the road to equality is paved with friendship.

the road to equality is paved with friendship
* this post is part of the february synchroblog.  this month’s topic is centered around cross-gender friendships, a topic i have written a lot about over the years. the link list for other bloggers writing on this topic this month are below so check them out. also, i am excited to be part of this year’s sacred friendship gathering at the end of april in chicago called bold boundaries: exploring friendship between men & women. my dear & fun friend and refuge partner karl wheeler and i will be sharing together and it would be so fun to see you there! 

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if i could boil almost everything that i write down to just a couple of themes, friendship would rise near the top.  it’s one of the most underrated skills in our christian faith, and in fact, i am going to propose that it should be an actual spiritual discipline that we begin to intentionally practice!  friendship connects us to our heart, to others’ hearts, to God’s heart. the essence of friendship is learning to love & be loved, and love is one of the hardest & most important things to practice this side of heaven.

the other topic that’s also a front-runner is equality.  i am a nut case for equality, not only for women but for the marginalized in any-way-shape-or-form. part of our responsibility as Christ-followers, in my opinion, is to practice equality in radical, tangible ways. we should be the most equal, free and brave people in town instead of the most hierarchical, oppressive, and fearful.

and if you know me in real life, well, you know i also like the word “practice.” (see, i’ve already used it about three times in this post!).  this crazy life Jesus calls us to is risky and scary and hard and won’t drop out of the sky. we’ll have to risk our hearts to bravely try new ways to get to new places together.

yeah, friendship & equality & practice are all mixed up together.

“the church”, the wild & beautiful body of Christ, is supposed to be the best reflection of God’s image.

when i look around at relationships in church on the whole, i see very few real equal & meaningful friendships between men & women that are pure & free & true.  whether it’s conscious or unconscious, men and women tend to be segregated and mix mainly at a superficial or practical level.

i am so glad that there is some movement being made in the area of equality in the church, and i do think there’s a lot more attention being paid by some to ensure that women are included in leadership in new ways and important voices aren’t missing. that’s awesome. but the reality is that inclusion isn’t the same as friendship.

friendship means relationship.

real relationship where we know and love each other beyond just superficialities. where we connect at a human heart level. where we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. where we learn what it means to submit to one another. where we give and receive.

i am so grateful to be part of a team and a faith community that values cross-gender friendships. we don’t really talk about it a lot, but what we try to do is live it out as best we can. we practice being friends, men & women together, as a natural part of life together.  it’s messy. it’s bumpy.

it’s hard sometimes, not because we’re men & women, but because intimacy and connection and community and life together is hard no matter who is involved.

i don’t think we can ever dismiss how segregated we have become as people.  we’ve been taught to guard our hearts, focus on tasks, and put programs or goals over relationship. it’s easier & safer & more efficient.  it’s scary to engage in meaningful relationship, men & women together, especially when we’ve been taught that it’s not possible and too dangerous of territory to tread.

one of the things i am most grateful for are the brave men and women i know who recognize that we will never be equal one with another unless we can first be friends.  i think we can talk about equality and make room the table in new ways, but nothing will radically change until the rubber meets the road and we begin practicing true blue friendship with each other.

that is what will break down walls and build new bridges and pave the way for real equality.

it will reflect diffused power & mutual submission & a space for love to reign instead of fear.

the road to equality is paved with friendship.  

when men & women learn how to be friends, everything changes. power shifts. healing happens. the image of God is more deeply reflected. freedom comes. we taste a bit of heaven on earth, here and now.

God, help us boldly practice what it means to live in real & true & equal friendship with one another so that we can break down walls & reflect your beautiful ways.  

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other bloggers writing about cross-gender friendships today, too:

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • With one or two exceptions, my best friends have always been women. Even though I grew up in church, I had to move to California (after we’d been married several years) to hear that women weren’t equal to men, that Christians must be Republicans and that men and women shouldn’t be friends. Until the past few years, I assumed it was some kind of California religious cultish nutzo thing, although I thought California was supposed to be more liberal than the Midwest.

    Our cross-gender friendships have enriched both of our lives.

    • it’s such a weird christian culture thing. outside of the church it’s way less of a big deal. we’re always several generations behind, or even further back than that, ha ha. i agree, our cross-gender friendships have enriched both of our lives. peace to you my friend from afar.

      • Wierd indeed. I remeber when I first came to the Lord, I went to a church suggested by a work colleage. It was like going back in time, but I accepted it as a new believer and deferred to the culture and the teaching that was conducive to its continuance. I remeber feeling it was as if people were being stangled but not even realising it was happening. Thank God I am free of that and can breathe now, even if that does result on me being on the margins and my being different percieved as a troublemaker at times!

  • Well, Kathy when I read you saying “i am a nut case” you were confriming something that I have thought about you for a while now *wink* I’m joking.

    I think what you raise about being loved and lovign is an important issue. I have coe across a couple of occasions recently where a couple of folks I know really have difficulty with feeling they are people that cn be loved. So that when love comes along they push it away and hide behind making other people laugh or being “strong” and “independent”.

    So yes it is “risky” and about “diffused power & mutual submission” and it takes “brave men and women” if we are going to have this “shalom”, not just peace fro absence of conflict but with us doing good for each other. If you want to call that frinedship, then I am happy to go along with that.

    I go dancing on a tuesday evening and I love it. To me there is ametaphor in that. In that we are different as men and women and equal. The men lead and the women follow. (I can just see the hairs on the back of your neck stand up Kathy when I talk about equal and different and men leading!). But it works! the lead is somethign that is offered not imposed, there is “diffused power & mutual submission” and it does take courage for the man to offer to lead risking that he may get rejected and the woman to follow risking that he might not lead in a way that is helpful. But oh what beauty it is when it comes together!

