Mike Pence, the Billy Graham Rule, and my Pastor-Husband
A few weeks back, a story broke about Mike Pence’s decision not to eat alone with women other than his wife (sometimes referred to as the Billy Graham Rule). There’s been praise for his commitment to his marriage, accusations of sexism, and many discussions about gender and the workplace.
As a pastor‘s wife, sometimes I’m asked my opinion on the Billy Graham Rule. People want to know if I’m okay with my husband being alone with other women. And my husband and I have had several discussions on this and protecting our marriage. Here are my thoughts.
Rules Don’t Cut It
Rules are rigid. I’m fine with that in some cases. Don’t have sex with someone other than your spouse. Got it. But extra-biblical rules get a bit trickier. Some say that avoiding a closed door meeting or a work lunch or a car ride with a member of the opposite sex is the best way to avoid temptation and keep affairs from even getting started. I disagree.
Cut the Sexual Tension Already
When we make hard and fast rules about when people can eat, talk, or be together based on their gender, the first thing everyone thinks about when they find themselves alone with a member of the opposite sex is, “Oh my goodness, is this okay? Am I breaking one of the rules? Am I making this person uncomfortable? Are we doing something wrong? What will people think?” Instead of, “Hmm, let me look over our meeting notes and get this meeting started.” These kinds of rules heighten the sexual tension as opposed to diminish it.
Common Sense, Anyone?
I’m not suggesting we throw caution to the wind and put ourselves in compromising situations and hope for the best. I’m suggesting we use common sense. And common sense says that men and women aren’t sitting around the office just waiting for the chance to ride alone in the car together so they can throw themselves at each other and start making out. Affairs don’t start because someone is alone with the opposite sex.
Sometimes common sense means accommodating the surrounding culture. When we lived in the South, Dan never went out to eat with another woman. It would’ve caused an uproar, and we respected that. But when we lived on the East Coast, he had regular lunch meetings with both women staff and lay members of the church and no one thought anything of it.
Mostly, common sense means that we need to…
Communicate with Our Spouse
Listen, if the Billy Graham Rule is what you and your spouse decide on, I’m never going to try to talk you out of it. I have moved meetings from men’s offices to more common rooms or grabbed a third person to ride along in a car, etc. etc. And I will gladly do it again.
But instead of practicing the Billy Graham Rule, Dan and I affair-proof our marriage. Just kidding, I don’t think that’s a thing.
Instead of practicing the Billy Graham Rule, Dan lets me know of any situation that makes him uncomfortable. He also gives me a heads up when he knows he’ll be alone with a woman lest some overzealous individual concerned with the appearance of evil* tries to tell on him (yes, this has happened).
And I give him the benefit of the doubt. And he lets me ask questions about anything, always. And he listens to my concerns and we defer to each other. And that’s it. There’s no affair-proofing here. Because we both know we’re not above affairs. And we both know car rides won’t be the impetus for an affair. And we both realize it’s not our job to keep the other person from having an affair.
And while we’re at it, let’s remember…
Women Aren’t the Enemy
So often the Billy Graham Rule makes it seem like women, in particular, are just lying in wait to snag the unsuspecting male as he innocently tries to wrap up a casual work lunch. This just isn’t the case. And when we exclude women from one-on-one encounters with men, especially in the church, it tends to sideline them.
Now look, my husband is young, good-looking, and one of the kindest men I’ve ever met. He’s had women act inappropriately toward him. So, with these women he’s more careful. He puts up boundaries and sticks to them. He lets me and someone else know about his interactions with her. And then he goes about his business without extrapolating that all women are out to seduce him.
But What About?
But what about all those pastors we see in the news who’ve had affairs? Well, that’s why I say that we aren’t affair-proofing our marriage. I know my husband could have an affair. And so could I. I just don’t think that a hard and fast rule against being alone with the opposite sex is the solution to the problem.
Instead we must search our hearts and know ourselves. We must allow Jesus to mold us into his own image. We must allow him to root out pride and selfishness and lust. We must put our spouses before ourselves. We must prioritize our marriage and guard our thoughts. Because becoming more like Jesus is always the best way to avoid any sin.
What do you think about the Billy Graham Rule? How do you prioritize your marriage?
*A note on the appearance of evil.
The idea that we are supposed to avoid every appearance of evil comes from the misinterpretation of 1 Thess. 5:22. In the KJV, it’s written to “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” The NIV and other more modern translations, more correctly write, “Reject every kind of evil.” The idea isn’t to avoid the appearance of evil, but every kind of evil. Which is good. Because avoiding the appearance of evil would be exhausting and impossible since everyone has a different idea of what the apperance of evil entails.