When I served in the Navy, my job depended on building and maintaining relationships with men. I had colleagues who were men, I was led by men, and I was even required to lead men. The mission truly was affected by our ability to work well together, unified in common purpose.
As I stepped away from the Navy and into a ministry role in the church, it was obvious I entered another world of men/women relationships. Suddenly, I was thrust into a largely segregated environment . Though we often studied the Bible together, we inevitably divided by gender to discuss deeper issues or pray together. I began worrying about things like standing alone in a hallway with a man or sending an email to a male ministry leader. I worried because everyone around me seemed hyper-vigilant and almost scared to be around someone of the other sex.
Rather than focusing on the characteristics that shaped us for cooperation and support of one another, there was a constant awareness of our differences as men and women. And these differences constantly pressured us with fear instead of love. The message was repeated and reinforced through pastoral messages, prominent male teachers, women’s ministry and just about every other platform in and outside the church: men and women were never safe alone together except within the confines of marriage.
Given these two extremes, how should we think about relationships between men and women? Aimee Byrd’s newest book, Why Can’t We Be Friends? tackles this question head on with sensitivity, humility and genuine love for the body of Christ.
The church needs helpful and sound teaching on how to navigate relationships together in God honoring ways.
Summary of Why Can’t We Be Friends?
It is true: purity is a rare gem in an oversexualized culture. In evangelical culture we often hear that the only safe way to navigate male/female relationships is through relational isolation or strictly monitored discourse. This topic is incredibly sensitive as believers desire to honor God through their relationships and their bodies while at the same time remaining pure from temptation toward sin.
One of the reasons Byrd wrote this book was her desire for the “next generation to grow up with a better understanding of how men and women view each other.” As a mom of two girls and two boys, I wholeheartedly echo this sentiment. I watch the way my children interact together, and my husband and I work to teach them how to sacrificially care for one another as brothers and sisters. But beyond these biological relationships, we must also teach them ways in which they should lovingly respect their brothers and sisters in Christ. Byrd addresses common practices and misconceptions, and she plots a way forward for brothers and sisters in Christ to relearn how to live as a family, growing together in unity, and honoring God through our pursuit of holiness.
Byrd argues men and women can create fellowship and friendship that doesn’t endanger marriage or lead to destructive behavior. She redefines purity outside the culture of oversexualization and toward a holistic pursuit of holiness as the family of God. Rather than a simplistic view of friendship, Byrd explains how caring for one another as sisters and brothers in Christ returns the church to a more biblical model of communal living. Her helpful analysis on table fellowship describes relationships centered around the Lord’s table, careful to prevent the common reduction that men and women gathering for a meal can only mean romantic involvement.
Along with these important points, she offers several other suggestions on how the body of Christ can regain our “love as sacred siblings.” One of the most important distinctions she makes is how to “promote one another’s holiness” over our happiness. Our relationships both here on earth and in Christ’s kingdom are dependent on unity. Byrd warns believers that multi-faceted expressions of love are often reduced to superficial sexual attraction; however, when we “promote one another’s holiness” we are building family unity together centered around our Great Commission purpose.
Bryd’s thoughtful scriptural foundation couples strongly with realistic practical steps which move believers towards healthy relational solidarity. She explains,
Solidarity offers physical protection and care, but it is also expressed in emotional support and companionships. Siblings are supposed to be the people in your life whom you are able to count on.
Through this solidarity we believers can seek our identity together as siblings in Christ, promote one another’s holiness, enjoy communal fellowship, and celebrate and suffer together. Sisters need to know their brothers are standing beside them in love. Brothers need helpers through complementary action. Sisters need brothers to surround and protect through seasons of pain. Brothers need the relational support that guards against hardness of heart. Byrd helps readers see these as necessities for unified friendship and intimacy in the body of Christ.
God designed us for relationship — relationship that contains the fullness of familial love.
Why Can’t We Be Friends presents an important message for the body of Christ, a community which has recently struggled with heartbreaking stories of sexual sin. The church needs helpful and sound teaching on how to navigate relationships together in God honoring ways. Byrd’s personal examples of strong Christian male/female relationships sprinkled throughout, supplies a necessary testimony that is often missing in the church today. She is equally candid about challenges to developing relationships that will be costly to our personal ambition and require brutal honesty.
Bryd writes from a complementarian position to a primarily compelementarian audience. Even so, some might object to Byrd’s argument because they believe cross-sex friendship outside marriage could lead to inappropriate sexual temptation. Byrd offers numerous personal examples from those who are adamantly opposed the idea. They argue that cross-sex relationships will actually harm the marriage relationship. However, as she displays through her own testimony and valid scriptural precedent, the possibility of temptation does not preclude a believer’s responsibility to love others.
Even if one believes this idea to be true or disagrees with Bryd’s theology, this book has valuable insight and is worthy of consideration. She addresses the most important issues surrounding cross-sex relationships in a manner that seeks to build bridges together.
The body of Christ is a living breathing organism that matures through pursuit of truth in communal fellowship. The church needs a reawakening to the familial body life that enables us to lift one another up and grow more in love with Christ. Bryd’s message is an important topic for such a time as this. Yes, protection is often necessary in our sin-sick world, but if the protection comes at the expense of familial relationship and investment toward love, it is not true protection.
God designed us for relationship — relationship that contains the fullness of familial love. John reminds believers, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14 CSB). He goes on to admonish us, “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and truth” (1 John 3:18 CSB). When we love as Christ loved us, seeking one another’s holiness, and loving one another deeply as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can be friends.