Is the ‘Billy Graham’ rule a good thing?

Kate Wharton, who is Vicar of St Bart’s, Roby in Liverpool Diocese, wrote a very helpful reflection on the so-called ‘Billy Graham’ rule. I republish it here with her permission.

Hmm. I’ve been meaning for ages to blog about this, but never quite got round to it. I think today’s the day, although I realise it’ll not be without controversy!

That source of all true and accurate knowledge, Wikipedia, says:

The Billy Graham rule is a practice among some male evangelical Protestant leaders, in which they avoid spending time alone with women to whom they are not married. It is adopted as a display of integrity, a means of avoiding sexual temptation, to avoid any appearance of doing something considered morally objectionable, and to avoid being accused of sexual harassment or assault. The rule has been named after Billy Graham, who was one of the early proponents of the practice. More recently, it has also been called the Mike Pence rule, after a US Vice President who also supported the idea.

I guess right at the start, before I go on to criticise the Rule (because you better believe I’m going to criticise it!), I should say that I absolutely get where it’s coming from, and what it’s seeking to avoid, and the desire for honour and holiness which lies behind it. I just don’t think that it goes about it in the right way.

I understand how it came about, as part of a wider rule called the ‘Modesty Manifesto,’ since Billy Graham and others were seeking to hold one another to the highest standard, and to ensure that nothing about how they behaved could be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

It’s also worth saying of course that there may be times when a woman wishes to enforce her own version of this rule, because she needs to keep safe and to feel safe, and that’s absolutely fine. I’m talking her about when this is enforced upon women.

Of course as Christians we need to live with the utmost integrity in our relationships. Of course we need not just to live that way, but also clearly to be seen by the outside world to be living that way. We’re called to be chaste, to be pure, to be above reproach. The Bible calls married people to live faithfully within marriage, and single people to be celibate. I absolutely support, endorse and uphold that standard.

And equally, of course we have to be realistic about the world in which we live, about the temptations we all face, about the sinful behaviour to which we are all prone. We all need to be honourable in our relationships, to steer clear of temptation, and to make wise choices.

I’m not naive about this. I have witnessed far too many marriages, families and churches torn apart by sexual sin. This stuff really, really matters. The thing is, it actually matters *too much* to be neatly packaged away in a ‘rule’. And not just any rule, but a rule which demeans and degrades everyone. A rule which casts the man in the role of weak willed robot, slave to his desires, incapable of withstanding temptation or resisting feminine wiles. A rule which casts the woman in the role of sultry temptress, who with one wink of her eye can draw the man into sin. It’s like a cross between a low budget Channel 5 romance and a shampoo advert. Surely we can all do better?

Tish Harrison Warren has written an article about this in Christianity Today, where she says this:

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 have some great male friends. Some of them are married, some are not. If they are married, I always make sure that I get to know their spouse too. In most cases I know and am friends with both, and see both together. Sometimes though, I might spend time with just the man. There’s my friend who I sometimes go out with for curry and beer. He’s basically the big brother I never had. We have a laugh, and set the world to rights. He’s got a brain the size of a planet, and is right an annoying amount of the time (but not as often as he thinks he is!). I adore his wife too, and his kids, but sometimes I just want to go for a curry with him.

It’s right and proper, of course, to be careful about how this all works. With my big-brother friend mentioned above, I’d always want to make sure that his wife knew when we were going out. I also have a rule that I wouldn’t ever stay overnight in a house where there was only a man, or have a man on his own come to stay here. That seems to me to just be sensible. Plus there’s also something about what others see—I don’t want the neighbours’ curtains twitching! Recently I was due to see some good friends after a conference, have dinner with them, and stay overnight. At the last minute, the wife had to go away. So I still went to the conference, still had dinner with the husband, and then got the train home. Would it have been perfectly safe and chaste and above board if I’d stayed overnight? Absolutely. Was it the right decision to come home? I think so. Because it’s important to have rules, and boundaries, and to be wise.

