I watched this conversation just now and found it fascinating. One of the things Sam said which really struck me was that if the church had been fulfilling its vocation to be a family, we wouldn’t have the same problem that we do now with same-sex attraction.
The church needs to rediscover its vocation to family, friendship, and intimacy (but not sexual intimacy!). The nuclear family is not the be-all and end-all – yet sadly the church has for far too long (perhaps unwittingly) preached the message that it is.
Anyway, I thought this was a great conversation and lots of food for thought there. I hope you enjoy it.
A couple of days ago I saw this video pop up on YouTube. It’s a short but worthwhile watch.
The role of friendship in sanctification – that is, in making us more like the people God wants us to be – is often overlooked. I think too often we see sanctification as something which happens as a sort of ‘just me and the Lord’ affair, and we neglect our brothers and sisters in Christ.
That’s partly the reason why Friend Zone exists. If society’s obsession with sex causes problems with men and women relating, is that a problem that will be solved with a “just me and God” approach? Or do we need each other to help? Perhaps this is a problem which God wants us to solve in friendship with each other. Just a thought!
The other day I watched a video debate between Natalie Collins and Phil Moore – an egalitarian and complementarian respectively. They were talking about the #MeToo movement and how the church should respond to it. I thought it was a really worthwhile video – both engaged well and made some good points (although it should come as no surprise that I’m with Phil Moore and thought him to be more persuasive).
It made me think once again that #MeToo is really a problem with self-control – sexual harassment is giving in to wrong desires. The solution to this is not a simplistic “men need to pull their socks up”, but rather the gospel in its fullness: that is, as the Spirit bears fruit in our lives we can overcome lustful feelings and instead love one another as God intended. This is what Friend Zone is about.
Do have a watch of the video and I hope you enjoy it!
I’ve just finished reading Made for Friendship by Drew Hunter. It is subtitled “The relationship that halves our sorrows and doubles our joys”.
I found it a really helpful book about the benefits of friendship – in particular, I appreciated Drew’s assessment that many people today do not really have deep friendships. In fact, the concept of ‘friendship’ itself has been devalued.
His contention is that we need to see friendship as the truly valuable thing that God made it to be – perhaps most significantly, Jesus himself called us his friends (John 15:13-15). Perhaps Christians do not appreciate what it means to be friends with God because the whole concept of friendship has become devalued:
The thought of friendship with God rings hollow today because we’ve already hollowed out the idea of friendship in general. How highly (or lowly) we esteem friendship with God will correlate with how highly (or lowly) we esteem friendship in general – and that is currently at a low point. (Page 26)
It is no small thing to be called a friend of God, and our experience of friendship with him should flow out into our friendship with others. However, because of this ‘hollowing out’ of friendship we do not see it as highly as we ought. Drew goes on:
Most of what we call friendship is little more than acquaintanceship. But acquaintanceship is to friendship what snorkeling is to deep-sea diving. Snorkeling is fine, but skimming along the surface isn’t exploring the deep. We often float on the surface of our conversations, sharing little more than the most general details of our lives. We note our plans for the day, share a few interesting (or uninteresting) details about our week, offer a few sports or political opinions. But we don’t share the climate of our souls. We don’t share our struggles with sin. We don’t share our experiences of spiritual renewal or admit that we’re sitting in a season of darkness. No one knows when our soul feels spiritually chilly. Nor are most of us adept at drawing out others in these ways.
I’m sure I am not alone in finding that these words hit the mark. In the church today, so much of the time it seems that we ‘skim the surface’ of relationships. The church has lost its vocation to be a family – we prefer superficial relationships which don’t demand too much. By contrast, God calls us to deep relationships with each other, not least because that is simply how we are made – made for friendship. We cannot fulfill our purpose as human beings without those kind of relationships!
We are living in a time when loneliness is on the rise, people are being driven apart for all sorts of reasons, and technology encourages a superficial approach to friendship. Now, more than ever, we need to understand the depths of friendship and companionship we are called to.
In the rest of the book Drew makes some helpful comments about friendship – particularly highlights for me were the last sections on cultivating friendship and a Biblical theology of friendship. In particular, I’d never thought about friendship in the way outlined in the final chapter – through the lens of our friendship with God. This is a valuable book about friendship and I would recommend it to anyone.
However, from the perspective of Friend Zone, I would say one thing – there was nothing really about friendship between the sexes (or between members of the same sex where they experience same-sex attraction). This is a good general book about friendship, but I think there is much more to say – and I would recommend reading this book in companion with others to flesh out what friendship means.
Site update: One thing which reading the book did make me realise is that I needed to be a bit more explicit in explaining why Friend Zone is about male-female friendship, rather than simply friendship in general – hence I created this page.
