Safe People

I don’t know how much this affects other people, but since I’ve gotten a couple of questions on it, I thought there might be others interested in an answer. I got this question in an email the other day:

Do you have a brief opinion about whether or not Christ followers should be evaluating people they meet as either “safe,” or “unsafe” to hang out with? I was recently surprised at the number of Christians who subscribe to this thinking. Wouldn’t that be considered “shunning?”

Don’t you hate it when people turn something into another excuse to judge people and draw lines between those who are like them and judge those who are not?

The reason there is so much talk of this is because of an excellent book written a few of years ago by Cloud and Townsend called Safe People. There is a valuable reality, especially for young believers and people who have suffered abuse, to have a sense of who in their lives are ‘safe’ people with whom they can freely share their lives and know they won’t be manipulated, shamed or exploited. That can be very helpful in knowing who to open up their lives to and who to keep at arm’s length.

Is that the same as shunning? It depends on what we’re doing with the information. If I have a sense of safe or unsafe people around me that can be helpful, to the degree I’m right about them. If I’m wrong, I could be cutting myself off from people who in fact love me, perhaps just not in the way I want to be loved. But discussing my conclusions with others and communally identifying some people as ‘unsafe’ would be problematic from a number of perspectives. It would be gossip. It could lead to a groupthink about someone they do not deserve making it incredibly divisive and hurtful.

And wouldn’t it be true that the freer Jesus makes us, the less we’d need to be concerned about ‘unsafe people’. If I’m easily manipulated by people putting shame on me, it would be best to give that a wide berth for a season. However, as Jesus wins me to who he is and how he views me, I’d become far less affected by people’s attempts to shame me and then I wouldn’t have any problem being around them and look for ways to love them that would free them from their shame as well. So even our sense of safe or unsafe is contextualized by a number of factors our own make-up being key there.

Honestly I don’t hear a lot of people talking in these terms, except those who have been hurt in the past by abusive personalities. And for them, I think it an especially helpful tool in finding people who can help them heal in Christ instead of being wounded over and over again by abusive and manipulative personalities.

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6 Comments
  1. Melbourne Sue August 31, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    I agree that Cloud and Townsend are good for those people whose boundaries have been violated by others in the past and whose walls have been broken down. ‘Boundaries’ was good for me at a season in my life where I needed to build up those walls of ‘Sue’.

    However, I think Christ wants me to be with both those who are ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’. In fact, he is probably calling us to the unsafe more than the safe. And yes, I agree what you say Wayne about judging others to be either safe or unsafe and then cutting yourself off from them. I actually find that those people who society deems to be most ‘unsafe’ (drug addicts, homeless people, people who are at their wits end) are in fact much more safer than the ‘safe’ people who take comfort in their safety. Sometimes society’s ‘safe’ people are the ones who are most critical and judgmental – and that, to me, is more unsafe than someone who is rough around the edges and isn’t living according to the success script.

    This is an interesting topic, Wayne and much food for thought 🙂

  2. Melbourne Sue August 31, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    I agree that Cloud and Townsend are good for those people whose boundaries have been violated by others in the past and whose walls have been broken down. ‘Boundaries’ was good for me at a season in my life where I needed to build up those walls of ‘Sue’.

    However, I think Christ wants me to be with both those who are ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’. In fact, he is probably calling us to the unsafe more than the safe. And yes, I agree what you say Wayne about judging others to be either safe or unsafe and then cutting yourself off from them. I actually find that those people who society deems to be most ‘unsafe’ (drug addicts, homeless people, people who are at their wits end) are in fact much more safer than the ‘safe’ people who take comfort in their safety. Sometimes society’s ‘safe’ people are the ones who are most critical and judgmental – and that, to me, is more unsafe than someone who is rough around the edges and isn’t living according to the success script.

    This is an interesting topic, Wayne and much food for thought 🙂

  3. Mike Rea September 5, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Well said Wayne,

    Often boundaries deal with keeping me safe from people who are going to press buttons in me and cause me pain, basically pain management. These buttons or triggers often are there because of lies I have believed about myself in the past. I really believe that as we grow and mature in the knowledge of who we are as His children we can truly walk in the peace of Christ in all situations. Then I don’t need to be concerned about who’s safe and who’s not safe because the buttons or triggers that once caused pain have been removed.

