When I was newly married one of my local churches gave a great series of sermons about marriage. There was helpful advice about mutual service and building lives and support systems together. In retrospect, one piece advice always bothered me, though. It was a variation on The Billy Graham Rule. Billy Graham famously wouldn’t be alone with a woman who wasn’t his wife, in an effort to flee from any hint of sexual immorality, I suppose. (He also made his finances reviewable by others to avoid other kinds of leadership traps, as well, but I wasn’t aware of that until lately.) The variation of the rule was that you should never get too friendly with a member of the opposite sex. The preacher said it was better for others to think of you as a little cold than a lot pervy.
While these kinds of rules can be well-intentioned, there are at least three problems with them from a theological perspective: First, Jesus’ example is NOT that. Jesus famously spoke with women alone and associated with immoral people (aka humans). Second, Jesus puts the onus on men to deal with their own sexual issues. He says “If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. In other words, it’s not a woman’s fault or issue, it is your own. Third, Jesus speaks of believers as family. Healthy families don’t segregate by sex or gender.
In Beyond Awkward Side Hugs, Brownwyn Lea gently and surgically takes apart these kinds of views in favor of a more inclusive, familial, and healthy view. As the title implies, men and women in the church need to move beyond discomfort towards true familial relationships. She points out that intimacy comes in more forms than sexual intimacy, and it’s appropriate and beneficial for family to learn from, grow with, and support one another. This doesn’t just apply to married people, but all people. Jesus message wasn’t one of strict rules or condemnation, but inclusion and love.
As Lea summarizes, “The intimacy of God’s family is available to everyone.”