I read an article this morning which is becoming depressingly familiar – although, worryingly, largely ignored by the media and politicians. The biggest single factor when it comes to child’s mental health is family breakdown. I was particularly struck by this paragraph:
Second, the relationship with the opposite-sex parent matters. On the face of it, having a close relationship with either parent seems to benefit teens equally. But when you throw all these other factors into the mix – parents’ marital status, happiness, relationship quality, use of physical force, education, ethnicity – it’s closeness to mum that matters specifically for boys and closeness to dad that matters specifically for girls.
This is really a no-brainer, and yet it is apparently controversial in this day and age to suggest that a child does best with its mother and father. How else is a boy going to learn how to relate to women than through close family relationships with mother, sister, etc – but especially the mother? How else is a girl going to learn how to relate to men than with a father in particular? When children are deprived of those things – and in its place comes the fake way that men and women relate in pornography – then is it any surprise that they grow up unable to form meaningful relationships with the opposite sex?
Over the past few months I’ve met quite a few new people through baby & toddler groups I help to run. It has really come home to me just how many children are living in situations which a generation or two ago would have been the rarity: many family situations are what we used to call ‘complicated’. What are we creating as a society when this is the new normal?
This is what Friend Zone is about. Friend Zone is a small step to help restore what is broken in the world. Just because someone grew up without a parent doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to form meaningful friendships with the opposite sex. The goal here is to not just show what’s broken, but try to point to a better way. Articles like this simply convince me even further that this is the right path.
Last year, Aisling Bea wrote a moving article about her father, who committed suicide when she was very young. In it she wrote:
My father’s death has given me a lot. It has given me a lifelong love of women, of their grittiness and hardness – traits that we are not supposed to value as feminine. It has also given me a love of men, of their vulnerability and tenderness – traits that we do not foster as masculine or allow ourselves to associate with masculinity.
I’m very grateful to her for bringing this issue up, as it is very often overlooked. Male suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK – 84 take their own lives every week!
So what should we do about it? Aisling occasionally speaks on Twitter about the need for men to open up more about their feelings, to build friendships and support each other. I think she’s right – but I think there’s more to be said.
In particular, too often I think it’s simply assumed that men should open up to other men. Not that there’s anything wrong with opening up to other men, of course – but why should it be restricted to men, and not women?
A few years ago, shortly after university, I had a mixed group of friends who would meet up regularly. Occasionally the girls would have a girls night – and so one of my male friends decided that the boys should have a boys night instead. We had those on a couple of occasions. To be honest with you, I didn’t really like the boys nights so much – we just didn’t really have so much to say to each other. It wasn’t an evening with free flowing conversation, shall we say! Now maybe this is because of our particular personalities (mostly introverts…) – but I don’t think it’s the only reason.
In any social grouping, my preference is always for mixed-sex rather than men-only (obviously I can’t be part of women-only groups…) I just feel it works better. And that’s what we should expect given the differences between men and women. I have different conversations with men than I have with women – which is perfectly natural. I personally have benefited from the friendships I’ve had with both men and women – they each bring out a different side in me. I do generally find it easier to talk about my feelings and ’emotional life’ with women – it would feel quite forced and strange to have a conversation with another man about my emotional state.
I wonder if part of the problem with male suicide at the moment is that men are finding it more difficult to relate to women. In the past men might have been able to talk to a close female family member – a spouse, sister or mother, perhaps – but now good relationships even in the family are harder to find. Men and women need healthy relationships with the opposite sex – the problems cannot all be solved by single-sex friendship.
So what should we do?
I would say to men – don’t neglect friendship of any sort. Many men unfortunately do neglect friendship (especially once they’re in a long-term relationship) – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Keep your friends, keep talking to them, don’t let it slide. However – I would say – don’t neglect friendship with the opposite sex: maybe there are women around who you could talk to, who would love to help.
I would say to women – don’t neglect your male friends. Don’t assume everything is OK with them – men are also vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
There is no easy answer to this question – but I am convinced that the problem of male suicide is not just a problem for men to solve but for everyone. I believe this is another example of why Friend Zone is necessary – we need men and women to pull together on this, and many other things.
Yesterday I wrote a review of Aimee Byrd’s book, “Why can’t we be friends” (it’s great, by the way – you should read it). At the end of that review I said “As I got to the end of the book, it struck me that there are many more angles on this which weren’t covered. I don’t say that as a negative – just that I have realised this topic is so much bigger than I thought it was a few months ago.”
