Should We Touch Each Other?

In the movie Tommy Boy Chris Farley’s character says to Rob Lowe’s character as they are introduced as brothers, “brothers don’t shake hands.  Brothers gotta hug.”  This is of course followed by a very awkward moment as Farley’s youthful innocence meets Lowe’s disdain.

In the Church, as well as society as a whole, we have a touch problem.  It’s real, and we need to actually start addressing it.

A few month’s ago I wrote about The Snuggery.  This is literally a place where you can go and pay money to have someone snuggle with you.  No lie.  Look it up.

As crazy as that sounds, it makes perfect sense.  We live in a world more and more devoid of proper touch.  There is a lot of abusive and sexual touch.  There is very little good touch, if we can even figure out what that means.

But the value of touch in our lives can not be understated.  It is vital and we can’t hide in a corner as the Church and just tell people no.  We need a different answer.

As a guy touch is even more complicated because touch is also a strength thing.  Here’s what I mean.  A lot of times as a young boy or teenager, touch means getting pushed around.  Are you tough enough means can you take a hit.  Are you strong enough means can you dish one out.  We get all sorts of answers to these questions growing up and those answers stay with us, even if they aren’t true anymore.

I was never a wrestle around kid.  I didn’t really know how to get hit or hit back.  Looking back, I wasn’t really weak over all, but I thought I was.  That affected how I viewed touch as I got older.  How you interact with other men physically matters and affects your confidence.

Then there is the touch of the opposite sex.  This is also all jacked up.  And in the Christian circle we are basically told don’t touch each other.  That sounds good, and I get it, but at some level, with no physical interaction at all, we just end up pushing people into a weirder and more awkward place.  If we accidentally equate all touch with shame or sin, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

When you throw in how isolated we are in daily life as singles this can be a disaster that just continues to build.  It hurts.  Touch matters.  The reality is people are doing something with their need for touch.  Touching the wrong way, burying the desire in escapism or fantasy, or just falling into isolation and awkwardness.

Many of us basically work alone.  Then literally half of us go home alone, eat alone, go to bed alone, and then get up alone and do it all again.  That does not lead to healthy touch. That leads to isolation.  Is our advice to single people going to be don’t touch?

We need a different answer than that.  The Church, and we as single people, need to engage this issue.  We need to talk about a right thinking about touch and then we need to live it out.

Touch is all over the Bible.  Jesus is constantly touching people.  This is actually one of the amazing things about Him.  He became flesh.  He lived in a place and at a particular time, just like you and me.  He sweat and smelled, and got tired and sore and He touched people – literally.  The leper, the blind, heck, even the dead.  And he was touched. Women of ill refute, came and touched him  – with their hair and kisses.  Scandalous.

I’ll admit to not having all the perfect answers to this but I believe it starts with something Zack Eswine writes in his book Sensing Jesus.  He writes, “in the New Testament, two kinds of physical touch are set in brutal contrast”.  He points out that the misuse of touch used “to consume or preserve it’s own selfish wants, lusts, desires or agendas” and in contrast a different kind that “envisions a way for Christian community to recover in Jesus how humans were originally meant to touch each other.  Physical touch is meant as a holy act.”  He goes on, “Jesus touched people.  He touched bodies.  But his was not the sexualized touch of a pornographic mind, a controlling cling, or a predator heart.  The way of Jesus’s touch graciously intends to reform our own.”

Here’s my take.  As the Church (and especially if we are going to reach out to the half of the country that is unmarried) instead of running from touch, we need to reclaim it.  In other words we need to own the discussion and do it well.  We need to freaking lead instead of reacting in fear.

This will mean confronting wrong touch and helping both the wrongly touched and the toucher deal.  As men it means dealing with our insecurities and learning our strength and then offering it – physically.  With the opposite sex on a date it means reaching for her hand without thinking about reaching into her pants and realizing that they are not the same thing.

What we can’t do is say, don’t touch, don’t experience that or grow in it, and then if you get married don’t worry, it will just turn on.  That’s ridiculous and irresponsible.

What do you do with your need for touch?  What would holy touch look like?  What have you learned about touch in your life?

9 thoughts on “Should We Touch Each Other?

  1. Besides the Snuggery, there is a thing called Cuddle Party, which is a workshop to teach participants to set boundaries and how to communicate their needs. Participants are required to ask for permission to touch another person and get a verbal yes to continue. It’s non-sexual. Pajamas stay on and nobody gets naked. There are many cuddle parties held in different areas of the country and the world. You can look for it at http://www.cuddleparty dot com.

