As a devoted follower of Jesus, husband, father, friend, and author of the groundbreaking book, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, I rejoice to see a growing number of Christian men and women rethinking sexuality, friendship, and deep trust between men and women in the 21st century.
Yet, as one who has published the first evangelical full length book on the subject, I struggle with my role as a conversation-starter, a leader, a paradigm-changer within this deepening and growing conversation. The momentum for this contiunues to build.
I struggle not out of issues of personal integrity. For me, the struggle is in a different sense.
How do we, as followers of Jesus, shift from something viewed as taboo between men and women to deep trust? What is my role in helping and participating in that shift? Is taking steps toward encouraging men and women toward deep trust worth the risk?
Some Christians think I'm too naive (as some of my critics suggest) about the potential dangers between men and women. Am I shortsighted to the pressure this adds to already struggling marriages?
Or is sacred friendship the mutual quest for the fullness of human love (including sacred friendship between men and women) reflecting the image of triune God who is a community of Love? Is sacred friendship a mutual quest between men and women on a spiritual journey toward connection, trust, and deep beauty? Is sacred friendship a spiritual quest for overcoming domestic violence, exploitation, rape, and sexism?
Is sacred friendship a path for drawing men and women onto the journey of deep, sweet relational intimacy anchored in trust? How do we move from something once considered a social taboo to trust?
It's not a coincidence that my spiritual journey from taboo to trust comes during a time when there is so much upheaval in the evangelical world about the path forward for wholeness, reconciliation, and the fullness of embodied love. Early on in my Christian journey some thirty years ago I never heard a woman pray when Christians got together because it was a taboo: "Women should remain silent in churches" (1 Cor. 14: 34).
Just over ten years ago when I began a friendship with a Christian woman I had met over the internet, she informed me that she was raised up in a tradition which forbid women to pray in churches. Therefore she was uncomfortable to pray aloud in the presence of another man.
Is it still taboo for woman to speak in churches?
For many contemporary evangelicals, this centuries-old taboo no longer holds sway. Many contemporary women no longer hold to something that their mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers in the faith thought was permanently taboo. This simple example of one jettisoned taboo underscores the current chaos between many evangelicals.
When I was a new Christian in 1979, what was taboo for many conservative Christians was anything which deviated from something evangelical scholars called inerrancy. Thirty years later there is a whole movement of evangelicals critical of inerrancy. They are urging us to look to something beyond inerrancy, to something better in their estimation. If you want a better look at the evangelical chaos regarding the Bible, Christian Smith's The Bible Made Impossible is a good place to start.
There are many Christians who are on the spiritual journey from what was once considered taboo to trust. Disillusionment, despair, confusion, bewilderment, cynicism, and the quest for some deeper beauty, the hunger for something beyond leaders jockeying for men and women to follow their evangelical brand is all a part of the chaos.
Many people have become embittered and cynical toward God and Jesus because of this chaos. One sees well-meaning evangelicals scrambling to claim their faith tradition offers the way forward: anabaptist, neo-reformed, emerging, charismatic, and so on.
The chaos is clearly evident for example, if one lingers for any length of time over at Peter Enns' blog. The whole conversation about creation, evolution, and the Bible has gone from taboo to intelligent conversation about what it all means. He says too many evangelicals, "expect the Bible to give the final word on all sorts of things–as if it were an owner’s manual or some sort of reference work that speaks to any and every issue."
A huge part of the evangelical story in contemporary America is a present journey for many evangelicals from what once was considered irrevocably taboo for evangelicals to trust: science, psychotherapy, tradition, interracial marriages, women in leadership, and so on.
For many Christians, the quest for sacred friendship intimacy goes too far. It threatens their views of marriage, their romantic theories of love they were taught by their mothers, their respected pastors and other trusted authorities. It challenges their pessimistic social views for this present age and their fears of men and women becoming too close too soon (in their eschatological model the feast of nonromantic love is experienced in a different age than this one).
This, by the way, is eschatological avoidance from intimacy until something dramatically happens on the eschatological clock. Then they will be open to deep love between sexes when no romance is involved. Then they will be open to sweet surrender in sacred intimacy between the sexes. Then they will be open to fully love one another regardless of gender. Heavily scripted rules and boundaries prevent men and women from nonromantic intimacy this side of heaven.
While it may no longer be taboo for men and women to be friends for these Christians, sacred intimacy between the sexes is too dangerous, too fraught with minefields; they fear men and women might become too close, too close um... for comfort.
The mutual quest of sacred friendship between men and women is a spiritual journey from taboo to trust--an alternative ethic for Christians yearning for sacred intimacy beyond contemporary romantic models of intimacy.
Part 2 to follow.