat the sexualisation of society is by men and women being segregated: if men and women don’t get ‘too close’, then they won’t do anything they shouldn’t do.
The fruit of this line of thinking, however, is that rather than men seeing women as sisters in Christ who are to be loved and befriended, instead they are seen as objects of temptation to be avoided. It’s no surprise that this doesn’t work – the Bible never gives us this option as an antidote for sin. Jesus’ harshest criticism was for the Pharisees who thought they were squeaky clean but inside were unclean – like ‘whitewashed tombs’ (Matthew 23:27). Our hearts need to change – for it is out of our hearts that evil comes (Mark 7:21). (I have written in more depth on this elsewhere on this site). Rather than showing forth in righteousness, this kind of behaviour ends up with men and women having only superficial relationships, or – worse – having illicit sexual relationships. Legalism cannot stem the tide of the sexualisation of society.
What Friend Zone is about is promoting healthy friendship between men and women. That is to say, the church needs to put its words into practice – men and women who are in Christ are no longer isolated individuals but brothers and sisters. What Beth’s letter shows is that if there was ever a time when Friend Zone was needed, this is it.