  4. Mike Rea September 5, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    Well said Wayne,

    Often boundaries deal with keeping me safe from people who are going to press buttons in me and cause me pain, basically pain management. These buttons or triggers often are there because of lies I have believed about myself in the past. I really believe that as we grow and mature in the knowledge of who we are as His children we can truly walk in the peace of Christ in all situations. Then I don’t need to be concerned about who’s safe and who’s not safe because the buttons or triggers that once caused pain have been removed.

  5. Pamela September 10, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    The Bible teaches that we are to be led by His spirit in all we do. Jesus said that He did nothing other than want He saw the Father do. You can be led away from people that mean you harm without judging. He will keep up from situations of all kinds that can be harmful to us. It is not just people that have been abused that keep some people at arms length. There are times that a person could be meaning to hurt or kill you. If the Lord tells you to stay away from someone you best do it and not worry about others accusing you of being judgmental.

    I remember a friend telling me of a testimony they heard from a minister. He had some good friends (he thought) that he would take trips with from time to time. I do not remember if these friends were Christians or not. For some reason he changed his mind about going on a trip with them. I do not remember what the circumstances were but he had planned on going but changed his mind. Somehow he found out that these ‘friends’ had plotted to kill him during that trip. I did not hear what happened to them. Hopefully they got punished.

    You will be given opportunities to reach out to people. The Holy Spirit will show us how to handle each person and situation we face. However I do not believe that you can assume that every person or situation that comes your way is because God wanted it to. We can be in the wrong place because of not hearing His voice or disobeying the word of God. You can end up with people you should not be with. They may not be good for you.

    If the context of this is dealing with people that you disagree with I can understand the question. I sincerely state that if you use the book of Proverbs as part of the evaluation process it clearly tells the type of people to be around and those not to be around. It warns men of the strange woman. It warns all to not be around angry people because we can learn their ways. I believe some would see this as reasonable ways of evaluating other people. 1 Corinthians 15:33 (I think) says that bad company corrupts good morals.

    I do not know what the line is in all of this other than to be led of the Lord with whomever you choose to be with. I totally agree that the outside package means nothing when it comes to evaluating people. Some of the most conniving people are the nicest, most cordial ones out there. We can also learn great lessons when dealing with those that might be considered the outcasts or ‘vile’ persons.

  6. Pamela September 10, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    The Bible teaches that we are to be led by His spirit in all we do. Jesus said that He did nothing other than want He saw the Father do. You can be led away from people that mean you harm without judging. He will keep up from situations of all kinds that can be harmful to us. It is not just people that have been abused that keep some people at arms length. There are times that a person could be meaning to hurt or kill you. If the Lord tells you to stay away from someone you best do it and not worry about others accusing you of being judgmental.

    I remember a friend telling me of a testimony they heard from a minister. He had some good friends (he thought) that he would take trips with from time to time. I do not remember if these friends were Christians or not. For some reason he changed his mind about going on a trip with them. I do not remember what the circumstances were but he had planned on going but changed his mind. Somehow he found out that these ‘friends’ had plotted to kill him during that trip. I did not hear what happened to them. Hopefully they got punished.

    You will be given opportunities to reach out to people. The Holy Spirit will show us how to handle each person and situation we face. However I do not believe that you can assume that every person or situation that comes your way is because God wanted it to. We can be in the wrong place because of not hearing His voice or disobeying the word of God. You can end up with people you should not be with. They may not be good for you.

    If the context of this is dealing with people that you disagree with I can understand the question. I sincerely state that if you use the book of Proverbs as part of the evaluation process it clearly tells the type of people to be around and those not to be around. It warns men of the strange woman. It warns all to not be around angry people because we can learn their ways. I believe some would see this as reasonable ways of evaluating other people. 1 Corinthians 15:33 (I think) says that bad company corrupts good morals.

    I do not know what the line is in all of this other than to be led of the Lord with whomever you choose to be with. I totally agree that the outside package means nothing when it comes to evaluating people. Some of the most conniving people are the nicest, most cordial ones out there. We can also learn great lessons when dealing with those that might be considered the outcasts or ‘vile’ persons.

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