Rooting Out the Gossip Supporting the Billy Graham Rule

A few weeks ago in an online exchange about the Billy Graham Rule (a man must never meet alone with a woman, whether in private or in public), two pastors gave a perspective that grieved me deeply.

They did not defend the rule as necessary for their own purity or the honor of their wives. These far-fetched excuses are heard often, but the two pastors did not rely on them. They also did not deny that restricting women from having the same access as men they work alongside hurts women and is insupportable.

Rather, the two pastors spoke of gossip.

It is all well and good, they said, for people who are not pastors to insist that pastors should ignore gossip about who they meet with, but the reality for them as small town/small church pastors was that gossip is a powerful force in bringing down pastors.

As one pastor put it, “All it takes to ruin my ministry is for one little old lady from my church to start gossiping about seeing me out to lunch with a woman other than my wife. It could even cost me my job.” He could not take the risk of a man’s or woman’s gossip ruining the ministry and so adhered to the Billy Graham Rule out of necessity.

I pray for those two pastors and others like them. They do not want to suppress women, but what are they to do in the face of ministry-destroying gossip? The solution is radical in its most basic sense: Gossip has to ripped out by the roots.

Silencing the Gossips

Gossip is a betrayal carried out by untrustworthy people who lack sense and understanding:

Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense,
but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.

A gossip betrays a confidence,
but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. (Proverbs 11:12-13.)

Gossips are perverse scoundrels whose words burn people and destroy relationships:

A scoundrel plots evil,
and on their lips it is like a scorching fire.

A perverse person stirs up conflict,
and a gossip separates close friends. (Proverbs 16:27-28.)

A gossip’s words may sound sweet but they sink deep within the listener and burn them up from the inside out:

As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
they go down to the inmost parts.  (Proverbs 26:21-22.)

Gossip reveals a depraved state of mind:

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. … They are gossips … . (Romans 1:28-29.)

Gossip grieves those who love God, as Paul told the Christians in Corinth:

I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented … . (2 Corinthians 12:20-21.)

The answer to gossip is not to give in to the gossips. It is to root out the evil entirely.

Teaching the truth about how women and men relate to each other

The way to root out sin is to rely on the Holy Spirit as the one who leads people into the truth. This is what Jesus promised his friends:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13.)

The truth is that God’s people are not to be slaves to gossip because they are no longer slaves to sin.

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18.)

The truth is that gossip is a sin, while men and women working together in God’s family is not a sin. The pastors who fear the gossip, who fear the ruin of their ministry because of what someone might say, face a formidable task but not an insurmountable one.

  • The task is to teach people not to gossip and not to listen to gossip.
  • The task is to teach that women and men are to work together in the freedom of Christ for the blessing of God’s people.

There are no spiritual chains that prevent any man or woman from working together, because, as Jesus himself said:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36.)

Still, some men continue to follow the Billy Graham Rule because, as one man asked in another online discussion, “Why would I want to be alone with any woman other than my wife?”

Why? For the same reason you’d want to be alone with a man. Get work done, catch up about life over lunch, plan a celebration, whatever.

“But people still might get the wrong idea,” they may say.

People can get the wrong idea no matter what you do. Giving in to those people means hurting women by excluding them from meetings and other interactions which you allow men to attend. This is not how a family is supposed to operate, and especially not the family of God.

The answer is not for pastors to give in. The answer is for pastors to teach rightly about the freedom the people of God have in Christ through the Spirit, and to teach about the sin that gossip is. This might take a lot of time and a lot of effort, but if the congregation is so prone to the devastating effects of gossip as stated by the pastors at the top of this post then the pastor has a duty to the people to teach them correctly just as Paul corrected the Corinthians.

After that, if someone gossips about the pastor being seen with someone of the opposite sex then the congregation knows what to do: ignore the gossip, pray for the gossiper, and tell the person to stop spreading gossip.

And maybe take the pastor out to lunch.

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31 Responses to Rooting Out the Gossip Supporting the Billy Graham Rule

  1. Terri says:

    Thank you. In a male-dominated world, the contest between men suffering from gossip (and possibly losing their jobs because of it) and women suffering from harassment and exclusion (they’ll just never even *have* the jobs they want) will always be won by those with power. If women have to be left out and treated as second-class, well, that’s unfair and really too bad, but it’s what is necessary to preserve men–who are after all the ones who count.

