Living with members of the opposite sex - nothing new in our culture. Whether romantically linked, sexually involved, or just friends, America does not bat an eye at the practice of unmarried men and women sharing domestic living situations.
But what about the growing trend of young Christians in "platonic" co-ed living situations? The decision to do so and justifications for it baffle my parents' generation. My mom and I have recently been talking about the topic and since what used to be a no-brainer (that unmarried male and female Christians do not live with each other before marriage) now is up for debate, she asked me to share with her what I would say to a friend considering such a living arrangement.
Here it goes...
1) Grey areas
The first issue is that there aren't Biblical proof texts concerning such living arrangements. While scripture speaks in black and whites about adultery and lust, it doesn't say anything specific about this modern problem within the church. So in addressing it, the grayness of the issue needs to be recognized up front. My generation is always defending themselves with the grayness of a situation. So in talking about it, we have to first establish not only that there are Biblical principals connected to such living situations, but that they are relevant and important to consider.
I think examples of other times in life when Christians believe something is very clearly right or wrong, not because of a direct command, but because of general Biblical principals are important. Take physical abuse. The Bible does not anywhere give us a direct command not to harm our spouses, children, friends, etc. But because the Bible clearly teaches the value and dignity of humanity and commands to treat others as we would be treated, we do not question the wrongness of abuse. It's a moral decision based not upon command, but upon principal. Could someone find loopholes? Yes, and they do. And we believe they are terribly wrong for it, holding them accountable for their actions.
The problem is that living with someone is not a violent physical offense, therefore making it benign to my generation. We have been culturally conditioned to see violence as wrongdoing and anything else as personal preference. Those within the church aren't free from this conditioning. But according to scripture, more than just violent behavior is wrong and bad for us individually and as a community.
So people first have to be convinced that they can commit true and real offenses simply by the situations in which they put themselves, regardless of the grayness of those situations or their seemingly passive/nonviolent nature.
2) The divide of body and soul
I think the biggest problem with modern American is that we have divided our bodies from our souls (to use generic terms). It's visible everywhere, but nowhere more so than in our sexuality. We see ourselves as a conglomeration of two totally different things - a body and the whatever else is inside. These two things are forced to coexist, but have little else to do with each other. In other words, the average American sees herself as an inside and an outside. What the two do are completely separate so that we are people divorced within ourselves. This is one of the biggest arguments being used against sex before marriage - your acting one way with your body and another way with your soul, but it's awfully hard to divorce the two and if you do succeed, you're living in a fractured world.
I think, though, that Christians need to hear that this problem flows both ways. In the same way that you can't divorce your soul from your body while sleeping around, you can't divorce your body from your soul while sharing living space. The totality of our beings include different elements and they are created to work in unison with each other.
And that's where the issue of instantaneous significant other comes into play. People find themselves with instant significant others in many different situations, work being a good example. All of the sudden there is another person who is significant in our decisions, space, and time. These things lead to emotional connection and response. Living together goes one step further in creating instant significant others. In living together, people are creating a household. I think that this alone is reason enough not to have roommates of the opposite sex. On an emotional level alone, you are already divorcing yourself. You are putting yourself in a situation that calls for certain emotions and feelings, while at the same time neutering your heart so that those feelings don't arise. Or, if your not emotionally stunted, your heart overwhelms you and the emotions take over. Either way, your living in a situation that requires emotionally fracturing of yourself.
But I think it goes one step further. Sex is a natural step in domestic relationships between men and women. It's part of life when men and women live in close and constant relationship with each other. We all know that as Christians, if we're living with someone and sleeping with them, it's sin. But we don't recognize that if we are living with someone of the opposite gender and not sleeping with them, we're not living naturally. We're splitting ourselves from what we are naturally made to do. The platonic co-ed living arrangement divorces sex from the situations in which it should naturally occur.
3) Pop culture
The funny thing is that pop culture is actually agrees with this. There isn't one movie or TV show about men and women living with each other that hasn't assumed they will eventually deal with the issue of sex. In fact, it's most often the driving plot line. A man and woman start out in a platonic relationship and then wham! sex gets thrown into the mix and the big question is will they or won't they? Friends, possibly the most culturally informative and defining sitcom of the last twenty some years, is always addressing this question. Every single time living situations become co-ed, sex becomes involved. It's not cast as anything strange or unusual. It's life. Sex is the normal outcome of domestic households.
Another thing, though, is that I don't think young Christians really take lust seriously, or even have a working definition of what lust is. The fact is, lust is so commonplace in our culture that we don't even notice it. It's the primary responses between men and women and totally and completely accepted, if not glorified. Desire and desirability are the key lens through which my generation looks at others and themselves. It is important to make sure people actually understand what lust is and what Jesus says about lust, because it is not a gray area.
Additionally, though, it is really important to not separate women out from dealing with lust. It's good to talk with women about the issue as the object of male lust and helping their brothers in Christ, but it is just as important, if not more so, to talk with women about their own lust. The church tends to desexualize women, giving it nothing to say to the trends among America's young females. Women lust far more than the church recognizes and our culture is actively encouraging it. A woman's lust will most often look different than a man's, but it will be present.
4) Myth of the "relationship status"
The last big thing to understand is my generations inflated view of "relationship status." Contemporary American culture is all about labeling ourselves and our male/female relationships fall especially prey to this. We want to be able to label and define every relationship we have, thereby defining ourselves. Where this connects to roommate situations is that we young Americans tend to believe that these labels actually mean something. I think young Christians going into co-ed living situations really think that because they all label themselves as single and platonic, this label will somehow magically hold true. We don't tend to understand the organic nature of relationships. Cooking dinner, doing laundry, watching TV together defines a relationship far more than whatever label might be given to it. I think it would be helpful for people to start actually thinking about the actions they do together and what they mean and produce, rather than the superficial status they've given a relationship.
5) Authority, convenience, and rebellion
In the end, though, I really think a lot of the problem comes down to three things. 1) Americans don't believe in any authority in their lives. 2) Americans are controlled by what is convenient. 3) Americans are infatuated with rebelling. You can talk about the above points with someone till your blue in the face, but unless the Spirit is leading them to let go of these three big things guiding all American youth, there is no reason for them not to live together before marriage.