Put an End to the Billy Graham Rule

Most Americans became aware of the Billy Graham Rule in 2017 when they learned that Vice President Mike Pence refuses to meet with women one-on-one.  For the record, I defended Mr. Pence’s right to take this position as it’s his own deeply held religious belief in the same way I’d defend any other religious person’s right to alter their work responsibilities to accommodate a deeply held religious belief. Of course, defending his right to the practice doesn’t mean I personally support the practice, which I don’t.. I just supported his legal right to the practice. 

I first became aware of this rule when I read about it as a freshmen undergraduate student and had to sign an agreement affirming that I’d abide by it. It wasn’t called the Billy Graham Rule in the Student Life Guide but that’s what I was told it was by classmates who recounted the Billy Graham story that lead to the rule.

In 1994, as an 18-year old college freshmen, I thought it was a sexist, non-biblical rule. And I think it’s equally so today.

Here’s a simple fact… true whether you are an 18-year old college student or Tony Robbins or Billy Graham or Mike Pence or Bill Hybels: If you can’t be trusted to be alone with a member of the opposite sex for fear that you’ll have sex with them (by coercion or otherwise)… perhaps you shouldn’t be in a leadership position at all.

In other words, your need for a “Billy Graham Rule” should be seen as a disqualification from you leading. Just a thought.

Mercury 13

Last night, I watched the Netflix documentary Mercury 13. It documents the thirteen women who passed the physical and mental tests to join Project Mercury, to be among the first people to go to space or walk on the moon, but were ultimately disqualified from consideration solely because of their gender.

At a key moment the movie used CGI to re-imagine what would have happened if a woman had been among the first to enter space, been celebrated with parades and hero status, and assumed positions of power in society like the original astronauts had. Instead, the old boys club of military test pilots shot down the idea of female astronauts, clearly for sexist reasons.

As I watched this movie I couldn’t help but make the leap: What would be different in the evangelical church today if the old boys club didn’t rely on their sexist Billy Graham Rule to alienate women from positions of power and the rooms where decisions are made? 

I believe the church would be in a much healthier place than it is now. And I look forward to the evangelical church’s day of reckoning, as NASA had to deal with, when women break those glass ceilings and the old boys clubs of yester-year are put out of business.

In the church, with it’s antiquated Billy Graham Rule– what’s really happening, what got me in trouble for speaking out about as a senior at Moody Bible Institute– is that men in church leadership are protecting their old boys club with the so-called Billy Graham Rule. (The evangelical hermeneutic simply doesn’t lead them to “complementarianism“, the notion of “separate but equal” our society rejected in the 1960s, instead the evangelical hermeneutic leads to egalitarianism.) They don’t want to compete for positions of leadership with women who might be more talented, more educated, and more qualified for the jobs they want.

The Scandal of Jesus

“But what about false accusations?” 

Yes, this is what proponents of the Billy Graham Rule appeal to. They argue that it’s not about trusting them to not coerce women into sex… it’s to protect yourself from being falsely accused.

My response, particularly for Christian leaders hiding behind this rule is to ask them to take a deep look at how Jesus dealt with such accusations? In his time, to the religious elites and power brokers, Jesus was scandalous.

He touched women to heal them. He allowed a woman to pour perfume on him at a dinner party. He spoke to the woman at the well about her sexual past. He offered forgiveness to a woman caught in the act of adultery. Over and over again the Gospel narrative uses the first century version of the Billy Graham Rule put in place by the Pharisees as an example and says, “So what about it?

Paul writes,

“Before the coming of this faith,[j] we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Galatians 3: 23-29

Friends, it’s time to put the Billy Graham Rule in the rear view mirror. Many churches have. Let’s celebrate that. And let’s build on that momentum to welcome women into all aspects of leadership and decision making in our local churches. 

