When Aimee Met Harry and Sally

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In her latest contribution—Why Can’t We Be Friends?—Aimee Byrd has raised the question why Christian men and women have such trouble and difficulty being friends. Why are we in such a pother about it? She knows that it will be a controversial book (Loc. 155), but undertook the risk anyway.

In the first chapter she raises a number of quite reasonable high-level questions, most of them revolving around who we actually are, and what our behavior says about who we think we are. She says some good things about our familial relationship in Christ, for example.

“But Scripture tells us over and over again that Christian men and women are more than friends—we are brothers and sisters in Christ” (Loc. 191).

“We have lost the beauty of brotherhood and sisterhood—distinction between the sexes that doesn’t reduce them to sex alone” (Loc. 196).

So when she keeps the theological discussion at 30,000 feet, I think she flies very smoothly. What I think needs work are the landings. At some point you have to come down. You have to decide what to do. You have to take the lunch with that sales rep lady or you don’t, and you have to factor in things like all the other relationships in your life.

A Generous Offer

But Byrd confronts the dilemma head on, at any rate.

“When we think of the power of temptation and the ramifications of sexual sin, it seems natural to ask whether men and women can be friends” (Loc. 168).

It is natural, but she has concerns. As a foil, she cites the Billy Crystal rule on the subject, from When Harry Met Sally. The “sex part” always gets in the way. Necessarily, he says. Nothing to be done about it.

So with all that said, since these things clearly need to be worked through, I want to take Aimee up on a very generous offer.

“And I want to do it in a reasonable tone so that those on both sides of the issue can come together and engage with me” (Loc. 206).

Deal. I am very much on the other side of this issue, but I think it can be discussed. It needs to be discussed, and the discussion needs to be both charitable and unvarnished. If there is one aspect of American life that is currently not in order, including within the church, it is life between the sexes.

A Chapter in Tension With Itself

What I would like to show is that in the first part of her first chapter Aimee asked a lot of questions about identity in Christ that cast shade on the Pence Rule—as though men who follow the Pence Rule are reductionists who can only think about women as possible sex partners. So that would be bad. But then in the latter half of the chapter she gives an almost exquisite demonstration of exactly why every God-fearing man in the nation should run, not walk, to the adoption of some variation of the Pence Rule—in order to be protected from assumptions made by Aimee Byrd herself.

So this is how I would set the problem up.

“What I can’t find in Scripture is any warning about avoiding friendship between the sexes in order to avoid sin. Instead the Bible says, ‘Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good’ (Rom. 12:9 CSB). We are to cling to what is good, not throw it out because sin is possible. Directly following that command is a call to meaningful relationships with our siblings in Christ: ‘Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters’” (Rom. 12:10 CSB). (Loc. 230)

The subtitle of this book is “Avoidance is not Purity.” This is quite true, as far as it goes. Avoidance is not the same thing as purity, but it certainly can be an essential component in a dedicated pursuit of purity. Flour is not biscuits either. For example, Paul gives Timothy some advice that has more than a trace of avoidance in it. “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).

Let me interrupt the flow of sweet reason here for a moment with a separate observation. There are any number of good reasons for following the Pence Rule. It should not be assumed that all men are lust monkeys, scarcely able to control themselves if ever in the presence of feminine micro-aggressions—with micro-aggression being defined as a woman being around when nobody else is. That is not the case, and there are plenty of reasons. Some of those other reasons could include, but not be limited to, charity toward an unreasonably jealous spouse, charity toward a reasonably jealous spouse, protection of the other person from temptation, protection of the other person’s reputation, not giving your enemies extra ammo to use on you, steering clear of unrelated women generally as a way of steering clear of the ones you know you cannot trust, building in a buffer in case you are misreading your own motives, not wanting to be seen in public with a person who wears sweaters like that, and also, not to put too fine a point on it, sweaters like that. And no, it would not be wise to let the world know which reason it is. None of their business, and I certainly would be willing to have lunch with my mom, my wife, my sister, or my daughters.

So that should give us a little bit of a taste of the difference of opinion we have about this.

“I’ve read my share of articles about whether a man and a woman can text, share a car ride, or eat a business lunch together in a public place” (Loc. 311).

And so, okay, yours truly made an appearance in this first chapter also.

“I’ve seen high-profile pastors write and share disturbing tweets such as this one: ‘I could see giving a woman a ride. To the hospital. If the bone was sticking out’” (Loc. 313)

And that’s another reason. Men and women frequently do not share the same sense of humor at all, and that leads to great misunderstandings.

Aimee complains that “some of the very men who preach biblical manhood and chivalry do nothing when it will actually cost them something—and that cost is usually ‘appearances’” (Loc. 320). And this is what sets up the clash that comes in the second half of the chapter. Yes, appearances are a big deal, but we are not talking about the loose tongue of Widow Gooch on the edge of the village.

The second half of this chapter moved into the Harvey Weinstein debacle, and the #MeToo movement, followed by the #ChurchToo movement. And I want you to note how Aimee Byrd talks about these reactions to male predations, how she deals with these reports en masse.

