Certain churches are hug-rich environments. It’s one thing for very close friends to embrace, but in some congregations it’s customary for relative strangers to enfold. I once attended a church with an older gentleman who was a serial hugger. If he made eye contact, you were finished. He’d make a beeline for you, wrapping you in a bear hug before you could escape.
One man wrote columnist Judith Martin (Miss Manners) to say he’d stopped attending a church “where everybody seems to have developed a hugging addiction. Before the greeting period, the minister or lay leader stands on the platform and virtually orders everybody to get some hugs. People I hardly know run up to me and say, ‘How about a hug?’”
So is it ever appropriate for men to hug in church? Of course. When greeting a close friend, a hug is appropriate. If a friend is upset and seems to want a hug, go ahead and offer one. If a man in your small group is going through a divorce, and he’s dissolved in tears, then a hug is the best gift you can give him.
But what about hugs during the worship service? That’s a little trickier. Here’s my advice:
- Don’t suggest that people hug. If people want to lock up, that’s their business.
- Don’t hug people you’re not close to. Male or female. It’s creepy.
- Practice “safe hugging.” There are two acceptable forms of man hug: the one-arm reach, and the handshake-and-hug combo. These hugs are safe for men because there’s no possibility of genitals touching.
Man hugs should be brief and accompanied by a pat on the back, preferably one that stings a little bit. Man hugs should feel brotherly, not romantic. I have a video on safe hugging on my website, www.churchformen.com. (It’s part of my DVD preview video. Enjoy!)
This blog post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, WHY MEN HATE GOING TO CHURCH: COMPLETELY REVISED. Look for it in September at a bookstore near you.