Cross Gender Friendships And The Church

This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Cross Gender Friendships”.  I will list the links to all the contributions at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

cross gender

Although I grew up going to a Baptist church and living in a conservative, Christian community I wandered from the church during my twenties but returned after my husband asked me for a divorce eight years into our marriage.

Having not been an active “adult” member of an evangelical church I was unfamiliar with a lot of the “unspoken” rules about relationships between men and women, but over time I learned that it definitely wasn’t considered safe for me and a married man to be alone and maybe not even good for me to be alone with a single guy. Why? Well, mainly because we might end up having sex. It could happen in a variety of ways but what it would amount to is we might be sexually attracted and not be able to control ourselves.

Once, when our pastor had a biking accident and broke his collar bone I stopped by his home early one evening to drop off a meal only to discover that he was uncomfortable with me entering his home because his wife was at the grocery store and he was home alone with his youngest son who was probably around 3 or 4 at the time. I was taken aback because the problem at hand had not occured to me, but when he asked me if I could come back in 30 minutes I agreed. However, when I came back almost an hour later she still wasn’t home.  He reluctantly made the decision to let me in with the meal, reassuring me that she would probably drive up any minute. After putting the meal in the kitchen I sat on the edge of a chair that was the farthest from him in their family room. I don’t remember what I was wearing but be assured it was modest as I wouldn’t have showed up at my pastor’s home in anything else. I remember sitting with my legs tightly held together and my arms crossed across my chest wishing I could hide my body because … well, because, I needed to hide it before it caused something bad to happen. As we sat there trying to engage in polite conversation I got the feeling that he was as uncomfortable as I was. I recall wondering if it would look more or less suspicious if I stayed until the Mrs. showed up or better if I left before she returned. I tried to play it out in my head …if she came home and we were sitting far apart and nothing was going on it would probably be better than if she came home and found out I had been there and already left because then she might think we had time to … what? flirt? kiss? have sex? … I tried to ask about his injury and how he was feeling but immediately felt like that was being too intimate, and changed the subject to the weather. When I glanced at my watch to check the time and realized that I had been there less than ten minutes, even though it felt more like an hour, I knew I had to get out of there. I couldn’t take it. I left feeling anxious and ashamed and worried even though nothing wrong or bad or inappropriate had occurred.

Looking back, it sounds crazy to me. Why didn’t I question the idea that good, mature, adult people who were serious about following Jesus, loving others and having healthy relationships couldn’t be trusted to control themselves? But at the time I didn’t question it and I think a lot of the reason I didn’t question the idea was because I was so new at learning what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. It would be years later when I would realize that being a follower of Jesus should be more about transformation than avoidance.

There was a story in the news recently about a dentist who fired his dental assistant because she was too attractive to him (irresistible is the word that was thrown around). He said he was afraid, even though nothing inappropriate had happened, that he might end up having an affair with her. It turns out that he had talked about it with his wife, who also worked at his dental practice, and then together they had talked to their pastor (probably at her suggestion). Together they all decided that it would be best to fire the dental assistant. When the dental assistant filed a lawsuit the courts ruled in the dentist’s favor, saying he had the legal right to fire her.

I’m not going to argue if what the dentist did was legal. It probably was legal. I will argue that what the dentist did was unjust. I will argue that what the dentist did was unloving. I will argue that what the dentist did was unlike something that Jesus would have done. I will argue that the theology behind the decision is bad theology.

The church shouldn’t be teaching that men and women can’t be friends because they might end up having sex. The church should be teaching us how to have healthy, loving, appropriate, respectful relationships with one another.

The church shouldn’t teach the dentist to fire his dental assistant if he is attracted to her but that to love his neighbor/dental assistant by taking responsibility for his lust if it exists; and the church shouldn’t teach me to feel guilty or ashamed about loving my neighbor/my pastor by taking him a meal after an injury.

IMO the church needs to do some serious re-evaluation about what it teaches when it comes to cross gender friendships.


