Purity Practices: Coed Leadership Concerns
The sexual escapades of powerful men are back in national headlines, highlighted recently by former Rep. Anthony Weiner, former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Evangelical leaders have long maintained safeguards to protect themselves from even temptation. But the days when a man could run a major organization or a government office without being in close proximity to women colleagues are past, said Michael Lindsay, Gordon College president and author of Faith in the Halls of Power. "As laudable as Dr. [Billy] Graham's practice was—to never meet privately with a woman—it's a practical impossibility in today's workplace environment."
That includes parachurch ministries, where women are climbing the ranks. In the last seven years, six women became presidents of evangelical colleges, Cherie Harder was appointed president of the Trinity Forum, and Joanna Mockler chaired the board of World Vision.
And while infidelity trends have been stable for the past 20 years, studies do show that more members of the opposite sex in the workplace is linked to more infidelity, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. "A private office with a glass window can solve a lot of problems," he said.
Refusing to eat or travel alone with someone of the opposite sex are strategies that Michael Hyatt, former ceo of Thomas Nelson, said he uses to protect his marriage. While he's willing to be flexible—he has been on a business trip with a woman when their male colleague was ill—he said he discusses everything with his wife. He also talks about his wife often and positively, something he calls "the best adultery repellant known to man."
"Men that are wise will be intentional about this," Hyatt said. "It's naive to think that somehow we can be so sanctified that we don't have to take into account our biology. … I've seen ministries, individual's lives ruined because of a moment of indiscretion."
But some of the boundaries men put on their workplace behavior can have unintended consequences for women, said Halee Gray Scott, a professor at Wesley Seminary and A. W. Tozer Seminary, who last year completed a dissertation on women leaders of evangelical organizations.
"It's a big problem for women to grow [professionally] because they can't be mentored, and can't get into these informal networks where the guys go out to lunch or golfing," she said. "This lack of access affects their careers, because the business or ministry relationship is built on trust."
Informal interactions generate a sense of community, Scott said. "If you look back to Genesis and how women and men are created to be co-laborers, I get this image of men and women looking at the work, not at each other. … We need to learn how to redeem being co-laborers."
However, no company policy will be foolproof. "Fear [of getting caught] can only motivate somebody so far," said Lindsay. "You've got to have some other reason you're upholding your moral standards."
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Her.meneutics, Christianity Today's blog for women, addressed this in a post titled "Guarding Your Marriage without Dissing Women."
Sarah Hinlicky Wilson and Lauren Winner debated male-female workplace boundaries for Christianity Today in 1999.
In 2006, Sarah Sumer wrote in about men and women working together as a team for Leadership Journal, a Christianity Today sister publication.
Additional Christianity Today articles on purity and sexuality and gender in the workplace include:
Premarital Abstinence: Make a Promise to Jesus | The best way to encourage people to save sex for the covenant of marriage. (January 6, 2010)
The Waiting Game | Single adults can live fulfilling lives that reveal God's goodness. (August 3, 2009)
The Joy of Policy Manuals | There's more to workplace justice than good intentions. (April 26, 2007)
Desire Happens | You see, you want. Then what? (March 29, 2007)