With recent allegations of indiscretion against a prominent megachurch pastor, some Christian leaders have doubled down on the so-called Billy Graham Rule, which dictates that men and women should never meet alone.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president Danny Akin tweeted, “A valuable lesson we all can learn from this tragic situation: follow the @BillyGraham rule. If you are married, never be alone with someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse. Never!”
This rule, in its most pristine form, renders male-female friendships impossible. However unintentionally, it communicates to women that they are fundamentally dangerous. And it bars men from meaningful mentorship or pastoral care of women and vice-versa.
I, for one, give thanks for the many men I know who broke the Billy Graham Rule.
My life has been enriched by male friends, mentors, coworkers, and collaborators. My husband has female friends as well and, for that, I am glad. And my husband and I are priests so we need to meet with the opposite sex often to do our job well. (But even if we weren’t, we’d likely need to meet with the opposite sex to do any job well).
Yet, I understand the motivation behind the Billy Graham Rule: a healthy and honest fear of falling into adultery, a sin as massively destructive as it is common. (The rule itself draws from Graham’s “Modesto Manifesto,” a broader set of guidelines the evangelist used to safeguard his ministry against scandal.)
One could argue the Billy Graham Rule is as natural as buckling our seatbelt in our car. It is actually wise to take measures to protect ourselves from things that can destroy us, whether it be a vehicular fatality or a one-night stand. It is not foolish or sexist to know your weakness and to flee temptation.
Yet, I’d submit that the Billy Graham Rule is less like buckling a seatbelt and more akin to refusing to share the road with anyone else (and then claiming that’s the only truly safe way to drive).
It shuts down relationships to protect oneself from the wreckage of sin and puts the burden of that primarily on others—namely on women, who are less welcome in male spaces. (Not to mention the confusion it poses for those who are same-sex attracted: Are they supposed to avoid friendships with either sex to ward off all possible temptation?)
So how do we deal with the inherent tension of wanting to preserve appropriate male-female relationships and also wanting to avoid sin and impropriety in those relationships? How do men and women cultivate self-control, trustworthiness, and transparency and take up practices that nudge them toward healthy relationships and boundaries?
Between legalism and license lies the messier space of wisdom and cultivation of virtue. It is in that space where we—as individuals and in relationships—flourish. People need meaningful relationships with members of the opposite sex, and they need them to be safe, honoring, and full of integrity.
Here, I’ll offer some practices that my husband and I have taken up together. They fall in the realm of wisdom and prudence, not iron-clad law, not one-size-fits-all. This is in no way a rule, much less an edict from on high. Most of these practices developed organically. (We didn’t even know they were “our practices,” until I asked my husband last week, “Hey, what are the things we do to try to exercise wisdom in opposite-sex relationships?”)
The point of these practices is not only to guard against adultery but to build intimacy and trust in our marriage. These are part of the warp and woof of trying to love both each other and our community together:
1. We are careful about staying close to each other and talking a lot. (If we are legalists about anything on this list, it’s having frequent date nights—and that is a pretty fun thing to be a legalist about.) On date nights, we intentionally share how we are doing and what’s happening in our hearts.
2. We have no secrets. Period. World without end. Amen. Our kids know this mantra and use it against us at Christmastime.
3. I know all his passwords and vice-versa. We have no privacy. Privacy is overrated.
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Source: Christianity Today