One of the things which I have been thinking about is about the body – a topic I wrote about fairly recently but I think is worth exploring in more detail. There is something of a ‘modesty’ culture in Christian circles – it’s probably more pronounced in America, from what I hear, but certainly Christian women in the UK know about it. Women are supposed to cover up, not to expose too much, lest their bodies might cause a brother to stumble.
The problem is, of course, that women start to see their bodies as a source of temptation and shame and men start to see women’s bodies as a source of temptation and something to avoid. This kind of modesty culture seems to me to actually encourage seeing one another sexually. The irony – something which is designed to avoid temptation actually ends up causing more of it! But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Trying to deal with a situation through the Law rather than Grace. It can’t be done – the Spirit is the only way.
If we truly believe that bodies are good, and that Christ came in the body to redeem us – body and soul – and that our whole bodies should be used as instruments of righteousness – shouldn’t Christians be known for our love of all things physical? Shouldn’t Christians be known to demonstrate our affection physically (“Greet each other with a holy kiss”, as Paul says in no less than four of his epistles!). What right does the church have to be so concerned with the pharisaic appearance of righteousness that it overlooks these things?
A few months ago I was at a youth event with some of our church teenagers. The speaker was from another local church, and he talked from Psalm 139 about how God made us and how God loves us. One of the things he said which really hit home to our teenage girls was about loving ourselves and our bodies, because God made us. These girls are so often given negative messages about their bodies – they need to look a certain way to fit in, etc – that it was revolutionary for them to hear something positive about their bodies. And it’s made me think: what good news do Christians have to offer for people, women especially, who are struggling in this way?
I know one or two women who are blessed with breasts that are above average in size (the fact that I had to resist a huge temptation to use a euphemism there is probably in itself indicative that something is wrong!). I think they feel a little ashamed of themselves, like they have to disguise it – that maybe their bodies are a cause of sexual temptation. Obviously this isn’t the case for every woman in this situation, but in a culture where breasts are sexualised to the point they are in much of Western society, you can hardly blame Christian women for feeling a bit guilty.
What kind of good news is the church offering young women if it sends out a conflicted message – “your bodies are good, a temple of the holy spirit, made beautiful by God – BUT try and cover yourself up and stop men looking at you.” The more I think about it, the more I think that we as a church need to be working hard at this – we need to show people what it means to love one another, bodies included. Not just tell them.I often think of Glynn Harrison’s book “A Better Story” – we need to be showing the world a better story, not preaching one story from our lips but demonstrating something else with our actions.
We believe that God made bodies and made them good – let’s ask God to help us show that and not just proclaim it.
So… we should all become nudists, right?
Haha. Good try, No, that’s not what I’m saying. But we still deal with the effects of sin and the fall – modesty is of some value, even if we haven’t got everything right in the church. But we should challenge unhealthy attitudes wherever they are found, and I do feel that some of the attitudes in the church at the moment are unhealthy. Bodies are good – that doesn’t mean we need to be naked all the time! Grace doesn’t mean that we can throw all caution to the wind, especially with those outside the church. (Paul may have been alluding in 1 Corinthians 11 about long hair to temple prostitutes, who would signal their availability by waving their uncovered hair around. It’s important to be wise about how we engage with the world.)
The challenge is to present a right attitude to the world while at the same time acknowledge that the world has gone very wrong. How we do that is not an easy thing, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. Personally, I’m just beginning to think about this and start to get my head around it.
But some food for thought: many of the great artworks of previous generations contained nudity – think of Michelangelo’s David, for example. He, and many classical artists, could see the beauty and dignity of the human body. (I should say, so can many artists today). We, by contrast, live in a culture where women have to fight for the right to breastfeed their babies (I have two young daughters, both of whom were breastfed – I know a little of the struggle that goes on here). Breasts are so sexualised and seen as improper that it’s become difficult in public for a woman to do one of the most natural things in the world. What a messed up world we live in!
Perhaps we as a church need to recover something of the goodness of bodies, not reduce them (as society does) to sexual gratification but see the beauty inherent in what God made good. All of this is part and parcel of what it means to be friends – seeing each other holistically, as Aimee Byrd put it. I pray that God will enliven the church to meet the hour – that we may be driven further into the Scriptures to seek what the Spirit is saying at this time.