Published by Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

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7 Comments

  1. Agree wholeheartedly, as someone who has spent most of her ministry at a disadvantage because of this mindset.

    I would also add, if you’re not able to discern the difference between a lunch meeting and having someone meet you alone in your hotel room, perhaps you shouldn’t be in a position of leadership, or have that power that you can weild inappropriately.

  2. Dear friends, it’s not about not trusting themselves to be alone with a member of the opposite sex. It’s about protecting your marriage and the other person’s marriage and reputation by not giving any “appearance of evil” as the Bible speaks of and not being a stumbling block to anyone. No one will ever be able to question Rev. Graham’s motives with a female coworker for instance because he made sure that he was never alone with a female that was not his wife. It’s about being above reproach. It’s in direct contrast to some of these men in the news right now when it comes down to one person’s word against the other. Shouldn’t we appreciate Rev. Graham’s mindset in the world we live in? He traveled a lot and was away from his wife and family but his wife never had to worry or be jealous because of his integrity. How rare these days! So much so that even fellow Christian’s don’t understand the boundaries he implemented. Think about it. Give grace and understand that this “rule” honors Pence’s wife and marriage as well as the marriage/reputation of his female coworkers. The first time I was exposed to this thinking I thought it was a little ludicrous and extreme. I began to understand though that it was for everyone’s benefit. As a young woman, I had a boss who asked me to lunch and wanted to run by my apartment. I had to be very very firm and it made me extremely uncomfortable. This man had a reputation in our company of having extramarital affairs with coworkers. If just one more person had been included in the lunch plans I would have felt so much better. Nothing happened because I put my foot down but knowing his reputation if someone else had come along with us no one could have ever had the slightest doubt of whether anything had happened. Just being alone with him put me in a bad light. This “rule” is to prevent the slightest hint of indiscretion.

    1. And that’s standard is it makes it means to hold yourself to an extra biblical standard. One which is weaponized to hold women back. And, quite frankly, prevents nothing.

      Jesus is after your heart, not your appearances.

  3. This is true, Jesus is most definitely after our hearts not our appearances. But I fear you are taking a very naive view of this. We are to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour” And you have to remember that Jesus brought infidelity right to our very thoughts…if we even LOOK with impure thoughts we’ve already committed the act in God’s eyes.

    A man in any kind of position of power is subjected to all sorts of temptations and they are so very wise to guard their hearts as best they can for our hearts are deceitful above all else and desperately wicked. Out of our hearts flow the issues of life. Jesus said that it’s what comes out of a man that defiles him. A man who would protect himself and his family in this way is a man of great character who truly understands the weakness of our flesh and the wiles of the enemy of our souls. Sure, like anything, this can be used in ways that are wrong and if that happens, it should be prayerfully addressed. But to just dismiss it outright? It gives the appearance of great arrogance.

  4. All the interactions between Jesus and women listed in the article were either occurred in a public place or with others present. These examples offer no support to the notion that a man should be alone with a woman other than his wife.

    I have been following this “rule” for decades before of ever hearing it called the “Billy Graham Rule”. Steph and Mellsa explained it well, so I don’t need to rahash the reasons.

    It is about protecting my reputation. If I am not alone with a woman, nobody can wink and smile “jokingly” and say, “so, I hear you were alone with ______ last night”. I don’t need that. My wife doesn’t need that. Yes, Adam, appearances do matter. I refuse to let that happen.

    If I am alone with a woman and she subsequently accuses me of some impropriety, I am automatically assumed by society to be guilty and that stays with me for the rest of my life. I refuse to let that happen.

    And to say that I can’t be a friend to a woman or provide counseling to her without being alone with her privately is ludicrous. I would challenge every man, including myself, to honestly ask the question, “why do I *really* want to be alone with that woman?”

  5. Um, yeah, I think you’re TOTALLY missing the point to the Billy Graham rule here. It isn’t that the male will be unable to help themselves with a female alone, it’s that in today’s world, it opens up the male to a he said, she said possibility in the future, in a world where we have now decided that the female is ALWAYS to be believed. Why would a guy out himself in that position?

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