I’ve just finished reading David Bennett’s new book “A War of Loves“, subtitle “The unexpected story of a gay activist discovering Jesus”.
I’ve found it to be a really excellent book. If you want to read a review with lots of quotes from the book to see what I mean, have a look at David Robertson’s review.
I don’t really want to review the book per se, but given that this is Friend Zone I wanted to make a brief comment about what the book says about friendship.
This site originated largely as a result of same-sex attracted / gay Christians who have helped the church rediscover the value in friendship. I read people like Wesley Hill on Spiritual Friendship, Ed Shaw in The Plausibility Problem and Vaughan Roberts in True Friendship. What I think these people have rediscovered of late is that friendship is so much more than what society – not to mention the church – thinks it is.
When the church makes an idol of marriage and family, rather than showing the world what the body of Christ should be, then it’s small wonder that people who can’t enter into traditional families for various reasons feel excluded. (Kevin DeYoung recently had some helpful comments about idolising the family).
One of the things I took from this book is that the church has actually failed to live up to its calling to be the body of Christ – too often the biological family has been held up and friendship sidelined. It is for this reason that I think it’s so important to be embracing friendship: if the church can’t show the world that sex and romance is not god, then who can?
What would it be like if everyone in the church – both single and married – started seeing the world a bit different, started seeing marriage as a good thing but not the ultimate thing? What if we started opening up to friendship with others – to love one another deeply, from the heart (1 Peter 1:22)? What if we asked the Spirit to so transform us that we could really show the world what life could be without the idol of sex and romance in the way?
So many things in David’s book were helpful on this, and I think it’s a really helpful read from his perspective. I highly recommend reading it and I hope it will give to the church a much needed perspective on friendship.
Yesterday I watched Louis Theroux’s documentary Altered States: 1. Love Without Limits. It was a fascinating programme and one which is well worth reflecting on. It was documenting the rise of polyamory – that is, people who choose to live in ‘open’ relationships, with more than a single couple involved. It followed about three different groups (I can’t call them couples!) and explored how their relationships worked.
I have a few reflections which I’d like to talk about here, because I think the documentary has some relevance to what Friend Zone is about.
1. Polyamory is desire gone mad
It was painfully obvious, in every single arrangement, that there was at least one person getting the raw end of the deal. No-one came out and said they were unhappy with the polyamorous arrangement, but it didn’t take much reading between the lines to see that was the case.
The phrase ‘have your cake and eat it’ sprang to my mind more than once during the course of the programme. I think in every arrangement, it had originated with someone being unhappy and wanting to add to what they had rather than stop a relationship and start a new one. It was unhindered desire – human lust given licence.
2. One is not enough
One thing which was said repeatedly during the programme was ‘How can one person be enough?’ – i.e, one person is not supposed to fulfil every one of their partner’s needs. This is something I completely agree with – and a big part of the reason why Friend Zone is here.
However, the solution is completely different. Polyamory says – ‘one person can never be enough… therefore you need multiple sexual relationships’. This is the complete antithesis of Friend Zone: this site exists to say ‘one person can never be enough… therefore you need lots of friends.’ Which leads on to the third point.
3. No-one got what they wanted
It really struck me that all the people involved were searching for something, but they never really found it. One of the things I enjoy is being around couples who’ve been together a long time – couples who’ve been through thick and thin together, who are comfortable with each other. I believe that my wife and I, having been married for 12 years, are more comfortable with each other now than we were to start with – and I hope that will continue to grow through the course of our lives. Because marriage is an exclusive relationship, we have a commitment to each other which has grown – and the level of trust and love for each other has grown as well.
What really came home to me watching the polyamory documentary is that, by introducing sex into everything, the polyamorists didn’t get either marriage or friendship. There seemed to be a constant level of tension and unease in the relationships. There was no real commitment.
And it struck me that, in order to have deep friendships, one must be coming from a place of security: in order to relate to someone – especially someone of the opposite sex – you have to have the security of knowing what kind of relationship it is. If every relationship is potentially a sexual relationship, then it’s going to spoil everything from the start.
And this is why I am increasingly of the opinion that the traditional Christian understanding of marriage – as in, the lifelong union of a man and a woman – is good news for the world. It is the bedrock of healthy relationships: sexual intimacy belongs within the confines of marriage, and is safe there. Friendships can flourish when sexual intimacy is taken off the table. However, if sex is loosed from the confines of marriage, it destroys everything – friendship included. As (I believe) Ray Ortlund said: “Sex is like fire: in the fireplace, it keeps you warm. Out of the fireplace, it burns the house down.”
