Holiness and the Billy Graham Rule

The issue is rarely the issue. Usually the issue is a symptom of the real issue beneath it. Which brings us to this week’s conversations about Mike Pence and the Billy Graham Rule. The discussion gives us a great reason to discuss the issue beneath the issue.

For the uninitiated, the Billy Graham Rule was coined after Graham made the public commitment to never meet alone (in a car, restaurant, hotel or office) with a woman other than his wife. His was a high-road choice to avoid the rumors swirling around other national leaders of his generation. Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy both battled their own demons where sex and women were concerned.

I commend Billy Graham for making a strong statement about his personal boundaries. For him, that was the right choice. He was a target and his public declaration put the world on notice. Since his “rule” became famous, scores of Christian leaders have taken the same tack as Graham. Many have accepted it as a clear and easy way to avoid temptation or even the appearance of it. For some, it is the right choice, given their personal challenges (either internal or external). But is it the right choice in every instance, just because it was the right choice for one high-profile man?

A Washington Post editorial by Laura Turner spells out the nuances for both men and women of invoking this rule:

The impulse that led to the Billy Graham Rule — which was actually a solidification of principles guarding against several kinds of temptation — is a good and honorable one: to remain faithful to one’s spouse and to avoid the kind of behavior (or rumors of behavior) that have destroyed the careers of church leaders. Evangelical pastors having affairs is so common as to almost be cliche, and damages the integrity of the church.

But good intentions do not always produce helpful consequences. In this case, the Billy Graham Rule risks reducing women to sexual temptations, objects, things to be avoided. It perpetuates an old boys’ club mentality, excluding women from important work and career conversations simply by virtue of their sex.

The question is one of how both men and women leaders can live irreproachable lives while raising up those in their spiritual care. What is the right balance to strike? And what is the real issue beneath the Billy Graham Rule?

In a word, holiness. How we live out our lives before Christ so they bear fruit for the Kingdom is the real issue. When we pursue our own holiness, address our own brokenness, and face our own fears, then and only then can we effectively live out our own call to raise up others.

Lead us not into temptation. Jesus knew what he was teaching us when he taught us to pray against temptation. He knew temptations would come. That’s not an “if” but a “when.” He knew any effective follower of Christ would come face to face with the darkness. It is not ours to avoid temptation, but to learn how to not to cross the line when we’re faced with it. Paul said as much. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

What is the “way out”? Is it to limit access to other people, or is it to increase access to the Holy Spirit? Jesus’ and Paul are both teaching the same message: Don’t expect to handle temptation on your own; find victory by taking it to God. Use the temptations that inevitably come our way (don’t go generating them!) as an opportunity to evaluate spiritual health and an invitation to become more healthy. This will be a process, not an event, but the goal is internal transformation.

Fear bleeds. When our choices concerning spiritual leadership are born out of our own fears and insecurities, we not only self-limit our potential, we end up bleeding on those around us. We expect others to adjust to accommodate our fears.

Listen: I am responsible for my own brain, and those with whom I relate are responsible for theirs. When either of us are in a place spiritually or emotionally where we are unable to take every thought captive (remember: it is not the thought that comes into your head that is the problem; it is what you do with it that matters), then we have our own work to do. The right answer is not to place an “invisible burqa” on someone else. The right answer is to get the personal and spiritual healing I need so I can be the adult in the room and fulfill my calling, which is to raise up those around me called into spiritual leadership.

Go and make disciples. In their study of the challenges faced by women in leadership (published in the Harvard Business Review), Robin Ely and Deborah Rhode note that women often have difficulty accessing the same information as their male colleagues. Men in general have greater access to inner circles of support. But if women who lead don’t have access to other successful leaders who are ahead of them on the journey, how will they become better leaders?

We do not in this day and time have the leisure to consign one-half of the human race to “the women’s room” when it comes to leadership development. Shepherds are responsible for shaping the lives of the sheep in their care. All the sheep. Please don’t relegate gifted, driven, faithful women to the B-team because of fears, temptations or a lack of motivation toward holiness. Men of God, be holy as your Father in Heaven is holy. And out of your own holiness and call to lead, mentor those in your care. Raise up the men and women around you who will effectively make disciples, so that together we can welcome and advance the Kingdom of God.

Carolyn Moore

I follow Jesus within the communities of Mosaic Church, Asbury Seminary and the Moore household.

