We’ve all heard about that Billy Graham rule. The one where men aren’t to meet one-on-one with women, in order to not give in to temptation and to protect their marriage. It made the news again earlier this year when Mike Pence, the vice-president of the USA, commented that he himself follows the Billy Graham rule.
Some herald Graham as a bastion of integrity, putting into place this rule as a positive and vital protection of his marriage. But others say it’s old-fashioned, backwards and misogynistic. Which side is right? It’s time to debunk the rule!
But let’s back-track one second: I’m not doubting that integrity is of the utmost importance to followers of Jesus. I take the words of Psalm 24:3-5 incredibly seriously as I examine whether I’m living a life of integrity both inwardly and outwardly. And accountability is a natural and necessary follow-on from integrity. But does Billy Graham’s rule help or hinder us as we walk out our faith?
It’s not an understatement to say that there are some pretty strong opinions on both sides of this debate:
In one corner, we have those who uphold Graham’s rule. They see it as a way of protecting marriage on a number of fronts. Firstly, it was, they would say, particularly important for Graham, an itinerant evangelist, to protect himself from false allegations that not only could devastate his career, but more importantly bring controversy around the message of Jesus. Secondly, they would see it as a protection of marriage against temptation. We’re all human, so let’s not be naïve enough to think that we’re beyond falling into temptation and sin. The rule, so they’d say, is therefore a useful one to live by: for protection, prevention, and to positively uphold the values of marriage.
In the other corner, we have those who are very much against Graham’s rule. They would say that it contributes to the overarching objectification of girls and women. Instead of seeing the value and worth that these women bring to a situation and conversation, with this rule, one’s thoughts immediately jump to how the woman might tempt or jeopardise the sexual integrity of the guy. Not only does it spread this harmful message about girls and women, they would say, but it also produces a stereotype of men: that they’re lacking in self-control, and unable to think beyond their own sexuality.
They would also point out that, in a world predominantly run by men, this rule allows “boys clubs” type meetings and decisions to thrive, and so prevents women from being part of these conversations and accessing certain levels of leadership. Practically speaking, it could mean a male minister deciding against taking a female member of staff to a conference, meeting or event, in order to avoid being alone with her. In doing so, they’re closing down that opportunity for her.
So where do my own thoughts fall? I’m somewhere closer to the second corner than the first. I respect Billy Graham’s ministry and remain in awe at the many, many people he introduced to the Christian faith. I know that we can’t hold his entire ministry and teaching at ransom based on this one rule. But I also believe that this rule isn’t helpful to the advancement of the kingdom of God in today’s society.
In my opinion, not only does this send damaging messages to both genders (men: you can’t control yourself; and women: your worth is pretty much tied up around one thing), it also prevents powerful collaborations and partnerships.
We should be working together, regardless of our gender – whether in business, in ministry, or in life – as only then are we at our strongest. Intentionally or not, this rule seems to be more about cutting people out than bringing people together, and more often than not in our current business and ministry contexts, it’s going to be women that lose their seat at the table. After all, in Genesis 2 we read that it is only after God has created man AND woman in His image that He deems creation complete.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with Charlotte on the Billy Graham rule?
If you want to explore integrity as well as seven other core principles of Biblical leadership, come and join us at International Leadership Institute’s History Makers UK. This will be held at Regent’s College, London from 2 – 7 July 2017.