Today is one of those days where you just have to be serious … there is a grave problem in the church. One that bothered me so very much, I quit going to a particular church over it (which, I’m told, has only gotten worse about it since). I’m not even certain how to describe how I feel about it – but I’ll try. Looking at the internet on this subject, there are quite a few people that agree with my assessment of the situation – hugging at church is awkward, especially for first-time visitors. It’s worse when your regular church picks up a hugging habit and you have no avenue for escape
Through careful study, it has been determined that personal space isn’t only a cultural norm, but something that is built into us from a very young age. Our amygdalas switch on the fight-or-flight response when something gets too close. You’ve probably felt it the time you were in a big crowd constantly bumping into people to your left or right at that concert or during that frenzied holiday sale. If you’re like me, you feel it every single time a stranger leans in to give you a hug.
“But you’re both Christians! Hugging is a wonderful way to show affection and brotherly (or sisterly) love!” You might say. I don’t care. I still don’t know these people (oddly, most often little old ladies that are shorter than me are the ones trying to hug me) and I didn’t give them permission to enter into my personal space and wrap their arms around me. We might attend the same church, sit next to each other (If you count next as being ten feet away sitting at the opposite side of the pew), for one hour one day a week, and have only a few seconds to shake each other’s and every one elses’ hand each morning during the ‘meet and greet’, but that does not merit a hug.
My real problem is trust – I have a very small circle of people in my life that I trust enough to let them hug me. Anybody outside of that circle who tries to hug me will likely get the most awkward and unenthusiastic hug I can muster up on three seconds’ warning. The thing is, as long as I’ve been going to this church and the ones before it – I’ve found it difficult to interact with those that look to be nearly my own age. Interacting with elders and youth is that much more difficult because of our differences. I don’t really know anybody. I have to fight my ‘fight’ response to keep from freaking out about the invasion of my personal space by people I don’t trust especially when ‘fleeing’ isn’t an option.
But I’m not alone – some people online talk about ‘front hugs’ ‘side hugs’ ‘bro hugs’ and break down what’s the most appropriate manner of hugging for any given situation. Let’s get this one misconception cleared away – hugging is not the ‘gateway’ to sexual temptation. Some people say, “I don’t hug the opposite sex because I don’t want to cause them to fall into temptation.” Seriously? Of all the reason for divorce and marital unfaithfulness, “he’s (or she’s) a really good hugger…” doesn’t even makes the list.
Adding to the awkwardness is the debate as to the kind and degree of body contact and it’s duration that is appropriate or acceptable. Some people have really put in a lot of thought to this subject. I suspect as more and more churches take up hugging, this is going to become more serious – after all, Christians are worried about sending the wrong message … like liking somebody too much. If you want to have a hug that involves 1.) the shortest duration possible and 2.) the least amount of body contact possible – save yourself the trouble and get used to hand shakes.
Then the questions turns to the right of the individual and to personality types. How dare that introvert deprive that extrovert of his or her right to hug them! How dare that extrovert invade the personal space of that introvert against his or her will! In all of this the original meaning of ‘greet each other with a holy kiss’ is lost. People aren’t feeling welcomed – they’re feeling ignored or as if they’re the center of attention … there’s a lot of too much or too little, but not a lot of just right. Ultimately, getting to know what each person responds to best is a great idea. Save the hugs for the huggers, shake the hand-shakers, and wave to the wavers.