Saturday, July 10, 2010

The single temptress

So here's the situation.  A single woman on the staff at a church.  A new, married staff member.  (Both fans of geeky things like cartoons and science fiction.)  Two people geeking out, hanging out together.  (With other people present.)  Rumors starting in the church.  Gossip.  The pastor reprimanding the single woman for tempting the man.

Summary of the situation:
  • The pastor (and all the gossip-mongers) investigating the facts to find out the truth? No.
  • The pastor reprimanding the gossip-mongers? No.
  • The pastor (and all the gossip-mongers) skipping straight to the accusations of impropriety? Yes.
  • Reprimanding the female but not the male?  Yes.

Does anyone see problems here?  (So very many problems.)

First of all, gossip is a sin.  And it's rampant in (I don't hesitate to say this) every church.  Is it addressed or confronted by church leadership?  Seriously, have you ever heard of such a thing happening?  Does it need to be more seriously addressed?  Um, yes.  Yes, I think it does.  Will it be?  Let me be a cynic here and say I doubt it.  That's sad because gossip is so anti-Christian and destructive and pervasive.  On the whole, I think it's way worse than a bunch of people going out to see a movie or watch cartoons together.  So much worse.

Second, if you think one of your brothers or sisters is sinning, there are biblical ways to deal with that.  Basic summary: We confront out of love with a desire to restore fellowship.  There is a procedure/progression in the Bible for us to follow.  Gossip is pretty much the opposite of that loving, biblical process, no matter how much the gossiper claimes to be "concerned" about the people in question.  If you're a Christian, and you're concerned about a brother and(/or) sister, you talk to them, no one else, end of story.  END OF STORY.

Third, truth should be what matters.  Shouldn't it?  Or am I way off base here, and appearance (not reality) is what needs to matter in the church?  Really?

Fourth, are we so obsessed with sex that we see sexual impropriety in every relationship between people of differing genders?  And is it our job to talk that up?

Fifth, I'm hardly a feminist, but come on.  If there is any real tangoing going on, it takes two.  That's also kind of biblical, but since church leadership and gossip-mongers are ignoring biblical in this situation anyway, I suppose it's one of those in for a penny/pound deals.  For shame.

Family discussion when all the women in my family were together.  I defended the woman.  What's wrong with married men fellowshipping with single women (or single men with married women) so long as it isn't alone and behind closed doors?  Aren't single people allowed to fellowship with others of differing genders and marital statuses? 

My older, married sister's response: Her husband had a lot of single, female friends before he married her, and she didn't begrudge him time with them after she married him, but eventually, "He realized he needed to put his limited time and focus elsewhere [on her and his son], so he doesn't spend any time with them anymore."

So single people aren't allowed to spend any time with people of the opposite gender?  Are married Christian folks so spiritually/emotionally parched/narrow that they can't form relationships with single people?  Are all relationships between single and married people improper? 

Is that what the kingdom of God is about?  I thought we were all supposed to relate to each other as family, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  I thought we were structured as a family because we need that kind of interaction between people of different genders/states/ages/etc.  Are single people barred from being part of the family?  (Is that biblical?  Is it healthy?)

"Don't you think that's unfair to the single people?" I asked my sister.

She had the grace to look embarrassed when she answered honestly, "Yes."

I don't NEED that interaction because I'm wired to get along fine without it, but other people do need it.  I don't think it's fair that they're excluded from it.  I've given up and just stopped making friends with/being friendly to men.  It's disappointing that I have to, but there don't seem to be any other options.  For a lot of other people, fellow heirs, brothers and sisters in Christ who need this family, there need to be more options.  For them, I want there to be more options.

Can you suggest any options?


  1. It sounds like the church handled things pretty poorly, to say the least.

    I agree that truth should matter most within the church, but reputation matters too: immature Christians may not have learned the trust needed to see past (deceiving) appearances, and the lives of Christians should, ideally, glorify God in all ways. Knowing that there are people out there that are all too willing to engage in a gossip/smear campaign to destroy a church or church leader is all the motivation I need to do whatever I can to protect reputation as well as truly live righteously. That's why one time, when Paul was working with a young, single female substitute pianist, I went to church with him for the practice sessions. We'd already had someone accusing our pastor of homosexuality and drunken behavior (ridiculous, in this case). It's also why I disagreed with the choice of a single Christian leader to allow an old friend of the opposite sex to stay at their house overnight with no chaperon. I happen to believe there's safety in numbers (for reputation's sake).

