Friends Without Benefits

Even “egalitarian” evangelicals can’t seem to shake off their fundamental discomfort with sexuality and how it impacts male/female relationships outside of marriage.

In his insightful response to the recent revelations that egalitarian extraordinaire Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church might have behaved inappropriately with female colleagues, flirting and displaying affection with women not his wife, initiating intimate moments with women in hotels and on business trips, Dan J. Brennan puts it out there plainly — even those evangelicals who espouse that there is “no male or female in Christ” are often pretty clueless about sex and the power dynamics involved in it, and have little idea how to construct close friendships and partnerships between males and females without ongoing sexual tension.

One of the fallouts of the Willow Creek smackdown between Hybels vs Beach/Ortbergs is that a gift-based egalitarian model has not adequately challenged the high anxiety for male leaders to surrender power in one-on-one relationships between men and women. In the egalitarian conversation, there is this huge blindspot or weakness when you have so many egalitarian male leaders who can only speak about this in theory or about a few occasions.

Brennan writes out of personal experience in discovering this blindspot.

I was in for a big surprise when I started to go public about my friendships with women a little over ten years ago. I thought evangelical egalitarians would enthusiastically see all the benefits of intentional spiritual friendships out in the open. It was quite a jolt to me when I began to run into skeptical egalitarians.

To say I encountered spiritual anxiety among these unconvinced Christians would be an understatement. It was not that they were opposed to cross-sex friendships. They had plenty of opposite-sex friends.

What, then, were they anxious about? It soon became clear to me: my intention to practice dyadic opposite-sex friendships before a watching world. They were highly anxious in men and women sharing authentic power and risk in one-on-one relationships with no one else around. Friendship was not foundational to any Willow Creek model. It was not even up there on the high priority list.

Dan Brennan goes on to mention that Christian leaders I admire, such as Scot McKnight and David Fitch, have advocated strongly for women in ministry and leadership, but have still advanced an egalitarian model that seems to have no room for close friendships between men and women who are not married. The specter of sexual temptation erects boundaries even when people are strongly committed to gender equality based on the mutual giftedness of men and women. Close friendships are not even on the radar.

Men, in particular, if the Hybels example holds up, have a hard time giving up an ingrained sense of power and privilege over women when it comes to sex. How else can one explain a man who was able to strongly advocate gender equality and to work with colleagues so well for years turning around and inviting some of them to join him in his hotel room or into settings which can only be described as “romantic”?

Where’s any sense of egalitarianism in that? That is not the mentality of mutual respect. Rather, it exhibits the sense that I, as a male, have the right to exert my will toward women for my own ends. There is no sharing of power here. There is no equality, no matter my theological position. You, a woman, can be my friend, but I reserve the right to ask for “benefits” if I feel the impulse.

Spiritual intimacy (shared power and vulnerability) between a male leader and a female leader alone is unheard of in the Willow Creek model. It’s not addressed or encouraged in any of these blogs, articles, and books by people shaped by this egalitarianism. In this model, it is giftedness that is at the heart of egalitarianism, not friendship.

In the gifted model a man is never confronted to be attentive to shared power in one-on-one relationships when one else is around.

In a 2014 article by Ty Grigg at MissioAlliance, the author reminds us that egalitarians are not suggesting we erase all boundaries. Instead, he encourages us to learn to view one another and the wisdom of appropriate boundaries through a different lens.

Grigg is writing about those on the other end of the evangelical spectrum, who think having “rules” (like the so-called “Billy Graham Rule”) should guide us in our relationships between men and women. However, as he observes, rules like this do not build trust or help us cultivate wisdom and true mutuality between men and women.

Boundaries in any relationship are essential. But when the boundaries become the focus, the relationship turns into an abstraction. We dehumanize the other gender to protect the boundary. Fear based boundaries, like the Billy Graham rule, block out mutual trust. Building trust requires hundreds of small positive interactions. When you take away those interactions, trust has no way to progress healthily. Where there is little trust, fear and suspicion grows. Where trust is lacking, there can be no real relationship or ministry.

As a male pastor, I communicate fear when I tell a woman to leave the door open when she comes in to my office. I communicate fear when I tell a woman that we cannot meet because there are not enough other people around. I communicate fear when I say we have to take separate cars. Pastors sacrifice their call to pastor the other gender on the altar of rule-keeping and appearance-managing and holy code-checklisting. This sounds more like the Pharisees than Jesus.

Rather than erecting boundaries by establishing rules, Grigg suggests that we follow Jesus in choosing boundaries that are based on hospitality.

Hospitality is concerned with the physical and emotional elements that make a space safe.  The focus is not on the host’s needs but on what makes the guest feel safe and at ease.

…For example, I would not meet another woman in my bedroom, because that space is dripping with the intimacy of life with my wife and the privacy of where I sleep at night.  Nobody would feel comfortable meeting in there.  I would not have a candlelit dinner alone with a woman at a nice restaurant, not because it’s breaking a rule, but because it feels inhospitable.  The space would be working against us, not for us.

He reminds us that Jesus broke all kinds of gender-based intimacy codes in his own day — meeting with the Samaritan woman by himself, allowing “fallen” women to touch and exhibit love in public toward him, even appearing to Mary alone in the garden after the resurrection. Women traveled with Jesus and the disciples and supported him financially, making them part of his inner circle of associates. To the Pharisees and others, this must have seemed utterly compromising and morally dangerous.

In our sexualized society, it is easy to understand why some people might want to erect strong, rule-based boundaries about cross-sex relationships. I have news for you. Those boundaries haven’t stopped or even slowed down immoral behavior, and if I read Paul correctly, trying to control sin by implementing law only exacerbates the problem (Romans 7).

I believe God calls us to maturity and wisdom in all of our relationships. I have long been “egalitarian” in my theological position (I’d rather say I believe in full partnership and mutuality between men and women). But this article has caused me to question a huge blindspot in egalitarian teaching and practice.

