Originally posted in April 2017 and reposted.
The Billy Graham rule is sexist. Full stop. And reveals deeply seated problems in evangelical formation surrounding patriarchy and the devaluing of women.
The United States Vice-President Mike Pence, is in the middle of a cultural row over comments published in the Washington Post, where he related a position touted by many conservatives on male/female relationships referred to as the ‘Billy Graham Rule’, (if you’re a man, never be caught alone with a woman who’s not your wife).
The Atlantic outlines:
Socially liberal or non-religious people may see Pence practice as misogynistic or bizarre. For a lot of conservative religious people, though, this set-up probably sounds normal, or even wise. The dust-up shows how radically notions of gender divide American culture.
I encountered the same growing up in a small evangelical church, which informed my early assumptions in leadership. Fortunately, seminary emphasized formation over imparting blind conservatism.
The leaders (men) informed by the ‘Billy Graham Rule’ reflect an era of church dominance (and paternalism) where interests are to preserve a way of thinking (conservatism in a nutshell), rather than imparting the freeing Gospel story. (You can’t preach freedom if you have rules on the most basic interaction between male and female).
Here’s what the ‘Billy Graham Rule’ says about you as a leader, and why you should consider different guiding influences.
- It reveals malformed ideas on sexuality. Be it homosexuality, transgender, women in ministry, same-sex marriage, women in the household, pre-marital sex, the opinion is simply: don’t do it or be silent. Avoidance is cherished over conversation; control over uncertainty.
- It reveals the devaluation Christian patriarchy has for women. If I, as a man, can’t sit alone with a woman, then it’s me who has the problem, both in capability to control my ‘sexual urges’, and how I view women in general.
- It demonstrates emotional immaturity.
- It dehumanizes women into one-size fits all packages of temptation.
- If your are a minister, it eliminates half of your ministry. Pastors are released based on their giftings and they should serve based on those gifts regardless of gender. Churches where male leaders (or vice versa) don’t minister 1on1 with the opposite sex impair the release of the priesthood on mission. (By the way, we see this fault in action, which is why most churches struggle to raise strong women leaders. I guess this isn’t a problem if you start with the assumption women are subservient.)
- Jesus was routinely alone with women.
- Shows a lack of character that you can be so easily swayed, by a glass of wine and a conversation with a woman.
Strong leaders demonstrate a combination of the last two points, by living out the character of Jesus. Keep in mind, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to invite another person into a conversation because there are such things as healthy boundaries in relationships. Yet legalism never breeds holistic health or competency. When we dissect the roots of ‘why’ a Billy Graham rule exists, we might find it keeps going back to the sub-standard picture patriarchy holds for women in general.
Going back to point #1, how we view intimacy and sexuality matters. If intimacy/sexuality are regarded as taboo, feared, or ignored, it will produce “bad fruit”. Connecting on a spiritual level is intimate, so we need ways to discern what’s healthy and what’s not. Ignoring the whole interaction isn’t the solution, and says more about yourself and your perception of women as a whole.