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Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions

Have you ever read a book that turned everything you had been taught about a subject upside down? That’s where I feel I’m at on the topic of cross-gender friendships after reading Dan Brennan’s Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions.

Growing up in the evangelical church, what I’ve been taught about friendships between men and women goes something like this: be careful. Stay away (mostly). Male-female relationships mostly just lead to sex. Once you’re old enough to marry, find that right person. That person then needs to be your best, closest friend, and only cross-gender close friend for the rest of your life. Beware of spending time with people of the opposite sex for fear of damaging your reputation. (Because after all, if a man and a woman develop any sort of a relationship, it’s going to lead to sex.) Take a step even further back and make sure you don’t even do much serious communicating with those of the opposite sex because you might venture into “emotional infidelity” to your spouse.

But wait, you say, there is truth in these things. Marital unfaithfulness is, sadly, not too uncommon in the church. And when it happens, it’s devastating to men, women, children, families. I know this. As a church leader I’ve seen first-hand the damage that can be caused. But I resonate with Dan Brennan when he says that the evangelical church has gone the (sadly) usual route of putting up legalistic barriers “for protection” rather than taking down the walls and allowing for the possibility that good things could run wild. This idea that male-female relationships inevitably end in sex is something we’ve gotten from Sigmund Freud, not from God. Why can’t we wait to let Galatians 3:28 soak in (“here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”) before immediately saying “Yes, but…”?

Brennan persuasively argues that, pre-Freud, it was not uncommon for the language of friendship (both in same-gender and cross-gender friendships) to be personal and intimate in ways that make our modern minds squirm with Freud-inferred sexual tension. Yet, Brennan says, these friendships often chastely existed, and indeed co-existed alongside the healthy marriages of one or both of the friends. He quotes liberally from the early and medieval church, and cites three Biblical examples: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Jesus and Mary Magdalene. In each case these relationships were intense, deep, intimate friendships; and yet in each case, no matter what Freud would tell us, these friendships were good and right and appropriate. While Brennan is arguing at times based on what he (reasonably) infers from the text, I believe the burden of proof is on those who would say “no” to this type of relationships rather than on he who is saying “yes”.

If I had one gripe with Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions while reading, it was that I wanted more practical advice or examples of what these friendships would look like when worked out in real life. Brennan provides some examples from his own cross-gender friendships; he touches briefly on things like prayer and conversation, recreation, and physical affection. But as I reflect on it, I realize I’m thinking wrongly about it. I don’t really need a book to tell me what friendships should look like. But though I agreed with Brennan that we’ve set legalistic fences in the wrong places, in expecting more concrete examples what I was really asking was “OK, where do we move the fences to?”. And if that’s all I’m asking, I’ve missed Brennan’s point. He’s saying, instead, “take down the fences.”

I’m not sure that the church is really ready to deal with Dan Brennan’s book. His ideas require buy-in from a lot of people if they are going to work. And yet, if the church were to truly buy into it, we would be a powerful example to the world of how God’s redemptive work truly makes all things new… even relationships between men and women.

Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions is worth reading and chewing on for a while. You can get it from Amazon.

2 Comments

  1. Chris,

    Thank you so much for your kind words! Yes, you get it! 🙂

  2. Susan Susan

    Chris,

    I love how you responded to this book (I’ve read it, too): “… I agree … that we’ve set legalistic fences in the wrong places … [so] where do we move the fences to? … [Brennan is] saying instead, ‘take down the fences.'”

    I love that succinct summary and picture of freedom! Well done!

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