We have not truly learned to welcome each other, live with each other, and serve one another as true brothers and sisters until we can learn to be friends. Without benefits.

104 thoughts on “Friends Without Benefits

  1. I appreciate your emphasis, Dan, on giving women choices on what they are comfortable with. A blatant rule gives no choice, and no discretion, and people who follow this to a (imo) stupid extreme would rather leave a woman stranded and vulnerable than give her a ride, thus avoiding the supposed ‘appearance of evil’. I cannot see any universe in which that is the Christian thing to do.


  2. “I’d much rather quash a culture of caring about lies and rumors than censor reasonable behavior over it. ”

    Indeed. People have assumed my brother and I are in a relationship, other people’s kids are mine, my cousin and I are in a relationship, etc…

    People love to jump to conclusions. Set em straight and live your life. It would be silly to do otherwise.


  3. Well, it powerfully challenges your 1 in every 99 scenario with hard data. Second, it gives women a voice/choice in meeting alone with male clients—something the BGR does not. In so many gift-based models like Willow women do not have a choice to co-lead in shared power in making those choices. The therapeutic model has moved past benevolent sexism. Granting women shared power gives them responsibility and social agency. Then, yes, we do have to talk about “clear boundaries.” I challenge you, read any kind of evangelical book or blog where BGR is practiced as a moral or “safe” norm, and you will find “clear boundaries” does not mean 1) meeting alone with a member of the opposite sex, and 2) opening up to intimate intense conversations with the door closed. Then, too it has completely devastated the BGR “safety” in numbers . There are plenty of stories of women receiving healing or significant help from a male therapist when they have been in an abusive church setting or a MeToo experience. It’s certainly one of the practices that helps us understand how shared power and risk can happen in Christ-centered friendships as a foundation for egalitarianism.


  4. A therapeutic relationship happens in the context of a very clear professional contract or code of conduct (or should), which establishes clear boundaries from the start. That’s good enough for me, but is it what you’re advocating?


  5. That reminds me of this Calvin and Hobbes 🙂

    Calvin: Do you believe in the Devil? You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation, corruption and destruction of man?
    Hobbes: I’m not sure man needs the help.
    Calvin: You just can’t talk to animals about these things.


  6. Ben, respectfully, I think its easy for Christians who have followed the BGR and like, zero-in, I mean zero-in on “temptation,” or slippery slope stuff, you know, Calvinist’s have “irresistible grace” well so many well-meaning evangelicals have irresistible lust. And we all know here, its a classic sermon staple to bring out the latest well-known evangelical pastor or celebrity to use as this irresistible lust. But, I would encourage you to take a hard look at the evidence. It’s a common, ordinary experience now for a man and woman to meet alone in a private office for intense conversations (therapy) all across America. Christians and non-Christians. And, we have numerous evangelical male therapists who have been happily married for years now who write books on their counseling experiences. Many of these books include anecdotes female clients. Intense-emotional conversations–the that typical pastor who supports BRG as a rule tells all men to avoid. I think the entire therapeutic industry that happens everyday across America categorically challenges your hypothetical assumption that only one out of every 99 can handle it. The whole industry would be in utter social chaos right now. I appreciate and respect your own anxiety and if the BGR works for you, I’m cool with that. But let’s not be so casual and project hypothetical slippery slops in the face of hard data and common ordinary life right now.


  7. Our waitress saw the two of us and read us as a couple on a date. She took the time to make an ADORABLE shared plate with a little house in the middle, and our sushi split to the two sides and some little romantic touches here and there. My friend is straight, so that was uh… not the right read on the situation, heh.

    Sounds more like a “Most Embarrassing Moment” situation.


  8. It takes a lot of ego, a lot of hubris, for the tubby and balding or toothless Christian pastors who heavily promote the BGR to assume that each and every woman (or ANY woman) would want to bed them.

    It’s a sexual version of the Dunning-Kruger Effect:
    Tubby/balding/toothless looks in a mirror and sees God’s Gift to Women looking back at him, *sparkling* in the sunlight.

    That said, Daisy, I can understand the BGR in a limited application: a public figure who may have enemies trying to discredit him who cannot afford any suggestion of scandal.


  9. As soon as I introduced her as my sister I think the air went out of them; they clearly were hoping in scandal.

    AKA “JUICY! JUICY! JUICY!” fodder for Prayer Requests(TM).


  10. Hi Ben S

    it really IS the result of a ‘war of some sort’ . . . . . for years now, the Kremlin has authorized an ‘internet’ war against the West and one tactic is to stir up BOTH sides in a country and to increase division among countrymen.


  11. Even if it is possible to have a sex-free intimate relationship with a sexually attractive person, it’s not the kind of thing you should go around preaching, because for every person who can manage it, there’ll be 99 who can’t.

    Also, I can’t help feeling that this is a very US-centric viewpoint, over-correcting for your weird “war of the sexes” that seems unreal to me (though the media here are doing their best to import it). And to me there’s also a lack of thought involved in equating this with some sort of ‘lack of love or respect’ of men for women. Surely the same ‘rules’ and risks would apply if two homosexuals were involved?

    Let’s shake things up a bit: if you want to really work out your Christian Jesus-like loving as Dan & Mike are suggesting, maybe you should deliberately ‘target’ people who you find unattractive? Because we are twisted and can so easily fool ourselves into believing that ‘pure Christlike love’ is mysteriously guiding us towards people who we like the look of. Towards the rich rather than the poor. Towards the similar rather than the other.

    Oh, and families *should* be the backbone of the church and society, and they *should* have a soft and open heart for people who are alone. The fact that they so often don’t is a tragedy, but even that isn’t necessarily due to hardness of heart, but more that we are too heavily influenced by our culture into being perpetually busy and exhausted. I think it would be more productive to be fighting THAT, men and women together.


  12. Andy Stanley (I like him because he makes all the right people angry) says to think about things like this through the grid of “What does love require of me?” Applied to male-female relationships, it means that you consider boundaries not from fear-based rule-keeping (i. e. the Billy Graham rule) but from loving consideration of the other person and what would make her/him feel safe and comfortable in your presence.

