Why I Am in Favor of the “Billy Graham Rule”
There has been considerable controversy in the Christian community over the “Billy Graham Rule”. Some say that is oppressive, misogynistic and demonizes women, others say that it protects everyone involved. So here it is as it should be stated: “Never be alone, in private, with a member of the opposite sex other than your spouse”. The Billy Graham rule is not: “A man should never be alone with a woman because she might seduce him” (which is a total misunderstanding of it).
“Alone and in private” means just that: it means closed doors, private conversations, and no accountability. When Jesus met Mary alone in the garden, He was in a public place. Anyone could have come along. There was accountability. The same applies to His interaction with the Samaritan woman. Jesus was never alone behind closed doors with someone of the opposite sex.
It applies to both men and women who are in the ministry and to some others in public life (such as Mike Pence). It may or may not apply to those working outside of Christian ministry.
The Billy Graham Rule is a sensible personal precaution for those of us in the ministry. It is generally not a matter of moral vs. immoral; rather it is a matter of wise vs. unwise. It is a personal principle that you apply in your own life and not something that you can use to beat up on other people.
The Billy Graham Rule does not prohibit friendship and professional collegiality between men and women. Normal conversation and friendship are fine. Here are the biblical and practical reasons for the Billy Graham Rule; followed by ten scenarios demonstrating its application:
1. When Paul advised young pastor Timothy on church relationships he wrote: 1 Timothy 5:1-2 ESV Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, (2) older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. Treating younger women “as sisters in all purity” is not demonizing them.
Earlier on in 1 Timothy Paul gives advice on
choosing elders and says: 1 Timothy 3:7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so
that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
In the book of Acts Peter says: Acts 6:3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.
It is impossible to fulfill the ministry requirement of having a good reputation if you get into (even innocent) situations where your sexual ethics and integrity can readily be questioned.
3. Also, a good name has a great reward: Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold
Having a good reputation in the local
community can assist with evangelism:
1 Peter 2:12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
The Bible tells us not to assume that we are
beyond sinning, and that we are to flee temptation:
1 Corinthians 6:18 ESV Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
1 Corinthians 10:12-13 ESV (12) Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (13) No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it
Proverbs 4:14-15 Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. (15) Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.
Here are some practical reasons for following the Billy Graham rule:
Social Context was vicious church gossip. Church gossip can be incredibly
destructive. People pry into the lives of clergy. As an older pastor, if I was to counsel a
25-year old woman in my church office, in private, with the door closed, then
rumors would fly around that would destroy both her life and mine. This unfortunate reality is by far the main
reason why I follow the Billy Graham rule.
A Creepy Leader - Check out the difference between the following scenarios
where a pastor says:
A. “Alice (young worship leader) let’s go down to Starbucks for lunch to talk about your next few services.”
B. “Alice, grab Jenny, and we will all go down to Starbucks for lunch to talk about the next few services.”
Most women are far more comfortable with scenario B. It is just part of “not being creepy” and creates trust.
3. Unstable Individuals both male and female - Unstable and highly dependent individuals can fly into a rage, make false accusations, and engage in erratic or even potential legally consequential behavior. Unless there is a window in the office door, or some other way of verifying things, the minister can end up with a lot of explaining to do. This is more common than you think.
– a young woman alone, in private, in a pastor’s office, with a much older man,
is at a very significant psychological power disadvantage. If the door is
opened a bit, or has a window pane in it, or the conversation is in an open
area or if there is a third party, then the experienced power differential is
Offense – in some nations being alone in private with a member of the
opposite sex is so incredibly offensive that the visiting minister involved would
be put on the next plane home to the USA. This cultural aspect is also relevant
in an increasingly multi-cultural USA.
Attraction, Emotional Transference and Emotional Counter-Transference: extended in-private counseling by women of
men, or men of women, can end up with strange dynamics that include a wide
range of emotions, from adulation, to dependency, to falling in love, to
intense hatred. If this occurs life can get unnecessarily complicated.