“It was devastating to read story after story from these suffering women. It was also empowering for women to feel like they had a voice—and that their voice mattered” (Loc. 333).

“As if the violation to their bodies weren’t dehumanizing enough, woman after woman shared horrifying reactions from church leaders who did not believe them, shamed them, or told them they needed to repent for provoking the act” (Loc. 336).

“The silence of their supposed friends and the voices of those leaders who let them down told women that they weren’t valued as sisters in Christ, that they weren’t created with inherent dignity, and that their contributions weren’t welcome” (Loc. 338).

And this is why, on Aimee Byrd’s own terms, men and women can’t be friends.

Perhaps Too Many Eggs in the Pudding

Let’s make it personal. Suppose I had been persuaded by Aimee Byrd’s argument a few years before all that #MeToo business. I had unbent a bit from my closely-wound puritanical uptightness. I had learned that brothers and sisters are lofty offices in Christ. I had scrapped that old rule of mine about not having lunch meetings with the sisters one-on-one. I had started giving rides willy-nilly, with nary a bone sticking out anywhere. I started driving women not related to me by blood or marriage around town in a new red convertible, and with the wind blowing in our hair.

Okay, I am putting a few extra eggs in the pudding, but you get the idea. In short, I lightened up.

Now here’s the bite. If this new found liberty was exercised before the #MeToo thing blew, and then when it did blow I found that the red convertible sister was online #MeTooing with the best of them, it would be vain for me to protest that we were discussing her forthcoming commentary on Leviticus the entire time.

Yeah, right, said the entire country. But here is the real kick. Go back north in this post, and read those three quotations of Aimee’s again. Given what she says there, I have every reason to expect that if I were lied about as part of a #MenAreGuilty movement, Aimee Byrd would simply believe it. I am not jumping to conclusions here—she says she does. She says she believes it, and

Joseph in an Egyptian Prison

I have been a pastor for decades, and I know that a bunch of those stories were true, down to the ground. Men can be pigs, and more than that, lots of men can be pigs. But I also know that women can lie, and that women can misunderstand what just happened. That is a reality also.

But because we live in hyper-partisan times, you are supposed to pick a side. Are you rooting for the males or the females? Do you explain away the behavior of all the males, or the behavior of all the females? But maybe it should be neither. Perhaps we should be interested in the pursuit of justice, and we should rely on the principles the Scriptures give to us for our pursuit of justice. Perhaps we should make sure that every instance of true harassment is verified and then sharply punished (Ecc. 8:11). Maybe we should acknowledge that humanity is a mess, and not just the men, and try to avoid forming a sense of solidarity with men as such, or with women as such.

So in the spirit of not exhibiting the wrong kind of bias, let me just say that out of all the #MeToo accusations, fully x% of them were true. But this means, necessarily, that y% of them were not. Now unfortunately, whatever percentage it is, Joseph in Egypt has to be included among that y%. Last year, when I stood up for Joseph, and for men like him, Aimee Byrd responded to that by saying that such a defense for falsely accused men was “vile.” In response to that accusation, I wrote another piece, which you can find here. Do you see why we really need to have this discussion?

Joseph was in prison for at least two years, maybe much longer. This means that if he was thrown in prison when I first wrote that, he is still there.

“Brothers and Sisters” are a Two-Way Street

Aimee Byrd talks about the friendships that her husband has at work, and describes how the women at work are safe with him. Right. Granted. But the fact that Potiphar’s wife was safe from Joseph does not mean that Joseph was safe from Potiphar’s wife. Aimee Byrd knows her husband, and she believes in him. But when that woman is passed over for a promotion, and the friendship turns sour (which has been known to happen), and the woman retaliates with an ungrounded complaint, and takes to Twitter with her allegations, what then?

Take all the situations represented in the #MeToo movement—the ones where the men were guilty, the ones where the women were guilty, and the ones where everybody was confused. Fast forward five years—where the victimized women are still in counseling, and the victimized men are still in prison. How many of those situations would have been prevented with the Pence Rule? Virtually all of them. When the men were guilty, their victims wish they had been protected by something like the Pence Rule, and when the men were innocent, then they wish they had adopted something like the Pence Rule.

And given the emphasis placed on the flood of allegations in the second half of this chapter, we can’t say that the situation is not serious enough to warrant such a rule. We can’t call it an over-reaction, because at the very least we are talking about millions of offenses and/or allegations.

So long as men, including Christian men, are regarded as guilty simply on the basis of an allegation alone, they are not being treated as brothers. And if they are not being treated as brothers, you cannot be surprised at the consequences for the sisters. If heads is up, then tails is down.

But take special note of what I am not saying. Brothers can sin against their office, and can grossly violate their trust—and I mean both actual brothers and brothers in Christ. Men sin, and nobody is denying it. To convict such a one with biblical principles of justice is not to despise the office of brother—rather, it is to respect and honor it.

But to convict anyone on the basis of a hashtag campaign is to undermine all comity in the family of God. And unfortunately, in the first half of her first chapter, Aimee Byrd lays out the basis for our relationships in the family of God, and in the second half she dismantles it all.