Consider these two facts:
1. Today, in thousands of offices behind closed doors men and women who are not married to each other will meet in therapeutic relationships.
2. Today, in thousands of evangelical male pastor's offices, men will not meet with women behind closed doors.
While Christians have a complicated relationship with the ubiquitous therapeutic culture, these two facts reveal something. In 2012, in everyday psychotherapy
In everyday evangelical missional communities (in which a larger number of them are pastored by men) men and women cannot be trusted to be alone with women behind closed doors.
Why aren’t we hearing scores and scores of reports of “fallen” therapists who ended up in bed with their cross-gendered client? Or vice versa?
Katie Persinger’s recent post on Ed Stetzer’s blog made me wonder afresh at the vast difference between two different cultures: one where trust is present and the other where fear is so real it is unsettling to even consider the possibility.
When a fundamentalist “missiologist” like Ed Stetzer invites a woman to write a guest post on his blog on the subject of friendship between men and women, I’m interested. So should you.
Stetzer has a wide following, authored numerous books and influences many fact # 2 pastors in planting missional churches. Consider back in 2008, Stetzer endorsed mega-church pastor Rick Warren’s 10 commandments for his staff. These simplistic rules for churches perpetuate an ongoing alienation between men and women; they give evangelical male pastors an autopilot system to turn on for social and personal holiness.
I consider Stetzer’s promotion of those rules to evangelical male pastors as part of the problem; he's not offering a missional strategy for healthy recognition between men and women. This is so apparent that Katie has to tell them its alright to even talk with someone from the opposite sex: “Just because a person is a woman does not mean you can't have a conversation with her or get to know her. Come on guys, don't flatter yourself! She's NOT into you!”
A default (turning on the switch for the autopilot system) response of the male evangelical pastor following Stetzer’s guidelines has been: “if you are a member of the opposite sex and you have an issue with me or want simply a pastoral conversation, please talk with my wife or another woman on my staff or another mature woman. Don’t get vulnerable with me. We have a strictly factual, instrumental relationship and no more.”
As long as a majority of conservative male evangelical pastors follow Stetzer, he is part of the problem which Katie puts her finger on: "I believe many pastors and other Christian men are at a higher risk for moral failure because they do not know how to have healthy relationships with women who are not their wives… Part of the reason for this is that guys feel like any relationships with women who are not their wives are inherently wrong.”
Hello? Missional communities in this culture have trained their men and women, in Katie’s words: “I respect and am a firm believer in the general rules we put in place as Christians: never ride alone in a car with a man, never meet behind closed doors with a man, watch what you wear and say, etc.”
But now, talking is okay.
What’s the difference between the trust among thousands of men and women in fact #1 versus the fear/suspicion among thousands of men and women in fact #2?
In the twenty-first century, it is expected “therapeutic relationships are intensely personal and often quite intimate encounters in which participants feel a mutual attraction…[therapists] spend more time each week engaged in meaningful, deep, intimate conversation with a given client than we do with most of the other people in our lives” (Being a Therapist, Jeffrey Kottler).
I applaud the movement of Stetzer and his missional communities to take a step out of the alienation they themselves have contributed to.
Perhaps some evangelical male pastors could benefit from therapy with a cross-gendered therapist. If only for the basic, foundational experience a man can intentionally choose to enter into some form of a close relationship with someone of the other gender in a closed room he can't have sex with. It could work wonders in missional communities. Stay tuned.