7. Actual Seduction – which is fortunately
quite rare. However, it is so
catastrophic that it needs to be considered. In today’s highly sexualized society, Christian
men and women can be involved in porn, seduction games, adultery and the
hook-up culture. It is not only women
who are seductive! The male sexual ego can also be predatory.
8. Just Being Safe -We are used to mandating safety precautions with adults who work with minors. Most parents appreciate these precautions. Are we thereby demonizing or sexualizing children? Not at all! We are just being safe. It is important to be safe and also to make others feel safe. This now includes being appropriate in relationships between members of the opposite sex.For Those Not in The Ministry
The Billy Graham Rule may not be terribly useful outside of the context of Christian ministry. If you are doing scientific research and running an experiment late into the evening and the only other person in the building is a colleague of the opposite sex, you do not have to flee the area! That would just be weird. In some circumstances, it could even get you fired. In a sales job such as real estate it would be restrictive. Just use common sense and safety.
Ten Common Scenarios
Alone at Home with A Tradesperson: Most reputable firms will never send just one tradesperson, rather they will send the tradesperson along with an offsider to protect both themselves and you from legal misunderstandings. Ask: “are you sending one person or two”; and if the tradesperson is arriving alone then say: “My significant other is not comfortable with that, may we reschedule to a time when my husband/wife is here at home with me”.
Sharing a Hotel Room on a Business Trip: Even if nothing happens you will destroy your spouse’s trust in you.
Long Car Rides: A lady posted on Twitter that her husband drove a female colleague, known for her affairs, home after a meeting. He was alone with her in the car for five and a half hours. He did not go into her house. He claimed nothing happened. Yet the wife’s trust was broken and she was hurting very deeply.
The Front Seat: I know a pastor who does not let anyone except his wife sit in the front seat of the car with him driving. My wife thinks this is just awesome and so do a lot of other women. They believe that it demonstrates Rey’s respect for his wife.
Parties: If, during a party, you disappear into a side room, alone with a person of the opposite sex, and say you were just praying/counseling/getting away from the noise, then few will believe you! Your credibility will be zero.
Texting: Some texting is obviously innocent and Ok. Other texting, such as sexting, is obviously flat out wrong. What about other cases such as: a) extended emotional sharing by text b) using a special encrypted app such as Telegram c) immediately deleting the texts between the two of you? My wife knows the pin code on my phone. She can check my phone at any time and is free to ask about anything she wants.
The Church Car Park: You see people chatting together, long after services, at night, in the church car park. Sometimes they are both sitting in the same car, sharing and praying. I think it would be very unwise for a married person to do this with anyone other than their spouse.
The Toxic Flirt: Toxic flirts (both male and female) set up “situations” which involve flirting followed by savage and destructive accusation. This is covered in the book Games People Play by Eric Berne. Joseph’s encounter with Potiphar’s wife and her ensuing rage and destruction of Joseph’s life probably belongs in this category.
They Call You a Legalist: Some may call you a legalist or a fundamentalist and claim that you are objectifying women. They will act as if they are highly offended and that they are way more “spiritual” than you. This is the least of your problems! These accusers tend to really enjoy flirting and they fear losing their source of fun. People with strong sexual egos cannot bear to be denied the affirmation that comes from flirting. As for you, just follow the path of wisdom, holiness and sanctification! You are not in the ministry for the approval of the world.
An Unavoidable Situation – What if there is no sensible alternative? For instance, I can spend many hours visiting at an ICU and sometimes be left alone with a grieving female family member. This is a perfectly normal life situation. The priority is to make the other person feel safe and at ease by being tactful, neutral, kind and professional. Common sense and social skills are enough.
The Billy Graham Rule is a wise personal precaution, aimed at those in Christian ministry or public life, that can save you from trouble, dishonor and accusation. Yes, it can be awkward and you will be criticized by some for following it. However, many will also respect you. It is not a tool for judging others. It is to be mixed with decency, courtesy and common sense. It is not patriarchal and it works both ways. Women in ministry should follow the Billy Graham Rule as well as men.
© Copyright, John Edmiston, 2022, may be used freely for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way.
John Edmiston is the CEO of Cybermissions and the author of Biblical EQ: How To Become An Emotionally Intelligent Christian