Part 2- Kingdom Culture over "Church Culture" (or Part 2- The Problem with the "Billy Graham rule")
By Eileen Slattery Berglund
A few months ago, the issue of men and women working, meeting, or eating alone together resurfaced. Mike Pence, VP of USA, stated that he followed what many call the “Billy Graham rule” and he would never dine alone with any other female besides his wife. It does make me wonder if he would eat alone with his sister, if he even has one, but I digress.
The cyber world blew up with responses from advocates of both sides. Many congratulated him for his stance to err on the side of protecting his marriage and avoiding undue false accusations or true temptation. Others criticized him for his choices and reasoning, saying this was a complete bias and insult to women everywhere.
This issue didn’t start with Mike Pence, and it won’t end with him either. However, it certainly gives us a good starting point for a much needed discussion of this whole topic within the church. This is Part 2 of what will be a 4 part series. If you haven’t yet read Part 1, you can do so here. Once you’ve done that and we’re all “on the same page”, let’s move on to our next part- What we can learn from how Jesus interacted with and treated women.
Picture this imagined scene: Jesus is standing by the Sea of Galilee talking to a woman. They are having a private conversation, noone else is really around. Suddenly, a middle aged Jewish man, we’ll go ahead and even call him a Pharisee, comes over a hill and sees the two of them together. Shocked, the man calls out to Jesus, “Run!” Or wait, maybe he calls out to the woman, “Get away from Him- what are you doing?!”
And then, in this made up scenario, picture their responses. Actually, picture Jesus’ response. I don’t know about you, but I think Jesus may have just rolled his eyes a bit as he let out that deep sigh. He certainly isn’t running away. He stays put and continues to talk to the woman, assuring her she does not need to let those words limit their upright interaction.
We’ll look at actual Biblical scripture in a minute, but seriously, it is helpful to pause and imagine how Jesus would respond. His character and integrity is consistent and it allows us to speculate on that age old question WWJD? I think of someone trying to tell Jesus He shouldn’t meet alone with a woman. I can imagine him looking beyond what they had just said and responding instead to the root of their problem. (Kind of like He did in John 8:1-11, when the adulteress woman was brought before Him.) I can imagine responses along the lines of “you have no need to operate out of fear” or “it is not the woman that is unclean, it is your own heart” or “don’t you understand how brothers and sisters interact in a family?”
Of course, all of those responses are indeed just creations of my own sanctified imagination. Luckily, we can go into scripture to see how Jesus himself interacted with and treated women. Did he talk to them? And if so, did he talk to them about important things? Did he meet with them alone? Did he touch them? Did he follow the “rules” that were set by the other Jewish men at the time?
Jesus most definitely spoke to women. While we are not debating “if men and women can speak to each other” as part of the “Billy Graham rule” evaluation, this point is relevant because this act alone went radically against the cultural norm of the time. Not only did Jesus speak to women, he allowed them to speak to Him, and He listened and responded to what they had to say. Oftentimes, this took place in larger group settings with other people around. Sometimes, however, it took place as a one on one meeting, a private conversation where Jesus was alone with a woman.
We see an example of this in John 4:7-26 when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. Basically, if there was ever an example of who might qualify as “a woman a man should not be alone with,” it was this woman. Yet it is precisely, this woman, that Jesus meets with alone and unencumbered. Here’s the passage:
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty
again,14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with
a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him. (John 4:7-30)
Can I just highlight the second part of v27 for a minute?
“No one (of the disciples) asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking to her?”
Why is that even worth mentioning? Why is that verse even in the Bible? It really is quite an amazing verse in my opinion. On one hand, we see earlier in that same verse that the disciples were “surprised” to see Jesus talking with a woman. On the other hand, nobody really even questioned it.
I believe it is because they knew who Jesus was. They knew His character. They knew His heart. They knew that He didn’t always “follow the rules” and yet, they knew He always acted uprightly. As His disciples, they were beginning to understand that His Kingdom was available to all, and that advancing the Kingdom would require new approaches, approaches that might go against tradition.
As we look at the applications of the “Billy Graham rule” we can see that most of the church has bought into this man made rule and it has become the tradition, even pride, of many. In other words, there is a large segment of the evangelical church that sincerely believes that the best approach to preserve marital fidelity and avoid the appearance of evil is for men to avoid ever being alone with a woman other than their wife. (I would interject that I think most of these people would also agree that a woman should not be alone with any man other than her husband, though it is usually presented as a man’s responsibility and duty to avoid the woman and not the other way around.)
