It seems that there are a growing a number of us who see the future for sacred friendships between men and women as downright positive for Christians who desire a post-purity sexual ethic.
As a distinctive expression of Christian practice, sacred friendship as an ordinary everyday social practice invites men and women into the richness of embodied love between men and women - beyond a romance obsessed evangelical purity culture.
I nearly jumped out of my seat when I read Abigal Rine quoting Anna Broadway from a recent Atlantic article, "We've done a very bad job of connecting single sexuality to married sexuality."
You cannot begin to free men and women from the sticky entanglement of the purity culture without also identifying how evangelicals narrowly define all embodied sexuality and engagement between men and women as potential romantic partners or passionate romantic lovers.
Conservative evangelicals clinging to romantic, obsessed purity culture implicitly and explicitly present a script in which all men and women are either a potential romantic partners or already engaging passionate romantic love. The practice of fully engaging in friendship is never an authentic opportunity when only those two alternatives are on the table.
Like virginity in the purity culture, this reductionstic framing of embodied sexuality between men and women is all or nothing--again reinforcing a shame-based ailenation between men and women who are not married to each other.
For example, evangelicals entrenched in the purity culture insist on creating deep anxiety between men and women over spiritual/emotional connection and intensity.
There is no room in this culture for married men and women to engage in deep friendship with the opposite sex other than their marriage partners. This restriction is enforced under the language of emotional purity. The striking parallel of the modesty culture policing that women are to cover up--never reveal curves, cleavage, comfort or creativity in their clothes--and policing women never to reveal one's self in the practice of vulnerability in friendship are enforced by anxiety-driven men and women who see romance as be all, end all in sexuality.
Well, of course, this drives a deep wedge between single sexuality and married sexuality. This is why Mark Driscoll can assert, " Emotional adultery is having as your close friend someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse" (Real Sex).
He's not the only one to make this assertion.
The books, articles, and posts on "emotional purity" for married men and women and singles are endlessly creating this sexual anxiety between men and women with a relentless push to see all members of the opposite sex as romantic potentials or romantic partners.
For married men and women, emotional intimacy with someone from the opposite sex other than your spouse creates enormous anxiety. The practice of vulnerability in embodied friendship in a masculine driven culture of purity is never oriented to the good. The language of "vulnerability" in a romantic obsessed masculine culture always has an impure or adulterous trajectory. Obviously this excludes unmarried women from ever thinking about practicing vulnerability with married men.
The recent language from the three Orlando pastors who committed adultery reveals this. Says one individual, ""The common thread is when a pastor is in a personal vulnerable spot, these things happen. You are reaching out for something, and you make bad decisions."
A Presbyterian pastor offering his perspective in the same article says, "Every pastor needs a group of male friends he trusts, who will ask him what is going on in your life, are you walking the talk?"
So this pastor could not have women as friends in order to practice vulnerability? I mean, there are scores of women therapists (not a group of women, mind you, but individual women) who, in a closed-door setting hear men discuss their sexual passions, indiscretions, and fantasies all the time.
In a culture of purity driven by masculine-anxiety, vulnerability as an embodied friendship practice has no sacred, spiritual, or eschatological trajectory for men and women except in the context of romance/marriage. Many women therapists who are not Christians experience something utterly different in their everyday practice.
Brené Brown says, "To be human is to be vulernable." Vulnerability is a human act. It is a human revelation. It's not an exclusive romantic act. What would happen if men and women could nurture the practice of being human with one another in marriage and in the practice of embodied friendship?
What if vulnerability is framed not in a romantic-driven culture where it is eternally good and God is present in a sexual relationship? What if the sacred call toward all that is good and beautiful is found in vulnerability in embodied friendship between the sexes? What if men and women could actually learn the discipline of opening themselves up to the spiritual practice of appropriate vulnerability in friendship?
Vulnerability, as Brown points out, is not just the birthplace for self-disclosure, it is the birthplace for creativity, delight, wholesomeness, trust, affection--in one word--love.