This was a stressful week in a lot of ways: the end of a relationship and the eventual reconciliation that followed, the weird first date that just didn’t work, some dear friends facing big struggles that I can’t fix, work stress, my dog being kinda sick… just a lot going on.
Today was a regional event and I wasn’t all that thrilled to have a 13-hour day, but I was pretty glad when I got there and saw two of my friends, John and Shane. I’ve known John off and on since high school, and Shane’s years in seminary overlapped mine. Their wives, also friends of mine, were home with the kids. I’d talked to John’s wife earlier this morning.
Sometimes it seems like I’ve got more married male friends than I “should.” I’m old enough now that it seems like most of the men my age are married or/and gay. I know all of their wives and I’m friends with many of them as well. Like with all friendships, the relationship with each person is different. Some, like my friends Paul and Cameron, have a bit of a big-brother feel to them – we laugh and joke and sometimes, they’re able to encourage me or give guidance. BobbyJeff is one who listens well and seems to know when to advise and when to send me a distracting YouTube video of Perry the Platypus. With Shane, there’s a kind of we’re-in-this-together candidness that is honest and unassuming. With John, I appreciate his relaxed conversation and a familiar smile that takes over his whole face. There are more, but you get the point.
They are part of the village that raising this person. Most of their wives are, too. It just happens to be that today, it was John and Shane and not Jennifer and Jeanette. In an overstimulating environment after a long week and little sleep, I wanted to be with my friends.
When the speaker said to get into groups of three, we looked at each other and were about to label ourselves a group when the speaker continued to say that he wanted women with women and men with men. I was let down. I didn’t really want to hang with anyone else. And it wasn’t that the questions were at all gender-specific, either. Totally neutral questions like “what is the mission of your church?” We weren’t sent into solitary rooms; there were maybe 70 people in the room. It wasn’t necessary to split us by gender. The women I ended up grouped with were fine, but I was just a little more tense than I would have been had I not had to change.
Splitting up by gender/sex is something that usually doesn’t happen all that often outside of churches. There are loosely logical reasons for doing it in a few cases, but I think it does more harm than good. It inhibits people from having to develop healthy behaviors and attitudes towards whole sections of the population. It limits relationships and breeds suspicion and distrust. It limits compassion and empathy, two incredibly vital characteristics of ministry. It hems in the knowledge we have access to and cuts out stories that help one another grow.
I’m not advocating reckless behavior. I’m not saying that boundaries shouldn’t ever exist. I just think that the church should reconsider how far-reaching those boundaries need to go. Have we taken it so far that it’s hurting our ministry?
My denomination is officially theologically egalitarian (the execution of this idea is uneven, but better than many churches). I’m very grateful that it’s founders were both male and female, and that my reproductive organs don’t inhibit my ability to teach and preach. I just wish that they didn’t get in the way of the little things that mean a lot. I wish it didn’t mean that others assume that I would be better off in conversation with other women. Just once, I want someone to consider that I don’t want to talk about my emotions and want to talk football instead.
Today, I really wish that I’d gotten to spend more time with my friends.
I really wish the church trusted us more.