“Bold Boundaries: Expanding Friendship Between Men & Women” is slated for April 26-27, 2013, in Chicago, IL. I attended last year and am attending again this year. Some of my friends find it odd that I, not Evangelical, not straight, would want to attend such a gathering. The conference is not specifically Evangelical, although many attenders might label themselves as such if pressed. The conference is also not exclusively straight, although the topic is about friendships between straight men and straight women.
I am attending again this year for several reasons. I met so many cool people last year and made new connections, and caught up with some existing friends, so this gives me reason enough. I have also developed a sort of hobby in engaging with Evangelicals, particularly about issues of gender, sexuality, and power.
While in seminary, we were required to take at least one course at another seminary. I chose to take mine at the most conservative seminary in the area, which subsequently lost its accreditation and was closed down. (I am so tempted to gloat and say, “She shoots – she scores!” but it had nothing to do with me. Would it be so wrong to think it was a Holy Spirit thing?)
This seminary not only believed women should not preach; women could not even take preaching-related courses. I do not believe there was a full-time female faculty member. On the first night of my second course there (I ended up taking three, all in the counseling program), the professor announced, “If you’re depressed, you are sinning against God.” I raised my hand and asked, “Did you just say, ‘If you’re depressed, you are sinning against God’?” and he replied, “Yes, I did.” On the first night of my third course, the same professor said, “There is absolutely no biological basis for alcoholism.” Again I asked him to confirm I heard what I thought I heard. My ears did not deceive me. Oh, the lively times I had there; you can only imagine!
Did I take courses there to be a troublemaker or see if I really was a “liberal theologian?” No. I wanted to learn how “the other side” thinks about these issues from their Biblical perspective so I would be better equipped to coach people out of these beliefs when I had the opportunity. I do believe many of the answers to our challenges can be found in sacred writings, but I do not believe all wisdom is found there and surely do not believe the Bible is the only source of wisdom.
But back to my attendance at the “Bold Boundaries” gathering. When I first heard about this event, I was fascinated that straight men and women need to be taught that it is okay for them to have deep, intimate, non-physical friendships. I immediately bought the book “Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Exploring the Mystery of Friendship Between Men & Women” by the organizer, Dan Brennan. I had heard that in more conservative circles activities such as men and women who are not married to each other riding in a car together is verboten, never mind that many people work closely and even travel for business in these sorts of pairs.
Dan’s book does an excellent job from a historical Christian (read “Biblical”) perspective of explaining why this type of thinking is hogwash (my word) and actually hurtful to our lives together as brothers and sisters. Last year’s conference showcased several speaker “couples” who spoke about true friendships between men and women; friendships both in and outside the workplace.
I contacted Dan about attending; I wasn’t sure my gay self would feel welcome there, and he assured me he would make sure I was welcomed. That definitely turned out to be the case, and along the way I had the opportunity to teach about GLBTQ people, particularly how this idea that straight men and straight women could not have close, non-sexual friendships did not make sense to me; imagine if lesbians could not be close, non-sexual friends with other lesbians or gay guys could not be close, non-sexual friends with other gay guys?
If you’re able, I hope you’ll join me in Chicago. If you’re not able, I highly recommend you read “Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions” and follow Dan’s blog.