We've Been Duped By Freud on Cross-Gender Friendship: A Response
Last week Her.meneutics writer Sharon Hodde Miller critiqued aspects of evangelical author Dan Brennan's take on friendship between men and women, noting that his approach failed to grapple with the reality of sin. Below is Brennan's response.—The Editors
A heartfelt thank you for the opportunity to respond to Miller, who I agree with on several excellent points.
My heart goes out to singles and their alienation. I also agree with Miller about the objectification of women. And I affirm her warning that any friendship not come between the spousal friendship of husband and wife, the friendship of utmost importance.
Miller's post stirred some visceral responses, some in agreement, some not. There was no consensus, however, on her framing of the issue. With all this impassioned discussion, it's apparent that within the evangelical world the issue of cross-gendered friendships, although controversial, is emerging as an important one, one that I've given significant attention to through my book and other writings.
First things first: I wish Miller had addressed the elephant in the living room: Freud. The elephant doesn't disappear simply because we quote Bible verses and think we have higher marital boundaries than our secular neighbors. What passes for a high view of marriage may actually keep us from facing our fears and loving one another (not just our spouses) as Christ loved us.
It's hard for us evangelicals to confess we have been impacted by the pioneer of psychoanalysis. Freud's theories, absorbed by pop culture, have put sex at the center of everything in the West—infiltrating evangelical views of relationships between men and women. Christian writers such as Elaine Storkey, James Olthuis, Jack Balswick, Sue Edwards, Lisa McMinn, Ruth Haley Barton, and Marva Dawn have noted Freud's impact in their respective work.
Yes, we must grapple with the reality of sin in this world. Lust is one of the cardinal sins. We all know of pastors who have fallen into sexual sin, leading to church division, divorce, and emotional scars that last a lifetime. Getting emotionally entangled into inappropriate relationships where one spouse conceals an emotional-sexual connection can be just as devastating as physical adultery. This is another place where I share Sharon's deep concern. Adultery destroys the vows of exclusive relationship in marital sexuality. Triangles, even if there is no sexual intercourse, are a violation of marital sexuality.
But we must also grapple with the reality of a pop-Freudian undercurrent within our churches that alters how we view relationships. We need to ask, Are we confusing a robust view of sin with a robust view of Freud? Maybe a robust view of sin confesses that we have blindly followed the one who posited frustrated sexual desire to lie at the heart of every relational encounter between men and women—libido lurking in all meaningful oneness.
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