The Billy Graham Rule


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:

Billy Graham Rule

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.

7 thoughts on “The Billy Graham Rule

  1. I find it hard to take spiritual advice from someone who uses profanity so easily and profusely. However, your experiences are not to be used as a filter or codex with which to interpret the scriptures. Call me a pharisee if you like, but there is so much wrong with your post that I can only choose a few to help guide you. First, every story from your experience has multiple options and solutions that you neglected to take. To be fair, the males in your stories could have done better to ensure you did what was wise or to connect you to help. However, you are an adult- troubleshoot. Secondly, you completely ignore the real life stories of fallen pastors and leaders. Yes, Christ has overcome sin in us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t fall. As the Apostle John makes it clear, if we say we don’t sin, we are liars. Have you ever been in a church where the pastor has stepped down abruptly or been removed due to sexual sin? I’m not talking about high profile televangelists. I’m talking about good, respected, genuine men in local churches who are used by God and reach many. Yet they fall. What do you think that does to the faith of those who sit under that pastor? The hurt and pain to those women (and men!) by those situations is far more impactful and widespread than any harm the so called Billy Graham rule has caused. How many unbelievers remain unsaved because of scandals like that? Using it as an excuse and mocking Christ because of these sins? You also put the pastor on a pedestal as if he is the only one in the church who can provide theological guidance. From your stories, I can clearly gather that despite all of your negative experiences, yoyouu never did join a women’s ministry or fellowship. How do I know this? Because throughout your experiences, you had no close Christian women friends to talk to or look to for help, or for rides! You made bad decisions and blame the results on this rule. That is irresponsible and intellectually lazy. Lastly, you’re characterizing the rule unjustly. True, some men may also do so, but you interpret Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well incorrectly. He wasn’t meeting with her and counseling her in private. They were at the open-air and very public well in the center of town. The rule doesn’t disallow ANY contact between genders. I often pray with women at church… In public and with other people within sight. I also counsel women…with their husbands present. I would also have no problem meeting privately with two women or a group for accountability. The danger you don’t see is the intimacy that comes with counseling someone. That person is broken and seeking help and the counselor swoops in to help. That relationship naturally fosters feelings and emotions that should not be between men and women who are not married to each other. And as an aside, I also happen to work in human resources in secular settings. In business these days, it simply isn’t safe to meet privately with one other person whether its a man or woman. Harassment and discrimination claims are born this way. I never heard of the Billy Graham rule before your post, though I knew of the concept and have practiced it for over a decade. I would call it the “Risk Management Rule.” Because it makes sense in any situation if you want to mitigate risk. Open door meetings, public area discussions, group meetings, or even an unblocked window on an office (known as a sidelights) or in the office door can be acceptable accountability measures. Please don’t put men and women at risk because of your poor decision making and misunderstandings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Joe,

      I want to address your comment thoroughly.