There have been numerous occasions in my life when I’ve had a one to one meeting or conversation with a man. Some of these have been about pastoral care (one way or another). Some have been about supervision (likewise). Some have been planning meetings. Some have been to do with mentoring/counselling/spiritual direction. Some have been social events. My life (and, dare I suggest, their lives) would have been much poorer had those meetings and conversations never taken place.

So I definitely think it’s wise to have some boundaries, and to have thought them through in advance so that everyone’s clear. But for me the problem with the BG/MP rule is that it says ‘fire is bad’ and so removes not just matches and lighters from the house, but also all paper, cardboard and wood. And then it douses the whole place in water.

Honestly, I find it offensive. I am offended that a man would think that half an hour alone with me in a car or a meeting room or a restaurant would mean he’d immediately be led astray. (Ha! Maybe I should be flattered instead!)

I’m offended on behalf of all of the women who have been denied access to meetings and conferences, left out of the old boys’ network, and missed out on mentoring opportunities. That’s where it leads, I think, at least today, in its modern incarnation. It leads to women being denied a place at the table because everyone else around the table is male.

I’m offended on behalf of single women, since I feel like we get the raw deal here. I need friendships with couples, and I need friendships with singles. I need friendships with women and I need friendships with men. As a single woman I’m not actually attracted to every man that I meet (sorry guys!). Please don’t treat me like a threat.

But I’m also grateful, and I’m hopeful. I’m grateful for the extraordinary number of good, holy, Godly, honourable, wise, funny, kind men I know, men who are friends and colleagues and mentors to me.

And I’m hopeful that we might learn to live better together. To live lives which are pure and chaste, which honour one another and honour God. To show the world a model of loving friendship which knows that there’s more to life than sex.

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59 thoughts on “Is the ‘Billy Graham’ rule a good thing?”

  1. Excellent! This makes me think back to the time before I was married and especially to three ‘relationships’ I had with young women over a period of years. Yes, I had girlfriends but the three I am talking about were close, even intimate relationships but were neither ‘romantic’ in the classic sense nor sexual! However they were very valuable relationships to both of us and the depth of sharing and discussion was only enhanced by the sum (or was it the product??!) of the masculine and the feminine. We sort of *knew* the boundaries and were careful not to give the wrong impression despite sometimes people we knew saying, “come on something’s going on isn’t it” or the like. I have just started mentoring a lady in one of the Churches in our Benefice as she begins Reader training but order our meetings when my wife is here at the Vicarage (I am a Reader). Ironically she is the safeguarding officer for her Church! I really look forward to the privilege of accompanying her on that journey and I don’t forsee any problems in what we are doing. Of course any such ‘relationship’ engenders fondness but that can be turned to great advantage. Thank you kate and Ian! Shalom

  2. While I don’t disagree, there is more to the dynamic than viewing women as sultry temptresses and men as weak.
    It’s a basic principle of safeguarding that one shouldn’t be alone in private with someone vulnerable. It’s gatekeeping. Most people are not predators but we make it harder for predators by behaving as though they could be.
    In our society women are vulnerable to sexual abuse and coercion. Men are vulnerable to false accusations (Yes, generalisation but statistically accurate).
    In that context, the Billy Graham rule may still have a place.

  3. While there are issues with some of the ways that the Graham Rule has been applied, I think that there is a lot of wisdom within it, especially in its initially designed context. The more I’ve been involved in Christian ministry, the more I’ve come to see it.

    It doesn’t prohibit men from having female friends, even close ones (it is quite possible to enjoy such friendships in smaller, more intimate groups). It is also misleading to see it as principally being about ‘friendship’. Nor is it primarily designed for the average person. Rather, it is for men in prominent forms of ministry, especially when they have great power, influence, and charisma. It is founded on the first-hand recognition that there are some very volatile forces that can play in this area and that they needed to be handled with considerable care, responsibility, and accountability.

