When Dan Brennan began to explore his view of human sexuality and cross-gender friendships his pastor implored him to be extremely careful. His counsel was simple: “Dan, you’re playing with fire! Men and women are hard-wired for sexual union when they enjoy intimacy with each other” (21). To be honest this is exactly what I would have said before reading Dan’s book carefully. I do believe men and women must be wise, careful and respect the power of sexual attraction in a proper, mature way.
Brennan’s pastor went on to say, “The exceptions are familial intimacy, such as a close bond between mother and son, or brother and sister. Look at Genesis one and two; it’s all there. Dan, look at Scripture. Men and women are designed to experience intimacy and are wired to be one flesh” (21).
If you’ve ever counseled people in marriages where sexual sin has destroyed the bond you know why Dan’s pastor counseled him in the way he did. But is this counsel completely right? Is this the best way to avoid sin and build deep communion with God? Are we not going directly against all common sense and Christian wisdom to argue otherwise? Aren’t we playing with fire?
If you are looking for a a marriage and family book that wants to defend the value system and thinking of the pre-sexual revolution thinking of my parents era then Brennan’s book should not be on your recommended reading list. But if you want to get beyond the stereotypical “family values” debates of the last thirty years then I believe you just might be ready to think and absorb a great deal of the argument that Brennan makes in Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions. If you are not ready then do not trash yourself about your reaction to the highly emotional issue. But please do allow others to explore this issue as they seek greater understanding, through Holy Scripture, in the present missional context. I am 61 years old. I am still trying to learn and admit I have a whole lot to learn about “hot topics” that can be badly handled like this one. But I am very prepared dispositionally to be taught.
Let me put this another way. Is sex the inevitable outcome when men and women form friendships outside of marriage? Or could there be relationships of dialogical love that are rooted in more than “just friends” thinking but remain completely chaste? Lilian Calles Barger argues that “our society is centered on either the containment of sex or reducing all needs to the erotic” (25). Is there another way? Are we stuck in the “sex is always below the surface in relationships” thinking or can we understand sexuality in a deeper way that grasps its profound power while it doesn’t reduce all relational love to sex?
One of the arguments that Brennan makes about deep friendships is rooted in John 17:20-23, the text that has most powerfully shaped the journey I describe in my book, Your Church Is Too Small. The key word in this text is “oneness.” Jesus prays that we will be one. I describe this as a growing social and relational oneness. In fact, this is really a social “mystery” in New Testament language. Is marriage the only place where we enter into the mystery which is found with others in Christ? The answer of many exegetes is that this is the case, based particularly upon Ephesians 5:21-33. This is the very argument several made about my last post when I spoke about sexual union “supremely” revealing Christ’s love for the church. I may just may have chosen the wrong word to make my point but the point is better made and affirmed by Jennifer in the comments she posted on my blog yesterday.
I do challenge every reader to go back and read the Ephesians 5 text in its whole context and pay more careful attention to what the apostle is really saying. Paul is using marriage as a living, embodied example of Christ’s love for the whole church. Our response to each other, as brothers and sisters, is thus rooted in the mystery of this love for all of us. Paul may not use the word “mystery” in Galatians 3:28 that he does for marriage in Ephesians 5:32 but the theology is plainly there to support the idea. Indeed, theologians have explored the social, relational, spiritual and physical aspects of this brotherly love since the days of the Apostles. The present separation of the church, which I argue elsewhere is an unadulterated scandal, will never be corrected by anything other than a deepening of our love for Christ and then each other. This means that we must pursue oneness, not as an option but as a spiritual and social lifestyle. We have done so badly at this in the West that we are more influenced by sectarianism and radical individualism than we are by biblical language and “mystical” (Trinitarian) concepts. Brennan is right to conclude that Galatians 3:28 is saying that “something utterly profound has happened in Christ regarding male and female relationships