    For your sake Kathy, just so you know, I’ve been in roles where I have been following to female leaders. Sometimes I am a leader sometimes I am a follower, depending on the situation. When I was a street pastor I had different leaders at differen times one female and 2 male. Out of the 3, if I were to have a preference, I would choose te female leader. For me, with her it worked better. This might be down to a number of different factors, some subjective, but for me, she was the best leader out of the 3.

    I know you have a strong disagreeent with the equal and different approach Kathy. But then even within our genders we are different. It seems to me that in Jesus, those that were most powerful were often thos that were looked down on by others. I’m thinking of the widow with the two coins, Peter, a humble fisherman who became a “fisher of men” etc. And that slaves can be more powerful than kings!

    So yup as you say, pretty wild hey?

    • trust me, on dancing you don’t want me to lead. but that’s the beautiful thing. we all have our different strengths. i do know some women who are the best lead dancers and men who are the best followers. we’ve got to get away from men are made to do this and women are made to do that and lean into our unique giftedness and strengths and both be willing to lead and follow in different ways!

      • Ah cool – well I don’t mind leading in dance so maybe we could have a dance sometime either this side of heaven or on the other side. I’m not sure how women leading and men following in a couples dance would work but hey if that’s your unconventional bag that works for you then go for it. I hear what you say and I agree with you to a point with willingness to lead and follow. If I understand you rightly, your main objection in this would be to any assertion about men being leaders and women being followers and this being the order of things. Which I would agree with you on. There is important work to be done in us all beeing leaders and followers appropriately as you say according you our “unique gifteness” and “stengths”. But let’s not ignore the equal and different. As men and women we are different not just physically but in our emotional makeup physiologically, the way our brains are wired etc. So there are naturally things we are better as as one gender than another. It’s not about whatever a man can do a woman can do in this respect (or for that matter whatever a woman can do a man can do). But how we might compliment each other and appreciate the differences not contrive to be the same. I think if I were a woman I would like it if I had the offer of a drink being bought for me or a door opened for me and not see that as patronising or a sign of a man trying to overpower me in some way!

        Enjoying these chats with you Kathy 🙂

  • Beautiful, Kathy! Great post! Thank you for your voice and leadership. So excited to hear Karl and you in April!

    • thanks, dan. grateful for your friendship & voice. you are the one who has paved the way for so many and i am glad to be part of these important conversations!

  • I love the way you linked cross-sex friendship to spiritual practice. I think this will rope a few more into the value of practicing this. Loved reading you, Kathy! 🙂

    • thanks, jonalyn. there are so many under-rated spiritual practices and it’s time to bring them to the forefront so that we can keep being formed into the image of God in more whole & integrated ways! looking so forward to hanging out with you in april.

  • I’ve been enjoying reading through this month’s synchroblog entries, and hearing different perspectives. Yes – learning to really love each other is a spiritual practice, takes practice, and is the only way to really know, value, respect gifts and perspectives that are different from our own.

    I resonate deeply with your comment about how deeply segregated we’ve become. We’re divided on gender, age, marital status, education, income, political affiliation. We need friends – real friends – who can help us chop through the grave clothes that cripple us. The people most like us are most likely to think we’re fine as we are – we need friends who see the nonsense in our lives, and have the courage and kindness to ask “why do you live HERE?” or “Why do you waste your time on THIS?” or “Why would you think it’s okay to say THAT?”

    “God, help us boldly practice what it means to live in real & true & equal friendship with one another so that we can break down walls & reflect your beautiful ways.” Amen!

  • ‘we should be the most equal, free and brave people in town instead of the most hierarchical, oppressive, and fearful.’

    This is such a powerful statement. It’s exactly what Jesus modelled for us. It is so rare to find it to be true in most places, very much the exception and not at all the rule.

    We desperately need to model it for one another – and one way of doing so is in healthy cross-gender relationships.

    Your statement is going to stay with me, Kathy, that’s for sure!

  • Hi Kathy, I just started reading your blog, but it’s speaking to me in so many ways, so thank you for sharing your life and wisdom with your readers, most of whom you’ll never know.

    I wanted to comment on this because it’s something I’ve thought about a lot about recently. I’m an economist, so if this seems like a peculiar way of thinking about this, then that’s my excuse, but I can’t help it. It seems to me that this phenomenon of Christians resisting opposite-sex friendships can be explained in part by a common misunderstanding of conditional probability, or “probability that an event will occur, when another event is known to occur or to have occurred. If the events are A and B respectively, this is said to be “the probability of A given B”.” (from wikipedia). The common misunderstanding is to confuse “the probability of A given B” with “the probability of B given A.” The two are not equivalent, but we often assume they are.

    For instance, a Muslim man might suffer poor treatment and judgement if one confuses “the probability that he is a Muslim given that he is a terrorist” with “the probability that he is a terrorist given that he is a Muslim.” The second probability is *much* lower than the first. Similarly, “the probability that they were friends before they had an affair” is likely quite high. But let’s not confuse that with “the probability that they will have an affair given that they are friends.” It’s very easy to observe the former. Every pastor scandal or affair that happens in our social circles is big news, and the circumstances around it are salient. It’s easy to look at the events that preceded the affair (an innocent friendship?) and notice that this happens *every time* there’s an affair. It is then tempting to conclude that the friendship caused the affair. Problem is, the friendships that do not lead to affairs are not as salient (especially when they’re frowned upon un our church communities), so it may be that the only cross-gendered friendships we observe are the ones that led to the affair. The temptation to conclude that these friendships are dangerous will always be there, I am afraid, but what you and your fellow bloggers are doing by talking about it is a potent weapon against that temptation.


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