    When you are in such ministry, there are women who will want to get close to you and to have privileged access to you. They will often be ‘attracted’ to you in powerful ways that they probably do not understand. They can sometimes reach out to touch your body almost as a subconscious compulsion. They can open themselves up to you emotionally. They will give you extreme attention and hope for privileged attention in return. People with power and charisma have an aura that people can behave in strange ways around. I’ve seen this first-hand and I’m not especially charismatic and definitely not powerful, so I can’t imagine the sort of things Billy Graham and others like him would have experienced.

    Very attractive young women treating you in such a manner is obviously flattering, especially as there are energies at play in there that can have a—sometimes more than—subtle sexual component. Giving such a woman privileged attention when so flattered can be flattering for her. The man in such a situation can feel flattered that a highly attractive young woman is paying intense and adoring attention to him. The woman in such a situation can feel flattered that a powerful, influential, and charismatic man is giving her such privileged attention (an attention that clearly has a sexual dimension of its own) and can turn up the charm (although she almost certainly wasn’t designing to use her sexual appeal at their first encounter).

    The Billy Graham Rule is designed to put the brakes on all of this. It recognizes men’s susceptibility to such flattery and its power as a route to temptation. It recognizes the fact that many women respond emotionally to power and charisma in ways that make them vulnerable (and, in certain rarer cases, their more calculated intent to curry power and influence through their sexual appeal). It isn’t about friendship between two peers so much as managing the powerful and volatile forces at play in relationships between powerful, charismatic, and influential men and the women who want to get close to them.

  4. One update for the BG rule is that we live in a world where alone-time with a member of the opposite sex could be seen by observers as a source of gossip or scandal in a way that the BG organisation in the 1950s would never have envisaged.

  5. It was certainly a good rule for him personally to abide by.

    Why? The media, as ever.

    Consider this. In the 1930s there was a headline that Beverly Shea the young singer had been found in the gutter drunk.

    The whole article assumed Beverly was a she.

    That is how much they knew about it.

    Never let the facts get in the way of a ‘good’ story.

    The real GBS (not the playwright), Billy Graham’s sidekick as Sankey to Moodey and Charles to John, was an example of clean living and integrity and had a ministry extending over 9 decades.

    So when people are asking what works in evangelism, one preacher plus one songster plus integrity works pretty well.

    • Poor old George Beverley Shea. He didn’t last nearly as long as Billy Graham, even though he died not long ago at the age of 104. While the crowds of the 1970s and 80s were still keen to hear Billy, Bev Shea’s easy gospel style was very old-fashioned and didn’t go down well at all in the UK. Not something that Dwight L and Ira D would have stood for….

      • You could say he didn’t last nearly as long, but the truth is this. He was still recording well into his 90s – i.e. at an older age than anyone else I can name. Whether he recorded anything when over 100 I cannot say. He figured in the Gaither Graham-tribute videos. There are very few people indeed of whom your assertion ‘didn’t last…long’ is less true.

  6. As woman and retired clergyman’s wife, I think that the Billy Graham rule is needed more than ever in today’ s world. Week after week it seems, another televangelist hits the dust due to an affair with someone, and Christians, especially in leadership, cannot be too careful in their interactions with women. I think this article looks to find fault where none exists. Billy Graham in no way felt women were inferior, but he knew how temptation works and sought to avoid it. If more Christian leaders did the same, they would have a better testimony.

  7. One correction – it’s the “Modesto Manifesto”.

    It’s worth noting the context for the rule was that Billy Graham had become one of the most famous people in America. He was like an A-list celebrity or the president – always in the press, his every action scrutinised.

    So he (along with his team) created a set of principles by which his ministry would be conducted, to prevent the criticism or scandals associated with other evangelists.

    I believe it was right for him in his time, but I’m not sure how applicable it is to others.

    BUT, given the huge amount of sexual abuse that has emerged in recent years, I think we all need to be careful to avoid opportunities where someone could allege misconduct. It’s really difficult because it includes same-sex situations now.

  8. I wonder also though, if some kind of rule is necessary to protect men against false allegations for which they have limited redress.

  9. I don’t think anyone can fault Billy Graham’s desire for integrity and that he found a way to achieve that in his personal (highly unusual) circumstances of ministry.

