It’s well worth listening to in full and it’s given me a lot to think about. My initial reaction, in no particular order:
The relationship between men and women is fundamental to God’s created order. Her introduction I think is spot on: “We need to understand and be able to articulate clearly what we believe about these things and why, according to God’s Word—not as a system of rules that we ascribe to, not as a grid through which we see everything else, but as a fundamental affirmation of God’s goodness to the human beings he created. As the culture around us changes rapidly … we believers have a huge opportunity not only to teach well the young ones growing up among us, but also to bear witness before a world that desperately needs to know the goodness of our Redeemer. And that goodness shines forth powerfully from his good creation of his image-bearers as male and female.”
Why is it so fundamental? Because what it means to be male and female communicates the nature of God and the nature of the gospel. (You’ll have to listen to the whole talk for that).
By contrast, a lot of ‘complementarian’ churches don’t really understand Biblical complementarianism. I talked about this a little when I wrote about Beth Moore a few months ago. A lot of churches think you can say, “so long as men are the head of the family and are in the leadership positions at church, so long as women aren’t preaching / teaching / leading in certain circumstances, we’ve done our job”. I think this kind of attitude is doing a lot of harm – it’s saying nothing positive about women or the relationship between men and women.
Following on from this, we need to rebuild a positive vision of men and women. One of the things that has struck me lately is how Western society seems to have completely lost the plot when it comes to men and women. We can’t rely on stereotypes any more, because all the stereotypes are being thrown down. At the same time, men don’t know how to be men, women don’t know how to be women, and men and women simply don’t know how to relate. Yes, this is an exaggeration – but not too much of one. I think the church should be setting the trend in this, and showing the world what being a man and a woman looks like in the 21st century. Rather than looking back and trying to re-create the way things were back in the 1950s, we have an opportunity to show what being male and female looks like in the here and now.
Finally, women’s bodies are important. I was really struck by Kathleen’s perspective on having a female body. One thing it did make me realise was how little the female body is really valued in society – the female body is valued for its sexuality but little else at the moment. I think we need to recapture a holistic, Biblical sense of bodies – as I have said here for a while now.
Anyway, those are my reflections – I hope you enjoy listening to the talk!
Since I started Friend Zone, I’ve written a few posts about the body (e.g. Shouldn’t we be more positive about the body and Friendship and the body). I don’t want to go over old ground, but I just wanted to share a quick insight which struck me yesterday. I don’t know quite how I’ve managed to get to this point in my life where I’m only just realising things like this, but perhaps that’s why it needs to change!
I think a common view in society (and, to an extent, the church) is that our bodies are not really ‘me’ – the real you is your thoughts / feelings – your inner world. It’s almost like saying we are basically “brains on sticks” – the physical stuff that makes up our body isn’t really important. This is what Nancy Pearcey said in her book Love Thy Body (which I reviewed here).
If it helps, it’s a bit like computer hardware / software. We think our essential selves are like the software on a computer – our bodies are the hardware it runs on, but it could easily be swapped out for an equivalent body and our essential selves would stay the same. But – is that right?
The new realisation I came to yesterday is simply this: our bodies are not something separate from ourselves. They’re an intrinsic part of it. Your body, in a word, is you. It’s not all of you – you have a mind as well – but your body is the real you. A few years ago I remember reading a scientific article about the body, saying that the brain wasn’t where all the processing happened – we ‘thought’ with our bodies as well, e.g. our central nervous system plays a role in the thought process. Your brain couldn’t just simply be dropped into another body, like you’d change a CD!
In the context of friendship, this means that our bodies are not simply the external windows to our souls through which friendship can happen. When we relate, we relate as physical people. Our bodies are not incidental to the process, but essential to it. It’s not a “soul-to-soul” connection through the medium of the body, but a “whole person” connection including the body. Obviously there will be different levels at which we connect (a married couple will be very different to a casual acquaintance!) but it doesn’t mean the body is unimportant in either case.
In one sense, I think all this is pretty obvious – but in another sense, I think it needs saying. As I’ve said before:
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.
So how do we engage with each other as physical people?
The other day, on a Facebook group we were discussing an article on the BBC: Why you shouldn’t hug your colleagues. A few people mentioned that they found physical contact difficult. While I can sympathise with this (I’m not a hugger, in general – to be honest, I don’t even really like shaking hands during the peace) – I wondered how that mapped onto the Biblical understanding of the body.
Should we avoid physical contact with our family – given that we are a family of believers in Christ?
I’m not sure I have the answer to that – and, in fact, I’m sure there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to that question. But – is there an appropriate place for physical but non-sexual love to be expressed in the church? Do we shy away from it, and if so, why? What should we be doing instead? These are questions which I think are worth exploring. That’s why, or partly why, Friend Zone exists.