Be sure and check out the other posts for this month’s synchroblog:

Chris Jefferies – Best of both

Jeremy Myers – Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible

Lynne Tait – Little Boxes

Dan Brennan – Cross-Gender Friendship: Jesus and the Post-Romantic Age

Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs

Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine

Alise Wright – What I get from my cross-gender friend

Liz Dyer – Cross-Gender Friendships and the Church

Paul Sims – Navigating the murky water of cross-gender friendships

Jonalyn Fincher – Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers

Amy Martin – Friendship: The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstands about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women

Maria Kettleson Anderson – Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships

Bram Cools – Nothing More Natural Than Cross-Gender Friendships?

Hugo Schwyzer – Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women

Marta Layton – True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul

Kathy Escobar – The Road To Equality Is Paved With Friendship

Karl Wheeler – Friends at First Sight

Doreen Mannion – Hetereosexual, Platonic Cross-Gender Friendships–Learning from Gay & Lesbian Christians

Jim Henderson – Jesus Had A Thing for Women and So Do I

Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship

29 thoughts on “Cross Gender Friendships And The Church

  1. Elizabeth Chapin

    Hi Liz, I appreciate your post and followed that story about the dentist. What I think is the biggest load of crap about that incident is the idea that “nothing inappropriate had happened.” According to court records, Knight texted Nelson that “if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing.” That’s inappropriate and if Nelson had filed for sexual harassment she might have won!

    The fact that all parties involved didn’t see anything inappropriate about Knight’s behavior (except, perhaps his wife) and that Nelson didn’t recognize the problem with his messages to her about his inability to control his bodily functions, is one of the tragedies of this kind of thinking!

  2. Pingback: 50 Shades of Friendship « Elizabeth Chapin ~ ChickChaotic

  3. adm

    That was hard to read in many regards for me. I completely resonate with this:

    “I remember sitting with my legs tightly held together and my arms crossed across my chest wishing I could hide my body because … well, because, I needed to hide it before it caused something bad to happen.”

    It’s more than just awkward, its scary as a woman. When I’ve been in similar situations, where I intuit a man is either eyeing me in a sexual regard OR just completely uncomfortable with me because I’m a woman, (like your pastor example) it does the same thing to me. It feels the same. It says to me, there’s a lack of control here, he either might do something intentionally, or unintentionally, (because it’s uncontrollable) but either way, my existence may cause something bad to happen.

    And, so many of these underlying ideas still carry through church culture, yes, reevaluation is needed.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  4. jenniferellen14

    Thanks for sharing some of your story! It always amazes me how much sexualized awkwardness we actually *create*!

  5. kathyescobar

    thanks liz for your thoughts here and coordinating this synchroblog, too, what a great one! oh that story makes me so sad, but i can just picture it–the fear, the discomfort, the so-not-just-being-comfortable-in-his-skin-ness. it’s such a disservice to us, that the church doesn’t teach us how to live together, side by side, in healthy and safe relationship with each other. goodness gracious, we’ve missed the point!

  6. Pingback: Friends at First Sight |

  7. Chris Jefferies

    I very much enjoyed reading your contribution, Liz. I remember being told the same sorts of things by one or two well-meaning elders back in the 1970s. We were young marrieds in those days, many of us with pre-school children.

    And I can tell you that my wife and I (and many of our friends) just ignored the advice and got on with our lives without worrying about such things. We knew it was nonsense.

    There is an element of risk, but I’m convinced it’s very small. There’s little point running scared of an overblown anxiety no matter how widespread it has become. Especially so when the anxiety gets in the way of living our lives as we ought.

    We need to get rid of such foolishness, truly we do! Would Jesus set us a bad example? No. Never.

    Yet he sat alone with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, he spoke alone with the woman caught in adultery, and he was a close friend of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany.

  8. Pingback: Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers | RubySlippers

  9. Maria Kettleson Anderson

    Liz, I never use “Maria Anderson” or “Maria K Anderson” as my name. That’s not me! If “Maria Kettleson Anderson” is too long for you, then please fixt the name in the list to either “MK Anderson” or “Maria Kettleson”? If you must drop something, don’t drop the Kettleson instead of the Anderson! Please please please fix this here and on the list everyone is posting?


  10. Pingback: Friendship: The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstandings about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women | Amy D Martin

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