    But I think Kate is quite right to highlight the problems that can arise where one man’s personal rule becomes more generalised. I am personally hugely grateful for all the men as well as women who have invested in me over the years in secular fields as well as in church-related situations. If men in authority in evangelical churches are afraid of spending one-on-one time with women because the relationship poses a perceived risk, they are less likely to mentor women, meaning that women will be less able to grow into their own ministries and leadership. This is a real cost – both to those women who are not given opportunities to grow into their God-given roles, and to churches which end up with silos of male leadership.

    • I think there’s a danger of portraying this as an emotional thing: ‘afraid’. I would think that is far from the truth. From the man’s point of view it is likely to be the very opposite: a *rational* and calculated on-balance decision based on the array of factors.

      • Please feel free to substitute ‘make a rational decision not to spend…’. I think the point about the potential cost still stands.

    • Granted. I’d hope & expect that there would be godly women mentors available.

      Of course Billy Graham’s circumstances were highly unusual, involving unusually long absences from home – hence his wife’s impulses of ‘Divorce: never. Murder? frequently.’.

  10. Having recently become a victim of the Billy Graham Rule, I want to highlight the effect it can (and did, in my case) have on disabled people.

    I’m visually impaired to the extent that I can’t drive or use busses without help. So by far the most common way in which people within the church have helped me over the decades has been to provide lifts; mainly to church related events, groups, other churches (where I would often be preaching), and also to local hospitals during difficult tmes when a close family member was repeatedly hospitalised. The vast majority of these lifts were from women because there are far more women in church than men and perhaps because women generally tend to be a little more thoughtful in offering? Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of lifts from different women. Never has there been any thought that a man and woman being in a car together might be a problem. On the contrary, it was the key thing churches did to help this here disabled person.

    For unrelated reasons, I had to leave one church. I felt like it was God’s timing that a new church was planted in my area at the same time. It’s very difficult to find new churches when you have problems getting to places and when you then hit all the sight-related issues that still exist within churches- so I was thankful that God spared me the agro and I soon felt like being part of this new church plant was the next step in His journey for me. I took up a number of positions of leadership… until…

    About 10 weeks ago, the pastors declared it was time to implement a form of the Billy Graham Rule. The reason for this was said not to be to avoid temptations but to avoid any chance of accusations being made, whether true or false, that might cause damage to the church. The implementation of the rule meant that all those hundreds of lifts, which had been the way churches had supported me in the past, would no longer be permitted. I would have to decline any such offer. The rule applied to all people in any form of leadership within the church, but evidently I would be the one who had to implement it most often, by turning down people’s kind offers because…!

    I suggested that their rule was based on fear. They denied that but I think I was right. The message conveyed by its implementation is one that sows distrust between men and women. It’s good to be aware of potential temptations and potential (false) accusations -and sometimes that can mean avoiding certain situations with certain people at certain times. However, I think we fail to present what I’d call a “better picture” to the world around us if we apply such legalistic relationship-damaging rules.

    I suggested that, from a Christian perspective, we should be showing the world that men and women can relate to each other like “brothers and sisters” -the labels Jesus uses of people he has called to be part of his family. We should be demonstrating such helthy male-female relationships in contrast to the world’s presumptions. Billy Graham type rules are a distraction from that better picture -and mainly a response to fear.

    Now I can fully accept that some people may decide for themselves that such rules will help in their own situation – Billy Graham for example – but telling a disabled person to turn down offers of lifts in order to implement such a rule can not (in my partially-sighted? view) be “in the name of Christ”. My points were to no avail. I was told that theey knew the next season would not be for everyone. Evidently it wasn’t going to be for me- left to find another church again…

  11. Do many people really, in their professional lives, spend that much time alone with members of either the same or the opposite sex?

    With regards to Mr Pence specifically I find it hard to believe that the Vice-President of the United states of America would ever be professionally alone with one other person, unless, I suppose, that person was his or her bodyguard.

    • Do many people really, in their professional lives, spend that much time alone with members of either the same or the opposite sex?

