Aimee Byrd’s new book “Why Can’t we be Friends? Avoidance is not purity,” addresses the relationships between men and women in the church. This topic certainly falls within the scope of pursuing love for God and others, so I was more than happy to review this book. Does loving our neighbor include neighbors of the opposite sex? Of course, it does.
My lack of understanding of this topic is one of the reasons I was drawn to this book. I desire to love others and encourage unity in the body of Christ, and yet I fail at it regularly. I write in a desire to pursue a course and encourage others to pursue it, not as a model of someone who has it all figured out.
If you read my blog you might find the post on “The Church in the Storm,” connects with this struggle, as it addresses some of the scandals in the church. A proper view of relationships such as Aimee lays out is one protection against such tragedy. Our culture influences our thinking and affects the church, whether we want it to or not. As Christians, we must be thinking about the messages that the culture gives and questioning whether we believe those messages.
At the same time, I would hesitate to say that Christians have worse relationships between men and women than the world at large. I am thankful for the body of Christ. I would say that perhaps our relationships suffer in a different way.
In the beginning of the book, Aimee writes about our cultural belief in the idea of Harry Burns from When Harry Met Sally that “men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” She argues that this should not be the position of the church, because the church looks at men and women as brothers and sisters in Christ.
I believe Aimee is right in this. To the extent that we adopt this cultural idea in our churches, we are very much mistaken, and it will probably lead to problems.
Throughout the book, Aimee presents this idea of siblingship that would help our relationships be appropriate. We are not to borrow from a cultural idea of looking at one another as objects, but instead view one another holistically. If we each view one another this way, then we should be able to love, encourage and welcome one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Conversely, avoidance of the opposite sex tends to stem from fear in our relationships and not love. This fear is bred in an environment that does not view those of the opposite sex as holistic people and siblings in Christ. This is probably the greatest way that our relationships are stunted in the church as opposed to the world at large. In the world at large, relationships between the sexes may be pursued despite potential sexual attraction, and the barriers to pursuing devastating relationships may not be present. This inevitably can lead to tragic problems. Nonetheless, in the church, fear of the wrong type of relationship can keep us from nurturing appropriate and God-honoring relationships.
Aimee addresses ways that this type of fearful environment might be causing problems, such as when church leadership might be unaware of difficulties their sisters face. Two important ways she discusses are how to help love and protect them through equipping them theologically, and how to create an environment that will help sisters who are oppressed and abused. If men are avoiding their sisters, then women are left vulnerable in these areas.
Our single brothers and sisters may also hurt especially in this area, as I realized by reading this book and through discussion in the launch group. Single men and women have the potential for greater loneliness already because they do not have a partner or family, and if we as a church look down on sibling friendships, then we are not being the family we should be to these men and women.
One might think from this that Aimee is advocating approaching these relationships naively, as though we are not sinners who may struggle with worldly ideologies. I in no way think she is attempting to do this. She makes it clear that she is not telling Christians to pursue any kind of cross-sex friendship movement or telling us to actively pursue friendships of the opposite sex. At the same time, we don’t need to avoid naturally developing, healthy sibling relationships within the church. At times I was left wondering exactly how to approach such relationships in the right way, but I am thankful that Aimee opens this discussion.
On the one hand, women can be left to feel objectified when avoided by men, especially when the reason given is that we are inherently a temptation. On the other side, men don’t want to be accused of false motives for being kind to a sister in Christ, nor should they be feared as the enemy.
I think my favorite parts of the book were those that reminded me of Jesus’ relationships with women. I don’t think anyone can deny he was close to Mary and Martha. He sometimes looked suspect for his loving actions toward women, even with the purest of hearts. Regulations can certainly be helpful and sometimes even wise, but when a man-made regulation comes in the way of us loving our brothers or sisters, then we miss the heart of God’s law. I believe Aimee’s desire in this book is to point men and women toward having the heart of Christ toward one another.
I am reminded of Jesus reply to the Pharisees in Mark 7:6-7:
And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
But their heart is far from me;
In vain do they worship me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
Having a heart close to the Lord is a far greater challenge than following the Pence rule, whether or not you find the Pence rule to be wise. We may choose to follow certain guidelines for relationships, but we should not bind them on others or look to them as law. Aimee is not arguing for a less holy path. Rather, she is arguing for the harder but better path of sacrificial love that requires deep heart examination and constant dependence on our Lord.
If you would like a more thorough review of Aimee’s book, Amy Mantravadi writes an extensive review here: “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” By Aimee Byrd
Aimee’s book is available at Amazon: “Why Can’t We Be Friends? Avoidance is not Purity” By Aimee Byrd