I wish I could honor more. But in one post, I want to highlight these particular women. These women all have one thing in common: in the last five years, they have rocked my world.
This post is a part of the March Synchroblog.
Whatever label you call me, evangelical, post-evangelical, or just Christian, these women have been my mentors, friends, guides, and prophets. In their own unique voice, these women have opened up a new world for me in the last five years. They’ve helped me change from a soft complementarian to an egalitarian. They’ve helped me to envision communities of beauty, justice, love, shalom, and friendship between men and women. All these women have opened my eyes to sexism.
Wendy M. Wright
Wendy Wright, a Catholic theologian, shocked me. Not just shocked me in the sense of some surprise that happens in a day and you forget it the next. No, she shook me to the depths of my being. I came across her small article on spiritual friendship between men and women before I had any dream of writing a book. It was one of the first sources I came across that supported male-female friendship.
It was this excerpt which knocked me off my chair: “A male and female friendship is thus a place of creative tension in which the encounter with the other—a disquieting experience itself—is heightened by the experience of being drawn so compellingly out of the self by desire. But, by maintaining its own specific life as a friendship and by not becoming either a union of lovers or a marriage or be retreating into the cool and safely negotiated corridors of an acquaintance, men and women’s spiritual friendships come to embody some of the dynamics of and gifts of both marriages and celibacy.”
I processed that for many months. Eventually, that excerpt of seeing the beauty and goodness of the creative tension between men and women in friendship was my vision for Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions.
Kathy came when I was just beginning to weigh the challenge of cross-gender friendship in a romance-saturated culture. Kathy penned what I consider to be a ground-breaking book on the subject: We’re Just Good Friends: Men and Women in Nonromantic Relationships.
It was Kathy who helped me see the social construction of romantic ideology in our culture—including the evangelical sub-culture. The institutionalization of romantic love has created something in which “love and sexuality are fused together in the ideology of romance.” She helped me to see what I call the romantic myth.
Gee’s secular book on friendships between men and women, Friends: Why Men and Women are from the Same Planet was one of the greatest gifts from God to me in the last decade. There was no turning back for me when I read this book for the first time. Gee was not interested in maintaining a conservative position on sex. She wasn’t interested in promoting a secular version of celibacy as a virtue. She was quite aware that friendships could turn into sex and she had no qualms about that.
But she argued that affectionate friendships with expressive intimacy and commitment could happen between men and women with no sex. She did a powerful critique of Freud and she argued that biological brother-sister dyads were such models of friendships between men and women. Lisa also was critical of the pop gender Mars/Venus model accepted by many Christians.
She argued powerful love, affectionate love, even love that would appreciate other’s looks where both friends made the other feel more attractive could happen without sex. She made the case that close brother-sister pairs can deeply appreciate the beauty of the sibling without wanting sex—and so can cross-gender friends.
Joan is a powerful Catholic voice for women. I discovered her writings on friendship and the “f” word while the world of cross-gender friendship was opening up to me. Joan’s book on the Friendship of Women is relatively short but so rich and deep. It stirred me to encounter women in friendship who were open to passion, love, and beauty in friendship.
Christine is another powerful Catholic, feminist voice. Her book, Body, Sex and Pleasure had such powerful arguments in it for Christians embracing the goodness of sexual pleasure. But in so doing, I could also see these same arguments could be applied to pleasure and beauty in platonic friendship.
Many Christians are so fearful of platonic pleasure and beauty because they have been told 1) it’s only for romance, and or, 2) it opens the door to the slippery slope. These two challenges to experience pleasure and beauty in cross-gender friendships have strongly discouraged men and women from just being themselves in the context of nonromantic friendship. Gudorf turns this on its head.
A theologian from Oxford, Carmichael’s in-depth academic study on the history of friendship in Christianity was an absolute treasure to come across: Friendship: Interpreting Christian Love. She didn’t stay within one tradition. She delved into so many. From Augustine to contemporary Christian feminists like Sallie McFague, Mary Hunt, and Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel.
When I think of cross-gender friendship and the challenges from so many Christians against it, I think of Carmichael’s observation at the end of the book: “Friendship is the overcoming of all its varied opposites: fear, strangeness and alienation, enmity and hostility, and indifference.”
For some of my friends, this is a provocative choice. But I want to honor Sarah Miles even with the expected flak I may get from some. Sarah’s book, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at things. The book didn’t have anything to do with cross-gender friendship. But I want to highlight Sarah’s book and story here as we honor women this month.
I haven’t met Kathy f2f yet. That will change next month, Lord willing. Much of what Kathy writes on her blog, resonates with my heart. Kathy has made the courageous choice to stand with me in my call for men and women to become friends in the church. There are many Christian leaders who won’t stand with me publicly on this issue.
Kathy is passionately for what many of us fear and yet so want: healthy, deep intimacy. Kathy has also encouraged me by seeing the vision for close friendships between men and women in the faith community. So many leaders in church systems today are afraid of that. Kathy is making a tough stand in the eyes of others who are afraid to go where she is going. I also love Kathy’s leadership on her blog of not wincing by naming these friendships as beautiful.
Jennifer, if you don’t know, is my closest and dearest friend after Sheila. This year we are celebrating 10 years of friendship together. We are planning a special 10 day road trip to honor that in the summer. Our friendship has suffered from some bumps along the way but I think our friendship is stronger than it is ever been.
Her very presence in my life, day in, and day out, with our deep intimacy, has powerfully transformed me. I was a complementarian when I met Jennifer. But as I grew to know her, her potential but raw gifts, her distinctive gifts with potential to teach, preach, and lead, her unique presence in my life compelled me to look at women in ministry. My intentional vulnerability to allow Jennifer's voice into my daily life has changed me forever. I’m a different man because of Jennifer Ould.
Sheila, my wife. Where do I begin? She has stood by my side every step along the way in this journey of cross-gender friendship. I would not be where I am today without her. She totally turns the whole gender thing on its head. Sheila is a passionate with a heart that is so deep and so expressive. But she also excels at math and loves calculus and abstract mathematical reasoning. She has her masters in math and taught at the college level for several years.
As we have both changed, Sheila has been an incredible voice in my life.
Christine Sine: It All Beings with Love
Wendy McCaig: Letting Junia Fly: Releasing the Called
Tammy Carter: Pat Summit: Changing the Game & Changing the World
Michelle Morr Krabill: Why I Love Being a Woman
Ellen Haroutunian: March Sybchroblog: All About Eve
Marta Layton: The War on Terror and the War on Women
Jeremy Myers: Women Must Lead the Church
Carol Kuniholm: Rethinking Hupotasso
Jeanette Altes: On Being Female
Melody Hansen: Call me Crazy, But I Talk to Jesus Too
Glen Hager: Walked into a Bar
Steve Hayes: St. Christina of Persia
Leah Sophia: March Synchroblog: All About Eve
Sonja Andrews: International Women's Day
Sonnie Swenston-Forbes: The Women