The Lack of Cross Gender Friendships in Evangelicalism and the Problems it Creates

A tweet led to a couple of blog posts that looked at the issue of why evangelicals suffer because of a lack of cross gender friendships. Evangelicals sexualize quite a bit in their culture. And that can’t be truer when it comes to friendship. This post encourages people to read two posts about the problems created by the lack of cross gendered friendship evangelicalism.

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

Albert Camus

Do you not know that you[c] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV

Philadelphia skyline

When I was in Campus Crusade at Marquette University in Milwaukee I went on a retreat that was in La Crosse, Wisconsin. They brought together a lot of people who were student leaders to have a retreat and discuss a lot of issues. Before the retreat I had heard about the warning about being alone with a female. So I raised my hand and asked the Crusade leader about prayer alone with a female leader in Crusade. The regional director of Campus Crusade then proceeded to answer and warned me about being alone with females. Worse was prayer as females were vulnerable to sin during prayer. Guys were warned about not praying alone with females. So as a good evangelical at the time I took in the information and processed it. And I worked at avoiding such friendships.

Today in reflecting back I am stunned by how sexualized evangelical culture can be. In evangelicalism so much is sexualized. Dare I say it…but its almost like evangelicals can be more sexualized than the secular culture they criticize and attack. I had to process out of evangelicalism to see and realize this issue quite a bit.

DeVon Wade wrote a Tweet that led to a blog post by Libby Anne that looked at why evangelicals do not have cross gendered friendships. Consider what she said.

In evangelical churches, any cross-gender relationship is always, always, always portrayed as dangerous. The moment a teenage girl and boy get friendly, adults in the congregation start watching them like a hawk—in their view, the only end point such relationships can possibly have is either marriage, or premarital sex. And that, of courses, would be bad.

Once someone is married, opposite-gender friendships the perfect opportunity for affairs, so they’re not exactly smiled on there, either! Someone who maintained a close opposite-gender friendship after marriage would be viewed as asking for trouble. And potentially worse — they might be taken aside by an elder, or even experience church discipline.

Evangelicals are well known for their divorce rate. The great commandment was go out into the world and have has many divorces as possible. Oh wait, sorry, my bad Jesus didn’t say that at all. Just forget that was said. Is the reason why evangelicals have so many divorces because they can’t have friendships at all that are cross gendered? Are they set up for failure in that context? This topic was discussed at two blog posts that The Wondering Eagle would like to promote. You can read more at The Friendly Atheist in, “The Lack of Opposite-Gender Friendships Among Evangelicals is Itself a Problem.” Then the original blog post that led to the article is, “Evangelicals Don’t Do Opposite-Gender Friendships (Here’s Why).” 

10 thoughts on “The Lack of Cross Gender Friendships in Evangelicalism and the Problems it Creates

  1. You might see that I responded to Libby Anne’s post. Sounds like things have changed a LOT since I left Evangelicalism around 2004. When I was growing up/in college/early adulthood, nobody cared about opposite sex friendships. I tended to have a lot of male friends, though also female friends.

    I don’t recall even a hint about having to take “care” until we went to the EFCA church in 2000, where they didn’t let people have opposite-sex mentors or accountability partners. Otherwise, nobody really seemed to care. I was friends with the youth pastor (male) and am still friends with several of the young people (male) from my time as a youth leader. Most of my online and local friends were male.

    I recall a freedom in dating as well. You could date whoever, with the caveat that he/she should be a Christian. We weren’t much different from our non-fundie counterparts, except that we weren’t supposed to be having sex etc. We were encouraged to wait for marriage until we were sure that we were in love and could get along (though that was hard to do when we weren’t supposed to have sex).

    It wasn’t until all this Purity culture came along–purity rings, purity balls, courtship, complementarianism, the encouragement of early marriage–that I started hearing about opposite sex friendships being somehow “bad.” I was shocked one day when I went on a private Orthodox forum in 2008, complained that my best friend’s wife was jealous and very abusive about it, and they all turned on *me* and said I shouldn’t be close friends with a man! They even said, “How would you feel if your husband were close friends with a woman?” (Um, considering most of his close friends had always been female, and he didn’t care about my male friends, your point is invalid…..) I’m like, this is 2008, not 1958! Apparently a lot of the issues in Evangelicalism these days have been carried into Orthodoxy by converts.