    That’s not gospel. Thank you for taking on gossip head-on. We need more of that. Don’t *let* it have such power; confront it, shine a bright disinfecting light on it, and make sure people take responsibility for what they have said. This has been optional for men because they always have the alternative of letting the consequences fall on women instead.

    It’s not how Jesus treated either gossip or women.

    • Tim says:

      “This has been optional for men because they always have the alternative of letting the consequences fall on women instead.” That’s it in a nutshell, Terri.

  2. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Such a great and important angle on this issue, Tim. I love the emphasis on pastors giving good teaching about freedom and about the sin of gossip.

  3. Kathy Heisleman says:

    Wow! Good stuff & so true….At first I was thinking kinda self righteously—Preach it Brother (to those other folks)….and by the end God had brought me to Psalm 19:12 “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” Search MY heart oh God….

    It starts with me.

    Thank you Tim!

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The solution is radical in its most basic sense: Gossip has to ripped out by the roots.

    And lose one of the best weapons a Church Lady or Abusive Pastor/Apostle has in their arsenal?

    People can get the wrong idea no matter what you do.

    People have dirty minds, and Evil is the side most obsessed with Purity.

    Giving in to those people means hurting women by excluding them from meetings and other interactions which you allow men to attend. This is not how a family is supposed to operate, and especially not the family of God.

    It sets you up for Tyranny of the Professional Weaker Brethren, the Christianese version of Tyranny of the Most Easily Offended.

  5. AwakeningSardis says:

    Thank you for this. I lived in Europe for many years and was developed in ministry by many men and women. I am grateful for the men who coached me and mentored me. I wouldn’t be the leader I am today without them. When I came to the US I was slammed with the Billy Graham rule and for the first time felt limited, squashed and invisible as a woman. I was even punished and shamed for not keeping it (I actually forgot because it was so weird to me – a highly visible 30 minute Starbucks meeting about a ministry opportunity – fully appropriate in my previous world).

    “Why are we more keen to keep our image than to disciple people?” is a question that has been rolling around in my head ever since. Gossip, slander, self-control (shouldn’t the fruit of the Spirit be evident in men and women working together. Surely I can relate to them as brothers and they should relate to me as a sister in Christ and not in a sexual way if we both are walking in the Spirit?) these are all missing in our discipleship and instead women are rendered useless or dangerous in local churches.

    I should not go to a local church and get the feeling that I am a dangerous sexual object to be avoided. I have never experienced that in churches overseas but I have experienced that here in the US.

  6. Anu Riley says:

    Slightly amused (only in an ironic sense) of a grown man fearing a little old lady with a tongue like a wasp, able and ready to destroy his reputation, ministry and possibly his family.

    But I understand, and I think he does, too—that the power of the tongue is nothing to wink at. James makes it clear in the Word how it can set a entire forest on fire with one little spark. It cannot be tamed by man, hard as we might try, but only by the Lord.

    It goes to say: “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.” (James 1:26 NLT).

    Going back to the little old lady—let’s assume she’s a loving woman, rich in good works and delights in helping others. She is like a “second mom” or a “surrogate grandma” to many. She is adored and cherished by all.

    But she has the tongue of a viper. Everyone knows it, but she is so beloved and so abundant in her good deeds, that her propensity for gossip is overlooked.

    As much as the church loves her, they also fear her just as much, because they know how quickly you can become the object of that poisonous tongue—if you’re not careful.

    According to the Word, ALL her “religion” is worthless. Doesn’t matter how many people she loved on, prayed for, helped out and exhausted herself with good deeds. If you have a toxic tongue, the Lord doesn’t choose to overlook it no matter how “religious” you are, even if we do.

    How many lives did she ruin with her gossip? Does she make up for it by helping out just as many lives as she destroyed with her tongue?

    When she passes away, even if she is given full honors at her church, and many people testify of her goodness, and the church is bursting with people who want to pay their respects to her: what will the Lord say to her when she sees Him face to face? (this is assuming she never repented of her gossipy ways)

    Pastor (the one who feared this hypothetical little old lady), please consider the eternal impact you are having by putting so much weight on this temporal impact that gossip has. Think of the souls of your congregation. By not making a strong, Biblical case against gossip, you are passively condoning it, even though it’s clear you understand the power of gossip (it could ruin your ministry and cost you your job!)