    By the way, I think the Billy Graham Rule is a great idea…for Billy Graham. Public figures such as him are exposed to a unique set of opportunities and temptations and it makes sense for them to have boundaries like that. For the rest of us…don’t flatter yourselves.


  13. I almost never agree with Seneca, but I think he should have a voice here also. There have been times when Seneca Griggs has actually contributed here, yes;
    and I think that was good for him, that he knows he can do this in a positive way. Everyone is entitled to a learning curve. 🙂 (within reason)


  14. Hello Stbndct,

    It takes all kinds. But I was once involved with something I did not fully understand and I did find this from an ‘anonymous’ over on another blog . . . . needless to say, I am so glad that imonk is open to all commenters and opinions that are reasonably civil, as Michael Spencer worked hard to leave this wonderful legacy and Chaplain Mike has worked hard to maintain it.

    This is something I ran into on another blog, and a caveat, it is shocking to read:

    “Anonymous said…
    Sun Jul 30, 12:31:00 PM 2017
    Anonymous said…
    “I think the comment section at Wartburg Watch still retains a liberal flavor (which is a bit problematic, if, like me, you are right wing) and possibly also a little of the “Nicey Nice” culture, where you don’t feel as though you can quite come out plainly and say what you mean and really think.
    However, I think with Velour and Christiane out of the picture, posting there will be better or easier.
    (And I do hope Dee keeps her word from that blog post a few days ago and fills us in later in a public post about what happened there.”
    Wed Aug 02, 10:48:00 PM 2017″


  15. Mike, I actually have no problem with the BGR, if it is freely chosen by an individual who knows himself or herself well enough to exercise that level of caution. And especially with public figures who never know what their adversaries might do to try and bring them down, there may be just cause for extra precautions.

    But I do have a problem when someone tries to make this or any other “rule” a universal rule for everyone. I respect you for making a decision about the way you relate to females in your own life — I believe we have freedom in Christ to do that. But don’t tell me it is “foolish” for me to choose differently. If I choose to cultivate close cross-sex relationships in my life with the full understanding of my spouse, I may indeed subject myself to a certain level of risk. But on the other hand, you have given up the opportunity to relate to women in a way that might enrich your life. We both gain and lose something in our approaches.

    The problem with much of evangelicalism is that these rules become standardized expectations of behavior for all who bear the name. Your initial comment reveals that you consider your way the only path of wisdom. I beg to disagree.


  16. This. Sometimes he pushes it, sometimes he doesn’t. I’ve not found him to be the troll others claim him to be.


  17. I actually enjoy and appreciate Seneca’s presence here. Helps me see how others see things. Sometimes he crosses some nebulous line, but I personally would rather have him here than not.


  18. Ted, thanks for your input. The problem with the “Billy Graham Rule” isn’t that some have decided to follow this rule — I think each person is free before God to know him or herself and to order life accordingly. The problem is when people make this a universal “law” for everyone.


  19. Agree, Ted. I might not draw lines in exactly the same place as the BGR, mine are looser I’m sure, but I do draw them in a way that makes sense to me. If and when I figure out how to “change my heart”, I’ll consider revisions, but not until then.


  20. I have to admire the many young attractive women in my younger days who practiced the BGR and would not be alone with me in any circumstances. Some even asked if I was serious when I asked them out, they were obviously very much into the BGR, what else could it be. I did not know at the time what the BGR was and that it applied to women but looking back it was very common.
    Why else would a good looking woman not want to go out with me? Now , I see that were afraid of their own attraction to young John Barry . Thank goodness young John Barry was not sensitive and kept on looking .
    Like they say , youth is wasted on the young.
    One thing I learned is not to use my position, leverage or any other thing I may have but my charm and mutual attraction. I would also like to think my romantic dealing in my youthful past were mutual and shared in what was expected and given.


  21. With all due respect, I don’t think we can minimize temptation to lust possibilities. There is no question that is part of it. It’s also a dominant assumption among those who embrace the BGR. But given all the Gospel stories and themes (like the two greatest commandments), we could be tempted to be indifferent to loving our opposite sex neighbor. We could be indifferent to loving them as Christ loves them. We could be tempted to not overcome evil (like objectification and lust) by doing good–loving them as Christ loved them. We could be tempted to blame our our lack of responsibility on our opposite-sex neighbors. We could be tempted to ignore women’s own choices for loving God and neighbor. We could be tempted to ignore how Jesus related to women in the eyes of the Pharisees.


  22. I’d much rather quash a culture of caring about lies and rumors than censor reasonable behavior over it. 😛

    I was at lunch with a female friend just before she left our part of the country for an indeterminate time. Our waitress saw the two of us and read us as a couple on a date. She took the time to make an ADORABLE shared plate with a little house in the middle, and our sushi split to the two sides and some little romantic touches here and there. My friend is straight, so that was uh… not the right read on the situation, heh.

    Even without malice, though, this is a situation where a third party observer made assumptions that were false, because that happens. Does that mean I shouldn’t have gone out to eat with my friend before she left. Of course not! If the waitress had asked, we would have just peaceably corrected her and continued to leave a nice tip.

    If I lived in fear of what someone might think of every time I did something with one other person, I’d never get anything done and for what, other people’s potential obsession with the details of my life? Nah, not doing it.


  23. Daisy, You do not have to shame and ridicule someone publicly because you do not care for them. Do you think you are more entitled to your opinion than he is ? It must be nice to live so high in the clouds.


  24. It occurs to me that when a group of two or more men speak about a woman’s appearance LOUDLY enough for her to hear them,
    they are NOT doing it for her sake, but are doing it to ‘prove’ to one another how ‘masculine’ they are. But the cost of this is that it bullies the woman. Especially when she is reduced from being a human person worthy of respect to an object with ‘great legs’. . . . . and those within hearing distance also know that she, as a human person, has been a targeted ‘object’ of male hubris.