I’ve just finished reading Aimee Byrd’s new book “Why can’t we be friends”. The summary version of this is, it’s a great book and I would thoroughly recommend it!
What I like is how Aimee builds the case – she particularly looks at friendship of men and women from the perspective of being brothers and sisters in Christ, and goes into some detail about what that means for us. This is a book which I think will be difficult to argue with – and, from the conversations I’ve had even since starting this site, sorely needed.
As I was reading the book I highlighted some of my favourite quotes, let me give you a few of them before coming to my thoughts:
“To view the other sex as constant temptations to sin and threats to purity merely perpetuates the thinking and behaviour of the unredeemed.” – What Aimee said about sexual temptation was great. If we only see each other as sexually – as our culture encourages men and women to do – then the way to combat that will be to avoid contact with those of the opposite sex. What needs changing is not the time we spend together but – more fundamentally – how we see each other as men and women.
“We are to strive for real wisdom, not the appearance of wisdom. We are to live according to who we are. Real wisdom will discern that pharisaical hard and fast rules only give faux safety and faux friendship.” This is very much what Friend Zone is about – I liked what Aimee said about avoidance and purity. Avoidance gives the appearance of wisdom – but does not come from God. Purity is a purity of the heart, which can only come from God through the Holy Spirit. We can’t fake purity through following rules.
“Is it possible that we misread appropriate feelings due to the overly sexualised messages we hear, don’t know how to recognise or maturely handle them, and resist the intimacy that we could experience as brothers and sisters?” This is in a chapter where Aimee talks about attraction – something I have blogged on recently. I thought this was very insightful – attraction is not simply a black/white thing (as our culture tends to make out) – i.e. if you’re attracted to someone, it’s not necessarily a sexual thing.
These are a few choice quotes, but there are more – do pick up a copy and see!
I only have a couple of mildly critical points about the book:
The writing is perfectly accessible, but I’m not sure I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone at my church. I think it would help to have a reasonably mature knowledge of the Bible and some theological understanding. Maybe I underestimate people, but I can see this book going a little ‘over the heads’ of some of the folk in our congregation. A few more stories might have helped.
This is just a matter of personal style, but I think the book tailed off a little towards the end – I wonder whether so much needed to be said in so much detail about the sibling relationship. It’s all good stuff, but maybe it would have been punchier to have a little less content.
At the end of the day, I left the book feeling encouraged – encouraged that others are thinking about this issue as well, and writing such good books about it. The church is beginning to have some excellent resources on male-female friendship and, I hope, beginning to wake up and take note.
But I also feel encouraged because I left feeling that there’s so much more to say. As I got to the end of the book, it struck me that there are many more angles on this which weren’t covered. I don’t say that as a negative – just that I have realised this topic is so much bigger than I thought it was a few months ago. Recently someone said to me that the big battle of the early 21st century church is going to be anthropology – what it means to be human. Being male or female is fundamental to what it means to be human – we’re not just sexual beings, we are whole people. I wonder if God is working in the church at the moment to bring about some careful thinking about what it means to be embodied creatures, male and female, and how we relate.
Either way, it is an encouragement to carry on with Friend Zone and to persist in thinking through these important questions in applying the Bible to the problems of our age.
It was the end of a long, hot day. We’d had a busy day getting up to all sorts of fun and now it was late in the evening, and we were sitting round a camp fire. I was 20 years old, and sat next to my friend Naomi. While we were sitting there, she just took my hand and held it for a while. Somehow we both knew it wasn’t a romantic thing – it was just friendship. We just sat there holding hands for a while, watching the fire and listening to others chatting around us. All that happened about 15 years ago – it was on a Christian Union summer house party (don’t ask). But the event is notable because it was the first and only time that such a thing has ever happened to me.
Why do I mention this? In my last post I mentioned an article about the body I’d been reading. It’s got me thinking again about how much of the Christian world at the moment – in the West, at least – seems to be fairly gnostic: that is, the body is often seen as a bad thing. No-one actually comes out and says this, of course! – but sometimes our theology is revealed more by what we do than by what we say.
Bodies are sexualised – I can’t speak for women, but for me as a man you don’t have to look very far to see women’s bodies being sexualised on TV, media, etc. It’s mainstream now – and it has been for a long time. ‘Sex sells’. so they say. Christians are rightly upset by seeing sex used in this way – but I think the reaction is seeing bodies as sources of temptation to be avoided rather than something good which God has made.