    That being said, I think the body of Christ is actually obligated to look out for the needs of single individuals, including their social needs; widows and orphans are the more dramatic cases, but every single Christian should have a support network available to them when they need/want it. I can actually sympathize with your sister, because being a parent can be incredibly draining in the social/emotional department at times- I, personally, found myself resenting Paul's weekly night out playing with his string quartet because I wanted his help/company at home. I think we've been on a total of 3 dates sans child in the last 14 months. In your sister's defense, the brain cells being siphoned off by the little buggers tend to be the ones needed to explain situations like these in a diplomatic way. I've also heard of a lot of people who find parenting changes their focus and interests so dramatically that their friendships with childless friends suffer because there's not much left in common.

    All that being said, I agree that it's hugely unfair to just drop single friends over mistaken notions of propriety, or to fail to make time to maintain connections. Christians, and churches, aren't especially good at it, though (along with a lot of other things), either recognizing the need, or knowing how to respond. Singles Bible studies might be a solution, but risk turning into dating clubs or something; having families "adopt" singles (and not just at Christmas) seems like a better one, however.

  2. How about single people being friends with and hanging out with couples instead of one partner?

    I totally agree that the situation you described is unfair and extremely frustrating. Jumping to conclusions = bad. Gossip = worse. There were clearly much, much better ways of dealing with the perceived impropriety. The way in which the whole thing was addressed is just deplorable. But the fact that it was addressed at all...I don't know. We don't have enough information to say one way or the other. Reading between the lines, I'd say it's possible that the guy was just super excited to find someone else interested in the same weird stuff he is. Possibly (probably) not even his wife shares those interests. So he's giddy and wants to talk to this girl about this stuff, and other people pick up on his excitement and become concerned.

    Is their concern justified? We don't know. (Again, the way it was handled was deplorable.) But if I were his wife...I might be concerned. Probably would be. And I know that may sound "narrow and parched" or maybe stiff and legalistic. But you've said yourself, over and over again in other posts, that every time you feel like you show your true self to guys -- your fun, engaging, and beautiful personality -- they up and fall in love with you and you have to run away. And I guess my point is that it's all part of a package. You enjoy being around someone as a friend, and you want to spend time with them, want to be with them and share with them more and more. It's all connected, and it's easy for Satan to use that connection to harm a marriage (why doesn't my wife make me feel the same way that this friend does?) It's this guy's responsibility to be aware of this and to be discerning. And the gal as well.

    I'm not saying all men are like this or even most, or that any man would be putting his marriage in jeopardy by talking to a girl about a mutual interest with other people around. I'm saying ... that it's hard for girls and guys to be just friends. It just is, for the aforementioned reason -- one of them usually eventually falls in love with the other one, and it's completely insane, but it's true. I can't think of any successful marriages where the guy has a close friendship with another woman. One might exist somewhere.

    Meanwhile, I think couples should invite and cultivate friendships with single people. It would be very healthy for all of them, and everyone would benefit.

    Don't hate me for choosing this one to respond to :).

  3. One more (pot-stirring) thought. Pure conjecture here, but may I propose that the reason why your sister's husband doesn't hang out with his former female friends anymore is that they previously met a need in his life that is now being filled (and should be filled) by his wife. He doesn't need their companionship or their social/emotional intimacy. He's not driven to pursue those things in other women. It's not a nice reason for dumping a friend. He certainly could still be friends with them, but this time with his wife in tow.

    I promise I'm not being antagonistic. This is my personal experience with the world and the way in which most men operate in it. Most, but not all.

