Married couples and boundaries with the opposite sex

September 7, 2015

Marriage does not necessarily isolate one from the opposite sex. If, as Christians, we are in community, we will surely interact with men and women from church to work. It’s good and healthy. God created us for community, and if we are indeed a family as the church, relating to one another is not only necessary but also beneficial to the Body as a whole.

Yet, the question of boundaries has us asking and evaluating, once again, the when, where and how of male and female relationships.

Marriage is a covenant, and boundaries are important, but what should that look like? We don’t want to fear adultery, yet we don’t want to walk in an unwise manner; as it has been said, most people do not plan to commit adultery. But we also want to be careful not to add a one-size-fits-all set of rules and regulations for every relationship.

Courtney Ressig is the author of The Accidental Feminist and has written about the importance of boundaries in male and female relationships.  She and her husband of six years, Daniel, decided early on in their marriage to make engaging with the opposite sex an important topic and area for concern. I asked her how she and her husband operate and why she believes boundaries are important.

What is your general philosophy for male and female relationships?

Our general philosophy is to live transparently with one another. For us, that is key. For example, Daniel travels a fair amount for his job. In his industry, a lot of business happens over meals/drinks when they are at trade shows. Unless he is traveling with another co-worker or his boss, he doesn't do the late dinners with other salespeople after the shows end.

When he is away, he is open about the conversations he has with everyone he comes in contact with, especially the opposite sex. Basically, we try to have an open line of communication going at all times for our interactions with the opposite sex. We don't cut off those interactions; we simply try to keep the each other in the loop. If we always know what's going on with each other, it keeps us from retreating into a private relationship. 

You’ve written a book about feminism. Do you think the feminist movement has affected how men and women relate?

Yes. In my book I say that all of the results of feminism aren't bad. I think the fact that men and women can (and do) interact more than they used to is a good thing. Men and women shouldn't be afraid of one another — although sin has made us at odds in a number of ways. But what I think feminism has done poorly is made any sort of caution sound like chauvinism or unfair treatment.

In the church, I think we have adopted a mindset that if a man or woman has boundaries, they are assuming that either women are sex kittens waiting to pounce or men are unable to control their lustful impulses. While I don't think this is true, I do think feminism has influenced us into thinking that the differences between men and women really aren't as real as they actually are, which leads us to think that we can all interact without ever seeing any ramifications of that. A quick survey of our evangelical history shows us that can't be the case. 

You and Daniel set up boundaries from the beginning of your marriage. Why did you believe this was important?

Our boundaries started with each other before we were married. We were committed to purity, and Daniel led us in a number of ways to establish boundaries to protect each other from sinning against the other sexually. This carried over into our marriage as we wanted to set up a hedge of protection against outside influences coming into the marriage that could tempt us to sin against the other sexually. I carried a lot of baggage into the marriage from my past relationships with the opposite sex, so I personally needed to lean toward harder boundaries because I knew my own inclinations. But we both recognized the waywardness of our own hearts and knew that if we didn't set up boundaries before things got hard, then it would be all the more easy to let our guard down in moments of frustration with each other. 

What are some of the boundaries you have set in place in regards to interacting with the opposite sex?

One big one we have is related to Facebook. We don't accept or solicit friend requests from past boyfriends or girlfriends. That just doesn't feel wise to us. When we were first married, we copied each other on every email to the opposite sex. We don't do that anymore, namely because not every email warrants that. But when it comes to church emails to members of the opposite sex or emails of a personal nature, we copy each other. Again, transparency is key for us. We also don't eat alone with members of the opposite sex if at all possible. This hasn't come up much for us, but there have been times where he has been traveling and has had to, but again, he told me, and it was not a regular occurrence. For us, it's helpful to remember that situations and people are complex, and there is room for freedom and flexibility for situations that are outside of our control. 

You both travel — he mostly. What are some parameters you have in place for travel?

I've already touched on some of these, but another boundary he has in place is that when he's staying in a hotel, he always tells me what he is watching on television before he watches it. He also sticks to a few channels and only goes to those channels. Basically, he's not channel surfing the whole night. He knows what he will watch (usually a sporting event), and he sticks with it. He also plans on working in the evenings while he travels, so if something does come up (an invite to dinner), he already has plans in place to decline the invitation.

Boundaries are good, but perhaps we could re-frame the conversation to prioritizing them in marriage. What are ways that you and Daniel try to prioritize your marriage?

This one feels like it's always changing. We just had a baby (and we have twin two-year-old boys), so finding time is hard! But again, we try to keep running communication. We don't do this perfectly by any means, but we try to be open and honest about how we are feeling about things. Especially for me, I can get lost in my own head and spiral into scenarios that aren't even on the radar, so talking about what is going on in my head is really helpful for our marriage.

When he's in a busy travel season, I try to keep my evenings free when he's about to leave and when he comes home. I can get stuck in my routine of being a single parent with all my evenings to myself, so if I'm not careful to keep that time free for him, I can easily forget that I have a husband who wants to spend time with me! We try to reserve Friday evening specifically for time together and other evenings if our season allows for it. We also do a date swap with some friends who also have young children.

What do you say to the person who thinks that it's all “overboard” or not necessary? In other words, they'd say the safeguards aren't necessary.

I would say that Paul was serious when he said “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). I don't think everyone is a walking adulterer waiting to start on affair, but I do think that sin is serious, and we often underestimate the depravity of our own hearts. I would rather err on the side of caution then assume that anything is not possible for me. I don't think this means I run from any interaction with men. That doesn't seem wise to me. But I do think it means I am aware that based on my own understanding of my heart, I need to protect myself and my marriage from my tendency toward wandering away from God and his commands.

What I think is often missing from the debate about whether or not we should have guidelines is an understanding of the weaker brother/sister. We don't know the struggles and past sin experiences of everyone, so if someone has boundaries that are more or less stringent than our own, we would serve them well by respecting their boundaries instead of vilifying them for them. 


Perhaps the question isn’t so much how should men and women interact, but rather are we willing to lovingly serve others’ boundaries and respect their marriage? Set rules for everyone is likely less than helpful, but remembering to respect the conviction of our fellow brothers and sisters is essential to brotherly and sisterly love.

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell is the author of several books including A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Sacred Endurance, If God Is For Us, Fear and Faith,and the children’s books, Creative God, Colorful Us and  God’s Very Good Idea. When she isn’t writing, she’s encouraging and supporting other writers as an Acquisitions Editor at Moody … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24