Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.
-I Corinthians 6:18, NKJV
The news and social media is abuzz with revelation that VP Mike Pence does not eat alone with women or attend events where alcohol is served without his wife present–i.e. a rough rending of a rule popularized by Rev. Billy Graham’s longstanding practice to avoid falling to sexual temptation or the improper appearance of such.
Whatever your politics as a Christian, we ought to applaud Pence and his wife for taking fidelity in their marriage seriously.
We might disagree upon the means–more on that later–but critics too often loose sight of this very noble motivation behind these actions.
We ought to applaud politicians who are genuinely trying to honor their marriage vows and not mock or mercilessly criticize them for doing so!
As an evangelical pastor, this rule isn’t shocking to me. I have been aware of such a “rule” since I was a teenager (now decades ago). “The Billy Graham Rule” might be new information for the mainstream culture, but it is hardly so to anyone growing up in the evangelical-subculture.
So, it is not shocking to me that a prominent, self-identified evangelical in politics would adhere to this particular rule.
That said, I do have several issues with “The Billy Graham Rule:”
1. Following such a rule teaches –or, minimally, reinforces–a mentality that members of the opposite sex (and only the opposite sex) are threats rather than people.
This fosters an unhealthy–and ungodly, IMO–sexuality where one lives in fear as opposed to relationship with others. It is dehumanizing.
Women–if you are a male pastor following this rule–are reduced to threats to your ministry first and foremost. Now, it is true that they may be threats, but that is a rather broad-brush to use on a whole gender.
2. Rule following fosters false security.
Rules might govern external behavior, but they do not govern the heart, which is the origin of the problem (see Mark 7:21-23). A Christian husband could follow this rule yet still be unfaithful to his wife in his heart.
If rules were enough, then we would not have needed Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Ten Commandments would have sufficed.
My ex-wife was big into rules. I remember her asking me for a set of rules for engaging in relationships with other men.
One of those rules we agreed to was that we would not meet or eat alone with a member of the opposite gender for social reasons except in public.
Obviously, such rules did not prevent my marriage from being ravaged by infidelity. In fact, the rule created situations where the letter of the law was followed but not the spirit.
I remember this rule being invoked as “proving” the innocence of a meeting with a strange man in a strange city for lunch was okay even after her own brother had called her out on that behavior as inappropriate.
The rule was followed. They did not eat alone but in a public setting together. Yet, she knew it was wrong, IMO. After all, why hide that meeting from your husband for days if it was truly and completely innocent?
3. Rules are poor substitutes for maturity and character.
It is true that some people cannot handle freedom wisely. That is an argument for binding oneself with a rule. However, I think it is sad if that is where such ends.
We ought to be encouraging growth into maturity as opposed to staying stagnant in immaturity.
For example, some people need to be told that drinking alcohol at bars multiple nights a week away from your spouse is not wise married behavior. They might need a rule protecting them from the stupidity that often comes with such foolish behavior.
However, a wise, mature spouse with integrity–i.e. character–does not need a rule to recognize such behavior as foolish and potentially highly destructive to their marriage union. They understand that regularly putting yourself in an environment where inhibitions are lowered and people are looking for sexual partners–irregardless of marital statuses–is a very bad idea.
We live in a free country. VP Pence is free to follow “The Billy Graham Rule” if that is what he wants to do. I am thankful that he values his marriage vows.
But I think it is high time that evangelical pastors call out this practice as less than the highest ideal for Christian-living in public figures.
Rules govern via fear. That is not the abundant life God has for us (see I John 4:8).
The better way is to be govern by love of God and one’s spouse.
Would this hurt my spouse? Or do I think God would be dishonored by this meeting (or NOT having this meeting)?