Author Robin Shepard Arthur Roberts and I have something in common: we believe that the men and women friends in our contemporary churches need to "discover the ecstasy that arises from touch that wants to affirm not control." In his book, Messengers of God: The Sensuous Side of Spirituality, he succinctly summarizes in about 3 paragraphs what takes me about thirtysomething pages in my manuscript to say. Of course, I think there is a place for both! As I dream, I dream about Christian communities who can move past the romantic idealism in contemporary evangelicalism in such a way that men and women may not only deeply delight in their spouses but also in their cross-gender friends. In the twenty-first century, I see Christian communities--churches and academic institutions teaching on sexuality and friendship as spiritual and sexual formation. I'd love to do that!
"Physical affection is the moral use of touch," he notes.
Intimate touch he observes, is more than just sexual intercourse. "Intimacy occurs significantly among friends through manifold sensations of touch. Indeed, the current preoccupation with sexual touch may be a result of a society that has stifled intimacy through friendship. For one person to be truly present to another some form of interactive touch is required. The other senses are important, but they simply do not suffice. To see a friend is good. A letter or phone call supports friendship. But touch offers powerful sensory closure to friendship. The circles of our beings intersect. We share personal space. Touch gives intimacy to friendship...
Consider some of the ways that the current preoccupation with sexual touch as the locus of intimacy, aided and abetted by commercialized media, has impoverished our lives. First, by minimizing friendship as an experience basic to social civility it maximized adversarial processes. Second, by narrowing perceptions of sexuality to genital intercourse it has fostered predatory tacile behavior; touch becomes a demonstrator of power instead of affection. Third, a stereotypical focus upon genital sex brings role confusion to persons who might otherwise be content with non-genital friendships. Men, it seems can't be close friends with other men without being labeled gay. Women can't be close to other women without being labeled lesbian. Men and women cannot be close friends without being suspected of having a romantic affair. Given the force of these stereotypes, role models for intimacy in friendship are not easily provided to the young within our culture. These stereotypes must be overcome."
He suggests, "every school and church curriculum for the next decade ought to include a class on effective and affirming touch, so that our culture can correct an aberrant course."