This blog has roughly 1,900 words past this point. It’s a bit long. I didn’t edit well. It has stories. It’ll take the average adult reader 6 and a half minutes to read.
Context: I am writing this, immediately after doing something I rarely do—I deleted a Facebook post. Specifically, I deleted this one:
I did not delete it because I do not stand behind my intended sentiment. I deleted it because it became evident through comments that I needed to put some flesh on the skeleton that I just hung out in the open air. I deleted it because my own intention for the post was hijacked and I saw rapidly growing destructive potential. It is a well-known hazard of putting thoughts out onto the internet.
Yesterday, I started seeing the headlines about our VP Mike Pence and his commitment to the “Billy Graham Rule”. For those of you who grew up outside of Christianity—the rule, simply put, is that a man doesn’t meet with a woman one-on-one—for any purpose. Business, personal, or otherwise.
Today, I saw a number of men share the post, with statements affirming the hardline rule “no one-on-one time with women who aren’t my wife” and began to remember all of my personal experiences with the Billy Graham rule.
Then I saw an article from The Atlantic about Mike Pence and the Billy Graham rule that made a lot of sense to me. To summarize, it affirmed the need to protect marriages with boundaries—and also affirmed, at the very least, my professional experience with the detriment that the Billy Graham rule can cause professional women.
So I started thinking about my own experiences, and what I saw in Scripture about how Jesus dealt with women (and took into consideration Potiphar’s wife…), and I even thought about how Jesus was perfect and sinless… and we are not.
… and decided I wanted to start a conversation, so I posted the status.
Now, a few stories wherein the Billy Graham rule invoked with me (this is not exhaustive):
One time I texted a male friend who I served with at a church, and asked for a ride to church because we had an earlier-than-usual call time and buses weren’t running that early. I was (way) too broke to take a cab—and this was before carshare services. He replied, apologetically, letting me know it was his “policy” not to give single women rides—and he was clear to point out that it wasn’t because he thought anything would happen between the two of us—but to “avoid the appearance of sin”. (After all, that’s Biblical.) I wound up walking to church that Sunday—leaving my apartment at 4:30am so I could make the 5:30am call time. As I walked down Pike Street, which was a little out of my way—but I went that way because it was well-lit and usually had a few more people on it at 4:30am on a Sunday—and a man began to follow me, asking me if I would have sex with him. He followed me for three blocks, until I encountered some other people who were out.
One night, after attending a party with some friends, I was denied a ride home for a similar reason. So—I found myself walking across Belltown, and waiting for the bus at 3rd & Pike at one in the morning—where a man both offered to sell me cocaine (I denied), and also inquired, “How much for the night, baby?”.
Nothing horrible happened either of those times. But I was left feeling dirty and unsafe—and utterly unprotected by men who claimed they loved me—and I know those moments in my life could’ve been avoided by a simple moment of grace. I also think their wives (who I knew) would’ve understood if they had communicated that they were helping me get from point A to point B safely.
On one occasion, I was working a design contract for a church I did not attend—nor was I involved with beyond this contract that had come through a mutual friend. The contract was coming to completion—and it was a frustrating one to begin with—and I was having trouble closing out the contract and getting payment. I had fulfilled my end, but this client, a pastor, just kept “one more thing”-ing me. So I requested a meeting so I could “hand off the files and deliver my final invoice”. I was denied my meeting request, because this pastor “only met with women who were his wife”. After two months of trying various ways to close the contract and get paid—I walked away—unpaid—because this man refused to close the contract via email/phone, and refused to meet because of the Billy Graham rule.
I had a male boss once who wouldn’t meet with me privately because men and women shouldn’t be alone together—which meant every fucking misogynistic and sexist thing he said to me went undiscussed because there was nowhere appropriate for me to bring it up. To challenge him in public would’ve been a fireable offense. (PS. If you cannot figure out a way to manage women in a safe and comfortable way—for both of you—then maybe you should not be a manager in this day and age.)
On many occasions—in the moments when I most needed someone to hear me and point me back to Jesus—men have asked me things like, “Have you tried joining women’s ministry?” and told me, “Let’s connect you with a woman to talk to…” (with no follow up)—leaving me totally fucking dismissed in moments of serious brokenness. I remember one time in college, I was sitting on the curb by my dorm, weeping, and a male (single) friend walked up to me, and said, “Looks like you need to find a lady to talk to. I don’t hang out one-on-one with the opposite sex unless I’m in a relationship. Sorry.” Thanks, bro. Super fucking helpful in that moment.