So, for example: for me, as a man, rather than seeing a woman’s body as a beautiful thing which God has made, I see it as a source of temptation and try to avoid them as much as possible. I think this is a large part of what contributes to avoiding cross-sex friendship.
But is it right to think like that?
‘In the beginning…’
I’m always struck by Genesis 2:25: “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” ‘Body-shaming’ is a horrible modern term, but there was none of it before the fall. Adam and Eve were comfortable in their own skin, comfortable with their bodies. God made their bodies, and made them good – every part of them. Shame didn’t come until after the fall – in 3:7, once they have eaten the fruit, the first result we are told about is realising their nakedness and feeling shame.
I often wonder – although we live in a fallen world still, Jesus came to inaugurate the new creation – to reverse the curse of the fall and free men and women from slavery to sin. Should Christians therefore be more or less ashamed of bodies? I think Christians should be people who are known for rejoicing in all aspects of God’s good creation – human beings and bodies included. God made our bodies, he made them good, God made beauty, we should rejoice in it!
This also means Christians should be more eager to use their bodies, more eager to touch – e.g. give someone a hug, etc. We are supposed to love one another – and, as embodied creatures, we don’t just love someone with words – we love them in an appropriate physical way as well.
But – am I being over-optimistic here? We do live in a fallen world, after all: does the reality of sin mean we should hold back? I don’t think so.
Using our bodies
One of the things which I never noticed before until recently was how the New Testament talks about bodies. Here, for example, are Paul’s words in Romans 6:
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (v12-13)
We should offer ‘every part of ourselves’ to God – body, mind, and soul – as an instrument of righteousness. This is more than our bodies, of course, but not less! What we do with our bodies matters.
Paul, again, writes in 1 Corinthians 6:
The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?
Here Paul warns against sexual immorality – because how we use our bodies really matters. Our bodies are “members of Christ himself” – what a high view of the body!
Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” So the Christian life is a bodily life – not simply a ‘super-spiritual’ life.
Lastly, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.
Controlling our own bodies – this is sanctification. Again, not a ‘super-spiritual’ thing but an earthy, bodily sanctification. I hope that we as a church should expect the Spirit to be sanctifying us in every way – not to expect sinless perfection in this lifetime but to have realistic yet positive expectations for change and growth.
This is what I come back to time and again as I go to the Scriptures: we are exhorted many times against sexual immorality – but the point is not simply to avoid sexual immorality but to do what is right. We should be people who use our bodies in the right way, rather than simply in the wrong way.
I’m not a person who does physical contact very easily. I’m not really a hugger – generally, when people are giving out hugs and kisses at the end of my home group, they avoid me. Clearly they’ve understood my body language! But is that right? Is it right for me to avoid physical contact?
It seems to me, from the Scriptures, that to be pure is not simply avoiding wrong physical contact but doing right physical contact in its place. Similarly with bodies – not simply avoiding thinking about bodies in a sexual way but positively thinking about them in the right way.
We live in difficult times in the church, and I am increasingly convinced that we need to show the world a better way – A Better Story. How we see bodies and how we use our bodies really matters in this sexualised age when so much has gone wrong with the way our society sees and uses bodies. Let’s pray and trust that God can renew us by his Spirit, even at such a time as this.
‘Men and women can’t be friends – the sex part always gets in the way.’ (When Harry Met Sally, 1989)
It’s thirty years since Billy Crystal told Meg Ryan they couldn’t be friends and during that time, Western society’s obsession with sex has only grown. We are witnessing more and more of its ugly fruit in the breakdown of relationships between men and women.
The #MeToo movement has recently opened the floodgates for women to speak up about sexual harassment and abuse that they’ve experienced. But #MeToo is simply the tip of the iceberg. Mark Regnerus’ 2017 book Cheap Sex offers a terrifying account of the extent of the problem, and its effect on the younger generation.
I’m afraid you’ll have to buy the magazine to read the rest – but it’s worth it for some other good articles by Emma Scrivener, James Cary, and Ros Clarke. In particular I enjoyed reading what Ros had to say about the body in Christian theology – something I’ve been thinking about with respect to Friend Zone. But probably the subject of another blog!
One thing I would have mentioned in the article if it had been published at the time was Aimee Byrd’s new book, which I mentioned yesterday (keep your eyes out for a review here in the next week or two).