  4. Apparently I'm still subscribed to this blog entry... Jennifer's comment got me thinking about this again.

    I think one thing the single woman can do, if she recognizes the potential for others to misunderstand her friendship with the married man, is to proactively support the couple's marriage where possible. That might mean offering to babysit so they can get a date night together if they have kids, or vocally expressing affirmation/admiration of their being well-suited for one another, their teamwork, shared ministry efforts, whatever.

    Something like that certainly wouldn't be any kind of obligation, and I don't mean it as a "must-neutralize-the-threat-of-a-single-woman-on-the-loose!" kind of thing. But it could save hassle later on.

    (I do think married people have an obligation to be proactive about protecting and nurturing their marriage relationships, on the other hand.)

  5. I'm glad you responded. This subject is one that really concerns me, and I'm always interested to hear people's ideas.

    "How about single people being friends with and hanging out with couples instead of one partner?"

    Sounds good to me. :) However, I think it's also true that most people also want to have relationships with individuals, both male and female.

    The book I was recently waxing joyful about (Singled Out) actually manages to articulate this longing so well that I want to quote entire chapters of it. I wish everyone in the church would read it and have lots of amazing discussions about the ideas it puts forward and its beautiful, carefully biblical vision of the church.

    The authors have some amazing things to say about relationships between people in the church and where our nuclear families have become the focus of the church rather than the kingdom of God and why that can be dangerous and what the church could be like if it really was the family of God as described by people like Jesus. Scary, I know. :) I can't say enough good things about the book.

    It starts thoughtful discussions about why it is that the church should be the place where such friendships are most possible (and why it's not).

    I would like to believe that the church they imagine is not an impossible dream. I would like to believe in my brothers in Christ, to know they are there for me as brothers. Our culture makes that seem (really difficult if not) impossible. I recommend reading Singled Out to find out why and how. It made me rethink a lot of assumptions I have chosen to make.

    It's made me long for heaven even more since it will be a place where we will all be children of God, connected by our relationship to the Father and no longer bound and blinded by lusts. That kind of love will be incredible. So much better than the pale shadows of it we see down here now.

  6. To Jennifer's second comment:

    "they previously met a need in his life that is now being filled (and should be filled) by his wife. He doesn't need their companionship or their social/emotional intimacy."

    I'm not sure I buy this idea of only allowing intimacy with a spouse. It devalues other kinds of love and intimacy, kinds that are equally important. A kind that is more important. We all seek love, I think, but whatever we find here on a fallen earth can only be a shadow of the real thing. That includes the love of a spouse. We will never find perfect contentment and fullness of peace in a spouse, and to seek such may perhaps be a sin, setting up an idol. If so, I think we are pretty guilty of this in the church in America as a whole.

    One of the things I disagreed with in Singled Out was the way they didn't specify the difference between a want and a need. In theory, we all need companionship and social/emotional intimacy with God, and we want it with each other. It's okay to have it with each other, but it's most important to have it with God. Then we are called to be God's family on this earth, to extend that intimacy to others.

    Our culture is very individualistic, not very community-based, and we are very strict with our rules about intimacy. We seem so afraid of marital unfaithfulness that we say any intimacy with someone who's not one's spouse is bad. This indicates that the only person you can/should be intimate with is your spouse. I think Christians can't buy into this because we are called to something different. We have different priorities and purposes. We can't always be focused on ourselves.

    Singled Out lays a good argument about this that's worth thinking about. It's also way more coherent. :)

  7. Liz, trapped like a fly in amber! :) I'm glad you're still subscribed to this one. It's a hard issue, and I appreciate hearing ideas and thoughts and perspectives that are not my own. :)

  8. Okay, I'll read the book.

    True, I don't think intimacy is only reserved for marriage. I think you should have relationships (of various levels of intimacy) to be healthy! Maybe we should define intimacy. Again, I'll read the book before commenting further.

    Hi Liz, and sorry for dragging you back into old stuff. You may not remember me, but once we shared a van ride to the 2000 inauguration.

  9. Defining intimacy is tough. :) They touch on it a bit in Singled Out. I wonder if there's a good book or discussion going on about non-sexual intimacy out there somewhere . . .

  10. Oh, I'm still interested, no worries. I don't think I remember the van ride, though... sorry!