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Q: Is it okay for a husband or wife to have an e-mail relationship with a person of the opposite sex?

Before we specifically discuss the propriety of e-mail relationships, let’s reflect on the appropriateness of a married individual having any close relationship with someone of the opposite sex.

Every day, men and women interact as classmates, co-workers, relatives, friends, and neighbors. These associations could be distant, familial, professional, or friendly, but they could also border on being flirtatious, affectionate, or intimate. In any relationship, something connects the participants. The content and context of communication between people defines the kind of relationship they have. For example, communication between co-workers is necessary to fulfill work responsibilities. This working relationship is bound within the confines of the workplace during business hours. Should colleagues decide to meet outside of the office to socialize and get to know each other, their work relationship now develops into friendship. How close and personal a relationship becomes depends on the frequency and intimacy of communication.

E-mail may be an even more intimate form of communication than a telephone chat or face-to-face encounter. Voice conversations or personal meetings require on-the-fly answers to questions. Participants can judge each other’s character with the aid of gestures and other non-verbal communication. It is considerably more difficult to mask one’s shortcomings in person. With e-mail, however, a person has time to really think about her response to a question or reaction to a given situation. There is time to polish the message so that it can be well received by the intended reader. Behind the computer, a person can enhance his true character to appear witty, humorous, sensitive, passionate, or even flawless! It’s no wonder we have husbands and wives leaving their families behind to pursue romance with someone they’ve found on the Internet.

The risk of falling into temptation with e-mail relationships is more than most people believe. The anonymous nature of electronic messaging creates a sense of security that allows people to be bolder with their thoughts and feelings. Messages can be sent and deleted with a click of the mouse. No one can pick up the receiver and accidentally catch you conversing in a chat room. There is no paper trail, nor risk of someone intercepting a letter from the mailman. There is never the chance someone you know will spot you with that companion around town. You could carry on this virtual relationship for months, and no one ever has to know.

But regardless of whether the form of communication is via telephone, letters, e-mail, or personal meetings, we have to guard our hearts and minds in Christ. We must consider the content, context, frequency, and intimacy of our communication with this person. If there is mutual pleasure and satisfaction in communicating, a few chats can become an occasion for distant acquaintances to become intimately involved. The Bible says, “Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?” (Prov 6:27-28). An untamed flame will intensify into a passionate inferno if not immediately put out. As oxygen sustains fire, all relationships, whether distant or personal, require some time and communication to last. But if you feel the interaction has become too close, you must not hesitate to extinguish the relationship.

Publisher: True Jesus Church