Cross Sex Friendships & The New Covenant…An Interview With Author Dan Brennan

25 Comments
April 3, 2013

SUSP for websiteOn Monday of this week, I posted a book review of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, a book that I believe is of a revolutionary caliber.  Although this book is not for the faint of heart, I’m convinced this book should be thoughtfully and honestly considered by anyone who is serious about experiencing authentic New Testament community.  The title of Monday’s book review is:

Why The New Covenant Is A Sexual Revolution…(a review of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions by Dan Brennan).

If you haven’t yet read this review, please give that post a read before you read further here.  Because of the controversial nature of the subject of this book, I asked author Dan Brennan to come on the blog today to answer some questions about his book Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions.  He has graciously agreed.  Without further adue, let’s jump into the conversation.

 

dan brennan profileDan Brennan  

Dan, thank you very much for coming on the blog today.  It is truly an honor to have you here.

  • Dan, you begin the book by stating that, in your own life, you have close friendships with three women: A single woman, a married woman, and your wife.  You state that these close relationships with the opposite sex have plunged you into the mystery and depths of love, sexuality, and divine friendship.  In the evangelical world, ‘passionate’ relationships with the opposite sex are reserved for spouses only.  Throughout the book, however, you talk openly about the benefits of having ‘passionate’ relationships in general, including with members of the opposite sex.  In your book, you site several examples of this from the life of Christ.  This is quite a break from the religious norm. Obviously, you are not advocating having erotic or romantic relationships with others whom we are not married to.  In light of this, can you describe for us what it does mean to have ‘passionate’ relationships within the context of friendship that does not involve sex or romance?

 

Thank you, Jamal. I’m honored to be on your blog. In the Bible we do see some passionate friendships. The friendship between Ruth and Naomi could be described as passionate. Ruth expressed a deep commitment of attachment and closeness to Naomi and we see that unfold in Ruth’s story even after she marries Boaz.

We also see a passionate friendship between David and Jonathan. We read in 1 Samuel 18:1 that they were “bound” to each other. There is no other language to describe a closer nonsexual bond than this. Jonathan loved David as much as he loved his own soul. As the narrative unfolds, we read that Jonathan had a great delight in David. It’s clear from the story that Jonathan had an abiding passion for David.  Passionate friendship involves an emotional, relational, spiritual bond which has a distinctive intensity, commitment, vulnerability, and enduring chaste intimacy.

 

  • What is the distinction between sexuality and sex?  Why is this distinction important in regards to intimate relationships with members of the opposite sex that do not involve or lead to sex?

 

I think evangelicals will be exploring this distinction more in the twenty-first century. If we cannot grasp the distinction, Christians will never be open to intimate friendships between men and women unless there is a romantic trajectory. If we are able to make that important distinction between the two, closeness between a man and woman (two sexual beings) can be a chaste, nonromantic closeness.

However, there are a number of Christians across various traditions who see an important distinction between genital sexuality and what we might call relational sexuality. It’s impossible to be asexual. Men and women notice the immediate difference of the opposite sex when they are in each other’s presence. That difference is far deeper than their difference in biological parts. Genital sexuality is a significant dimension to sexuality. But there is so much more to sexuality than the genital. Sexuality “embraces” a wide ranging world of relating to the opposite sex including nonromantic warmth, compassion, tenderness, trust, and embodied physical affection. As brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, we already understand closeness with members of the opposite sex without genital focus. This is relational sexuality filled with love.

 

  • Dan, in your opinion, why are brothers and sisters in Christ from a religious background uncomfortable being in close relationships with one another?  Can you describe how Sigmund Freud has had more influence in shaping evangelical ideas / fears about relationships than the scriptures themselves?

 

There is no denying Freud had a significant impact on closeness. To this day scholars debate what Freud meant, early Freud vs. late Freud, and so on. But there is no denying popular Freudianism on the street. If one scratches the surface in relationships, there are sexual issues underlying all our engagements with another.  Popular Freudianism has genitalized every aspect of closeness: tenderness, warmth, vulnerability, delight, play, desire, intimacy and on and on. If we accept Freud or read the Bible through a Freudian lens, it’s all about genital focus whether or not we know it.

So then we drastically limit the power, depth, richness, beauty, and intensity of any connection between men and women who are brothers and sisters in Christ. Most nonromantic relationships between Christian men and women do not even come near to resembling the intimate trust, depth, and richness that close healthy adult sibling bonds have achieved through the centuries. To nurture any kind of closeness is to be out of touch with the Freudian drive supposedly lurking under the surface.

 

  • The evangelical notion that the marital relationship is the ‘be-all, end-all’ for passion, intimacy, friendship, happiness, fidelity, and depth is wrong in your opinion.  Why?  Can you define the concept of ‘romantic idealism’ and how this plays into the misguided evangelical understanding of marriage?

 

Romantic idealism occurs when we invest all that we mean by relational depth (intimacy, passion, vulnerability, deep trust, tenderness, fidelity) into the one couple –  under the rubric of “one flesh” – to the exclusion of any other relationships.  This glorification of the couple comports with the sexualizing of all intimacy (popular Freud). It’s the only alternative left standing. Romantic love is the only love, the only place for “true love.”

I see something different in the Bible. Go back and read all the relational depth and range in verses, passages, and stories which are nonromantic. This includes nonromantic texts which romantic idealism has ransacked for romantic intensity and endurance in wedding ceremonies such as Ruth 1:16-17, and 1 Cor. 13:4-7. Then read all there is in the New Testament about the Spirit, putting on Christ, overcoming evil by doing good, loving one another, clinging to what is good, and so on.

Also read all that Jesus said regarding marriage (which wasn’t much). Then read all the stories in which Jesus interacted with women. When Jesus mentioned the brother-sister metaphor of closeness between men and women, there was clearly more relational depth intended than just friendliness. There exists a deep bond between men and women who follow Jesus.

 

  • Dan, In your book you make the argument that ‘oneness’ & ‘communion’ are not completely fulfilled in marriage.  Can you elaborate on this a bit more?

 

I love this. Once I came to this understanding, there was no turning back! There is a whole world of intimate humanity in the Bible beyond the romantic twosome. Within the contemporary evangelical worldview, the intimacy of “one flesh” is the unique focus of all intimacy, depth, and passion.  But in the ancient world, a classic definition for friendship (not romantic lover) is “one soul, two bodies.”  Evangelicals are beginning to come around to this understanding of deep oneness in nonromantic relationships.

Jesus didn’t pray for all of us to have sex or be married. However, he did pray in John 17 for all of us to experience the richness of oneness which exists between the Father and the Son. We are all called (not just husbands and wives) to an eschatological union in the here-and-now which respects marriage but also reflects the deep inner love of the Trinity.

 

  • What would you say to those who feel your message is dangerous and degrading toward marriages and traditional families?

 

All authentic, engaging, vulnerable love is risky and not safe. There is the real possibility of date rape in dating. Current statistics show that physical violence occurs in twenty-five percent of dating relationships. Domestic violence in marriages is an ongoing problem. The latest statistics show that thirty percent of female victims in the United States die from either a past or present romantic partner.  Current statistics on infidelity come close to the statistics on romantic danger. Twenty-two percent of married men commit adultery.

So what makes romantic love such a glorious risk (danger minimized among evangelicals) and intimate friendships beyond marriage as “dangerous?” That’s the question that shines a powerful light on romantic idealism as a drug. You rarely hear in popular evangelical culture the fear-based logic that dating and marriage are dangerous, therefore don’t get involved in romantic love.

What do you hear? Well, you hear that if you follow Jesus and yield to the Spirit you are going to overcome date rape, violence, and oppression. If you do this, according the romantic myth accepted unexamined by many Christians, there is a greater, utopian payoff in an idealized version of love, a payoff that trumps any risk.  But there is a powerful element of truth there—not just for healthy romantic relationships but for all male-female relationships! We can learn how to be near each other, we can learn how to love each other, and we can learn to be in the presence of each other intimately, overcoming lust, sexism, and manipulation.

There is a strong argument to be made that if we nurtured healthy friendships—spousal friendships and friendships beyond marriage we would reduce divorce and infidelity. That seems counterintuitive—but only when juxtaposed against the notion of idealized romantic love.

 

  • Dan, why do you think a breakthrough in relationships, especially cross-sex relationships, is vital in regards to building authentic Christian community?

 

This is what it means to be Christian men and women in the 21st century living in between Jesus’ resurrection and his return. Intimacy is not just for those in romance. Healthy friendships empowered by the Spirit overcome lust, sexism, date rape, domestic violence, and alienation between the sexes.  As new creations in Christ, the spiritual realities of Christ (Colossians 2, 3, Phil. 2, Eph. 4-6), the Holy Spirit (Romans 8, Gal. 5:22-23), of grace and the newness of life (Romans 6), of the kingdom (Matt. 13), of discipleship (Mark 3:31-35), of love (Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 13) are all made to apply to marriage relationships.

But they are general.

All these realities are present in this age to aid us, to assist us, to empower us to live as Christians in the immediate presence of the opposite sex—in romantic and nonromantic intimacies.

Yes, there are dangers. Yes, we can be out-of-touch with our perceptions regarding our spouses and our friends. But putting on Christ one step at a time, seeking to be intentional to not hurt or manipulate our spouses or our friends, we can nurture a deep chaste love and trust in our marriages and in our communities.

 

  • Dan, thank you so very much for this rich and insightful conversation.  I appreciate your time very much. 

 

Closing thoughts for our readers…

Thank you very much for taking part in this conversation with us.  I greatly appreciate the ability of the readers of this blog to discuss difficult subjects with maturity and grace.  If Monday’s book review, and today’s interview have stirred your desire for deeper intimacy with your brothers and sisters in Christ, let me strongly encourage you to get a copy of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions.  My prayer is that this book will enrich your life as much as it has enriched mine.

With that said, I’d like to give you a heads up about something.  I have discovered something important in my life.  The books that critics attempt to discredit by either attacking the author personally, or evaluating the content of the book before they have read the book, have actually turned out to be the most impactful books in my life.  This book is certainly in that catageory.  Let me caution you to not fall into those traps.  This book deserves honest, informed consideration based on the substance of this book alone.  I truly hope you will give this book a thoughtful read with an open mind.

With His love,

Jamal Jivanjee

Jamal Jivanjee

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25 responses to Cross Sex Friendships & The New Covenant…An Interview With Author Dan Brennan

  1. Jamal! Thank you so much for this most-excellent follow-up to Monday’s post… but I wonder, did you leave out same-sex friendships out of this by design? In other words, will there be a follow-up interview?

    Because, especially with the general tenor of our society lately, there seems to be a great deal of confusion over what we can and should expect from even same-sex relationships… where romantic love is emphasized above any other love, to exclude the possibility of a “David and Jonathan” ever happening… well, I know you agree on the need to address the issue. Question is: Have you?

    Will we be hearing more from Mr. Brennan?

    • Jamal Jivanjee April 3, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Ryan,

      Thanks for reading this interview. I hope you will get a copy of this book as I believe it will speak to your question. This is the last post that I have currently planned in regards to addressing this book, but you never know;)

      Dan Brennan will be addressing comments left on this post as well. If you have a specific question for Dan, feel free to leave a comment here for him with your question. Thanks.

    • Yes, Ryan although my focus is on male-female friendships one has to jump through the same hurdles to enjoy male friendships.

  2. As Christ continues to open our eyes to His Life, we gain a ever deepening appreciation for Him, and for one another. It’s essential that we remember our new identity, and that we no longer regard one another in the flesh.

    A lot of ground work has been laid to negate this understanding, yet I fully believe we are being called to move forward, and in this we will collectively understand more of Christ, and His incomparable love.

    Thanks Jamal

  3. Heather Toftness April 3, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    “But putting on Christ one step at a time, seeking to be intentional to not hurt or manipulate our spouses or our friends, we can nurture a deep chaste love and trust in our marriages and in our communities.” Thank you for this!! It is something I have known within my Spirit for some time, but was unable to put words to! I am so grateful for the Body of Christ. We truly receive a much more full picture of Him because of our Brothers and Sisters!

  4. Good stuff! I am blessed to have many intimate other gender relationships in the Lord that are highly precious. Here’s a wonderful old song “Clean Before My Lord” by Nancy Honeytree
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzWHNLePLq8&list=PL2A74BB870DB05B83

  5. Dan,

    Thank you for sharing with us this great day. It’s now time for the Life of true Love to be lived, in us and through us. Today, Love’s revealing of His Reality in us is for Him, through Him, to Him and by Him. And, there should be no mistake that this Love Life in us only exists on the other side of the cross. This revealing of Himself, of Love, is a tremendous step toward Father’s greatest pleasure. So, it is understood then, that He is making Her ready for true Love in the appointed of now. The endless and ultimate unity is Love and Love is Spirit, and He flows through Spirit in the Life we are together. We are made for perfect Love. We are made for this immeasurable and incomparable Love who lives in us. This Love, this Unity, is who held John close. Picture this now, two men embraced with a powerful love and trust and caring and union. Jesus did not just express the reality of His love in spoken words and on the cross. In the Writings, is this Love, but how completely missed is the sight of Him. Today, if the religious world would see such a happening of a long embrace, the gossip would most likely spread like a wildfire that those two men are doing something wrong. So many miss Him entirely, by not only the religious mindset, No! far than just that, the root of the religious mindset is individualism, the “I Divide” that set forth from the garden scene, since the beginning. Because John experienced Him and knew Him, he knew that God Himself is Love. The Love in Father’s heart far surpasses the totality of mere human love, ever experienced. This Spirit of Love is the family that goes beyond any known definition of the world. We flow in constant Spirit motion, through one another and in one another, by the Spirit of Life and the Son of His Love. Love is not understood or known from a distance, we are IN the ever Life of eternal Love. So, the pictures of David and Jonathan, and many others, are a mere glimpse, a faint and hazy view of Who was coming, the Son of Love Himself. The world will know only by our Love, the Life Spirit of Christ in us.

    And by the way, do you plan on publishing this glorious book in Kindle format? I believe it to be a necessary step toward the greater sharing of this vital message with the saints.

  6. Mary O’Neal April 3, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    Since the gay lifestyle is coming to the front now we are all trying to be cautious, but life according to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. Rom. 8:2 I am paying attention to the words “law” and “made”. Our only law we live under is the law of the Spirit, of life in Christ Jesus. We do not do anything to be in this life or keep this law. We have been made free by the by the law of the Spirit of Life.
    I am a woman of 48 yrs. of marriage and what a journey. I have had the blessing of having two intimate relationships consummated by the Spirit for the purpose of the glory of the Lord Himself and for complete fulfillment in my spirit life. Two other woman in my life are a Jonathan David love, it was totally by the Spirit in our spirits, spirit to spirit to Spirit. Without the Spirit of God we actually had hardly anything in common, only our deep love and longing for our Savior Jesus. All we talk about is Jesus and what He shows us during the week and if something wonderful happens before we get together we talk over the phone about it. What does my husband say about all of this? My husband and I have not only physical oneness in the flesh but we also have this intimate oneness in the Spirit. My spirit to his spirit to the Holy Spirit and he knows and understands and shares our intimacy with each other. We are maybe what Jamal seems to be saying , community with Jesus on an intimate spiritual relationship level. What Jamal has presented and Dan Brennan is saying is also my experience and I will be reading this book. I and my husband have suffered much at the hands of other Christians saying that we are treading on a slippery slope from the spirit of homosexuality, but intimacy from the Spirit of God is so much stronger than the accuser of the brethren and we are
    overcoming by the blood of the lamb and the words of our testimony. Thank you Jamal and Mr. Brennan for falling into the hands of the Living God and allowing His heart to be heard through you. I am praying for all to have the ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

  7. Is it possible that when we love God too little (in violation of the Greatest Command) we in turn love others too little (Second Greatest Command) and relationships become corrupt and self-centered thus allowing the Enemy to bring immorality into male/female relationships as we are incorrectly positioned with Christ?

    I recently discovered that Matthew 22:37 should read as “YOU SHALL love the Lord your God with all your heart…”, which sounds more like a prophetic proclamation, rather than “Love the Lord…”, which sounds like an imperative command.

    As I love God more completely I want to love others, including women who are not my wife, more completely/fully/passionately!

    Does this make sense?

    Jim Spelman

    • I love this–this is knowing God–God is love: “As I love God more completely I want to love others, including women who are not my wife, more completely/fully/passionately!”

  8. Jamal, Thank you so much for your hospitality and generosity. I know the Lord is working and this issue continues to grow as others hear about my book. I’m amazed of the stories of heard and the deep friendships already existing. For a growing number of people, there is no turning back.

    For your blog readers who may want to know about this, I am hosting a conference in the Chicago area, April 26-27. We still have room for registrations left. It’s going to be every bit as provocative as my book is. We have an incredible lineup of diverse speakers. So many of our speakers have real, concrete, stories of close cross sex friendships. This link is the lineup and it also leads to registration. This is a groundbreaking event. http://sacredfriendshipgathering.com/about/conference-schedule/

    • Jamal Jivanjee April 4, 2013 at 7:54 pm

      Dan,

      Thank you very much for coming on the blog to answer these questions. It was an honor to have you. I appreciate your time and thoughtful responses to these questions.

      Thanks also for letting us know about your conference. It sounds fabulous. I wish I could be there. Blessings to you!

  9. Dan, can you explain a bit clearer what you mean in your response to the the concerns that such relationships are degrading toward marriages and traditional families?

    • Samuel,

      No problem. I believe a path of continuing to choose healthy path of intentional friendship within marriage and beyond marriage will mean the immediate people in our lives (spouses and friends) will become less and less idealized romantic objects and less and less sexual objects.

      This means that in the path of spousal friendship we will not succumb to the current notion that unless we are able to sustain intense “romantic” intensity we should get a divorce.We will nurture a spousal friendship in which we see more and the eternal beauty of our spouse and desire the unique fullness of spousal intimacy. In so doing, we will seek to honor them and not manipulate them but learn the depth of spousal communion.

      As we open ourselves to “transmarital” (beyond marriage) friendships, we will not do so by manipulating our spousal friendship or neglecting the unique and primary intimacy with spouses. One can have a cherished passion in one’s spouse which is not centered upon Hollywood romantic intensity but it still is a cherished passion in which intentional transparency, tenderness, reverences, are all an ongoing part of the package when one initiates or sustains intimate friendships beyond marriage.

      There are spouses in their journeys right now who could not handle their beloved seeking out a cross-gender friend. Spouses need to honor where their mates are. There are thousands of different places spouses could be on cross-sex friendships. It’s vital that if we believe in cross-sex friendship, our first and primary friendship is our spousal friendship.

      That acknowledged, the spiritual realities I mentioned (beginning with the indwelling presence of Christ) these realities practiced with wisdom and transparency will 1) stop of us from either manipulating our spouse or seeking to cultivate a cross-sex friendship without our spouse’s knowledge and 2) revere and honor the *wholeness* of our cross-sex friends as persons and not merely as body-parts.

      Real friendship then, honors our spouse and doesn’t permit us to undermine trust, loyalty, and commitment to them. Likewise, as we begin to understand the Lord has wired us for communion and union (and sex is not the pinnacle for all union and communion) in friendship too, we can nurture a trust with our spouse and our friend that honors the marriage but opens the door to a distinctive relational depth of trust and intimacy with our friend, too.

      This would nurture a “micro-social world” or community where marriage is honored and includes a robust view of cross-sex friendship in one’s community of friends. This is the world I’m living. This deters divorce and infidelity. Does that help?

  10. David Breakeronenine Carothers April 8, 2013 at 1:49 am

    Great interview and comments, I have much to think about.

  11. Recently I advocated for relationships across genders to a group of my friends; then I read this blog. Although my words had been extreme to my friends, my suggestion was not deep enough! I did not convey the “passion” part of relationships. In fact, I was not even thinking about it. Thank you for making me see how important passionate relationships are a necessary part of life, especially to the body!

  12. I’m a little late to the discussion, yet I will state what I think.

    I still think what I’ve always thought…men and women cannot be “intimates” without the sexual/romantic element raising it’s head. I’ve been there, tried that, and failed.

    I think that it’s interesting that Dan begins by citing intimate and intense relationships between SAME sex couples in the Bible (Naomi and Ruth, David and Jon). I don’t think that we have ANY examples of intimate friendships between men and women that didn’t result in marriage or rape. Dan mentions Jesus having close friendships with women but he doesn’t really provide any details after he asserts that fact. Jesus relationship with Mary and Martha is the most detailed one that I can think of it it appears that those relationships, although intimate for the day, occurred within the context of family. We don’t see Jesus taking either one of them away from the larger context to just hang out one on one. We already know that, although there were women disciples, it doesn’t appear that they were included in the “inner sanctum” (so to speak) since I don’t believe that they were in the upper room, on the mountain, or in the garden.

    As a side note…I always think that it is dangerous to suggest that if Jesus did something, it must be okay for us to do the same thing. Usually, it is an attempt to justify something that is risky. I think what we have here is a case of wishful thinking as opposed to reality or even idealism. The “oneness” between a man and a women that God ordained pre-fall, was meant to be expressed in sexual, emotional, and economic union. This is not something that originated after sin entered the picture so, although our sinful natures complicate the problem, they aren’t the cause of the problem. There is distinction between the sexes and attempts to nullify or eradicate them, even ostensibly, “in Christ”, do a disservice to the God-ordained completeness that happens when a man and a woman come together body, soul and spirit.

    I think that what the writer expresses is the “spirit of the age”…a desire for and feeling of entitlement to “having it all”….to not having to make decisions and choices…to not having to deny yourself something that feels good and that you think enriches your life. And….I am not convinced that the writer’s wife is okay with his other “friendships” and if she isn’t tells me that he is not loving her as Christ loves the Church….in an exclusive, possessive and sacrificial way.

    T

    • Jamal Jivanjee April 22, 2013 at 4:14 am

      Tom,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m curious, do you plan on getting this book, or have you already decided that this author has nothing valid to say about the subject of cross-sex relationships?

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