Are There Boundaries Between Men and Women? Rethinking the Social Division Between the Sexes
After reflecting on the years that I spent growing up in a conservative church, I can recall experiencing very little interaction with the opposite sex. Although boys and girls were permitted to sit together during the youth group worship services, it was a rare occasion when an individual from either sex took advantage of this opportunity. For the most part, boys would sit on one side of the sanctuary and girls on the other. The few times that I remember people straying from this norm, the participants were guests that showed up as a couple. Other than that, prolonged male/female interaction was an unspoken taboo.
When I was sixteen years old I crossed (in my opinion) one of the most significant thresholds of my life. At the beginning of my junior year of high school I began spending some time with a girl who I had fallen head over heels for, and eventually I was able to convince her to like me too. After seeing her for a while, the next hurdle I had to jump was figuring out how I could see her outside of school. So as a young inexperienced male, I did what every boy my age dreams of doing with the girl he has the hots for; I took her to church. To be more exact, I took my soon to be girlfriend to Tuesday-night high school youth group. I think I realized that the only chance I’d have at getting her parents to allow their fifteen-year-old daughter to spend time with a sixteen-year-old male was if I convinced them that we would be hanging out in an environment that would keep us from getting into trouble. Hence, our first dates together were spent at church.
To my surprise, once we arrived at youth group it seemed as if we were almost immediately split up. We were rarely allowed to sit together during the worship service and the instruction that we received from the leaders post-worship took place in gender specific groups—a male leader instructed the guys and a female leader instructed the gals. Needless to say, I quickly learned that church was not the ideal place to have a date with my soon to be girlfriend.
During the four years succeeding my first youth group experience post single-hood, I found myself in circumstances time and time again where some sort of authority figure within the church would assert his/her power to drive a wedge between my girlfriend and I. Although I don’t entirely blame those who were concerned for my sexual purity for the way that they constantly imposed boundaries on my dating relationship, I now realize that my view of women in general was being shaped by their reactions.
Now that I have been married for close to a year now, I’m beginning to realize that I never really learned how to interact with those of the opposite sex. Let me be more specific. I have yet to be properly instructed on how to interact with someone from the opposite sex who I am not interested in dating. Sure I’ve gained a fair amount of experience learning how to keep physical boundaries. Not only that, I’ve also learned a few things about communication styles, leaving the toilet seat down, going shopping, and buying gifts. But now that I’m in a stage where no one is hounding me about sexual purity, I’ve become aware of the fact that I don’t know how to relate to females as my sisters in Christ. I’ve been conditioned to believe that all male/female interaction is innately sexual.
But why should anyone expect anything different? Isn’t this the natural result of an environment where males and females are separated until somehow, a couple is formed, and then from that time forward they are encouraged to marry as quickly as possible, lest they fall into sexual temptation? How is a male now supposed to act towards other females in the church once he is married? From my experience, males in the church sit in a sort of limbo mode once they are married. Virtually the only female that they have substantial interaction with is their wife and they don’t really know how they are supposed to treat other women. But is this God’s design for His people? Is there a healthier way that men and woman within the church can interact that will be more glorifying to God? Is it possible for brothers and sisters in Christ to complement each other in a way that is beneficial to the body of Christ? I’d like to hear others thoughts on this issue as well as the experiences they have had.
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