I read an interesting article today about the Strictly ‘curse’. This is a curse which applies to contestants on the TV show Strictly Come Dancing:
As the years have passed, there have been so many relationship break-ups among the show’s contestants, that the phenomenon has become known as the “Strictly curse”. And the latest scandal has been grabbing headlines all week as professional dancer Katya Jones and Comedian Seann Walsh have had their private lives made excruciatingly public.
I hadn’t realised this before now, but apparently there have now been ten couples who have broken up as a result of Strictly. In some ways it’s not surprising:
Jeremy Vine, who himself has a Christian faith and has been married for 16 years said he had feelings he couldn’t explain towards his partner when he was on Strictly: “Suddenly I’m seeing someone who is like a goddess – super human. The power and the strength and grace of that person, and then you are spending eight, nine hours a day within two inches of them.”
I’m not really a fan of Strictly – I’ve watched it on occasion. But I have always wondered how it’s possible for a man and a woman to partner so closely together in such a physical way without there being a sexual element. However, since starting up Friend Zone, it has made me wonder whether I’ve been a bit short sighted.
I think most people would cite the ‘Strictly’ curse as powerful evidence for believing if you get ‘too close’ to a member of the opposite sex, you’ll end up having an affair. There are plenty of examples of this happening, not just on Strictly! But, as discussed on this site, the solution is not simply to avoid those relationships. I often think of Aimee Byrd’s book and its subtitle: Avoidance is not purity.
I wonder whether part of the problem for those dancers on Strictly is that when it comes to relationships between men and women, the only ‘box’ they have to put things in is that of sexual attraction. If you start to have ‘feelings’ for someone else, then it clearly must be sexual. So the only two options are: (1) deny it, and keep the relationship at a superficial level; (2) give in to it.
But, as discussed here before, attraction is not one-dimensional. I think too often attraction is assumed to be sexual because that’s just about the only thing our society knows. It’s easy to confuse them, and of course Christians should expect nothing less given that sin is disordered desire. I explored recently on the blog whether we have lost our ability to see beauty – and I think you can see something of that in Jeremy Vine’s comment. It’s one thing to admire beauty, it’s something else to want that beauty in a sexual way. But that’s not to say that it’s impossible for a man and a woman to be involved in dancing together, have a close relationship, and yet for it to be pure.
I’m not sure I’d like to be a contestant on Strictly, to be honest. I think it would be a lot of pressure – and, of course, the times when we are weakest are often times when we are under the most pressure. That said, I think there are a couple of things to say: (1) I wonder if the outcome for those couples would have been different if they had a better understanding of friendship between the sexes. Sometimes a different way of viewing the world makes all the difference. (2) Christians understand that sin does not spring for our external circumstances but from our hearts. We do not sin because we are tempted, we sin because our hearts give in to the temptation. The solution to the Strictly curse is not taking people out of those circumstances, but by changing hearts – something which, ultimately, only Jesus can do.
Over the past week or two I’ve started working my way through Revelation with Ian Paul’s new Tyndale Commentary. I’ve very much enjoyed reading it so far – Revelation is a book I’ve always been a bit scared of, so getting to grips with it has been on my list for a long time.
The other day I came across an interesting comment on Revelation 3:18 (from the letter to the church in Laodicea). That verse says: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.”
In Greek culture, nakedness served to show off the glory of the human body, and participants in the games competed naked – hence our word ‘gymnast’ derives from the Greek for ‘naked’. The associated shame is in line with Jewish rejection of public nakedness (and hence their objection to the games), but here relates to the Laodiceans’ failure to ‘put on’ the way of living that is true to their faith (cf. Col. 3:9-14).
It’s hard to imagine participants in the Olympic Games participating naked! But the ancients certainly had a different view of the body and nudity than we do today in 21st Century Britain. Looking back through history and across the world, many different cultures have had different views of the body. Even cultures which are fairly close to home – for example, my wife was telling me the other day about her experience going swimming in France. It was the norm there (at least where she was) for the women to swim topless – even those who had one-piece costumes would roll them down. Everyone did it, it was just normal – no-one batted an eyelid! (For the record, she couldn’t bring herself to do the same…)
Societies throughout the ages have had different views about what is and is not permissible. However, I don’t think the church has always responded in the best way – I talked about this previously in my Christian Modesty post. The other day I saw this tweet:
Tongan student in my class: ~100 years ago, British missionaries came to our naked people, told us to believe in Jesus & get dressed. We did. Today British tourists come to our island, get naked on our beaches & now we tell them to believe in Jesus & get dressed.
I think this is a pretty fair representation of many British Christians: believing in Jesus entails modesty which means (amongst other things) always being clothed in public. Now there are, of course, many good reasons for clothes to be worn! But I wonder if there isn’t something deeper going on: do many Christians think nakedness is lewd and improper because the body itself is lewd and improper? In other words, the issue isn’t to do with nudity per se but rather what leads to that particular view.
