This may be the most polarizing of the books I have on my 2011 Bookwi.se Books of the Year. Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions is a provokative book about why men and women, both married and single, need more cross gender friendships, not less. My wife and I have lead small groups for newly married couples for the past couple years. Different expectations and histories with cross gender friendships comes up regularly. I am convinced that healthy cross-gender friendships can do much to strengthen marriages. I have given away more copies of this than any other book this year. Even if you are skeptical about the concept I challenge you to read the book and give Brennan the chance to make the case.
I always tell people I find good books by listening to other readers. I spend a fair amount of time reading reviews and blogs by people that I have come to trust over time. One of those that I deeply respect is John Armstrong. He has a daily blog that has a fairly wide range of subjects. But most of them has something to do with his passion for Missional Ecumenicism (essentially drawing the church together). Right before Christmas he had a couple posts about this book.
Right off the bat, John laid out his hand. He started the book to find a problem with it. John actually wrote a book about sexual immorality among clergy because he was so concerned about the damage it was doing to the church. John used to and many other clergy still do to fall back to Billy Graham’s advice to never be seen alone with a woman that was not your wife. So pastors (primarily male) will not meet with woman without someone else present. They will drive separate cars to the same meeting so they do not have to be seen with someone of a different sex in the same car by themselves.
I come at this with a very different perspective. I went to seminary at the University of Chicago. Most of my MDiv cohort were deeply damaged by the church. And virtually all of the women in my class had suffered because of isolation, straight up sexism, and a host of more minor gender based issues. I also am a guy that always had friendships with women, many of them have been some of my primary friendships. At the same time I know enough people that engage in inappropriate cross gender activities that boundaries (especially those in marriage) cannot be ignored.
Brennan believes that a Christian’s view of sexuality must be more than lust-control. There are some that reduce marriage or singleness to Paul’s idea about marrying or burning. Brennan has a higher view of gender, one that is intrinsic to the person and is reflection of God’s image. In order for the church to fully act as the church it needs a full expression of both male and female. Part of the requirement for the full healthy expression of the church is fully healthy cross gender friendship so that women and men are not just ministering in the same congregation, but fully present and aware of one another’s contribution to ministry. The brother and sister in Christ is not just a metaphor, but a reality. So like most adults would not fall into sexual sin with a sibling, Brennan believes that proper orientation to cross gender friendships among Christians as spiritual siblings mitigates much of the danger of sexual sin.
The very large caveat is that these cross gender relationships are healthy, platonic, equally Christian and open. But in spite if this, Brennan wants to suggest that the danger of falling into sin is less important on the whole than the health that comes about from having cross gender friendships. The center of why so much sexual confusion happens within the church is because there are so few strong cross gender friendship. Much of the book is devoted to the need for creating deep friendships in a modern world (and is equally true of same gender friendships as well as cross gender friendships.)
I am not going to get deeper in the reasoning because starting April 18, I am going to host a blog discussion about the book. There are seven chapter and we will spend seven days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) discussing Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions.
Purchase Links: Paperback
Blog Discussion Links: