Why can’t men and women just be friends?
It’s a question that many have asked before for one reason or another. Friendship seems so simple, and yet it can get overly complicated due to social expectations and unclear intentions. Maybe you’ve tried to pursue a mixed-gender friendship with honest intentions, but have had friends or family gently “encouraging” you to make it something more. Or maybe you’ve been concerned about sending the wrong message to the other person, not wanting to get too close lest your friendly intentions be misread as romance. Even those who are already in relationships sometimes struggle with whether or not they can or should have other friends of the opposite gender without complicating things. Why can’t we just be good, old-fashioned friends without worrying about all the rest?
Pastor Joshua D. Jones addresses these questions and more in his insightful book Forbidden Friendships: Retaking the Biblical Gift of Male-Female Friendship. I read the book last summer and, as a longtime single man with many female friendships of a non-romantic nature, I found it quite helpful and very well-thought-out. I would recommend the book to anyone who, like me and many singles in the church, has ever wondered about or struggled with the above issues regarding male-female friendship.
Throughout his book, Jones systematically explores the issue of male-female friendships and explains why we as a culture and as a church have become so wary of them. However, he also argues — perhaps controversially among today’s evangelical purity culture — that men and women both can and should be friends with each other, for a number of reasons presented over the course of seven chapters and some helpful extra material.
Jones starts off by explaining how many Christians today have been “deceived by integrity” — meaning we have been trained to think that avoiding too much contact with the opposite sex is the best way to avoid temptation and maintain holy conduct. However, he then goes on to explain why we actually do need male-female friendships and should pursue them just as freely as we pursue other friendships.
Jones points out that we as Christians are called to love, fellowship and friendship with the whole body of Christ, including both genders. Furthermore, he argues that godly male-female friendships can actually strengthen our resolve against temptation — whether we’re single or in a relationship — by helping us more deeply respect and value our opposite-gender friends. We sometimes avoid male-female relationships out of fear of sexual temptation, but Jones contends that since mere sexual impulse isn’t enough to fill our souls’ longing for companionship, we need good, sincere and healthy friendships with both genders to fill that void instead. He writes that “mixed friendships help deter against sexual immorality by filling the void between the genders with something so healthy and robust that sexual attraction is held at bay when it arises.”
In the succeeding chapters, Jones further develops support for his argument by citing many positive and healthy examples of non-romantic mixed friendships throughout church history and among some of the church’s most important figures. He also cites examples from modern times, including a section on social media reactions from people of various mindsets on the touchy topic of male-female friendships. Jones addresses the concerns of whether or not the Bible promotes sin in commanding male-female friendships, and examines the concept of “emotional adultery” for which some Christians fear to get too close to the opposite gender. After stating his belief in the value and necessity of healthy mixed-gender friendships, Jones takes time to anticipate and answer questions and objections in a thoughtful, logical and biblically grounded manner.
As someone who has experienced much of what Jones describes, I found this book very helpful, encouraging and affirming. As a teenage boy in church youth group, I too was wary of getting too close to any of my female friends. But as a twenty-something adult (who was usually single), I began to move away from this mindset and to value and appreciate good friendships with my Christian sisters more and more. Forbidden Friendships helped to affirm this healthy appreciation in me, to strengthen my confidence in the friendships I have, and to make me consciously respect and care for my female friends more.
I would recommend this book to any Christians, single or not, who have close friendships of the opposite gender or who have ever had cause to question the place of those relationships in the church. Forbidden Friendships can help to affirm the legitimacy of those friendships, make you see your existing friendships in a new light, and embolden you to form new friendships that will be mutually beneficial and honoring to God. I hope it challenges your way of thinking and encourages you as well.