Where are the stories of differentiated trust? We could have seen this coming! The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in the Southern Baptist community is in the midst of hosting a summit this week on, "The Gospel and Human Sexuality" and social media has been buzzing with reaction. Given the SBC's conservative approach I wasn't surprised to hear of their ongoing ambivalent posture toward social intimacy between men and women.
One quote made it to the USA Today:
"In the business world, people are having lunches and private dinners with the opposite sex," said Kie Bowman, senior pastor of Hyde Park Baptist in Austin, Texas. "I just would say, forget it. Don't go to lunch with another woman besides your wife or your daughter unless there's another dozen people there."
Hey SBC! Where is the healthy place for differentiated trust between men and women? Why can't we work through the ambivalence, fears, and unhealthy avoidant posture to a healthy, mutually satisfying differentiated trust between an adult man and an adult woman? Why can't men and women nurture a differentiated holiness within their jobs, homes, friendships, and communities?
Bowman's quote called to mind a wonderful night of differentiated trust with one of my dearest and closest friends, Susanne Osborne Calhoun. Susanne was single at the time. One night, a couple of years ago I celebrated her birthday by taking her out to dinner. After dinner I still had something else planned. I wanted to give Susanne a really sweet treat of pleasure for her birthday so I took her to one of the best chocolate places in Chicago: Vosges Haut-Chocolat Lincoln Park Boutique.
Vosges has out of this world chocolate and I wanted to celebrate Susanne, her birthday, and our friendship by giving her a choice of which chocolate she would like on her special day. Inside the boutique they have a number of selected chocolates to choose from in their glass displays. You can choose to buy for example, one truffle. Then, they serve it to you on a plate and you sit down at this table in the middle of the boutique and cherish the experience. That's what we did!
This is a story of differentiated trust. It's a story of what "differentiating holiness" looks like between Susanne (and her singleness at the time), myself, Sheila, our community who knows us, and the public square. I picked up the phrase, "differentiating holiness" from psychologist Virginia Todd Holeman who teaches counseling at Asbury Seminary. It's an opportunity for men and women to take Jesus public. In differentiating trust and holiness, its more about love grounded in faith than it is mere externals followed by a list of safe dos and don'ts for non-romantic but intimate friends who dare to love and enjoy each other in public.
How do truffles, trust, and differentiating holiness come together?
- Susanne and I both claim responsibility for our Christ-centered selves. There is an "I" in the Christian faith responsible to trust Christ and be responsible for our own holiness. A differentiating holiness understands the endless depths of love (for God is love) and the need for ongoing discernment and insight in loving one another, "that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight"(Phil 1:9-11). We are to set our hearts on whatever is good, honorable, just, pleasing, and commendable (Phil 4:9). We have distinct and separate identities for discerning what differentiating holiness looks like in the light of our commitments to God and our community. We are to test everything but hold fast to that which is good (1 Thess 5). As distinct selves, we are to fear God and not man.
- Because we have to entrust our "I" (our differentiated self in Christ) to Christ, we can remain ourselves without being consumed by others or the surrounding community. In other words, we are to be holy because Jesus wants us holy not because some people think chocolate between a man and a woman in a boutique should be held as a timeless standard of who is romantic and who is not. Susanne enjoyed that night. She was grounded in the truth what was real in our friendship and what was real in the moment. Both of us in our differentiated trust we're assigning a beautiful non-romantic meaning of love that night.
- In remaining clear about our separate indentities, we could also be clear about being present to each other in the moment and enjoy our special bond. This is where Paul's prayer for growing discernment in love could take you! Does Hallmark or the billion dollar romantic industry consume us as individuals or can Susanne and I claim responsibility for a differentiating holiness that points to the beautiful bond between us? But I encourage you to not rush ahead and jump to premature conclusions about this is a mere incident. This goes to the heart of what discerning love and presence look like between men and women in a differentiating holiness that frees us from anxiety ridden ideologies telling us who we ought to be and what we are to worry about. If Jesus followed the holiness code between men and women in his culture, the Gospels would be missing extraordinary stories where Jesus discerned and chose social and public love over anxiety-driven purity codes which viewed women as sex objects and property. A differentiating holiness is not driven by underlying anxieties about people.
- We could be free from anxiety-driven narratives about men and women as intimate friends in public. At least one of the very distinct possibilites that could have happened in this story is that people coming into this intimate looking store setting eyeing a man and woman laughing together, enjoying each other's presence and the one truffle on plate could very well size us up on a romantic date or as a romantic couple. But we weren't. We were merely celebrating Susanne's birthday. But perhaps, those who did come in the store while we were there drew that conclusion. Ah! The beauty of truffles and differentiated trust!! Neither Susanne nor I had any anxiety about what others might say or wrongly infer at the moment. Or the day after when she gleefully posted our picture on FB. It's such a beautiful thing. Susanne was fully present in the moment when we tasted the out-of-this-world sweetness in those truffles.
In regard to social intimacy between men and women, the SBC convention reminds us there is still ambivalence, distrust, avoidant behaviors between men and women within churches in the twenty-first century. A lot romantic dos and donts and non-romantic dos and donts for those who need formulaic responses to have clear boundaries about human sexuality. But a story of differentiated trust means owning one's sense of personal beauty and taking responsibility for your self in the pressures of others to conform you to their expectations, their romantic narratives, their social agendas. Susanne and I were both strong in our identities; we were separate but we enjoyed our close bond doing something public which could easily be assumed as something romantic.
Susanne talks about differentiated trust and strong boundaries like this: "It is in this openness between us and within our communities that I have seen true safety to lie. We have strong boundaries between us, but these boundaries are found in the light of God and the loving, watchful eye of our community rather than in our avoidance of each other....I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of boundaries and great wisdom in cross-gender friendships. Yet I also believe that the strongest boundaries are ultimately the ones that teach us to love each other more than we fear each other." The full context this quote is taken from is here."
This is the kind of stand on your own two feet differentiated trust that is missing in the SBC culture. The avoidant, ambivalent culture of men and women needing romantic and non-romantic externals to define the way they love and trust in human sexuality is not attractive to me.