    That whole ‘women should sweetly submit to their husbands’ thing is a mis-interpretation of Scripture, in my opinion.
    The ‘curse’ that came after ‘the Fall’ as described in the OT had consequences, and God describes these consequences to Adam and to Eve . . . . God’s description was not one of ‘how to behave’, but instead it was one of ‘now, the result of your sin is ___________’ . . . . the difference goes over the heads of those who embrace patriarchal ways that command women to ‘sweetly submit’, which destroys the whole idea of ‘mutually giving freely to one another’.

    “The image and likeness of God in man, created as man and woman (in the analogy that can be presumed between Creator and creature), thus also expresses the “unity of the two” in a common humanity. This “unity of the two”, which is a sign of interpersonal communion, shows that the creation of man is also marked by a certain likeness to the divine communion (“communio”). This likeness is a quality of the personal being of both man and woman, and is also a call and a task. The foundation of the whole human “ethos” is rooted in the image and likeness of God which the human being bears within himself from the beginning. Both the Old and New Testament will develop that “ethos”, which reaches its apex in the commandment of love.[25]
    In the “unity of the two”, man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist “side by side” or “together”, but they are also called to exist mutually “one for the other”.”

    (from Mulieris Dignetatem, section III number 7)


  25. I’m not missing the point. Bill didn’t think it could happen to him, and he invited it. Not mutually exclusive. What part of “idiot” didn’t he understand?

    I’m pretty loose with my boundaries, but I have a healthy respect for the BGR. And there are some women even in church, in public, that I deliberately don’t hug after the service.

    You say “change your heart.” I don’t know how that’s possible; that’s the problem. Best not to invite complications. Is that the same as “Get yourself right with Christ?” I’ve never found that helpful either.

    Dee said it pretty well above, at 2:49pm.


  26. Yep. There is no catalog of rules, and it is not possible to create one.

    But some guidelines are pretty simple. Such as I do not reference someone’s appearance. Pretty much ever. When is it ever relevant? You know who is interested in your opinion of their appearance, they will tell you. Otherwise leave it out. Simple.

    Don’t touch people in a way they do not touch you.

    It is not rocket science.


  27. This is a foolish post that has elicited foolish conversation.

    The BGR rule isn’t just about the conduct of the 2 people directly involved. The fact of the matter is, like it or not, men and women sometimes engage in illicit conduct behind closed doors. And, like it or not, it is easy for others to assume the worst. The rule is to ensure that no one could even level the accusation. The policy has the added benefit that it protects both parties from very real temptation. Suppose Bill Cosby or Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart or Donald Trump or Bill Hybels had the same rule. Wouldn’t they be in a better position? And, wouldn’t the women involved also have benefitted from such a policy?

    The foolishness here is two-fold:
    1. Not admitting the power of sexual temptation. Women may not fully appreciate its power over men (but they ought to try) so I’ll give them a pass. But men who don’t admit it are not being responsible or honest with themselves or others. I’m not saying all men will fall into bed with a woman at the drop of a hat. In fact, I’m confident there are many men who could stand up against all kinds of sexual temptation. I am saying that there are few lures that draw a man into a bad decision like the sexual lure and why take the chance?

    2. Assuming pure motives for all parties involved in and witnessing (or not) the actions of others. People lie. And, often, they lie to hurt others. Why give them the ammunition?

    There is an additional benefit. I’m sure my wife trusts me…but, why introduce even the shadow of a doubt? Out of respect for her, if nothing else, I don’t need to be alone with another woman for any reason – except maybe my mother. I cite my relationship with my wife. But, men and women have all kinds of relationships that need to be supported by good will and trust. Pastors to their churches. Business owners to their employees and customers. Fathers and mothers to their children. Politicians to their constituents and on and on. Why endanger those relationships by calling private conduct into question and inviting innuendo?

    Lastly, my wife and I are not paid ordained ministers. But, we do minister to others in and outside our church. We have been able to do so effectively by partnering. If a lady brings a concern to me, I invite my wife into the conversation. We work together to address the need. This shows the greatest respect for both my wife and the person who has the concerned as well as honoring God.


  28. “From the look of it, Bill Hybels didn’t think it could happen to him.”

    What you are missing is that he invited it. It didn’t ‘just happen’.

    If you are concerned bout getting attached to a specific person, or feel that pull, that is the time to change your heart or your boundaries. To apply them to any and all women is wrong and treats women only as potential problems, not as people. I think that’s where the ‘rule’ goes very, very wrong.

    Boundaries are good, but I think the lines drawn by the BGR are not sensible.


  29. Well you’ve the the Pence rules and then you’ve got the Trump rules.

    I’m more partial to the Pence rules – [ He is a decidedly handsome man ].

    Somewhat off the thread; how many women have thrown themselves at LeBron James?

    He seems like a good guy to me but in his shoes; I’m not at all sure I could remain monogamous.


  30. Thank you, Mike for your heartfelt processing my own post and Ty Grigg’s. I’m not sure you would know that Ty is one of my pastors. Ty and I share a deep connection having significant conversations about this issue in the past 7 years.

    I really do think gifted egalitarians have to process a deeper vulnerability. There are so few modeling “maturity” in spiritual intimacy. Part of what I mean by “maturity” is repeated, conscious experiences of surrendering or sharing intimate power with the members of opposite sex (co-leaders or friends) when no one is looking.

    A significant part of moving past benevolent sexism hiding underneath the image of gift-based egalitarianism is conscious choices for men to mutually process with women what they are comfortable with in terms of spiritual intimacy—not men *telling* women the where, what, and why. This is part of what is at the center of mutuality in spiritual intimacy is: shared power.

    So, for men to grow in mature attentiveness may also include process decision-making about where the power is, or where the privilege is being invoked without their voice. For example, many who follow the Mike Pence rule (egalitarian or complementarian) will not be alone with a woman anywhere—in a car, office, restaurant, home, or “hotel.” But where is the women’s voice in this? A Spirit-empowered woman?