One sign that God is at work is when several people come up with the same idea at the same time. If God is working in various different people, provoking in them the same kind of answers, it may well be a work of the Spirit. I think this is the case with friendship: a number of people have written about it now, and I hope that many people are more switched on to the idea.
Case in point: I just saw this morning that Aimee Byrd has written a new book about friendship between men and women, “Why can’t we be friends?” Which is subtitled ‘Avoidance is not purity’. You can read an extract from the book here – “we don’t view each other holistically.”
Friendship between men and women is a taboo topic in the evangelical subculture. It makes us uncomfortable. Apparently, we are all time bombs on the brink of having an affair—or of being accused of having one. Because of this, men and women often feel uncomfortable around each other, even in innocent contexts, and we impose strict hedges on behavior in order to avoid the threat of sexual impropriety.
Most of us instinctively know what constitutes sexual impropriety in conversation and action—but, due to influence from our overly sexualized culture, we tend to scandalize ordinary acts of kindness and business. It becomes suspect to give someone a ride, share a meal with a coworker in a public place, or text the other sex without copying our spouses or another third party. Prohibitions of these acts are couched in language of protecting our purity, honoring our spouses, or wisely avoiding the threat of temptation. Challenge any of these suggestions, however, and the language of danger is invoked. If these ordinary acts are dangerous, it must be downright foolish to use a meaningful term like friendship to describe a relationship between the sexes.
Needless to say, this book has gone straight on the reading list and I will aim to review it properly in due course. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems that Aimee Byrd has written a book which resonates very much with everything that Friend Zone is about. I hope that many people will read it and come to discover what friendship is all about.
A few days ago I recorded a video “Is feminism bad for women?” (See the bottom of this post to watch the full thing).
In the video, I said that feminism is not good because – in its current incarnation – it seems to want to eliminate the differences between men and women, leaving no space for appreciating the traditionally ‘feminine’ roles such as motherhood. (Watch the video for the full thing!)
One of the things which struck me which I didn’t have time to talk about in the video is the question of feminism and friendship: is feminism actually bad news for friendships between men and women?
I think it is, for a couple of reasons. Firstly – since, as I just said, modern feminism seems to want to eliminate the differences between men and women, we no longer relate as men and women. We are just generic ‘people’. The thing is, if there are differences between men and women, relationships won’t take account of that.
Chivalry is a pretty old fashioned word these days – and I’m not saying we should bring back the 1950s or anything like that! – but I have found it enormously beneficial in all my relationships to be aware of the dynamics going on between men and women. The fact that it sounds so ridiculously outdated and sexist to be saying something which is actually fairly common-sense shows just how much feminism has influenced society. (I’ve written more on this site about the differences between men and women.)
Secondly, there is a large part of feminism which seeks sexual liberation – in other words, to have the same sexual freedom that men enjoy. (I think this is a large part of what is behind the abortion movement). In the programme I mention in the video “The Trouble with Women”, Anne Robinson talked to some of the grid girls at Brands Hatch. In this part of the programme she suggested that women should have the right to use their sexuality and bodies however they wanted to. However, later in the programme she talked to women who had faced sexual abuse in public places (e.g. the London Underground) – and yet didn’t really draw any connection between these two things, other than we need more feminism to correct this.
This, again, struck me as being self-defeating. We live in a society which is obsessed with sex and sexual attraction. If feminism includes sexual liberation, then it will be bad for women and bad for friendship. I wrote an article about this on my blog – “Sex is burning the house down #MeToo”.
Watching the programme I was struck once again by how lost our society is when it comes to men and women, and how the Bible offers a compelling and attractive vision for flourishing for us whether male or female.
There’s been a bit of a storm created over the last few days about the Revoice Conference. The conference description says: “Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality”.
This has created a big discussion online – for a start, Douglas Wilson has some links to different people as well as his own take. The gist seems to be (1) is it OK to identify as a ‘gay’ Christian? (this is what Owen Strachan takes issue with); (2) it’s not right to explore the bounds of celibacy as to what is appropriate for same-sex attracted Christians.
I don’t want to talk about the first issue as that has been going on for some time. I do want to talk about the issue of celibacy, as it’s relevant to what we’re about here at Friend Zone.
Doug Wilson says this in his piece:
As Hill’s book makes plain, a commitment to celibacy does not prevent one from falling in love with a best friend, or from being heartbroken when that friend moves away. So on one end of the spectrum we have a prohibition of sexual consummation, and in the context of this Revoice conference, no one disagrees about that. But on the other end, what is legitimate? Where is the line supposed to be? When does okay turn into not okay?
