What Should Christians Think About the Billy Graham Rule?

So apparently what counts for news nowadays is basically anything. For conservative news outlets, this includes college students acting like idiots on spring break (as if that hasn’t been happening for decades). For leftists, this includes Mike Pence’s statement from fifteen years ago about not spending time alone with women who are not his wife. To some people this is an odd (even shocking) statement that may or may not have sexist connotations. To someone raised in the Bible belt, and many, if not most, churchgoers, this policy is commonplace.

As a pastor’s kid, furthermore, as someone who has spent much of his time in various ministries, I have not only heard of this rule, I have seen it put into action. Only recently had I heard of the name for this policy. Apparently, Billy Graham set up this rule in 1948 with his ministry team to avoid major moral failures or scandal. Along with setting guidelines for money, publicity, and interacting with local churches, Graham made it a rule for himself to not be alone with or travel with a woman who was not his wife. (You can read more about the rule here.)

There are instances where it seems to be a good policy. There are other instances where certain objections to the rule do seem warranted.

Protecting Integrity Or Hindering Women

I have heard dozens horror stories about men in the ministry accused of extra-marital affairs or even rape because they decided to counsel a woman one-on-one. I have also heard dozens of stories where men were found guilty of an extra-marital affairs because they decided to counsel women one-on-one. Obviously, spending a lot of time with someone of the opposite sex, behind closed doors, can not only look damning, but also presents the opportunity for infidelity to occur. It doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to avoid these sorts of situations or to put guidelines and safeguards in place for protection.

On the other hand, some object to the rule in that it has the potential to limit women in business, politics, and ministry. Laura Turner, a Christian writer who wrote about this very issue for the Washington Post, claimed in a tweet that the Billy Graham rule reduces “women to sexual temptations, objects, things to be avoided.” She also claimed that it is “dehumanizing and anti-Gospel.” Those are heavy accusations, but are they warranted?

The solution to the argument is not as simple as refusing to meet alone with any person of the opposite for any reason. Nor is it as simple as abandoning the policy altogether in the name of fairness and equality. Some people have responded to the Billy Graham rule from a place of antagonism or complete misunderstanding, with Pence’s policy being one they have never confronted before. I want to address any objections from respectful sources who have seen any issues (potential or acting) with this rule.

Where To Draw the Line

To the Christians who have brought up the issue that this policy can be a hindrance to women moving up in their field, I agree. Sort of. A woman with a direct supervisor who rigidly adheres to the Billy Graham rule would be unable to get very far in her organization due to her boss’s personal policies. A businessman or male politician who outright refuses to meet with a woman one on one would make it nearly impossible for any woman to be a key player in his team.

But this is why many companies meet in offices with glass walls. This is why many business meetings are conducted in public spaces, in full view of passers-by. It not only creates transparency, but deters inappropriate situations from occurring. This creates a space that is safe for both parties involved, protecting them from rumors and foul play.

However, it is possible to take this rule to the extreme. If someone can’t meet one-on-one with a member of the opposite sex either in public or in a glass-walled office, that is an issue that can lead to women being barred from career advancement. However, it is completely and utterly reasonable for a married man to refuse to go to a meal at a nice restaurant alone with a pretty woman. Especially if this man is under incredible public scrutiny.

Every teacher and youth worker will emphasize the point of protecting yourself from rumors, speculation, and outright accusations. It not only keeps teachers safe from groundless allegations, it also protects children from the remotest possibility of abuse. Of course, the teacher-student relationship is different than the relationship between colleagues, but the principle is still the same. There is nothing wrong with establishing appropriate safeguards to protect people’s integrity and reputations.

As far as some claims that this policy demeans women, that is exactly the opposite of what Pence is doing. He, in partnership with his wife, is choosing to honor her by removing himself from the very possibility of scandal. People seem to keep pointing out how supposedly ludicrous it would be for a woman to hold to the same principle of not meeting alone with a member of the opposite sex. What they don’t realize is that there are women who hold to the same standards. Far from sexist, these policies help protect the integrity and reputations of both men and women.

In the end, it’s not so much a matter of following a strict set of rules as it is a matter of personal conviction. People should know themselves well enough to set appropriate safeguards to protect their reputation and the people they love. This may mean different things for different people and for different couples. Ultimately, where you draw the line is between you, your spouse, and God.

Rigidly adhering to any man-made rule will always turn to legalism, but using such rules as general safeguards is not only wise. It’s commendable.



Quotes are from Laura Turner’s Twitter account: @lkoturner, March 28, 2017


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