The cultural carnage in the days since Harvey Weinstein’s criminal allegations of sexual abuse broke has been nothing less than breath-taking. The impact of the #metoo movement has left no sector of society unscathed. Hollywood, government, journalism, education and even the church have all been shaken by harrowing accounts of sexual misconduct.
As a society, we have been exposed. Our distorted attitudes toward sex have led us to the predictable tragedy we are seeing unfold before us. The pain of this moment will not soon pass and we will have generational reverberations to cope with.
Many fear, particularly women in the workplace, that one of the consequences of this moment in history will be the further deteriorating of relationships between men and women. The understandable worry is that the majority of victims (women) will be further punished by being categorized as “threats.” To avoid corporate lawsuits and bad publicity and to manage the potential risk with men and women working together, equally qualified women will oftentimes be overlooked, excluded or sidelined.
I’ve seen it firsthand, even in ministry. In the moment it can seem well-intentioned, reasonable and even wise. The leadership team is going on an out of town conference or retreat, but only the men participate so that we can avoid the “awkward” dynamic. Instead of inviting a team of women on the journey with you, they get left out. They don’t receive the same investment, training and relationship building. They eventually get passed over for roles or have diminished influence because they have been left out all along the way.
They (women) suffer for it and we (men) are worse for it. We miss out on the valuable perspectives, unique gifting, and abilities of our female colleagues.
So, how do we move forward in light of the current cultural crisis? Is there a hopeful path forward for men and women – one where flourishing replaces diminishment and respect replaces abuse?
I believe so and I believe that path is called friendship. It sounds too simple, but consider the possibility that Occam’s razor (when the simplest answer is usually correct) might be at play here. My daughter has successfully avoided many of the drama trappings known to elementary school life until recently. I got wind that some an unfortunate scene unfolded at lunchtime with her third-grade class this year. There had been some teasing and the requisite tears that follow being made fun of. The issue at hand? Her best friend is a boy. They are quirky and like quirky things. They have a lot of fun pretending to be velociraptors and sea monsters. This was all kosher, apparently until the third-grade. The forces around them (other third-graders and preteen TV) have determined that they cannot be good friends unless it is romantic … in third-grade ways.
How foolish. Yet, I wasn’t shocked at all. Most of us experience something similar growing up. Boys are supposed to play with boys and girls with girls. Our classroom and otherwise competitions are always against each other. For boys, girls are the enemy until one day, when they are the object. Then, we (boys trying to become men) are taught how to score with them. We’re inundated with the distorted fantasy of pornography. We learn all the misogynistic jokes.
What of the treasuring? What of the protecting? What of the honoring? For my Christian brothers, what of the cherishing our sisters?
Even our well-meaning caution is distorted. “You’ve got to be careful around women.” This well-meaning warning has been given to me since my early days in seminary. I’ve been told to never: counsel a woman, hug a woman who isn’t family, or to speak too friendly to a woman like you would a friend. I’ve even heard men proudly proclaim, “If a woman was broke down in the pouring rain on the side of the road I wouldn’t stop to help her because it might give the wrong impression to people.” Basically – keep your distance from women because if you don’t, your pants will fall down and you’ll have sex with them, destroying your life. Now, I’m for wisdom and discernment. Sexual attraction is an appropriate red flag to raise when considering male-female friendships, and it should never be dismissed lightly. However, it does not justify declaring all such friendships impossible. If I have to treat all women like a potential threat to a scandalous affair, what does that imply about my attitude towards women? It means that they are merely sexual objects for me to consume – if I’m not careful. They’re not sisters to love, value and cherish, but objects to lust and fall for. What if our attitudes, even if they’re well meaning, make women much less than God made them?
A better path exists and it is the path of cultivating healthy friendship. The top three definitions of “friend” go like this:
1) A person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
2) A person who gives assistance and supports.
3) A person who is not hostile.
These seem like a good place for us to start rewiring our brains around male-female friendships. Can you imagine a friendship marked by affection and deep regard for one another as fellow image-bearers of the Creator God? Brothers and sisters who support and help one another, freely offering our influence, power, and resources for the good of one another, without hostility or agendas.
Author and teacher, Jen Wilkin, astutely points out: “…Jesus extended deep, personal friendship to both men and women. We are not him, so following his example requires wisdom and discernment about our own propensity to sin as well as that of others. But his example is worth following…”
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. – John 15:15