      The short answer to this must be ‘yes’. Off the top of my head:
      – two travelling to a trade show
      – two travelling to a customer or potential customer
      – a manager and PA of a workforce which spend their time out in the field
      – a vicar and part-time administrator

      With regards to Mr Pence specifically I find it hard to believe that the Vice-President of the United states of America would ever be professionally alone with one other person, unless, I suppose, that person was his or her bodyguard.

      My response to this is: Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski. Also, any president and his (so far…) chief of staff. Secret Service agents are generally outside the door, not in the room.

      • David

        Indeed. I had lunch with Andrew Godsall today. Neither of our spouses was present. Granted we were in a Wetherspoon’s.
        Nonetheless, in both secular and church employment and in my private life, I have spent journeys, days, evenings, alone with male colleagues and friends. We managed not to tear each other’s clothes off. Probably because we were grown up and valued each other’s company.

      • My response to this is: Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski

        Which only happened because the US government shutdown at the time meant the White House was running on a skeleton staff — it would never have happened in normal operation, which was precisely my point.

        • You assertion was that the VP (and, I guess, a fortiori, the President) is never without a bodyguard present in the room. I doubt if the US government shutdown would have resulted in any significant reduction in Secret Service cover for the Commander-in-Chief.

          In any case (clicky-clicky, google, google), the affair between Clinton and Lewinski ran, it seems, from 1995 to 1997. The shutdown was from (UK order dates) 9/11/1995 to 19/11/1995 and 16/12/1995 to 6/1/1996 – a total of 26 days in all, the latter period including the Christmas break. If the shutdown did cause any putuative absence of Secret Service personel from the Oval Office, it does not seem to provide enough explanation for the two to have an affair lasting as long as it did.

          • You assertion was that the VP (and, I guess, a fortiori, the President) is never without a bodyguard present in the room.

            No; read more carefully.

            ‘With regards to Mr Pence specifically I find it hard to believe that the Vice-President of the United states of America would ever be professionally alone with one other person, unless, I suppose, that person was his or her bodyguard.’

            That doesn’t assert that the bodyguard is always present; it asserts that there is always likely to be more than one person present in a meeting with the President or Vice-President (as well as whoever the principal is meeting, there’d be aides-de-camp, note-takers, secretaries, assistants, and whatnot); and that on the rare occasions when the President / Vice-President was neither in a meeting nor alone, the other person present would almost certainly be the bodyguard.

            In any case (clicky-clicky, google, google), the affair between Clinton and Lewinski ran, it seems, from 1995 to 1997. The shutdown was from (UK order dates) 9/11/1995 to 19/11/1995 and 16/12/1995 to 6/1/1996 – a total of 26 days in all, the latter period including the Christmas break. If the shutdown did cause any putuative absence of Secret Service personel from the Oval Office, it does not seem to provide enough explanation for the two to have an affair lasting as long as it did.

            Again you’re not reading. Try again with emphasis:

            ‘I find it hard to believe that the Vice-President of the United states of America would ever be professionally alone with one other person’

            Mr Clinton and Miss Lewinski were only professionally alone in the Oval Office during the government shutdown, due to reduced staffing levels. Once their affair began their alone-time was no longer professional.

            This matters because the objection to the ‘rule’ is that it limits the professional opportunities for women because (it is claimed) a man who applies it will not be able to give the same professional attention to them as they would to a man. So only professional time is at issue here.

      • The short answer to this must be ‘yes’.

        I’ve been in a team of two travelling to meet a client. At no point do I think I was alone with the other team member; after arriving on the aeroplane (in public) we went in a taxi (with the driver present) to the client’s office (where we were in meetings with the clients, so not alone); afterwards we ate in restaurants (so not alone), separated to go to our hotel rooms, in the morning had breakfast in the hotel dining room (which is public), another day of meetings, etc etc, until the return flight — again all in public.

        At no point were we alone together. I would guess a trade show would be similar.

