And what does purity look like in coed friendships? Avoidance? Paul calls Timothy to treat “the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). We know how to do this! We know how to promote holiness in brother and sisterly relationships. I have a close relationship with my brother. When we married, things did change a little. Our spouses get the main focus of our attention and time. We uphold that for one another. We don’t seek a bunch of opportunities for just the two of us to meet together.
Twitter is an easy venue for statements to be taken out of context. It’s like a bulletin board of thoughts, links, questions, and declarations. There is no context. It’s also an easy venue to set up carefully crafted propaganda, hashtag movements, and false dichotomies. So I have been engaging less and less in twitter “conversations.” That’s not always easy to do because there’s a lot of click bait out there. Much is being “discussed” about relationships between men and women this week and I was tagged on Twitter with this question:
“What types of situations would it be beneficial for a married person to have a friendship with the opposite gender? Genuinely interested.”
I couldn’t possibly respond well on Twitter. So I was left with the choice to ignore it or maybe write something longer on my blog. It’s a question that I’ve seen frequently. And it is related to a topic that I plan on writing much more extensively on: a theology of brother and sister relationships in God’s household.
There are many answers to the above question: work situations, neighborly situations, community outreach situations, parenting situations…but there should already be a foundational level established in how to relate as friends that comes from our household situations. One of the first questions we wrestle with in infancy is “Who am I?” Right away, we receive signals in our personal household. For example, my son would immediately learn, “You are a Byrd,” “You are a son,” “You are a brother,” and “You are loved.”
But ultimately, this question can only be fully answered by his Creator. And in God’s household, his church, all God’s people reflect these answers as well. What do my son and daughters learn about who they are in this household community?
Unfortunately, as eager as the conservative church is to speak out against the sexual revolution and gender identity, she often appears just as reductive as the culture surrounding her when it comes to how our communion with God is represented in our communion with one another. We have lost the beauty of brother and sisterhood, distinction without reduction.
No, gender is not a social construct. There is more to being a woman than my physical body. After God made man and woman in his image he pronounced his creation “very good.” Dr. Kelly Kapic’s excellent chapter on theological anthropology in Christian Dogmatics teaches that this declaration on mankind as “good” was not merely a static state, but a “dynamic or relational view of the human person….Just as God planted the garden to grow, he planted Adam in the midst of that garden—to grow. Humankind could and would change, either growing in beautiful communion with God and the rest of creation, being fruitful and multiplying, or turning from Yahweh and thus compromising their intended human telos” (181). And through four thesis statements, Kapic explains what matters in Christian anthropology.
The whole person matters:
Our minds matter. Our bodies matter. Our wills, our emotions, and our souls matter. All of these faculties that make us human beings made in the image of God need to be rightly ordered toward God in communion with him. Creation reveals this design, and a Christian’s expectation is for glorification where this will be perfected. As we are being transformed into the likeness of the Son, we look forward to intimate communion with him, in new resurrected bodies, on the new heavens and the new earth.
Agency and purpose matters:
We were not designed to be isolated worshipers of God, but “for communion with God, neighbor, and the earth” (177). This changes the way that we think about our whole being. “Love and communion theologically reorient how we understand and evaluate our bodies and their faculties: we see them relationally rather than reductively” (178). Christians look to both our protological history and to our eschatological expectation. While the first Adam’s sin affected the entire world, so Jesus’ life-giving reality, which has overcome death itself, now promises to affect the entire cosmos (Rom. 5:15-21)” (180).