8 thoughts on “Holiness and the Billy Graham Rule

  1. God, thank you for leaders such as Billy Graham !
    He did what you suggest – “to raise up those around me called into spiritual leadership.”

    But never by his actions did he – “place an “invisible burqa” on someone else.”

  2. Thank you Carolyn. As a mature, single clergywoman who has been around for a long time, I have needed the friendship, support, and the advice of other clergy (usually men). I have VALUED these relationships and sought them out. Often I can cultivate such relationships in a public setting, or in a clergy group.

    However, sometimes it is better to meet privately with a male, clergy colleague. Specifically I think of conversations with a CPE supervisor, a District Superintendent, or the senior pastor (when I was an associate). On one occasion I repeatedly met for lunch at a restaurant with a married man (a preacher) as we planned an event in my local church where he was the guest preacher for our annual “revival”. I have occasionally enjoyed carpooling to church events with a male colleague.

    I find the Pence/Graham rule to be offensive and insulting to MY dignity. I honor the marriage vows of others and my own Christian commitment to “celibacy in singleness”. Holiness and respect should characterize all of our relationships. The Pence/Graham rule supports an aura of suspicion in male/female relationships rather than holiness and Christian love.

  3. This is another ploy for women who should not be behind the pulpit at anytime as a preacher, all you are doing is trying to get a consensus, even though you know better, you demand acceptance on an issue that has already been issued.. I for one do not need Billy Graham to tell me to stay clear of temptation. The Devil tempted Eve, she tempted Adam and now we are in the place we are in. Would Adam have been tempted, if he had not been alone at the time with Eve? Really? Being alone, are you really being tempted or is is she really being tempted. To avoid temptation you must stay clear of it if you can. Because No Adam knows whether he would be alone with an Eve or not…this is why He or she should never place themselves in that situation.

  4. Since “The issue is rarely the issue. Usually the issue is a symptom of the real issue beneath it”., what is your real issue with Vice President Mike Pence?

  5. I usually agree with you Carolyn, but this time I think you’re way off base. I think it’s noble to respect your marriage vows enough not to be alone with a person of the opposite sex and it has nothing to do with thinking of them sexually.

  6. In our present time, my “Extended Billy Graham Rule” means I don’t allow myself to be alone in a room with either a woman or a man. This is not because I don’t trust myself to be loyal to my spouse…it is because there are people in the world who wish to destroy the church and who can and will level false accusations against pastors. If I need to mentor leaders, I do it in a group of three to six people, almost always a co-ed group. And I have a regular leadership development group. Yet I know of women pastors who meet exclusively with groups of women and no one accuses them of setting up an “Old Girl” network. Stop fighting the feminist fights of 1972! Either accept that people should be treated equally – without a double-standard – or admit that you are simply arguing for a matriarchal society to replace the patriarchal society.

    1. I was ordained back in 1981 when there were only two women elders in my annual conference. I had no choice but to turn to MALE clergy as mentors and advocates. Throughout my career, I was often the only clergywoman in my local community, the first clergywoman appointed in my local church, and often I was the first woman preacher a parishioner had ever heard. Things have improved a bit now, but not much. The “feminist fights of 1972” have changed a bit, but they are still necessary. Clergywomen earn significantly less than clergymen, although there are a few exceptions. Clergywomen are STILL considered to be oddities in many communities. I still value my relationships with clergymen, and laymen in my church. Why should I hesitate to meet with a male PPR chair behind closed doors to discuss confidential matters? It doesn’t raise eyebrows or suspicion; and it shouldn’t. Fortunately, Mike Pence is not a member of my church; and fortunately Mike Pence is not my district superintendent. Unfortunately, he is my Vice President.

  7. I am late on this . . . why is this a thing? I was taught to not allow myself to be alone with a woman while doing ministry in local pastor licensing school. It was not about turning women into “sexual objects” but about not putting ourselves in situations where people might start rumors which could potentially destroy our ministry. It’s called WISDOM people!

    And there is also nothing wrong about seeking to be self aware about our relationships with the opposite sex. We do live in a time in which people reconnect with old classmates and old boyfriends/girlfriends on Facebook and end up having sexual or emotional affairs.

    We live in such stupid times. Knee-jerk reactions, criticism for the sake of criticism, and just plain old ignorance abounds. This is why I have made it my personal rule to stay out of the internet wars and conflicts. It’s just a bunch of foolishness.

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