  12. I disagree with you, Kate.

    It is a sound way of life for me – not because I see all women as dangerous, seductive temptresses – but because I know the darkness of my own heart and because I also know people often jump to conclusions unfairly. It is not an obligation I would impose on anyone else but it is a rule of thumb that works for me; by Jesus’ standard I am a serial adulterer. It is by the grace of God alone that I have stayed happily and faithfully married for 35 years.

    I have plenty of female friends, single and married, and women hold leadership roles roughly 50/50 with men in the church I lead. The women I pastor know I am reluctant to put myself in a potentially compromising position (though I don’t go on and on about the Billy Graham rule) and they seem to respect it as a wise, professional approach to ministry.

    Bottom line; Billy went to the grave with his reputation (and God’s honour) intact. Many of his contemporaries didn’t.

  13. I am so glad to hear this article being disagreed with by some. I think the article is more OTT than the Billy Graham rule!

    I served 34 years in ministry and often had to visit female members of the congregation on my own while they were also home alone. I had no difficulty with that. But to choose to spend informal time alone with a woman behind the closed doors of an office or vestry always left me uncomfortable. I never suspected they were “dangerous” nor was I ever likely to commit any offence since I loved and valued and respected and honoured my wife. But I always imagined how that behind-closed-doors visit could be misinterpreted by some (male or female) gossip. And let’s not pretend that couldn’t be cause for gossip!

    It’s a rule I’ve never had cause to disagree with or to regret.

    • But to choose to spend informal time alone with a woman behind the closed doors of an office or vestry always left me uncomfortable.

      However, the BG rule is:

      From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife.

      The impression I get from this is that the rule is wider than being alone behind a closed door with a woman. The context is BG’s itinerant ministry, so certainly travel and probably eating would have been in public spaces, places where his face would be known, and a companion recognised as not being his wife. Tongues would wag.

      • In the US context, ‘travel alone’ could easily mean spending many hours in a car, miles away from anyone else, unlike in the UK. (Think Monument Valley, not the London Underground.)

  14. Thanks Kate for this.

    I used to stick to the BG rule, but several years ago was challenged by a similar piece I read, due to 1. Seeing women as a problem or temptation. 2. Not giving women leaders the same access to main leaders (who are usually men) as other male leaders thus perpetuating a lack of main women leaders due to lack of experience and mentoring.

    BUT I do still struggle when I read or hear the latest story of a leader who falls morally in this way. Combined with knowing my family history and my own heart. I know it is not beyond me (although I know it takes 2 and I wouldn’t want to presume I would cause an issue for others ! 🙂 But I’m sure it’s possible.)

    I therefore do meet women one to one but we always meet in a public place and my wife knows who I meet. She has access to my phone and social media.

    I do commend the heart of the BG rule for integrity and purity, I am sympathetic to those who follow it. And my longing is to also reach the end like BG without scandal.

  15. I have adopted a modified version of the Billy Graham rule in that I would be alone with a woman other than my wife if either I knew and trusted her or we were in a public place. I took a more relaxed view because I am not an internationally famous evangelist but simply a Christian financial author who is much less vulnerable.
    Many of my publishers were young women. For me not to meet them one-to-one would be a form of sex discrimination and obstructive to business. So I always tried to meet them in a public place, such as a restaurant or office.

  16. Hmm. I think Kate is saying that some rules are wise and necessary, but her rules are not the same as Billy Graham’s. This is surely fair?

    If the BG rule stops women from being able to network, perhaps we should consider whether so much one-to-one networking is appropriate anyway? Major decisions shouldn’t be made by just two people.

    Having said that, my experience was in becoming a female church warden working with a male one. We were both married, and so was his male successor a few years later. I did wonder if I should try to implement such a rule for myself. In the end this would probably have been impossible, and there were no problems (and as far as I know, no gossip.) But this may have been partly because both the men were ten years younger than me.

    The comment above by “Anon” however is the most pertinent one here, and is absolutely horrifying.