As I mentioned in Part 1, while the motive for the “rule” is definitely well intentioned, the application of the rule is, at best, unnecessary and awkward, and, at worst, really harmful. In Part 3 we will elaborate on this greatly, but for now, let’s stick with Jesus and how his example factors into this all.
We know that Jesus never sinned. We also know that while here on Earth, he operated only in his humanity and not his deity. In other words, He is our example of what we are to look like. He is our example of what is possible. He is our example of how we should live and relate to others. We are given the ability to do this through the Holy Spirit.
If Jesus never sinned, and Jesus was willing to go against cultural norms and man made rules to include women in His Kingdom, then we must accept that and model that. As believers, we are sons and daughters of God. That makes us brothers and sisters in the family of Christ. I don’t want to be too blunt, but I need to say something clearly here. In a normal family, brothers and sisters are not a sexual temptation to each other. In a normal family, brothers and sisters can play alone together. In a normal family, parents are not thrown into utter turmoil if they end up having a boy and a girl who will now have to interact in the family home. Of course, there are abuses to this in the real world, and it is nothing short of horrible. But in general, in a healthy, even not so healthy, family, these things are hardly ever a factor.
Likewise, in the church, there will be cases of infidelity. There will be cases of sexual harassment and even false accusations. However, we cannot craft an entire operating procedure around these exceptions to normal. (We can, and most certainly should, deal with those exceptions, and guard against them in other ways. See Part 3 & 4 as we talk about what some of these are.) Instead, we should look to Jesus and to the scriptures to craft our approach.
There are numerous examples in scripture of God as our Father. By extension, we also see many references to those of us who believe as being sons and daughters of God. Jesus Himself, referred to fellow believers as brothers and sisters. We are the family of God. It is within this structure that we should craft our functioning. It should not be weird, or scandalous, for a brother and sister to work alongside one another. It should not be odd to find a brother mentoring a younger sister or an older sister teaching a younger brother. We must remove the sexualization of all male-female relationships. Men and women can indeed be friends, co-workers, and colleagues while still maintaining self control and maintaining purity of conscience and body.
When we assume, as this “Billy Graham rule” does, that any interaction alone with the opposite sex is going to be riddled with temptation, lust and accusations, we totally ignore God’s word to treat each other as brothers and sisters. When I get together with my biological brothers I never think they are “hitting on me” or “attracted to me” because they are not. When I invite my family over to swim in our pool, I never see my brothers “checking me out” or being tempted by the sight of me in a bathing suit, because they are not. There is an unspoken understanding from the beginning of our time together that we are brothers and sisters, we are family, and because of that, we will think and behave a certain way. We ride in the car together, we eat together, we go to movies together and there’s never a problem. For the record, I assume the same of my spiritual brothers (and sisters) unless Holy Spirit has alerted me to something that would cause me to change that assumption.
Now, when we move back to talk about the Body of Christ, we must acknowledge that as believers we all have the Holy Spirit living within us. This Holy Spirit was given to us as a deposit of our salvation when we first believed. So when we officially became a son or daughter of God, we also got the Holy Spirit. There has never been a time that we were brothers and sisters in the church when we didn’t also have the power of the Holy Spirit at our disposal. The Holy Spirit bears fruit in our life too which is manifested as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control.
When Billy Graham decided for himself that he should completely avoid any alone time with women other than his wife, that was his choice to make. However, when we assume that every other man (or woman) should act the same way, we are unnecessarily limiting brothers and sisters in Christ.
This doesn’t mean that we should cast all care to the wind, or throw away the discernment and wisdom that is also from Holy Spirit. I will simply say, once again, that there is a better way. Jesus Himself did not follow this rule nor do we see any commands or advice to us in scripture to this effect. We do see plenty of other advice and commands that we should apply so that when we do meet with others we can do our best to ensure it will be upright and holy.
It is my belief that the Body, the family, of Christ needs to make this shift away from man made rules and toward God centered, Spirit filled holiness. These rules that were created to avoid causing damage, are actually causing damage, albeit in a different way.
Stay tuned for Parts 3 & 4 as we discuss some of these damaging results and also offer some better solutions.