By Jamie Neben
I recently joined a female friend for lunch, and during our conversation she casually observed how nice it was that we were both single. Otherwise, getting together wouldn’t have been possible. Her statement confused me because I didn’t understand why an innocent meal between friends would suddenly be off limits if one of us was unavailable. She informed me that, as Christians, we are not to put ourselves in situations that could lead to rumors and gossip. Essentially, that means any person in a committed relationship is not to be alone with someone of the opposite sex. No lunch dates, no business meetings, not even elevator rides, unless other people are present in each case. She further noted that following this rule also prevents the onset of temptation and weakness.
Although I was raised in the church, I was not aware of the particular spiritual policy my friend was feeding me. After we said our goodbyes and parted ways, I found myself wanting to dig deeper into this topic. More specifically, I wanted to find Biblical scripture that supports it. After all, I know of many passages that admonish us not to gossip. But how can we avoid being gossiped about? Eventually, I found the likely source in Ephesians 5:3:
“Since you are God’s people, it is not right that any matters of sexual immorality or indecency or greed should even be mentioned among you.”
While I don’t believe the scripture specifically forbids men and women that are “spoken for” to meet alone, I wholeheartedly agree that some common sense parameters ought to be in place. First, I hold my views with the assumption that the relationship is decidedly platonic. If romantic feelings exist on either side, the situation becomes potentially dangerous and should be avoided. Also, pre-planned events should be fully disclosed to significant others and then only go forward with their approval. To keep a secret is to plant the seed of a lie that could grow into a bigger betrayal than the act itself. Finally, for the purposes of my argument, all activities are understood to occur in public settings such as restaurants and offices, and during reasonable hours.
Before we circle back to the Bible verse, we better talk about temptation. For the good, honest men and women who are not prone to cheating, and are in happy relationships, the risk of suddenly becoming weak is presumably minimal. After all, we’re talking about the company of friends and co-workers. Not strangers. Do people change the very minute they commit to someone? A lifelong friend one day automatically becomes a conquest the next? I suppose it could happen on rare occasions but, on the other hand, what about trust? If partners can’t trust each other, or themselves, there are far greater issues needing to be addressed. I am especially perplexed by why a mature Christian would run away from the mere possibility of temptation. Confronting temptation is not the same thing as embracing it, and we would be wise to remember the difference. Moreover, one would think that our spiritual strength could help us keep our carnal urges under control (at least long enough to have lunch).
So, how can we ensure that something harmless isn’t mistaken for a secret rendezvous (or, in other words, a matter of sexuality immorality or indecency)? Simply put, it’s damn near impossible to prevent, at least altogether. Loose lips always look for exercise, and truth is often unimportant. Some random acquaintance might jump to the wrong conclusion but I refuse to give them the power of determining my social interactions. If we even attempt to adhere to such high standards, where do we draw the line? For instance, what happens with family members? A father cannot spend time with his daughter, nor can brothers and sisters be alone, if they’re not all single? What if we’re with a gay friend? Except in the smallest of towns, how would anybody know better? Short of making public announcements every place we go, I’m not sure how to completely shut down the rumor mill.
In closing, common sense should dictate whether we’re in violation of the scripture. I don’t feel that we need to place undue restrictions on ourselves based on what is a broad interpretation of the verse. If we behave in a way that still honors our commitments, I think we’ve fulfilled our spiritual obligations.
We are all human beings and we should connect with each other whenever we have the opportunity. We shouldn’t use gender as an excuse to interfere with the connection.