  17. I was surprised to not see any reference to ‘Safeguarding’ in the article, as it surely is what some of these claims have to be tested on. Do our children lack ‘meaningful mentorship or pastoral care’, for example? And I assume that the reason support the rule of no solo nappy changing, isn’t because they think six month year old are just succubus. I think the thing that ‘#MeToo’, a very big movement, is about is proving that women, and everyone, do not safeguarding not just children, or vulnerable adults, but that all adults are potentially vulnerable.

    I think most people don’t do the full ‘Billy Graham’ rule because most people aren’t the fully Billy Graham. For Graham to pick out a woman to be his only company on the plane, is very different than the average man and women travelling with each other and keeping company on public transport.

    It also seems like a big omission to say that she supports women having a Billy Graham rule, but no men. But then not give any explanation for why the distinction; there are certainly possible reasons for this discrepancy, but it seems bad to not mention it. I would suggest that a man like Billy Graham is at far more risk from the average woman than the average woman (or even the superior) woman is that from the average man.

  18. Very good post – so important we discuss these things

    Lot of wisdom here on all sides – I was struck by Kate’s challenge that the rule might suggest the woman met is the source of temptation & danger – John’s corrective that it protects him from his own sinful desires was helpful.

    I believe a modified form of the BG rule is wise – however, as Penelope says, we do need to be growed up about this. Yesterday a woman friend & priest popped in to my home, had a cuppa, advised me on an upcoming funeral and prayed a blessing for me. And I was blessed. Today I had lunch with a dear old friend, a woman pastor, who was visiting for a conference. And this afternoon I saw my woman therapist. All 3 meetings may have violated the BG rule, but all were good, healthy and indeed, godly.

    Two questions:
    Should those ministers who are same sex attracted only meet with the opposite sex?
    I wonder was Jesus, who met alone the woman at the well, violating the BG rule?

    • I’m not a minister but I am gay but feel pretty self controlled after all these years so being alone with another guy doesn’t concern me. Unless of course he was a stunner lol!

      As for Jesus was the well not a public place? Although He could have been tempted, there’s no doubt that He was supremely self controlled.

      • Thanks PC1
        Not sure the well was popular n public – it was more out of the way from the village and at the wrong time for watering. The disciples were shocked Jesus was talking to the woman cos it was such bad form culturally. But pastoral & gospel needs must. Yes, Jesus was supremely self controlled – tempted in all ways common to us folk, yet without sin.

        I think the BG rule has wisdom, but is not a Biblical principle

  19. I tend to think the opposite of Tish Warren. It is the men who are ‘dangerous’ not women. It is men who often are not self controlled because they think with two heads. Though of course women can be just as bad. I spent a 2 hour car journey with a new employee. She talked about her previous job and how the men were often sexually suggestive to her. I got the impression she enjoyed talking about it. It had no effect on me whatsoever – Im gay! (She doesnt know). But i did wonder if she hsd those sorts of conversations with married men where it might end. It recently transpired that she is seeking a divorce. The BG rule may be OTT in many cases but no one can deny there is wisdom there.


  20. We are to avoid all appearance of evil – I suggest that means giving no one anything to gossip about. The “Billy Graham” rule certainly achieves that by protecting BOTH parties.

    • That’s a good principle—but unfortunately you are quoting the AV which is slightly misleading (since English usage has changed). That verse most likely means ‘evil in whatever form it appears’. So I think it is a good principle but not to be derived from this verse!

    • Exactly – my dear Pastor always quoted this one in KJV English, and my own more precise exegesis did not in any way invalidate the principle.

      Though of course people can potentially gossip about the most blameless. Veggie Tales is spot on on the typical lifecycle of rumour (Larry Boy and the Rumor Weed DVD) and of untruths (Larry Boy and the Fib from Outer Space DVD).

        • Yes – the level of subtlety, cleverness and detailed thought in the song parodies is also found in the execution of the main messages. Something for all the family.

  21. As I read the article I was waiting for the word ‘offensive’ to pop in; and sure enough it did towards the end. In fact if the last few paragraphs in which that word appears as the main overall argument are removed then there is little to disagree with: propriety in relationships in a world in which gossip can destroy through social media.

