Take Down the Caution Tape Around Male-Female Friendships

Christlikeness, not social distancing, is key to cross-gender contact in the church.

If I’m being totally honest, I probably would not have written a book were it not for two friends, Dan and Stanford. After church one Sunday, Dan listened as I muddled through some thoughts for an upcoming retreat I was co-teaching with Stanford. “That would make a great book topic,” he said. I dismissed his encouragement with a laugh. But months later, when asked by a publisher if I had any book ideas, his words came back to me.

Dan is one of a number of men over the years who have been friends, allies, and encouragers to me. I’m not alone in this experience. Emily Hunter McGowan, a lecturer at Wheaton College, recently tweeted her acknowledgment to two men who played pivotal roles in her life by naming gifts they saw in her and encouraging her to develop them. Like me, many other women chimed in with similar stories of significant men in their lives. And, like me, many of these women are married.

The idea that married women should have relationships with men they’re not married to raises alarm bells for many, and with good cause. Sexual indiscretions regularly make headlines. Pastors and other leaders now have to contend with the threat of polyamory. And a devastating number of marriages are shaken and shattered by affairs. Naturally enough, we feel an urgent inclination to batten down the marital hatches and protect husband-wife relationships.

In church circles especially, men and women have practiced social distancing of a sort for many years. We lean on the oft-debated “Billy Graham Rule.” We give awkward side hugs. And more often than not, we outright avoid each other. My marriage of 16 years is precious, so wouldn’t it be better to cut off all relationships with other men? …

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