Earlier on today I read an article by Jen Wilkin: 3 Female Ghosts that Haunt the Church. I thought it was a really helpful article about the way in which wrong views about women haunt the church. Jen identifies three in particular – the usurper, the temptress, and the child.
It’s a really helpful article and I would recommend you to read it! She concludes the article:
Do some women usurp authority? Yes. Do some seduce? Yes. Do some lack emotional or intellectual maturity? Yes. And so do some men. But we must move from a paradigm of wariness to one of trust, trading the labels of usurper, temptress, child for those of ally, sister, co-laborer. Only then will men and women share the burden and privilege of ministry as they were intended.
It made me think once again about the purpose of Friend Zone. One of the reasons we need a site such as this is that I think too many churches have decided that the Christian sexual ethic is reduced to “marry someone of the opposite sex, stay with them for life, and don’t ever have an affair.” Now, those are all important elements of the Christian sexual ethic, but it cuts out a huge amount!
I wonder if we don’t need a reboot of the whole way that men and women relate to each other. Rather than seeing men and women as being in competition, or only in a sexual way, men and women need to rediscover the glory of what it means to be truly masculine or feminine. We need to rediscovery the glory of God in making us male and female.
A lot of the time on this site I’ve talked about how many Christians and churches see the Bible as a list of “Thou shalt nots”. I believe we need to (re)discover the beauty instead of what God would have us do, the fullness of our identity as men and women.
All of these things I hope to explore over time in the coming months…
This leads to a third indictment of repression and avoidance: One does not need Jesus Christ to practice them. Some Christians find that the right combination of carrots and sticks allows them to ignore their desire, or alternatively, they structure their circumstances so that desire rarely rears its head. Self-righteousness sets in and brings with it the impulse to advise others. Christ remains present in name only. He is seen as the one who will be disappointed at failure or who will dole out treats for good behavior. He is viewed only as the Judge when he himself should be the prize.
In other words, a system that doesn’t need Jesus is not meaningfully Christian. If his sovereignty is replaced by human authority, and if the goal isn’t him but sex—or for silver medalists, virginity—would anyone even notice if Jesus slowly disappeared?
I think this is really helpful. When we come to know Jesus, he re-orients our priorities and desires. It’s possible to practice a kind of ‘repression and avoidance’ strategy when it comes to sin – it’s the kind of strategy which could be practiced without Jesus. But it’s doomed to failure, as ultimately it will lead to resentment (“I’m not getting what I really want!”) rather than a growing desire for Christ and all that he is.
This is an important lesson, and it’s particularly important for Christians to understand given our cultural context. I think it’s the meaning behind Jesus’ words in Luke 18:29-30: “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” How can giving up things lead to ‘many times as much’? Because God gives us from his abundance, not from the limited amount which physical pleasures can give.
I started to speak about desire a few weeks ago when I talked about C.S. Lewis and The Weight of Glory. I’m very pleased to see this kind of language being used elsewhere, and I hope it’s a sign that God is renewing his church.
Let me give you a few quotes to whet your appetite.
Godly men will indeed emanate compassion, humility, service, and love. This is true. But is this the whole truth? Has the ideal of manhood in the modern church become just a gentle shadow of what God made it to be?
Endangered is that species of lionhearted masculinity that bears Aslan’s description: “not safe, but good.” Our present ideals, like the ones I once held, do not require goodness to make men safe, because they ensure that men are safe regardless of goodness. The man reborn in this image says nothing uncomfortable, rallies no charge, and shows little, if any, initiative. He is goaded to be convictionless, passionless, perhaps even Christless, if but subdued.
The King’s men will be found, with Christ, in the thickest parts of the battle. They will eschew wasting their lives venturing nothing, growing warm for nothing, exercising no initiative, taking no stands, building no fortitude of faith, engaging in no spiritual battle, carrying no burdens, planting no flags on unconquered hilltops. The men of this King, for the very reason that they despise playing with foam swords against the forces of evil, create the safest culture for their women and children. Dangerous men under God, holding one another accountable, will not stand idly by as the bears maul those they should rather protect and nourish.
I thought it was a helpful article which helps me to think about what needs to happen in the church. We want more godly men, and we want more godly women – in fact, being godly men and women requires growing into godly masculinity and femininity expressed through our own unique gifts and personalities.
Do have a read of the article – I hope this is a subject which I will return to.
I’ve just finished reading Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey. It’s a really excellent book and I would recommend anyone to read it. For me, I think its biggest strength was helping me to ‘join the dots’ with respect to many of the issues we are facing as a society today: it made the case that homosexuality, transgender, and abortion are all manifestations of a deeper underlying belief about our bodies.
