‘The Billy Graham Rule, Mike Pence and attitudes about Women,’ was the heading of a recent article from the Washington Post. It referenced the Vice President of America, who calls himself an ‘evangelical Catholic.’ The article cites a 2002 interview when he said, ‘He never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.’ As the article pointed out, this can sound strange to the uninitiated. It all goes back to what is called ‘The Billy Graham Rule.’
As you can imagine, the secular press made an issue of all this with Mike Pence and ‘The Billy Graham Rule’ took a bit of a beating after the article was published. The idea that Mike Pence followed a version of the rule ‘set off a fierce debate over whether the rule safeguards marriages from adultery, harms women in the church, or is just plain sexist.’ The writer raises questions like ‘Should a bisexual person be alone with anyone?’ Obviously, the writer didn’t remember the Graham Rule, written some sixty years ago, is related to traditional Christian marriage. So, what is the Billy Graham Rule.’
THE BILLY GRAHAM RULE
Actually, there was not just one rule but four. It all came out of evangelistic meetings in Modesto, CA. The Billy Graham team at that stage included Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea and Grady Wilson. Let Billy Graham tell in his own words what happened.
One afternoon during the Modesto meetings, I called the team together to discuss the problem. Then I asked them to go to their rooms for an hour and list all the problems they could think of that evangelists and evangelism encountered.
When they returned, the lists were remarkably similar, and in a short amount of time, we made a series of resolutions or commitment among ourselves that would guide us in our future evangelistic work. In reality, it was more of an informal understanding among ourselves-a shared commitment to do all we could do to uphold the Bible’s standard of absolute integrity and purity for evangelists.
The first point on our combined list was money. The temptation to wring as much money as possible out of an audience often with emotional appeal.
The second item on the list was the danger of sexual immorality. We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife. We determined that the Apostle Paul’s mandate to the young pastor Timothy would be ours as well: “Flee … youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 1:22, KJV).
Our third concern was the tendency of many evangelists to carry on their work apart from the local church, even to criticize local pastors and churches openly and scathingly. We were convinced, however, that this was not only counterproductive but also wrong from the Bible’s standpoint.
The fourth and final issue was publicity. The tendency among evangelists was to exaggerate their success or to claim higher attendance numbers than they really had.
So much for the Modesto Manifesto, as Cliff (Barrows) called it in later years. In reality, it did not mark a radical departure for us; we had always held these principles. It did, however, settle in our hearts and minds, once and for all, the determination that integrity would be the hallmark of both our lives and our ministry.
Billy Graham followed his own rules. For example, many years ago, Hillary Clinton wanted to talk to him, so he arranged to meet her at a restaurant with other people around him.
In 2004, I wrote a book entitled ‘Hedges.’ It is currently out of print as we sold all the copies. Based on Deuteronomy 17, the book dealt with the three major temptations that a leader faces in business or ministry. I pointed out that Solomon, the wisest man whoever lived, fell prey to all three temptations: power, sex and money.
After writing the book, I shared some further thoughts on boundaries in one of my newsletters.
As a young minister forty years ago, I learned an important lesson, namely, that if I was going to maintain integrity in my relationships with the opposite sex, then I have to have a set of boundaries. Now, I am not legalistic, but having seen so many leaders fall into sexual sin, I worked out my own set of rules ahead of time in regards to five potential trouble spots.
• Women that work closely with you in ministry – quite often a pastor who ends up in adultery does so with a person he work closely with.
• Secretary/Admin. Asst. – your wife, who is your helpmate, should have veto power, if possible, over your choice of secretary.
• Counseling – be careful how you counsel the opposite sex. Where and when you do counseling. If necessary, refer them to a professional counselor.
• Travel – Be aware that this can provide specific temptations.
• The temptress – There are still Delilahs around in churches today.
A question a leader needs to ask is ‘What are my boundaries?’ Better to have a fence at the top of a cliff than an ambulance at the bottom.
A FOLLOW UP TO THE ARTICLE
It is interesting to note that a more recent article in the New York Times pointed out that ‘It is not just Mike Pence. Americans are wary of being alone with the opposite sex.’
The Morning Consult Poll conducted by The New York Times determined that ‘over all people thought dinner or drinks alone with a member of the opposite sex, other than a spouse, was inappropriate, with more people disapproving than approving.’
Maybe following ‘The Billy Graham Rule,’ as seen with Mike Pence is not so far out there as the original article suggested it was.
I believe one of the reasons Billy Graham and his team have maintained the reputation for integrity over so many years is because Bill and his team were committed to this. It is great to see someone in the position of Vice President of the United States following that same path. What a difference it would make if more leaders followed his example.