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.