I particularly appreciated her explanation of the ‘upper story’ and ‘lower story’: many of the justifications for these things are based on the point that our ‘upper story’, the story in our minds and wills, is more important and that our ‘lower story’ , our bodies, is unimportant. Society see our bodies as basically bags of meat, things which are fairly unimportant compared with our minds and emotions.
Therefore – if you feel like you belong in a different body (in particular – gender), than it’s your body which is wrong. Your body is not the ‘real you’, so to speak. She applies this to the other issues as well, showing that most people think our bodies do not define us.
So, what do we do? Christians, in particular, should be affirming the goodness of God’s creation – the goodness of the body and the material world (while at the same time acknowledging its fallenness.) As I have said before, should Christians not be more positive about the body? Should Christians not be setting an example in how to relate to each other in a physical way?
All of this has made me think about friendship. In the past I think I’ve seen friendship largely as a non-physical thing: we relate only on the level of intellect and emotion – not at all on the physical level. The physical level is largely reserved for marriage.
I just wonder whether this is healthy and Biblical. There is a question in my mind: what would ’embodied’ friendship look like? What would it mean to be friends not just on a spiritual / intellectual / emotional level but on a physical level as well? This is partly what I had in mind in the previous post about non-sexual romantic relationships.
Is there a space to explore what it means to be ’embodied’ friends – and yet sexually pure? I think there is, but – as for what exactly that means – I don’t know as yet. Suggestions on a postcard.
In the meantime, if you haven’t read it – do read the book. It’s a great read and very eye-opening and helpful – not just in diagnosing the problem but in helping us to see what Christians should be doing instead!
When it comes to same-sex relationships and the church, I’ve heard more and more people propose some sort of committed, same-sex, non-sexual romantic friendships for those who want to uphold the Christian sexual ethic.
This, they say, avoids the supposed loneliness of singleness while upholding biblical standards of sexual behavior.
(Much of what Sam says is helpful and you should read the rest of the article).
I’d just like to pick up on one thing, the use of the word romantic. Now, I’m not quite sure who has been proposing ‘romantic’ friendships. I know there are couples like the women who write A Queer Calling, but I’m not sure whether they would describe their relationship as a ‘romantic’ one.
I think one has to be careful in defining things here. Clearly there is more to distinguish between marriage and friendship than simply sex: friendship is a different kind of relationship than marriage. As a married man, I hope I am qualified to say that!
At the same time, I do wonder whether there is some room to explore the concept of friendship further – and I don’t mean in a ‘romantic’ direction.
Sam makes much of the fact that marriage is an exclusive relationship, whereas friendship is not, and gives the example of a hiking holiday where having two friends with him actually made a better trip. The thing is, I think this could apply as much to marriage as it does friendship: I enjoy times with my wife alone as well as other people – everything about friendship applies to marriage. The only thing, virtually by definition, which is exclusive about marriage is sex – and, we might add, romance. But what is romance?
Romance is a pretty broad term, I suggest it might be helpful to think of romance as being things which ultimately are about sex: a romantic dinner date, for example, as preparation for a romantic night. You could call it ‘wooing’ – there’s a word which doesn’t get used often enough.
But a lot of romance is what’s going on in the minds of those involve: two people having a ‘romantic’ dinner will look basically the same as two good friends having dinner – the only difference being what they are thinking, and where they think it’s going to end up.
So, when it comes to friendship, I wonder: if you (rightly) take romance out of the equation, where does that leave you?
I’m not going to offer any answers her per se, other than to say this is what I am working on with this site. I just think there is a space here to develop our understanding of friendship – in a non-romantic way.
So I think the answer to the question, ‘May Christians have non-sexual romantic relationships?’ is a firm ‘no’. Romance, as I’ve defined it, should not play any part in non-marriage relationships. But, on the other hand, I would say the answer to the question ‘Is there a space to develop our understanding of n non-romantic friendship?’ is ‘yes’.
I saw an article on the BBC earlier – How do your porn habits compare with young people across Britain? It’s based on findings from a survey commissioned for a new BBC 3 documentary called Porn Laid Bare. (The documentary is available on the iPlayer but I haven’t watched it yet – as and when I do I will probably write about it).
The statistics are, sadly, becoming par for the course: I’m unsurprised by the fact that 62% of young people have watched porn in the last month. I’m unsurprised even by the fact that the BBC have produced a documentary about it which was on the front page of the iPlayer when I looked at it this evening.
The most stunning statistic is perhaps that 45% of young brits say that porn has been their main source of sex education.
I have talked about the porn problem on this site. It is depressingly and tragically common now – the life of teenagers has become, for want of a better word ‘pornified’ – and it is having a massive effect. My sincere hope and prayer is that young people will discover a better way – otherwise who knows where we are heading as a society?