Some of my questions might seem ludicrous, or impertinent, but I am in deadly earnest. Suppose that an oath-bound set of friends—what Hill is arguing for—is living together. They are committed to celibacy, which means . . . what, exactly? What does day-to-day life look like in the home? We would appear to know of the one thing prohibited (although even the boundaries of that may be uncertain), but there would also appear to be a wide range of things that still need to be discussed.
But in this new world of blurry definitions, what does celibacy not allow? Is hand-holding out? When they are watching a movie, how close can they sit together? Can they cuddle? When a man falls in love with his friend, is that a violation of the commitment to celibacy? I think it is high time for someone to define celibacy. What do you mean by it? Does a commitment to celibacy exclude sleeping together? Showering together? Nudity? Physical, affectionate contact? Hand-holding? Back rubs? Falling in love? If there is sexual arousal, but no orgasm, is that still celibacy? If a man falls in love with his celibate partner, and they kiss, but it goes no further, is that celibacy?
This is interesting because I think it raises a question around the nature of sin and sanctification which underlies this disagreement.
Sin, I think all would agree, is more than simply actions – it comes from the heart. Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (ESV). It’s not just the mouth – we know that sin proceeds because our hearts are impure, not the other way round. Our actions do not make us impure – impure actions flow from impure hearts. Therefore – the only solution is to fix the heart problem, not to fix our actions. God alone can fix our heart problem – these oft-quoted verses from Ezekiel 36 prophecy what God was to accomplish in Jesus: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
So we need new hearts, we need to be renewed by the Spirit. I think all would agree so far. God takes our sinful desires and transforms them into gospel desires. We are renewed from the inside out. It’s important to remember that the goal is not for us simply to avoid what is sinful but to love.
The issues seem to be (1) here exactly does same-sex attraction ‘fit’ within this? Is it ENTIRELY bad, or is there something good which is horribly distorted by sin? (2) is it actually possible for our desires to be truly transformed? Is it reasonable to expect that this side of glory?
Let me give an example from my own life. I am a married man, but I occasionally find women who I am not married to attractive. I used to think this was an entirely sinful thing and repent of it all – but, the thing is, it didn’t stop attraction happening, and it actually led to me basically avoiding women for fear of what might happen. In my mind, avoiding women became the way I dealt with sin. Over time, I have started to see that I was wrong here – or at least, only partially right. As I said previously, attraction is not one-dimensional: it has multiple dimensions – some of them are good and right and godly, some of them are bad and wrong and sinful. It has been in recognising this that I’ve been able to take steps towards friendship – when I meet a woman where there is attraction, I find it helpful to think that there are some good things about my feelings as well as some which are sinful. Through prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit, as I repent and turn to Christ, I hope that what is bad is decreasing whereas what is good is increasing. I wonder if something of this is going on with Christians who experience same-sex attraction – is the desire entirely wrong, or is there something which can be redeemed?
I often return to 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” We don’t lack the tools here – we have the Holy Spirit, we have the gospel, sinful hearts can be made new and desires restored.
Returning to Doug Wilson’s piece, I disagree with his argument around celibacy. It seems to me the Revoice conference is not about trying to push the boundaries of what might be permissible – the Bible is quite clear that we are called to absolute sexual purity. You can’t have a little bit of sexual purity! At the same time, I think it is right to explore what celibacy and friendship looks like – not for the point of ‘pushing the bounds’, but rather what love might look like in these cases. Physical contact is not necessarily sexual – in some cultures, for example, it’s quite normal for two men to hold hands. It’s not about trying to do everything right up until crossing some kind of red line! It’s about working out what sanctification and holiness look like in a specific set of circumstances.
My contention, and this is partly why Friend Zone is here, is this: we live in a sexually saturated world. Everything is affected by it. Christians need to show the world not just how to avoid doing anything wrong, sexually, but more – that there is a better way. Sex is not God. Desires can be transformed, sinners can be forgiven – and that love is truly possible without the corruption of sexual desire. Maybe I am being over-optimistic, but what I read from the pages of the New Testament is that God doesn’t call us to anything which he doesn’t also provide the resources for. If God is calling the church to a new area of sexual purity and holiness, one which has perhaps been unexplored for a long time, then maybe it’s time for the church to listen.