    I recently read a piece by someone in which they maintained that mothers should not be sharing their experiences of having children in church because that might offend those without children. Throughout history it has been the case that the Holy Spirit has taught mothers about the nature of our heavenly Father, of suffering and what it means to be His spiritual children through their experience of motherhood. Yet because of this modern obsession with offence we are preventing people from sharing their own genuine life experiences. I would have thought the church the last place in which offence would become a ruling parameter with maxims like ‘turn the other cheek’ or ‘forbearing with one another in love’. In my 50+ years in church life offence has never before been a deciding matter.

    Some of us have been following Billy Graham’s principle for decades. My memory was that if he were to be interviewed by a woman he would always leave the office door open. This is little different to churches in which one door panel in all doors has been replaced by glass for safeguarding reasons so that there are no private spaces.

    I wouldn’t have regular curries out with a woman or female colleague; I would ask her to pick up a couple of take-away curries and come to my house and eat it there in the family context of friendship. But if it was a private conversation involving disclosure then I would definitely have a chaperone, preferably my wife.

    • Spot on, Peter re: offence. By all means let’s steer well clear of gratuitous insult. But having to continually self-police talking in public about wholesome, everyday experiences for fear of making someone feel excluded or offended is tiresome. The Scribes felt offended by Jesus and complained (Luke 11) – to which Jesus added a bit more for good measure!

    • I wouldn’t have regular curries out with a woman or female colleague

      Would you have regular curries out with a male colleague though? I can’t imagine why anyone woud, but if they did, and wouldn’t do the same with a female colleague, then I think they should stop. Not eating out with a female colleague is fine, but treating people differently on the basis of sex in a work context — which that would be — isn’t. Simple rule: don’t have regular curries with any colleague, male or female.

    • One of my dearest friends was an overnight police-guard for Billy Graham, probably in the 1966 Mission.

      The situation was this. If BG’s entourage opened the door, and a ‘sting’ voluptuous lady jumped into BG’s arms, together with ‘planted’ paparazzi, it would then be a case of ‘no smoke without fire’ for the rest of his life. (So at a minimum a different member of the entourage had to open the door, not BG.)

      Please don’t underestimate the conniving of the media. In the Battle of Bedford Square abortion clinic 2012 one of the paparazzi told a deliberate outrageous lie, and when I was indignant about the gratuitousness of it, *all* the assembled paparazzi started snapping as though their lives depended on it: in order to capture the message, ‘look how angry these prolifers are’. A photo is wordless and soundtrack-less. Hence photos from a video can be (and are!) carefully selected to be most flattering to your heroes and least flattering to your betes noires.

      And remember how pursuit by the paparazzi can kill (it could be seen that it would one day kill), and how they were never even brought to trial for the 1997 deaths even after their ‘co-‘responsibility was admitted – ?because ‘it was too long ago’. Not as long ago as Smyth, Savile, Harris, or anyone else, though.

  22. I largely agree with the well-articulated points Kate Wharton has made but I confess I would be slightly worried if a woman in a church came down and sat next to me wearing a certain T-shirt featured on her well-written blog page.

    – birthdays notwithstanding …

  23. I agree. There is a lot of wisdom in this rule. When did being careful about ones relationships with the opposite sex become a bad thing. This is refreshing thinking amid the me too campaign. This is something that honors women and not demean them.

  24. Genesis 39:11-20 gives us a pretty clear lesson of the importance of
    ” the Billy Graham rule. ”
    Even in a secular context the burden is nearly always on the man to disprove allegations made by a female .
    Methinks the lady doth protest too much , as her pride above all is bruised by the notion of the rule .
    Gossip , rumors and innuendo can be very damaging to anyone , that is doubly true of evangelicals.
    The Billy Graham rule is solid .

  25. I have not read (yet) all the earlier responses. Simply to record my own ‘rule’, adapting only slightly Billy Graham’s, which in 50+ years of ordained ministry, I did not meet alone, for any significant period of time, women of my age or younger. I remember one series of counselling sessions with a younger woman which I was subsequently told had been helpful to her, when we had two open doors between us and our parish administrator.


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