Yesterday I happened upon a review of a Channel 4 Documentary called Safe At Last – ‘Inside a Women’s Refuge’. The review moved me to actually watch the programme last night. It was not an easy watch, to be honest. What got to me most of all was the sheer scale of it all – apparently the national refuge helpline gets over 230 calls every day. It was a real eye-opener, to put it mildly.
It was clear to me that there are no easy solutions. The Guardian review said:
Such a programme shouldn’t be necessary, of course. Fundamentally, because men shouldn’t be isolating, coercing, abusing, beating, strangling, raping and threatening to murder the women they live with. But we know they do, have done and – unless things change in ways greater and more dramatic than perhaps anyone can envision – will continue to do so. Let us accept that as a brutal given.
That abuse happens is a ‘brutal given’. There are no easy answers – but, is there something which could point us in the right direction?
A few weeks ago Gillette launched an advert – ‘the best a man can be’ – which encouraged men to be better when it comes to sexual harassment, i.e. to treat women with respect, and encourage other men to do the same. This resulted in a backlash – which was probably over-the-top, but there was something in it.
I think there is a huge amount of concern at the moment about ‘toxic masculinity’ – the kind of behaviour illuminated by the #MeToo movement, and in the documentary. The problem is, sometimes it seems that all masculinity gets tarred with the same brush. Sometimes the way people discuss it veers close to: “Well, that’s just what men are like… what do you expect from them?” I think you can see that a little bit in the quote above (“Men shouldn’t be…”).
Over the last year or two I’ve seen a number of people say that the solution we really need is more feminism. It seems to me that these two things – toxic masculinity and feminism – are linked. Feminism, in its modern guise, wants to promote women and women’s rights – much of which is to be applauded. But it has little to say positively about masculinity – instead the focus lately is on toxic masculinity. But toxic masculinity – as I understand it – is saying to men “stop it, reign it in, curb your impulses – so you won’t be the monster you really are underneath.” (Interestingly, I don’t think many people have been talking about toxic femininity, although let’s leave that aside for now).
In other words, women are being promoted and lauded, while men are seen as the problem and commanded to do better. Women get a free pass because they are the victims, whereas men are the problem. (I’m sure I’m over-simplifying here, but this is the way it often comes across to me. And I’m certainly not suggesting that women are not victims.)
I think this solution is a recipe for disaster and there are no surprises that it’s not working. Feminism, at least in its modern form, is partly about undermining and eradicating the differences between men and women. ‘What men can do, women can do just as well.’ There is no need for a man to be the breadwinner, there is no need for a man to be the head of the household, etc. The traditional roles of men and women are out of the window.
The problem is, the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. There was good which came with a traditional masculine role as well as bad. And what is happening is that many men have seized the opportunity to relinquish responsibility – something I see tragically around here in the number of single mothers. I think a lot of young men now live in a sort of perpetual adolescence – they don’t have the need to grow up by taking responsibility for a family (even if they have children…)
Where are the positive role models for men? Where are the voices telling men not just to stop the bad stuff but positively to take responsibility, be a strong man, care for women and children, etc? This is one reason I think Jordan Peterson is so popular – he’s one of the few people who is saying those kind of things.
One of the lessons I’ve learned over the last few years is that you can’t change people simply by telling them to ‘stop it’. You have to give them a better vision, something to aim for. Role models are part of it (surely part of the problem is a growing number of children growing up without fathers). But in general it’s far better to show someone what they should be doing rather than simply telling them what they shouldn’t. Men need to be shown how to be men, rather than told how not to be!
Where does Friend Zone come into all this? So much of the time, I see and read things which just make me think our society is so lost when it comes to men and women. We all agree there is a problem, but no-one really seems to have the foggiest idea what to do about it. We need to re-learn what it means to be men and women, we need to re-learn the goodness of being made male and female.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
This is a lesson which is hard for our society to hear: it’s not all men’s fault. In fact, part of the problem is a culture which locates the problem primarily with men – some men, at least. We desperately need to recover the Biblical vision for both men and women. And we need a Saviour who is capable of forgiving our failures and restoring in us the image of God which has been marred.
This is where I hope that Friend Zone can play a small part. Over the last few years I’ve come to realise that I don’t simply relate to other people as a person – I relate as a man. I’ve become increasingly aware of the way that sex and gender plays into our relationships. And I’ve also become increasingly amazed at how God has made men and women to complement one another and the joy it can bring when those relationships flourish.
There are deep issues in society, and it may well be the case that abuse is a a tragic ‘brutal fact’ which will always be there to an extent. But perhaps if more men and women can learn to be friends, that would be a small step. And perhaps if we as a society can learn to embrace the realities of the way that God has made us, and encourage men and women to grow into those, it would make a real difference. There are huge challenges – but God is great and there is no end to what he can do.
Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvellous deeds; you alone are God.
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.