Why does it matter?
The other day I was thinking about how things are so different for teenagers now broadband internet is widely available in the UK. Teenagers have access to pornographic material which is almost beyond imagination. Martin Daubney, ex-editor of lads’ mag Loaded, shortly after quitting as editor filmed a documentary called Porn on the Brain. He wrote about some of his research here:
I’d been invited to sit in on a forward-thinking class led by sex education consultant Jonny Hunt, who is regularly asked into schools to discuss sex and relationships. To establish what these kids knew about sex – including pornography – he had asked the children to write an A-Z list of the sexual terms they knew, no matter how extreme.
… when Jonny pinned their lists on the board, it turned out that the children’s extensive knowledge of porn terms was not only startling, it superseded that of every adult in the room – including the sex education consultant himself.
… When questioned, they had all – every child in a class of 20 – seen sodomy acted out in porn videos. I was stunned they even knew about it – I certainly hadn’t heard of it at that age – let alone had watched it and as a result may even have wanted to try it.
Pornography is changing the landscape of young adults – has already changed it beyond recognition in the time since I was a teenager. Teenagers now have access to just about anything, for free, on their smartphones. All of this has consequences – and we are seeing some of those consequences now (I talked about a few of them on this site). The key question is: what is access to porn at such a young age doing to these teenagers? In particular – is it affecting not just their view of sex, but their wider view of the body? If the only nudity you are exposed to is in the context of pornography, isn’t that going to colour your understanding of the body?
What can / should we be doing?
In my previous post about modesty I suggested that modesty actually exacerbates the problem. The message it sends out is, “the body is something sexual – therefore it needs to be covered up.” I remember as a child going to the National Gallery in London and looking at beautiful works of art and feeling a bit uneasy seeing pictures e.g. of naked breasts or a penis – why should this be the case? As I explained in that post – the human body is not something shameful. We, the church, have the theology, we have the Holy Spirit – how then should we tackle this problem?
Here I have to say that I’m not sure the best way forward. How should we help young people to have a healthy self-image? There are a few steps in this regard, but I’m not sure that we’ve really cracked this one yet. Answers on a postcard (or comment below, or drop us an email).
Lest I be misunderstood, please understand that I am not recommending some kind of Christian naturism! I don’t think this is the right solution – not least because it locates the solution in nudity rather than in Christ. Calling the church to have a healthy view of the body doesn’t mean that we should go to the opposite extreme!
But I do think what Friend Zone is about has something to offer, and I think it is to do with seeing each other in the context of a non-sexual relationship. When men and women can see each other as genuine friends, part of that means appreciating what is beautiful without the corruption of sexual desire. That’s why I entitled this post, “Losing our ability to see beauty” – because one of the things I’ve realised about our society is that it’s virtually impossible now to see someone as beautiful without reading a sexual connotation into that. (Or at least, I think this is more true for younger folk – millennials and younger).
One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is that it is not sinful for me as a man to acknowledge that a woman is beautiful. Partly this has been caused by watching my wife breastfeeding our children – which is a beautiful and natural thing for her to have done. It made me realise the extent of the way our society’s view of the female body has become distorted! And as I’ve thought about the body from a theological perspective, it has come back to me repeatedly that the body is not an insignificant or trivial detail in God’s plans: Men and women should see each other holistically – we are not disembodied souls floating around, but embodied. Count up the number of references in the New Testament for using our whole bodies for God – for example, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.
It is not our disembodied souls that God lives in – but our bodies. And as Christians we are to honour God with our bodies – not just in the negative (avoiding doing what is wrong) but positively doing what is right. How we see each other’s bodies is a part of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit – we should not rest content with what society says, or with some kind of legalistic ‘modesty’, but rather the inner transforming work of the Spirit.
Let me draw a few conclusions. I appreciate this is not a short post and I just want to make as clear as possible what I am and am not saying.
I am not arguing for nudity to be part of the church – rather, I think the British church’s attitudes to nudity demonstrate that we need to think more carefully about the body. Especially given our current cultural context.
The big question, to my mind, is this: how are we broadcasting the ‘better story’ compared with our society? Do teenagers receive a positive message about themselves and their bodies from the church – not just from what they hear in teaching, but from what we do? Are men and women, with the help of the Spirit, seeking to see each other holistically – with God-given beauty rather than a sinful distortion of it?
I don’t have the answers, not right now. But all I know is, unless we are prepared to ask some tough questions, we won’t get any answers.
On my YouTube Channel I’m currently working through the Sermon on the Mount, and today reached Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27-30 about adultery and lust. These are words which I’ve struggled to understand through the years, but – particularly with the things I’ve been thinking about with Friend Zone – have started to understand better. I hope this is helpful to you – do let me know what you think.