Today, I continue with the questions I began in yesterday’s interview with author and friend Dan Brennan. Here are some more questions I posed in my online interview about his very important book.
Why would it be wise and chaste to nurture authentic communion (“face to face” and “side-by-side”) beyond your spouse, with your cross-gender friend?
I would suggest this is where we have to think more deeply about chastity and communion in our communities. The notions of union or communion are making a comeback among evangelical theologians like Scot McKnight, Kevin Vanhoozer, and yourself. What does oneness and chastity look like for men and women? I would argue it’s in the nature of robust and wise chastity to seek communion. Kenda Creasy Dean made this observation “chastity seeks communion.” The Catholic Catechism states that chastity leads to deep spiritual communion between members of the same sex or opposite sex.
As we nurture and cultivate chastity in our marriage and in friendship, chastity actually will mean desiring more not less. We desire more of the new creation (love, trust, mutuality, vulnerability) in relationship and less of the old (sexism, lust, power, objectification, and so on). If we seek to nurture a face to face intimacy with our spouses we are less likely to see them as replaceable even in the presence of a dearly loved cross-gender friend whom we’ve come to know as also “irreplaceable.” We will see their spiritual beauty, and our attraction for them will deepen beyond sexual/romantic attraction.
Oneness is what Christ prays for us (John 17). Christ came not to just reduce the old disorder of lust, violence, and oppression between men and women, but to usher us into a new world of embodied communion with each other. Intimate platonic friendship is a particular expression of oneness, an embodied witness to something different than idealized sexualized friendships. The phrase “intimate platonic” sounds like a contradiction to most contemporary evangelicals. But this is where evangelicals have so focused one on a single expression of oneness (romantic sexuality) to the neglect of chastity and a flourishing oneness in community.
Lisa McMinn states that in our fundamental longing for unity, communion, and intimacy we are reflecting the image of God. We are all hard-wired for communion and intimacy—not just in marriage but beyond.
But surely you’re not suggesting every spouse run out tomorrow and strive to develop an intimate cross-gender friendship?
No. The virtue of chastity is an authentic practice of love and the sacred expression of sexuality in marriage, friendship and community. Chastity is the goal for all people single or married alike, no matter where they are. Not everyone is in the same place. Chastity is the virtue to love others and not use them. This virtue doesn’t drop out of the sky and zap us into chaste relationships. It takes practice and growth in relationship. It is about learning to love others well and honoring them including your spouse.
Seeking to cultivate a close bond with a cross-gender friend because of an unhappy marriage is red flag territory. Also, seeking to be transparent with your cross-gender friend when your spouse is not on the same page with you is a red flag. For some, certain high boundaries need to be in place.
Chaste love embraces the complex reality of seeking the well-being of another, seeking the good of another, seeking to love others for who they are instead of using them for our purposes. It is one thing if you are married and don’t have any strong cross-gender friendships. The married person must consider their spouse’s feelings on their cross-gender journey. That is not an issue if you are single with no close cross-gender friendships. In either case, one expression of chastity is about nurturing trust and safety with our neighbor (including our spouse).
But chastity also recognizes the sexual brokenness between men and women including unhealthy romantic absorption. What does chastity say to us about the myth of our romanticized soul mate culture? Has chastity nothing to say but “yes” to a hyper-sexualized culture where sexual chemistry and intense romantic intimacy are the true markers for “real” love? Isn’t C. S. Lewis’ definition of “face to face” love vulnerable to creating an inward-looking couple constantly seeking to recreate romantic self-absorption between each other?
Furthermore, chastity recognizes that for most of human history men have been considered to be the superior ones for leadership, friendship, and ministry. Chastity is not about maintaining the status quo and remaining stuck in repeating old stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.