    It’s fascinating that for you a hotel room is a boundary for you that appears “romantic.” I totally respect that. But for a relationship in which there is ultimate trust about motives and maturity connecting in a motel room may not be romantic at all in a platonic trajectory. See the movie, The Intern for a great scene on what that could be like. For most of the 20th century riding in a car was just as sexualized as meeting in a motel room (a whole lot of romantic sex happened in front seats in the 20th century). But I think many men or women would not think twice about riding in a car together as friends. But a key issue is inviting women to speak into this. Their own power.

    I have seen again and again where women know in intimate scenarios (platonic intimacy) it’s not about externals (like cars, restaurants, closed doors, or even hotel rooms). It’s the issue of hearts and trust for them. What is the connection about? This reflects God’s heart. God is not so much concerned with appearances but with the hearts involved. There are thousands of women (Christian and not Christian) who choose everyday to meet alone with male clients behind closed doors everyday in major cities across America in therapeutic dyads. Are we inviting women to share intimate power in the where, what and the why?


  31. “What are the boundaries? Who decided them? Who, exactly, knows them? How do they learn them.”

    We learn these things socially, for the most part. The same way we learn what is and is no acceptable in any occasion. Do you act and dress the same at work, at the beach, or at church? No. Who taught you? Combination of family, friends, and life.

    There are lines people know not to cross. This is not difficult when you are uninterested in a person, you naturally do not cross those lines.


  32. Daisy, I’m a 60-something Christian male and I have a healthy respect for the Billy Graham Rule—not because I think I’m anything special, but because I know that I’m vulnerable to getting emotionally attached to the occasional woman. So, it’s better not to invite any complications. I don’t follow the rule slavishly as Mike Pence does, but if I were a pastor I probably be pretty close. Also, even with no emotional complications there’s a reputation to protect if one is in certain professions.

    A friend told me that when he was in seminary, a professor warned the class, “Don’t ever say ‘This can’t happen to me’; instead say ‘This WILL NOT happen to me.'” From the look of it, Bill Hybels didn’t think it could happen to him.


  33. > It takes a lot of ego, a lot of hubris, for the tubby and balding

    Ha! Amen.

    I’m a pale bulky norseman, always have been. I very much doubt I’ve “turned a head” in my entire life.

    This is part of why this is so easily navigated for most people – – – most people aren’t pretty. That is hard when one is young; that feeling of being invisible and over-looked. But it is good preparation for adulthood when you’re just another schlub on the bus or train, every day, day after day. And you happy if your butcher remembers your name.

    And it is also true: people who believe/feel that they are hot stuff are a problem, religion or no.


  34. “Some of the BGR backers are delusional, egotistical, and way over-estimating the sex appeal of Christian men.”

    That seems to be a common thread in fundamentalist religions, Christian and Islamic. “We have to control access by and to women, because they can’t control themselves around men.”

    As for which sex ACTUALLY has the hardest time keeping their flies zipped… You be the judge. 😉


  35. For the record, I turned down the offer. The prospect of doing CPR on some wheezy grizzled CPO was… unappetizing to say the least. 🙂


  36. They used to be clear. They also pretty much were a one way street (The Male Way, of course). The problem is, intellectually and legally we’ve decided that relationships should be more equal, but cultural and social assumptions have changed much more slowly (with some, including a couple of folks here, thinking they should not change at all).


  37. “The Billy Graham (or Mike Pence) Rule limits the ability of a church body to serve as a much needed “spiritual family” (for friendship, emotional support, etc) for the un-married adults out there. This can result in the single adult going to night clubs and bars for companionship, or using dating sites for one-night stands, if they’re willing to do that sort of thing.”

    I can count the number of times that married couples in the Church had me over, as a single friend, on one hand.

    As for the rest… all I can say is, thank God for Dungeons and Dragons, or else i might never have met my wife. 🙂


  38. @ Eeyore said,
    “As it turned out, the Navy reservists were having their yearly physical fitness trials that Saturday, and management wanted some first-aid trained personnel standing by… Just in case.”

    Wow, LOL.


  39. @ Eeyore.

    All very good points.

    My folks taught me since youth that I should use church as a venue in which to meet perspective mates, the assumption being that the singles ones meet in a church setting will be more morally up-right than some average joe one may meet a night club or at a bar.

    I’m not necessarily against singles wanting to meet singles in a church setting.

    One other related very big problem in this area is that most churches, even as of 2018, do not have singles classes for any adult over age 25 – 30.

    Most Baptist churches are really bad about this. I remember one of them I went to lumped in any and all singles in their 30s with their age 40 and up, including divorced people, class. As a never married 30 something lady (at that time, I am now in my 40s), I felt like a fish out of water in that one class.

    All the divorced 40 somethings ASSUMED I was also divorced (nope, in my 40s have still not married), and they spent a large chunk of the class complaining about their ex spouses. I sat there feeling out of place, since I did not have an ex spouse to complain about.

    If you’re a single woman over 30 years of age (and wanting to find a potential spouse at a church, there are never any single Christian guys that age or older.

    The only men I ever see when I go to a church are either 18 – 21 years old, or are 65 – 75 and married.


  40. True story – I used to be on the emergency response team at one of my prior jobs. One day, my boss comes to me and asks if I’d like some overtime weekend money. My job then was strictly a 9-to-5 M-F gig, so I asked what the deal was. As it turned out, the Navy reservists were having their yearly physical fitness trials that Saturday, and management wanted some first-aid trained personnel standing by… Just in case. 😉


  41. “As for the ladies commenting here. There are guys you meet who are also very aware of your femininity { shall we say } and there are guys who swing for the other team.”

    Do you seriously think they needed to be told that? They LIVE it.


  42. There are several reasons I find the BGR – Billy Graham Rule (aka Mike Pence Rule) – objectionable and ridiculous, but one among them, is that the men and women who cling to it seem to feel that the men in question are hotties.

