Part 3- How the "Billy Graham rule" Hurts Both Men and Women.
By Eileen Slattery Berglund
(This article is Part 3 in a series examining the substance, history, and application of the “Billy Graham rule.” Parts 1 & 2 can be found on the blog home page.)
The other day I ran into a friend at the grocery store. A male friend. A male, married friend. We said hi and gave each other a hug. (an actual hug, not a side hug). We then talked for a while. A couple minutes later, we passed each other in a different aisle and chatted some more. I told him about the wildlife that seems to be using our pool as their final resting place. He told me a gross story about a time that an opossum found their hot tub. It wasn’t pretty. We laughed and continued on our separate ways. Everything was normal.
Now imagine if my friend paused me until he called his wife and put her on speakerphone so she could hear the conversation. How weird would that be? I’d be thinking, what’s up? What do you think I’m going to say to you? Why are you so afraid of what I might say to you? Wouldn’t you be able to just handle whatever it is I say to you? Couldn’t you just call your wife later? Why do you have to tell me that you have to call her? Why have you taken a normal situation and suddenly made it all awkward and semi-creepy? You do realize we are in a grocery store, right? What in the world do you think/fear is going to happen?
Another time, when I was on a Board of Directors, the male head of the ministry needed to meet with me. We set up a time to meet at a Panera midway between our home towns. We greeted each other, ordered some food, sat at a table for two, and conducted our business while we ate. We talked, we strategized, we went over numbers, we may have even laughed from time to time. When it was done, we said goodbye and left in our separate cars to return to our separate homes. Everything was normal and the meeting was productive and helped propel the ministry in the proper direction.
Can you imagine if we had to halt everything until our spouses were available to come along? Or can you imagine our spouses sitting there awkwardly while we talked through such scandalous things as budget numbers and upcoming events? If we were following the famed “Billy Graham rule” this meeting and others like it would have never happened and God’s Kingdom work would have been crippled.
While I’ve just given two examples, both personal and ministry, of times where men in my life have functioned really well, sadly these two are exceptions to the norm…wonderful, great exceptions, but exceptions nonetheless. What I think many men, especially in the church, fail to realize is just how demeaning their behavior and so called “rules” can be to women.
This is not just my opinion. Countless women have written and talked to me about this issue. Some of them have said things like:
“When I encounter this kind of stuff in my work, it makes me angry. It's off-putting. It puts up a wall. And immediately puts me on the defensive. Imagine doing this in the workplace. If women are going to be able to work and offer their gifts and services, they can't constantly have to deal with this sort of thing. I feel that it's not enough that women be accepted for their valid place in the pulpit, but if we are truly going to be able to walk out God's plans for us and fulfill our roles, we can't constantly have to navigate through these kinds of issues. As a minister, I have to be able to work with men and women alike. It would be different if I was being unprofessional in some way.” (Woman Pastor of over 20 years)
“He appreciates her leadership skills so much in the ministry and yet doesn’t recognize the extreme disconnect this creates with his views on male only leadership in the church. Sadly, even some of our best Christian men have this blind spot. The other blind spot is with the 'Billy Graham Rule.” I respect men for wanting to protect their marriages but they don't see the harm this legalistic rule does to women, especially in leadership, while single, or in professional settings. I would suggest any man considering the rule apply it to himself in reverse first. He should choose to exclude himself from any private meetings with male professional colleagues/bosses or envision doing so and see the opportunities he would be missing. There are better ways to set boundaries, and it starts with knowing your own heart.” (Distinguished female professional)
These are just two recent examples though I could cite hundreds. When we take the family of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, and view it as a large incestuous disaster just waiting to happen, we have gone insanely mad.
I am baffled that, as believers, we have forgotten that we have the Holy Spirit living within us. We have forgotten that we “have the mind of Christ”. We have forgotten that we are not to “live and move and have our being” in the ways of the world, but rather that we are to keep in step with Holy Spirit. We have forgotten that we are not to assume the worst of one another, but rather to think the best. We have forgotten that when temptation does come, we can flee it. We have forgotten that in order to properly display the image of God and communicate the heart of God and fulfill His mandate to us, we need both male and female working together side by side.
To be clear, I understand that on a “per individual” basis, some personal rules or guidelines or boundaries may need to be put into place for a season or for a lifetime. That is not what I, and many others, are talking about. We’re talking about how this perpetual “guideline,” based on fear, accusation, and spiritual immaturity, is being taught over and over and over again in our churches, youth groups, Sunday school, life groups, and Sunday morning sermons as if it were commanded by God. We have let the perverted sexualized view present in the world infiltrate and dictate our approach to living in the church. And that is backwards. We are to use God’s word to us and Jesus’ example to model our living and relational interactions. We are to be set apart and are called to be a holy people. Not only are we to be a holy people, but a holy and united people….not a “holy as long as we keep the genders separated” people.
I want to end by saying a heartfelt thank you to all the men in my life who have treated me as a normal, non-threatening person. To all the Christian men who truly view me as a sister in Christ- one they can count on, trust in, work with, laugh with, disagree with, learn from and speak intelligently and honorably with- thank you. I pray you will all continue to model and speak up for the family of Christ and the unity we are to exhibit. Thank you for not being afraid that I will hit on you or seduce you or ruin you or your marriage. I am using “I” as I type these thank you’s, but believe me, I am speaking for many women out there.
To those of you who haven’t treated me in that honoring way, those of you who are afraid to engage with me, or other women like me, for reasons attached solely to my gender, let me just say, “Don’t worry, I’ll live,” but I think some of you might be grieving the Holy Spirit.
All I’m really writing this for is to ask everyone to please read through this whole series and examine your heart, your mind, and your actions. Are you working out of a scriptural understanding or are you just following the “church crowd”? Are you following Jesus’ example of how he interacted with women or are you following someone else’s example?
We can do better, church.
We can be a family.
We can love one another without fear.