I tell you these stories to make one primary point: This rule, when applied in a hardline legalistic fashion, has been used time and time again to sin—against me—and/or has left me exposed to easily avoidable dangerous situations. And there’s no doubt in my mind it’s been used similarly against other women, because I’ve heard their stories. (Maybe one day I’ll be bold enough to write about the conversations I’ve had with other women where we’ve been able to identify clear differences in specific men’s application of the Billy Graham rule based upon a woman’s “attractiveness”. That happens. I promise.)
Rule-following without love and grace and mercy begets nothing by pharisees who would rather accuse Christ than heal a person or feed themselves on the Sabbath. Rules without repentance are meaningless and damaging. They create white-washed tombs, full of rotting corpses.
And honestly, in a big fucking way, this particular rule—demonizes women and breeds fear of them. It turns every woman into a temptress—and every man into an out-of-control perv. It says, “Women are not to be trusted.” I’ve heard time and time again from men with the application of this sort of thinking that “it’s not the woman who’s the problem”… and I get the argument there—but it is the woman who is punished in the church and in her career.
How it plays out, practically, is that women—especially we single women who don’t have one dedicated person to share life with (or speak on our behalf when our voice goes unheard under Billy Graham invocation)—get excluded and dismissed. It denies women equal stake in the church, in business—and right now, at the federal level of the United States government. (Of course, it’s not like we’re welcome there right now, anyhow.)
“Because the leadership in evangelical churches is almost entirely male, the Billy Graham Rule has served to stifle the development and discipleship of female members of the Church. All too often in evangelical churches, men are afforded opportunities to meet individually with their pastors for deep theological discussions over coffee or beers while women are herded into a “moms’ group” or other all-female gatherings.” – Mike Pence and the Billy Graham Rule, The Atlantic
(I’ll be writing about that sort of women’s ministry in more depth soon, but for now, try this.)
And honestly (part 2)—I don’t believe that the God who created this universe and raised from the dead to redeem you and me can’t help you, man, control your lust issues. I don’t just believe that men are more than their anatomy/biology, but I believe that God is fully capable of redeeming them. Do not settle for the lie that you are your lust. Be wary of temptation, yes—but you are not your lust. I will not treat my brothers in Christ as, nor expect them to be, so wholly lead by their reproductive system that they cannot fucking control themselves. This is a lie that has been used for ages to reduce men to their lusts, and turn around and blame their choices on women.
It denies that any of us, with our redeemed hearts and minds, can view a member of the opposite sex like a brother or sister. It chooses legalism over grace. Sexism over redeemed brotherly/sisterly love. Rules over repentance. Fear over worship. And again—I’m not saying I’m anti-boundary. I have brothers with wives who I love deeply whose marriages I want to help protect and preserve as best as I can from my sister-in-Christ position. Someday, should I get married (and I hope to), I want my husband and I to have clearly communicated boundaries for our extra-marital relationships.
I am, however, anti-legalism. I’m anti-neglecting the Gospel because of fear. I’m anti-leaving a woman alone and weeping—in public fucking view—because you have some sort of rule to follow and reputation to uphold.
These boundaries we set in place should be pro-relationship with Jesus, not anti-relationship with people. They should be oriented to bring the heart to repentance long before the hands act.
What I saw erupt over my Facebook status created a false dichotomy—and I can’t pretend I’m without fault—I did not provide enough context to hinder that. In a marriage, I believe, rules and boundaries for relationships outside of marriage are good—the very nature of being married says, “I’m choosing you over every other person.”—and it should continue to say that repeatedly for the rest of your lives. But the point of my status was more to the tune of, “Don’t use this as an excuse to sin against your sisters.”—which, as I hopefully just depicted, is far more of my experience with the Billy Graham rule.
I must say, in the last year or two, I’ve experienced many instances where healthy boundaries were in place, and I was cared for, discipled, and loved well, by married men in my church—and I love them deeply and regard them as my brothers—men who I would trust with my life.
I’m reminded of a lesson that was drilled into my head when I was a Redemption Group leader: Saying no to sin is not nearly as good as saying yes to Jesus. It won’t last. It’s not sustainable. It leads to legalism, unrepentant and hard hearts, and stiff necks. More sin.
It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. Yes, boundaries. Yes, having healthy, God-glorifying relationships with members of the opposite sex. Yes, Gospel. Yes, Jesus.