    I don’t find each and every man I encounter or see in the news physically attractive.

    It takes a lot of ego, a lot of hubris, for the tubby and balding or toothless Christian pastors who heavily promote the BGR to assume that each and every woman (or ANY woman) would want to bed them.

    I see 70 something year old married Christian women on the web defending the BGR because they don’t want a 40 something woman such as myself to ever approach their 70 something husband. Honey, I don’t (in my 40s) find 70 something men attractive enough to want to flirt with, let alone have sex with. Some of the BGR backers are delusional, egotistical, and way over-estimating the sex appeal of Christian men.


  43. Thank you for this thoughtful post. In the working world, I was required to take men as well as women out to nice dinners, often by myself. I had no trouble doing so, even if there were candles on the table. That situation is public, with a bunch of witnesses. Nothing exciting is going to happen there. If it does, my guess is they would call the police!

    The real problems develop when there is no one else present: hotel rooms, cars, etc. I always avoided situations like that.


  44. That “M + F = Marriage” dynamic is rife in the churches I used to attend. One of the most grievous examples was the singles program of a large church which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. The singles program had three Sunday School classes. The first class was for college students and new graduates – basically, an extension of the HS age youth group. The second class was for “young professionals” – 20s and 30s. That was the meat market – who was dating whom was the primary concern. The expectation was you would “graduate” by getting married and joining the appropriate married couples class. Finally, for those too shy, unattractive, or just unconcerned about getting hitched, there was the “where older singles go to die” class. The air of sadness and implied failure in that class was palpable.

    OF course, none of these expectations were ever written down or explicitly taught. But the assumption that young men and women need to get paired off and should be on the lookout for good, godly prospects, was endemic and for the most part unchallenged. If that level of expectation is being laid on you, how can you NOT view the opposite sex from a mostly sexualized POV?


  45. @ Eeyore and Dee:

    Thank you for the information.

    I think I out and out blocked him/ banned him on my Daisy blog months ago.

    He first came to my blog under two different names, and after I deduced they were his, he tried posting a time or two under the name “Seneca Griggs.”

    I thought he had been banned from TWW, I did not realize he was on moderated status there.


  46. He’s not exactly banned. He is in permanent moderation. I take my time approving his comments.


  47. David Jeremiah – when he is on a speaking engagement never allows a single female to transport him anywhere.
    “My secretary will take you to the airport.” “I’ll call a taxi.”


  48. In what possible universe is a ‘men are sexual predatory beasts who cannot control themselves just get used to it’ reasoning supposed to be a defence of men and not the very vile anti-male sexist drivel it actually is?


  49. He’s been here quite awhile, and occasionally he can actually have a decent conversation. When it comes to creationism and gender roles, however… it usually ends up like this.


  50. Rick Ro said,

    “A true story, and disappointing from a religious standpoint…
    My sister was visiting me one summer, and while we were at a coffee shop conversing one day a couple from my church spotted us outside the window, made a funny expression – a look that said, Does Rick’s wife know he’s having coffee with ANOTHER WOMAN – and came in to investigate.
    As soon as I introduced her as my sister I think the air went out of them; they clearly were hoping in scandal. After they left, my sister said she was appalled, and I said, That’s Christians for ya! Many think it’s impossible for those of opposite sex to be friends.”

    This sort of thing (or similar) comes up in a lot of books or blog posts by and for un-married Christians.

    I was reading an excerpt from some book by an un-married Christian guy who brought his platonic female friend with him to his church one Sunday.

    The moment the other church members saw him escorting his lady friend (whom they had never met before) through the pews to sit for the service, immediately, they all began asking and joking when he was going to marry her, how long had they been dating.

    The guy said it was embarrassing for his woman friend, and it upset him and made him angry.

    There was just this automatic assumption that if the single guy shows up with a woman, they must of COURSE be romantically involved, and/or pressure is applied to the guy to get him to date the woman, if they find out the two are buddies only (no romance).


  51. Genetics is a nice cover story. How many actual genetic behavior studies have you consulted? Or was it a case of “I think this is what the bible says about gender roles, so they must by necessity be pre programmed”?


  52. Jess said,
    “Every relationship has a sexual component, even male-male and female-female relationships. When it comes to relationships between men and women—especially then, in fact, for most of us—we ignore that component at our peril. It takes two very emotionally mature people to address the reality of a relationship’s sexual component honestly and sincerely. Most cannot”

    Yes, most can. But they are told they cannot.

    I’ve over the age of 40 and still a virgin. I was engaged to a guy years ago, had (and still have a libido). I’ve chosen to remain celibate thus far, while single. Anyone can stay celibate, it just takes self-discipline.

    I don’t view every man I come across as a sexual conquest or potential romantic partner. I’ve been alone with male co-workers in offices and met with them at business related lunches, and we did not have affairs.

    One negative aspect this Billy Graham Rule nonsense (aka “Mike Pence”) Rule has on never- married ladies such as myself (or the widows or divorced), is we end up socially isolated, which is not good.

    We single women are viewed as potential sex pots by both married male Christians and the married women Christians. As a result, single women don’t get invited over to social functions at married people’s homes, married women don’t generally want to be-friend un-married women, etc.

    This gets worse the older one gets.
    Much of my family is either dying off (old age), or I don’t get along with them (they are emotionally abusive, so I must keep a distance).

    The Billy Graham (or Mike Pence) Rule limits the ability of a church body to serve as a much needed “spiritual family” (for friendship, emotional support, etc) for the un-married adults out there. This can result in the single adult going to night clubs and bars for companionship, or using dating sites for one-night stands, if they’re willing to do that sort of thing.

    “The Billy Graham Rule Christians” basically are expecting and asking single adults to live life alone, which is pretty cruel.


  53. @ Rick Ro and Klasie Kraalogies:

    Seneca Griggs has been banned from several blogs, ones similar to Internet Monk. Please see my post below for more information.