      1. First off, if you’re so offended by “profanity”, I must wonder why you even clicked on “A Blog For Shitty Women”. I’m planning on writing a blog explaining my stance on language in the near future, I hope you’ll read that when it comes out. I don’t believe my use of these words should discredit me from being used by the Holy Spirit. But, out of respect for your sensitivities, and for the sake of you not discounting the rest of my reply to you, I’ll abstain.
      2. At no point did I say I was using my experiences as a codex. I agree with you. We must filter life by the Scriptures, not Scripture by life. But I also know I’ve seen Scripture misquoted, proof-texted, and misapplied countless times in ways that oppress, dismiss and relegate women to junior league Christianity.
      3. I do not need your guidance any more than you need mine. I have loving friends, leaders, and Biblical authority in my life who guide me when I need it—not to mention the Holy Spirit. This makes you come across as extremely condescending—I don’t need your (clearly superior) wisdom because I have a brain and am capable of critical thought on my own—and have theologically-grounded friends (both men and women) who lovingly correct me when I’m wrong.
      4. Perhaps I should’ve made this a book, instead of a blog—but I had already explored different options, and they and did not work for many reasons. Me troubleshooting was asking a man for a ride. You make so many assumptions about me in these statements—one of which being that I’m stupid or inept. I don’t need males to ensure I do what’s wise—as you said, I’m an adult. It was wise for me to reach out to one of two men who would be at church at 5:30 in the morning for a ride when buses weren’t running, and I couldn’t afford a cab (and honestly, I feel safer with a brother in Christ than in a cab with a stranger). I was serving as an audio engineer at my church—early call times—and usually working with men. The only people who would be at church that early were men. Who else would you suggest I ask for a ride at 5:30am?
      5. I did not ignore the real life stories of fallen leaders and pastors. Yes. I have been at churches where pastors are removed or stepped down abruptly—and yes, in one of those contexts it was for sexual sin. I’m very close to one man who resigned his eldership for sexual sin. I’ve known men who’ve been removed, and after years of repentance, church discipline, and counsel, have been restored. I’ve seen churches split over sexual sin. My family is broken because of sexual sin. Do not presume, sir, to know what I’ve experienced because you read 1,900 words. I have seen, first hand, more lives destroyed by sexual sin than I can count. I am among this collateral damage.
      6. No amount of Billy Graham Rule stopped the sexual sin my family was torn apart by. No amount of Billy Graham Rule stopped a church leader I knew from secretly meeting with a woman for sex—externally it *looked* like he was following the rule. No amount of Billy Graham Rule stopped a pastor in training from raping my friend.
      7. I do not think the pastor is the only one in the church who can offer theological guidance, but he should *probably* be leading the charge for the church. I, personally, LOVE talking to my pastors about big, theological questions. And at my current church, they are excellent at having these conversations privately, in safe settings for both of us. I also very clearly stated that I believe that women can counsel. I, at times, have been a counselor.
      8. I have been in women’s small groups. I have lead women’s small groups. I have participated in women’s ministry. Women’s ministry does not fit all women. I wrote a blog about that. It’s linked to in my post. I do have close friendships and fellowship with women. As I mentioned, I serve my church primarily with a group of men—so no—I’m not going to ask a woman who isn’t headed to church at the same as me for a ride. And I do go to women for counsel, but when my friends approach me when I’m weeping—in public—I believe it is NOT Christlike to dismiss me. Like you pointed out—(despite me never actually denying)—the woman at the well was in public view. On many occasions when I have been dismissed by men under the “Billy Graham Rule”, I was in public view.
      9. What bad decisions? A bad decision to serve on a team that has an early call time? A bad decision to serve where I feel called by the Holy Spirit to serve because it’s a male-dominated arena? A bad decision to go to a party full of Christian friends? A bad decision to receive news that emotionally destroyed me at a time when there were no women around? A bad decision to be a single woman? A bad decision to be a woman?
      10. I did not interpret the woman at the well incorrectly—you just assumed that because you seem to think the only words I think are the 1,900 and change that I put down on this blog. You make copious offensive assumptions about my intellect in your comment.
      11. I do see the danger of the intimacy of the counseling scenario. This blog wasn’t about that—it was about legalism vs. repentance. I say time and time again that boundaries are good and healthy—but that rules without grace are dangerous and can lead to sinning against others, too.
      12. Thanks for explaining office settings to me. I’ve clearly never worked in one, being a woman and all.
      13. I would never seek to put my brothers or sisters at risk. I clearly said that in my blog—I want to defend and protect their marriages from my status as sister-in-Christ.

      Your comment is thick-laden with wholly incorrect, and quite frankly, offensive assumptions about me.

      In love and high hopes that you’re willing to hear me this time,

      Kim, Shittiest of Women


    • Joe,
      Is the act of failing to control sexual sin worse or better than considering your reputation over someone else’s physical or emotional safety? Regardless of what scripture you quote that is what is happening when men are refusing to help because they may be “tempted”. Frankly its not very Christ like. The core message Jesus came with is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. I wouldn’t want someone to leave me in an unsafe environment when they have the opportunity to keep me safe just to keep their reputation clean. From Christs teachings I shouldn’t do it to someone else.
      What I am getting from this “Billy Graham Rule” and its application is that risk to reputation is not worth taking even if it seriously hurts someone. Didn’t Jesus heal and help and preach to others regardless of his own reputation? He walked among the outcasts of society, is it really that hard for you to risk your reputation a little and help a well known christian friend?
      To provide a little perspective I am married and as a wife I would expect my husband to offer a lift to a woman if she was in any of the situations outlined above; in fact my husband has driven with a female co-worker to various work events just the two of them in the car. I trust my husband, he trusts himself. The “Billy Graham Rule” really does reduce men to beasts who can’t control themselves around any woman because she could be sexually alluring.
      As for pastors that fail, they are human if it hurts the congregation to the point that people turn away from the church then there is a problem in the church organisation. No man or woman is without sin small or BIG, even pastors FAIL; that needs to be allowed for in the way congregations are managed.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s