[Kelly Ladd Bishop writes today’s guest post on a well known rule, and how it (like rules generally) gets in the way of people following God and doing the work he’s called them to do.]
Recently a reporter noted that vice president Mike Pence never dines with women alone, nor does he attend functions without his wife if alcohol is being served. This is a version of, what some call, the “Billy Graham rule.” The name for this rule refers to one of the rules Graham set for himself in the 1940s, when he was a traveling evangelist drawing crowds of thousands to stadiums to hear his preaching. The rule was part of a set of rules designed to protect the integrity of Graham’s ministry, as so many celebrity preachers had fallen to the temptations that surround them.
This particular rule, about never spending time alone with someone of the opposite sex, has been adopted and adapted by Christians over the decades. I have heard it many times from Christian men, particularly male pastors. To avoid any appearance of sin or temptation, many Christian men choose to never be alone with a woman. Since the report that Mike Pence follows a similar set of rules, the conversation has been back at the forefront of Christian discussion.
While there are times when it is appropriate for a person to set up boundaries that protect his or her marriage, it is not appropriate to make blanket statements or rules regarding the opposite sex – especially when it puts one sex at a real disadvantage in business, ministry, or life in general. It also doesn’t respect either men or women. It assumes that men can’t control themselves in the presence of a women who is not their wife, and that women are temptations that must be avoided. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we can do better.
While many people have been speaking out about the problems with this rule, some Christians have been fiercely defending it. Kevin DeYoung is a pastor and a blogger for The Gospel Coalition. He tweeted the following in defense of the rule:
The problem with this tweet is that it’s not a defense of anything. A straw man argument is an argument that sounds like it is refuting an opposing view, but is actually refuting an argument that was never made. No one ever argued that the “rule” is troublesome because all wives really want their husbands to spend more time with other women. No one ever said a marriage is better when one partner spends a lot of time alone with other people of the opposite sex. These types of arguments are nothing more than a distraction. They cause people to think they are agreeing with a great response to an argument, which is actually not a response to anything at all.
Generally speaking, Kevin DeYoung is probably correct. There aren’t many women who would say, “I’d feel better if my husband spent more time alone with other women.” And it’s also likely true that there aren’t many men who would say, “I’d feel better if my wife spent more time alone with other men.” But there are many men and women who would have a difficult time in their careers, or wouldn’t have a career, if they refused to have a business lunch with a client, customer, or associate of the opposite sex. Doctors, nurses, counselors, and therapists regularly have patients of the opposite sex. And, generally speaking, pastors should be able to meet with staff and church members of the opposite sex. Even friendships with someone of the opposite sex aren’t inherently dangerous. Every person is not a walking sexual temptation, or an out of control libido. Every person IS a child of God. Maybe we should start there.
DeYoung’s tweet implies that wives finding the so-called “Billy Graham” rule problematic is equivalent to those wives desiring that their husbands spend more time with other women. This argument is ridiculous. It is possible that a wife can accept that her husband has a legitimate reason to meet with another woman, and that it is not a threat to their marriage. This is called trust. It is also possible that a husband can accept that his wife has a legitimate reason to meet with another man, because he understands the situation, and trusts her. Not only does DeYoung’s argument have nothing at all to do with the concerns people have regarding Pence and Graham’s rule, but it is a bit of an insult to people who are negatively affected by these rules – to all the women who have been refused mentoring by their bosses, who have been denied meetings, who can’t advance in their careers, and who have been treated like nothing more than temptations. Don’t be side tracked by a straw man argument.
Sorry Kevin DeYoung, you are way off base on this one.
Kelly holds an M.Div, and a B.A. in Biology. She spent seven years working in youth ministry, and has most recently worked as an associate pastor. She preaches, teaches, writes, speaks, and mentors teens. Kelly is passionate about exploring God’s word and issues of faith and culture. She is a Huffington Post contributor and blogs at www.kellyladdbishop.com. You can follow Kelly on Facebook and on Twitter.