    I think Griggs is posting here because the usual crowd of commentators he wants to rile up, argue with, etc, are on the blogs on which he’s been banned already, and they sometimes post to this one, so he comes here now.


  54. Seneca Griggs has been banned or blocked from most blogs I visit, including my own and TWW. He will sneak on under other names to post as other people, so beware.

    I see he’s now posting here.


  55. Griggs said,
    “Testosterone will out.”

    Social conditioning may win out on occasion. And assumptions based on gender stereotypes.


  56. So am I perverted or just honest.

    I’ve known what an attractive FEMALE looks like since I was 10 – decades ago.

    As for the ladies commenting here. There are guys you meet who are also very aware of your femininity { shall we say } and there are guys who swing for the other team.

    No Time For Sgts clip:

    Eye tests and women officers


  57. ‘Most cannot’ referred to the ability to openly acknowledge the sexual dimension to a relationship, not to ignore it/be consciously unaware of it.

    ‘The boundaries are clear and well known’

    What are the boundaries? Who decided them? Who, exactly, knows them? How do they learn them.It doesn’t feel like the rules for interraction between men and women are clear, or respected, at all


  58. But it shows where their minds go first. And then people are amazed when details of affairs / assaults / abuse comes out.


  59. > Most cannot.

    I am very confident that this is false; most people navigate this issue without much thought. It’s just life; the boundaries are clear and well-known.

    I suspect it is much more difficult for those raised in a context where these relationships were not normal or common.


  60. I think the post addresses this, and you are right that wisdom and maturity are not automatic, regardless of our theology. We need to know ourselves well and seek the Lord for wisdom we may not have yet.


  61. You could take offense to that: they think you are so stupid that you would conduct an illicit affair at a coffee shop with a large front window.


  62. Seneca, is posting a “joke” like this something Jesus would do? I could post an anti-male joke, but that would not be kind, not Christ-like. It would be acting like a big jerk.

    As for man’s genetic need for dominance, history is full to overflowing of man’s inhumanity to woman. Are you saying that this is what men are by nature? I thought is was just sin. I have been around the block enough to see that being disrespectful to women, though, is a characteristic of many a complementarian man, that is, one who twists the Bible to boost his self-esteem. At the end of the day, we are all fallen humans who need the power of the Holy Spirit to act as God requires.

    Kudos to the good men who have stepped up in these comments!


  63. “… came in to investigate ..”

    I have come across that before. But the mind still boggles…

    My mother once likened the sect I grew up in to Maoist China. The culture of spying, informing,confession of minor missteps…. all there.


  64. A true story, and disappointing from a religious standpoint…
    My sister was visiting me one summer, and while we were at a coffee shop conversing one day a couple from my church spotted us outside the window, made a funny expression – a look that said, Does Rick’s wife know he’s having coffee with ANOTHER WOMAN – and came in to investigate. As soon as I introduced her as my sister I think the air went out of them; they clearly were hoping in scandal. After they left, my sister said she was appalled, and I said, That’s Christians for ya! Many think it’s impossible for those of opposite sex to be friends.


  65. Friends are benefits, yes.
    When our adopted daughter turned six months old, my wife and I decided to do a flip-flop. I became the stay-at-home dad and she went back to work. I was usually the only male at everything I took my daughter to — storytimes, music play, gymnastics. Thus, by necessity, I befriended several moms (aka women) so our kids could play together. I was very careful to make sure my friendships never crossed a line, and I’m sure the women were too. Curiously, I never sensed any questioning from my wife, nor did I sense any from the women’s husbands. It was just a natural state of existing as a parent: befriend others so our kids have healthy social interactions.


  66. Ignore him, Klaisie. The only reason that particular post exists is to elicit offense under the guise of humor.


  67. Respectfully, . . . huh? That is bizarre, and neither demonstrates nor proves anything.

    > “great legs.

    One guy casually says that to another if one of those guys is in junior high, or maybe high-school.

    Seriously – that is not a normal adult thing to do.


  68. Egalitarian does not mean treating women like men. It means treating them equally.

    My two cents on this way too cold April morning.


  69. I might return somewhat to Internetmonk … missed some of the interaction. Will see how it goes.

    That said – Seneca: You obviously have a very serious problem, Seneca. I would suggest you get help. These views you espouse would firmly place you in the category of “men I don’t want to come near my kids/female friends/ significant other for their own safety”. Not that my daughters aren’t capable of looking after themselves – they will seriously injure someone trying something.

    But still – get of the internet and look for some help. For the sake of all women out there. Because even if you don’t commit something, these opinions / this culture enables those who are likely to do things.


  70. senecagriggs, I agree, In all areas of life, all professions, crafts, institutions men will be men and act in their natural manner unless they use constrain and do not follow their biological urges. Religious institutions are no different. than the world in this area maybe a tad better in not acting on their desires. I guess it is a good thing that the world is still “shocked” that many religious men fail as well as women.
    I worked with some very attractive, professional women in my working years. I tried never to put my self in a situation where I could act on my desires and it was not easy at times. Some women I referred to as my work wife as you draw close due to shared experiences and environment. Being I love attractive women I thought of myself like an alcoholic or drug addict and avoided temptation by limiting it as best I could. Being I thought a lot of the women and wanted to keep them as friends , I knew a sexual encounter or long affair would change the relationship and end badly one day for someone or everyone.
    I saw many friends over the years pay for their indiscretion or whatever you want to call it. In essence I see wisdom in the Billy Graham rule as sad a commentary it may be on men acting like men. What is even worse now a lot of women are acting like men in the world.


  71. Is it really “safer” when you are not training your mind toward a new world and life view? Dallas Willard called syncing our minds with God’s a “spiritual discipline” that needs practice daily. I think in regards to cross-gender friendship, that is spot-on. If we buy into the Freudian world-view, where everything revolves around our sexual issues, and women are held responsible for men’s reactions, then we certainly are not partnering with God to share God’s point of view. Please see my comment above.