    • Tim says:

      The image of gossip from the Bible displays a horrific monstrosity. Men and women both use it to destroy lives. Being a small church pastor is no joke, that’s for sure.

      • Terri says:

        It sure isn’t. I’ve seen both gossip and exclusion of women do terrible damage that doesn’t appear will ever be fully repaired in this life. It’s time we started de-fanging the viper. It’s better for women *and* for men–and it’s a necessity for Christians.

  7. Laura says:

    Having been a target for gossip within my own family by someone from an older generation, I don’t understand why. Someone actually pointed out they were hurt and angry. All that resentment really is not constructive but they think that if they discredit and intimidate then it destroys a reputation. It is particularly aimed at women in the family. It makes me vulnerable and afraid but I think that makes my courage rise even further.

    • Tim says:

      To face that within your own family? I am so sorry, Laura.

      • Laura says:

        Thank you for your understanding, Tim. But what a better way to connect with people than to talk about and down to others. It is the example to my generation and to my nieces generation that is my main concern. I am working my way through it but I cannot help getting upset. Better out than in.

  8. Nancy2 says:

    Uhm, aren’t these guys afraid that some gossipy old ladies will start rumors that the men are homosexual? Maybe they should just go live on deserted islands …….. all alone.

  9. Lea says:

    “As one pastor put it, “All it takes to ruin my ministry is for one little old lady from my church to start gossiping about seeing me out to lunch with a woman other than my wife. ”

    See, I see this as merely an excuse because all the other ‘reasons’ for men and women not to be alone together don’t actually apply to a working lunch at Panera. No chance of falling into bed there! So we need another excuse and this is it.

  10. Lea says:

    However, when people see a man and woman together they do get a little silly. I posted a picture with a male relative and people at church were apparently asking about it, and I can’t tell you the number have times people have asked or assumed that I was dating my brother.

  11. Pastor Bob says:

    There are many in life whose sole function seems to be to ignore truth, ignore God’s rules, ignore what is decent, ignore what is right and open their moths and hurt others. The “truth” these self-righteous monsters speaks will not be impeded by any strictures, it is what they feel must be said. Gossip (lies) are easy to spread and VERY hard to suppress. Why is it that truth takes more energy to explain than a lie? Why is it easier to spread lies than truth?

    It is hard to find the words that adequately explain, for the ones who would least likely to be involved with this viciousness are reading these words. I have seen ministries hurt by gossip, more have been hurt by foolish squabbling. many more have been hurt by cruel words spoken with no intent other than to hurt. These individuals have no regard for the words of Jesus regarding conflict resolution. The one who repeat these words of ill may have precious little more regard.

    We need to pray not only for these who seek to cause problems, but for those who have been hurt, and those who must pick up the pieces. For sadly, the lack peace is painful.

    • Tim says:

      “Open their mouths and hurt others” – I hope to never do that, but I know I do.

    • Terri says:

      Preach, Pastor Bob. I’m guilty of it too, so I took it on as a specific area of personal growth a few years back. Still a work in progress, but man, having seen some of the pain and damage it causes, I believe it’s high time churches stopped genuflecting and complying with gossip, and just shone the light on it, persistently. We usually don’t systematically reward violence with compliance, and gossip is no different. The truth shall set us free.

      • Laura says:

        There I gossiping about someone or a situation and there is seeing or knowing some information that is actually true. People reveal themselves in their actions but gossip is not telling someone what actually happened if it did. Is it really kind to see someone be emotionally drained by someone else?

        • Terri says:

          I confess I didn’t totally follow your reply. If I’m following what you said correctly–for me, gossip isn’t only false information, it’s also spreading around information that’s true but is private, so that one can appear to be in the know. It’s a way of fluffing oneself up and making oneself look important.

          To me, that’s gossip too. Whether the info is false or true, though, the point is to protect people and care about their feelings, not to spread rumors or even facts around.

  12. Laura says:

    *There is gossiping.

  13. Laura says:

    I agree Terri. I think that sums it up perfectly.

  14. Laura says:

    But clearly the gossiper does not have compassion. They just want control. I don’t fully understand what that means.

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