The Complex World of Male Friendship: Beginning Anew
This is especially true in a church culture. Your church, for better or worse (and often both), will take on the persona of its leaders, and specifically, its pastor. If your pastor can command the respect of the church's men through a leadership style that smells of manhood, and he is able to reach out to other men and form meaningful friendships with them, then the men of your church will, over time, follow suit. If, however, your pastor is standoffish or awkward around guys and unable in the typical ways to forge deep friendships, it's my guess that your men will struggle to do the same.
I think a good starting place for men is to reclaim coffee. We men have all too often ceded coffee (or lunch) to women, assuming that guys can't conscionably get together and just talk. That's stupid. There is absolutely no good reason why two men cannot get coffee together and converse. There's nothing womanly about friendship. It's sexless, sex-neutral, fair ground. Men can be friends, too. Men can talk. As I said earlier this week, men have no less emotions than women do--they simply process them differently. No one is suggesting here that men talk in the same way that women do. There will be distinctly masculine ways of conversing in male friendships and that's fine. We don't have to cry often or talk as fast or search our souls quite as much as women do. But we can talk about our spiritual lives, our families, our jobs, our hopes, our failures, our pasts, and we can do so in meaningful, non-stilted ways.
I will say it again for effect: there is nothing unmanly about conversation and friendship. Our society teaches us this through the John Wayne model in which men are strong, silent, and emotional only in the form of blood-hungry anger. That's a ridiculous model. It's not the biblical model for sure. David and Jonathan were as close as two friends could be, and they were men, and there was absolutely nothing feminine about their friendship. I think sometimes conservative Christian men make the mistake of reading the Bible through the culture instead of reading the culture through the Bible. When you do this, you tend to suspect David and Jonathan a little bit, if in your own head--"Were they a little gushy? A little feminine? I don't think there was any funny business going on there, but..." This is as dangerous a mistake to make as egalitarianism is, though the two are polar opposites. Egalitarianism teaches us that the sexes have equal roles and that men ought to adopt feminine traits whereas John Wayne manhood teaches us that men ought to adopt an extremist masculinity that equates emotion and compassion with womanhood. If egalitarianism is perverse, and it is, so too is John Wayne masculinity.
Christian men need friends, and not just hunting buddies, or sports-watchers. They need men who they can trust, who they can talk to, who they can relate to, who they can express emotions to, who they can love. If your culture or your upbringing tells you otherwise, they're wrong. That's it--case closed. David and Jonathan show us the real biblical model for masculine friendship, and it is deep, expressive, forged in trust, pure, and nourishing. The man who comes to such examples and disdains them or who avoids the exegetical mistake but makes the practical one is the one who gets it all wrong. In the end, he may be strong, he may be silent, and he may be accorded a measure of respect. But he's also alone. Tragically, he always will be.