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The Truth Behind Mike Pence and the Billy Graham Rule

If John Edwards had followed the Billy Graham Rule, he could have been President of the United States.

If Bill Clinton had followed the Billy Graham Rule, none of us would know the name Monica Lewinsky, and he wouldn’t have been the second president ever impeached.

If Newt Gingrich followed the rule, he wouldn’t have been labeled a hypocrite for his role in those impeachment hearings.

And the list could go on and on to include athletes, executives, and pastors, alike. Yet this week, when an article about Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, mentioned in one sentence that, “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either,” a firestorm was set off.

The extreme, leftist media pounced. “Mike Pence is sexist.” “Mike Pence must not be able to control himself.” “Those who follow this rule are misguided.” I would give more examples, but it just gets disgusting beyond that.

Pence’s stance is called the Billy Graham Rule, a boundary my wife and I have also followed throughout our marriage. Its name comes from the famous evangelist who would never travel alone, nor would he ever be alone with a woman other than his wife. Graham’s rule came after a time in Paris when he got separated from his ministry partner and ended up in what amounted to a trap – a “damsel in distress” who stripped naked and attempted to seduce him. From that point on, not only would he not ever be alone with a woman. He wouldn’t travel alone – period.

Those who call this sexist or misguided are themselves being lazy in their argument. A hasty attempt to politicize a common-sense approach to setting healthy boundaries causes them to miss these five important points.

  1. The rule should be followed by women and men, alike. The first time I was personally exposed to this boundary was by a woman I worked with – not a man. Employees where we worked had been asked to park across the street from our facility to make room for those coming for an event. It was pouring rain, so I asked a female co-worker for a ride to my car when the day was done. She politely declined. I found it a little strange but simply got a ride with someone else. The next day she honestly explained why. After a relationship with a male co-worker at her last job slowly developed from platonic to inappropriate via conversations alone in the car, she set a boundary that she would never be alone with a male other than her husband. I wasn’t offended, and it wasn’t sexist of her. It was common sense, and I appreciated that.
  2. The boundary is as much about appearance as it is temptation. One of Billy Graham’s fears was that he could be accused of doing something by someone wanting to tear him down, and if no one else was around how could he defend that? And if you don’t think there are people actively trying to tear down our politicians, religious leaders, and others, you are naive. The Bible says it this way, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” and “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless.” It’s why this rule is about so much more than just not being alone with a man or a woman. It’s about not being alone in situations where you could be accused of anything or fall to any temptation, period! Why is this such a bad thing?! Sounds like wisdom to me.
  3. The rule doesn’t limit advancement for women. An argument I’ve seen over and over is this rule prevents women from having opportunities to advance professionally. How ridiculous. This lazy argument assumes only men can help women advance or that only men follow this boundary and that women shouldn’t or don’t. Furthermore, following this boundary wouldn’t mean never meeting with women. First, simply adding a third party is all it would take, male or female. This safeguard helps to keep the conversation professional rather than personal, which is where relational boundaries begin crossing. Second, if a one-on-one meeting is required, simply do so in public where others in your accountability circle are present and know the purpose of the meeting. For example, just yesterday I met alone with a female employee for a brief meeting. But it was in an office complex with 10 other people present. The door was cracked. The meeting was on my calendar, which is visible to my wife and staff, and her campus pastor knew we were meeting. And ironically enough, the conversation was about her advancing in our organization.
  4. Grace – not legalism – leads the way. I love what Andy Stanley says about boundaries (and I’m paraphrasing how I remember it), “A good boundary is one that can be broken and nothing is lost.” I experienced this two years ago. My flight landed in another state where I was meeting the rest of our staff to lead a conference. In the midst of the busyness preparing for the conference to begin, a female staffer was sent alone to pick me up. I didn’t refuse to get in the van. I didn’t cause a scene. In fact, I didn’t say a word. I got in the van and texted my wife and texted my accountability partners. “Just want y’all to know the situation required our boundary to be broken. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” No harm, no foul. Nobody was mad. Nobody was legalistically punished. But everyone knew it was the exception, not the rule. Grace led the way.
  5. It’s common sense! 85% of affairs begin in the workplace. Let that sink in for a minute. And the vast majority of those didn’t start the first time two people were alone. It’s a tale as old as time that goes like this. Simple, innocent conversation slowly crosses the line from professional to personal. Instead of just talking professionally, over time we begin sharing personal details, like how hard married life is or the fight that happened last night. Then later come the compliments and empathy. “I can’t believe your wife doesn’t realize what a great man you are.” And slowly, like a frog boiling in water we end up in a place we never wanted to be. There’s only one way to guarantee that never happens – don’t ever get in the water.

Acting as if Mike Pence – or any other person – follows this rule because he might find himself unable to resist a woman in any one-on-one setting or sees all women as sexual objects is beyond ludicrous and immature. Whether you agree with his policies or not, I hope you can agree that the example he sets in this arena is one that could save heartache after heartache.

The Billy Graham Rule is one that I and the staff of OneLife have followed from the very beginning, and one we won’t soon stop following going forward. I’d challenge you to ask yourself this question: why wouldn’t you want to do the same?

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