  2. How does a church or community of faith handle this? You just can’t start “touching” or hugging people, and an older single man like myself…..Justin, you know it and I do too; it would be viewed as a little “creepy” or “too friendly” on my part. If you saw a single guy hugging, and touching women in your church……and you personally didn’t “know” him too well yet; you would ignore it? You would accept that “touch” is normal and not worry about it. My Cub Scouts hug me at times, but it is always “side friendship hugs” which is appropriate.

    I always gently give a two hand clasp-shake with women in the church, or if I know them well enough, a gentle touch on the shoulder kind of thing.

    I have also noticed that it is women who “initiate” hugs with some of the guys, like if she is def attracted to him, she throws her arms wide to hug.

    I will admit in this area, I am starved for this. I mean, I like that you do address this, but you don’t seem to have a solution or an idea of how we do this, or handle this in our ” scream sexual harassment” culture today.

    • Well I don’t give a quick answer because there isn’t one. I’m not sure I have “an” answer. But I think some of the things in the last couple of paragraphs here are starting points. They are certainly potential conversation points. It is indeed a very tough area to navigate. But my point here is we have to actually try to navigate it. I don’t pretend to know where that will take us. But we should talk about it, and begin in community to figure it out. That’s my take anyway. At this point maybe it’s more about the questions than answers on this one.

  3. I remember a pastor tried to hug me, but I did not feel comfortable, so I drew away because I actually had a warning dream not to do it. I do not know why? Perhaps it has to do with the devil trying to spread false accusations?
    Anyways, I grew up thinking it is taboo. Being Raised in traditional Chinese family we usually are strict about touching opposite sex. I always thought it was Asian thing, not Christian thing. My pastor is Caucasian.

    My coworker who is a Persian woman does not like to be touched either, but she is Muslim. Perhaps God made me this way to understand the Muslim mind, and it helps me to evangelize to her? Also had a Hindu friend who is very traditional mindset.
    I was born in Canada but Canadian immigrants stick to ethnic upbringing.

    This is my point of view as a single woman.

  4. Anyways I snuggle with several teddy bears!! One time I said to myself stop this habit . I asked God, ”Can you touch me and hug me then?’
    Then I fell asleep and woke up one time and felt God’s hug! It was strange. Anyways , I think God encourages when I feel lonely or sends people to my workplace. I usually touch my patients or customers hands. I heard it was good practice. When I do injections of vaccines, I tell them I am going to touch at such and such an area.

    In one of my jobs, I deliver methadone to rehabilitating drug addicts . It is scary job, but am getting used to it. Some live in places with bedbugs. I am too scared to touch even though it would be a good idea because they crave human touch. Some have HIV. My coworker who is a male nurse wears gloves, but I do not. I try to touch , but it depends if the persons hands are clean. Kind of hard to be like Jesus when there are bedbugs!!

  5. As a 34yr old single Christian woman, whose never been pursued or asked out… I have had to come to terms with this touch issue. I went through college in a church that had a no touch, no time alone, no deep conversations with the opposite sex, spend time in groups, serve in groups together, don’t ride alone in cars with guys, just wait and one day your Christian prince will pursue you and you’ll have time then to really get to know one another “policy”. I still have trouble today because of the effects of those always implied never really stated “rules” that effect my ability to form or have confidence in my relationships with my male friends.

    I’m a fairly good looking, caring, strong, service/missions oriented and loyal Christ follower; I will admit that having my Christian brothers apologize for every brushed shoulder or elbow bump, or to physically have them jump or back away immediately from me because of those small unintended bumps, along with the lack of relationship pursuit can leave me feeling like I’m undesirable or repulsive. It’s hard to see it as them protecting me and being “holy”. I have to also own the fact that I so long for those brotherly hugs, arm punches, or chivalrous gentle gestures to protect and guide me when we’re together in a crowd; that when they do occur I’m dumb struck by them and can tend to revel in them too much. I live a state away from any of my family, and the older I get the harder it is to often go months without a hug, comforting back pat, or innocent elbow bump. The longer I’ve “waited” the more awkward, unconfident, and nervous I’ve become in my interactions with men in general Christian or not.

    This is definitely a topic we as a whole church need to discuss and be mindful of more often. It’s also not just a male/female problem, we’ve become a hands off, “get out of my bubble,” church.
    We we’re created to be in relationship with one another, to be dependent on each other, and to reflect God back to one another in very different ways as Men and Women. We miss out on seeing the many facets of God on display through true biblical Manhood and Womanhood when we shy away from getting to know and caring for one another in God honoring ways.

    • Hey Ali

      I just want to say a couple of things. First of all, I think you very accurately describe what it can be like and how we can, in an effort to avoid sin, also avoid love. I also just want to sort of say sorry on behalf of the church. For what it’s worth.

      Thanks for sharing your story

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