[Harry was funny. But he was WRONG!]

(Part 2 of 3)

(Continued from Part 1)

Platonic Friendships & Relationships

Let’s touch first on platonic friendships and other types of relationships between the sexes that can be intimate and even affectionate, but are not meant to be romantic or sexual. Doctor-patient, professor-student, lawyer-client, and mentor-disciple are some examples of types of potential platonic relationships between the sexes aside from good old-fashioned “just friends.” What is the difference between platonic relationships and emotional affairs (EAs), and are platonic relationships between the sexes healthy and desirable?

On some level, I am surprised when I find Christians advocating that married Christians should not engage in platonic friendships with the opposite sex. These are usually the same Christians who will readily argue that God is male and proceed from there to some kind of conclusion about male superiority because of it–yet if platonic relationships between the sexes are not possible, if they are not healthy and desirable, then how is it that Christian women are called to have an intimate relationship with this male God? Incidentally, I think the question of God and gender is a lot more complicated than “God is male,” and very much reject that notion. But I think there is little question that, in regards to his human nature, Jesus Christ is male.

On that note, if you are looking for biblical examples of platonic friendships between the sexes, look no further than the Gospels, where Jesus is revealed to have had intimate friendships with a number of women. The sisters Martha and Mary greeted Jesus affectionately and spoke frankly with him in the wake of the death of Lazarus (John 11:20-21, 11:32). A considerable entourage of women were among Jesus’ traveling followers who saw to his needs (Luke 8:1-3). According to the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene was close enough to Jesus to see him alive before the Twelve did and became the first to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection to the apostles (John 20:11-18). [1] Either Jesus was a polygamist who took wives freely and frequently (which, unless you were a Jewish aristocrat named “Herod,” was extremely unusual in Jewish society at the time) or Jesus cultured intimate platonic friendships and mentor-disciple relationships with women. There are other biblical examples as well. [2]

Take-home point: from a Christian perspective, platonic relationships between the sexes are healthy and desirable, and this does not stop being the case when a person gets married.

As I said earlier, I am also a feminist, and I think platonic friendships between the sexes are important from a feminist perspective. It’s very difficult for women to make headway in traditionally male-dominated fields without forming friendships and other platonic, professional relationships with men. I felt this a lot as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where the men in my classes sometimes outnumbered me 10 to 1. For example, a lot of male students seemed to have a rule that they would never drive alone in their cars with female friends. I think it’s easy to make rules like this when you outnumber the other sex by about 4 to 1! Had they been outnumbered 4 to 1, I think such rules would have been a lot less popular with the men. Indeed, I had one female professor who spoke of a male friend who was absolutely adamant that he not give her rides, not even just one-time and occasional rides. Until the day his car broke down in bad weather and she was the only one he was able to reach. Suddenly the whole “I refuse to ride alone in a car with a woman” rule wasn’t so important anymore.

Given that most of my TEDS professors have been male, I sometimes wonder if these men also think I shouldn’t be alone in a professor’s office. I imagine they haven’t given it a lot of thought, because most of their professors were male, too.

My point is, trying to restrict the sexes from spending time alone together has the unfortunate effect of making women’s progress through traditionally male-dominated fields more difficult. With some religious organizations, when I’ve asked about the reasoning for not allowing women to serve in certain positions, I’ve been told, “Because then women would be spending a lot of time alone with male leader X, and we wouldn’t want an affair to happen.” I vehemently dislike when the solution to fear of infidelity is to pile more restrictions onto women rather than to teach men and women alike what healthy platonic relationships look like and how to pursue and maintain them. (Besides, the same concern for “being alone with male leaders” never seems to extend to children, and then child sex abuse scandals happen.)

All of this is to say that my belief in and condemnation of emotional affairs is not a condemnation of platonic relationships between the sexes. As a woman who has often found herself in male-dominated conversations and situations, I very much believe that platonic friendships between the sexes are healthy and desirable things. I would be lost without some of the guidance and friendship that I have received from male friends over the years.

Part 1
Part 3

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[1] I realize that “Mary Magdalene, wife of Jesus” is a theory growing in popularity, but it’s a theory I don’t agree with. The Gospel of Luke records that Jesus exorcized demons from Mary (Luke 8:2), which implies that they didn’t know one another prior to the start of his ministry. If Jesus was married, I think he married young and I think his wife is not mentioned in the Bible.

[2] But then again… maybe Jesus WAS a polygamist! Paul appears to have had close friendships with women in the Bible, with the deacon Phoebe probably bearing his letter to the Romans (Romans 16:1-2), while Paul called other women his “co-workers” and “hard workers” (Phil. 4:3, Rom. 16:3, Rom. 16:12).

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