    I have devoted a chunk of my website to the issue because it’s so maddening, and to get out my anger at being scolded for doing something that isn’t even wrong, and dealing with this friend’s wife’s jealousy. I even see this attitude on sites that don’t appear to be Christian, so I agree with one of the commenters on Libby Anne’s post that it is “spreading.” I’m trying to counter it with my site, which does get quite a lot of hits on my posts about opposite-sex friendships.

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    • I think that purity culture’s a big part of that crazy surge. Most of my friends in school were guys. I liked video games and action movies a lot more than gossiping and playing with makeup and fashion, and needed to be around folks (90% of ’em male) who liked talking about those things, too. Nobody gave me any grief about it. I learned much of the purity culture from church and peers (parents weren’t part of it, far as I can remember), and that impacted my dating life. I could be friends all I wanted, but I’d have to do mental gymnastics to consider dating, because I’d learned that you only date someone you’d consider marrying. Yeah, that made me not want to date because I didn’t want to risk getting swept up and married before finishing college. So, I never dated much, and even today I still haven’t because I can’t shake the old “point of dating’ from my head, no matter how hard I try and how stupid I think it is. Hopefully others are having an easier time sloughing it off… without marrying and divorcing a ton.

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  2. David, my guess, women your age or about consider you a safe, male friend? Would that assessment be correct in your estimation? In my younger years, it was always way-to-easy to feel attracted towards same aged women; so I was very careful with my interactions; never called them for anything other than necessary business.

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  3. I would disagree David. I think conservative Evangelicalism is about deep truth. We are broken, desperately need a savior and we WILL act in self destructive ways because of the brokenness. I have cried out to God many times that he would hedge me in from my foolish impulses. I was always aware that the women I knew had breasts and hips .I can’t deny that. It seemed safer to focus on male friends and be cautious with female ones. I wasn’t worried about their “lust,” I was worried about mine.

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  4. I don’t know if I’d say evangelicalism is more sexualized than the culture at large. The culture is hypersexual, teaching young women that their worth is based on their sex appeal, and that sexual promiscuity is good and desirable. Sexual sin is rampant in our society. Trying to avoid it doesn’t make us more sexualized than society is.

    When I was growing up in purity culture in the 90s there were plenty of cross-gender friendships in the church youth group, and they did occasionally lead to romantic entanglements. The message was to avoid activities that produced sexual arousal, which at the time I laughed at, because teenage boys can be sexually aroused by any number of innocent activities. Nowadays, with pornography ubiquitous, I expect it to be even worse.

    I agree with one of the comments from the article: purity culture does a disservice to people by not promoting relationship skills. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but my marriage was pretty rocky until we each learned to put the other person’s needs ahead of our own. We benefited greatly from small group marriage studies and there’s no reason that information couldn’t also be dispensed in a youth group setting.

    Today I have great cross-gender relationships with lesbians, particularly fat lesbians. We just seem to get along well, even in cases where we have strong ideological disagreements, and I think it’s because there’s no possibility of romantic entanglement. It also helps that my marriage is healthy now.

    I endorse and support avoiding cross-gender relationships in the areas of mentorship and counseling. It’s just too dangerous, and there is not a shortage of same-gender mentors or counselors to fill the gap. The counseling ministry at my church used to not have a same-gender policy, but they had a bad experience (involving a counselee falling in love, not a counselor) and had to establish such a rule. One on one contact situations are a magnet for sexual predators, as well.

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  5. Though I was not raised in Christianese Purity Culture, I ended up internalizing a LOT of its tropes, especially distrust of the opposite sex and severe Virgin/Whore Dichotomy. And my first time in-country with The Christians (an aberrant Shepherding “Fellowship” with heavy Cultic tendencies) reinforced this, adding “God’s Perfect Wrath” to the mix.

    And my life has been the poorer for it.

    I don’t know how I ended up with all the Christianese Purity Culture tropes and attitudes. My working hypothesis is a Perfect Storm combination of probable Aspergers’ literalism, isolation as a kid genius long before Nerd Chic, parents who had time-stopped in the early 1950s, and a steady diet of Forties and Fifties movies and TV reruns while growing up. And then having it elevated to Cosmic Importance by my time in-country waiting for The Rapture and God’s Wrath to be poured out.

    And there IS a lot of overlap between Fifties Suburban Culture (where I was raised) and Christianese Bubble Culture (where Purity Culture came from). A lot of Christians look upon the Nifty Fifties as some sort of Godly Golden Age. Not even the REAL 1950s (which had its good and bad parts), but a Mythologized Fifties filtered through Ozzie & Harriet, Wally & the Beaver, and Donna Reed.

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