I’ve been watching some Facebook posts tonight on a discussion on the “Billy Graham Rule,” where the Lord led Billy Graham to never meet, eat, or travel alone with a woman. One article, reporting on Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, admitting had an affair and resigning from his pastorate as a result, posed a posed a question on whether this hurts women from “climbing” in Evangelical leadership. Many comments are saying this rule is ridiculous, and still others that that was “personal revelation” to Billy Graham.
First, maybe the reason Billy Graham is pushing 100 and is one of the most respected Evangelical leaders ever is because he actually bothered to live circumspectly (Ephesians 5:15) and err on the side of caution. For Pete’s sake, he didn’t do it to prevent a woman from “climbing” in Evangelical leadership–and what the heck is ANYONE doing trying to climb some ladder in ministry. If God doesn’t open the doors, get out! You’re in the wrong job!
Second, it’s not a stupid rule in a litigious society where a number of the leaders we used to know and respect have had affairs, and half of the rest have had false accusations railed against them by opportunistic people. It’s not stupid to be cautious. I myself have never been tempted to sin in situations where I have found myself alone with a man. I can say that with a pure heart. If a man would have made an advance, I would have run from the room–in fact, once a man began behaving inappropriately (not in a ministry situation) and I was out of there faster than you could blink–and I told people right away what happened and never went near him again. There is absolutely merit that we are responsible for our behavior and will do what we have resolved in our hearts to do. That said, what if I were in a ministry meeting with a man and he got mad at me and decided to say I came on to him. It works both ways? Remember Joseph? This isn’t a newsflash, people. It’s not narrow-minded to be careful, especially in high profile leadership. The world is ugly and people like fame–at anyone’s expense, sometimes. Being careful is wise.
Finally, the idea that Graham’s rule was only for him, the way God may give someone a personal conviction about eating meat, is what’s actually stupid. The Bible clearly says to avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Imagine what you might think it appeared like if Billy Graham had come out of a hotel alone with a woman–even if they were innocently eating dinner while having a ministry planning meeting. Recently I was in a meeting with a leader of a major ministry–in a room with windows all around it and masses of people outside those windows so we could be seen at all times but still talk. I like to take pictures of everything because that’s part of my personality. We went and found another person to be in the selfie so that it would not be one man alone with one woman. Stupid? I call that wisdom. I respected it completely.
In the name of avoiding anything “religious” we have lost our reason. The Billy Graham rule was more prophetic than it was personal. It’s not religious, controlling, or petty to care more about our integrity than some rule. I am a woman, and I suppose to some degree I am still in ministry. I have spent a good five years of my adult life in ministry. Not once, not ever, have I felt I could not “advance” in ministry because of a rule like this. What a ludicrous statement that gives no credit to God to do the advancement Himself.
As a final note, I have to add that I work in a secular environment, and while our rules are certainly more lax than a ministry, here are a couple we have in our office. My boss always meets with people with his door open and a secretary outside the office. He is extra careful when the meeting subject is a female, for the very same reasons most men who are careful would be, but this goes for any meeting that could be misconstrued by anyone, true or not. We have an annual award’s ceremony in another city and if the recipient is male, a female cannot take him alone, and if the recipient is female a male cannot take him alone. These are not rules. They are how we conduct things based on wisdom and plain old common sense.
Graham’s rule was wise, circumspect, and from the Lord–but it wasn’t a personal word for him. It is a model for us.