  72. Every relationship has a sexual component, even male-male and female-female relationships. When it comes to relationships between men and women—especially then, in fact, for most of us—we ignore that component at our peril. It takes two very emotionally mature people to address the reality of a relationship’s sexual component honestly and sincerely. Most cannot. Hence the admonition to “avoid the near occasions of sin.” Fear-based? Perhaps, but nonetheless based in reality as well, something people in high visibility positions should never forget.


  73. You’re right. Men never have fragile masculine egos which require flattering, or misunderstand signals in relationships. Men never decide women are frigid if they are unreceptive to their advances but then turn it round to being “sluts” if they do. I personally have never been able to establish an effective professional relationship with a female work colleague or a workable and productive non-romantic relationship with a woman, and no man has ever done so, I’m sure.
    The above account you have given doesn’t at all sound to me like the comments of a teenage boy or an adult who never matured past 13.


  74. What has really helped me with thinking through all kinds of relationships–female to male, female to female, young and old– is the little prayer I whisper to the Lord as I encounter anyone: “Lord, help me to forfeit a relationship that I would make with this person for one that you would make instead”, thinking through the wonderful scriptures from I Timothy 5. This encourages appropriate behavior on my part all-the-while exhibiting a vulnerability of “being known”, a passionate love, appreciation and real friendship to the other person. This is sometimes costly in terms of being misunderstood, but I believe the right thing to do as we are partnering with God through God’s Holy Spirit to “make all things new”. That includes a new order and new lenses to view life and people! (so of course, we’re egalitarians because that fits right in there. …and as we practice whole-heartedness in these friendships, we experience less “anxiety”, to use Dan Brennan’s term. Help us, Jesus!


  75. I’ts not ‘our DNA’, it’s a culturally preferred personality type (which doesn’t fit me at all, and I’m a straight married man nonetheless). I hate competition for example, which makes me glad to be faraway from the US, which is more competitive than any culture I know, in an extremely toxic way, and I see no problem with compromise.

    There are cultures where compromise is the manly way. There is a lot of competition among women in most cultures too.

    Men and women can have all kinds of personality types (see MBTI; enneagram; whatever, pick your own choice) and all these things you describe can be present in both sexes (and people outside of the binary).

    And as someone who easier friended women than men I find your theory nonsense.


  76. Seneca, what you call DNA, I call sin. None of us are robots running on DNA batteries. We can all modify our behavior and choose to deny our self-centered tendencies. Since male-entitlement is so deeply engrained in human society, it’s more tolerated when men exhibit these sinful tendencies. It’s not natural as in “correct,” it’s natural as in “sin.”



    Saw this in a comments section; Two military guys out for the evening, standing in line to get into a movie theater.
    Way up ahead, there’s a female in a short skirt; one guys mutters to the other guy, “great legs.”
    Immediately in front of them young lady twirls around OUTRAGED thinking they are discussing her.

    The first guy say, “Oh we’re not talking about you.” At the point the woman moves from being OUTRAGED to being INSULTED.

    Then the first guy looks down at her legs and say, “But you’re okay.” Now the young lady has moved from OUTRAGE to INSULTED to MOLLIFIED>




    Dealing with women can be a challenge. They can be OUTRAGED if you note their sexuality but INSULTED if you don’t note their femininity.

    It’s so much safer just to hang and work with the brothers.


  78. Interesting discussion here. I think you and Dan Brennan really are onto something very important.
    I’d say people who are unable to have equal cross-sex friendships are missing something in their humanity, and that New Testament Christianity quite easily leads to that conclusion: from Jesus who broke all rules of gender segregation -woman at the well, Mary & Martha, Mary Magdalene in the garden- to ‘no male and female in Christ’ and calling each other brother and sister -that’s not just a metaphor, people-.

    As for the title, I’d say that the friendship itself is enough of a benefit, not? There is something very wrong if there’s an actual friendship and you call it being ‘just’ friends, a if being friends is not something worth celebrating in this superficial lonely culture….


  79. My theory; a lot of self-confessed egalitarian men are actually complementarian in their heart of hearts. One of the problems with being an egalitarian man is; you’re still a man, think like a man, organize like a man, compete like a man etc.

    So you’ll get a woman equitable billing on the signage, but underneath that, the man still intends to run things. It’s in our DNA. The woman still looks for compromise; it’s in her DNA.

    Testosterone will out.


  80. Churches always attract many relationally needy people, in leadership and not. I don’t see how it could be otherwise.


  81. Great article.

    “””no room for close friendships between men and women who are not married”””

    Sometimes it felt as if Evangelicalism had no room for “friendships”, period. Wouldn’t Friendship eventually come into competition with Family (the actually important thing)? . . . . and don’t relationally starved people become, inevitably, more open to abusive situations – as both victim and perpetrator?


  82. The focus is not on the host’s needs but on what makes the guest feel safe and at ease.

    The guest’s feeling of safety and being at ease is very important, but let’s remember that the host may not feel safe or at ease with what suffices for the guest. If the host does not feel at ease or safe, then the relationship/friendship will be difficult to establish in any appropriately intimate way, regardless of the feelings of the guest. One may argue that the host is under the Christian obligation to extend himself (herself), and find ways to manage his (her) own feelings in ways that don’t get in the way of the relationship, emulating Jesus in this. But, two things: 1) For many, and perhaps even most men (and women) in church leadership positions such self-management may be impossible; indeed, it may be that it is impossible for most leaders outside the church, hence the emphasis on establishing relatively well-defined rules for managing professional encounters in corporate and other secular organizations, rules that don’t put hospitality at the center, as is suggested for the church in this post; 2) If we emulate Jesus’ hospitality in his relationships, focusing on the feeling of safety and being at ease of the guest, we have to acknowledge that the relationships will not be safe or ease-making for the host, but may lead to crucifixion in one form or another, there’s just no way of avoiding the risk and being open at the same time — how many church leaders are willing to do that?


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