I had never heard it called “The Billy Graham Rule” until a couple of years ago. It went into effect in Modesto, California in 1948 when Graham and his traveling evangelist friends determined there needed to be some guidelines to help them avoid the scandal that many in that field have had their lives ruined by. It covered not only interactions with women, but also integrity with respect to finances and dealings with churches. From that time forward Graham made a point of not traveling, meeting, or eating alone with a woman other than his wife. It’s made the news several times lately, most recently as the President of the Southern Baptist Convention had a major moral fall that led to his embarrassing resignation.
The BGR probably actually went most main-stream during the vetting of the present Vice-President. Then candidate Mike Pence was eviscerated by the left and some on the right politically because he refuses to meet with women in private. Some indicating that over 1/2 the population is automatically excluded from having a “one-on-one” conversation, indicating how unfair that was/is. One lawyer even suggested it was so misogynistic that when applied to workplace dinners, it could be illegal labor discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It has been the left who has cried most loudly and mocked it the most. Lately though their voices on the matter have been more muted with the many disgraces involved in the “me too” movement. You have to wonder what big name is next? Yet, is anyone at all really shocked when those who have flirted, have merchandised in sex and parlayed in power are found out to be malicious in their sexual lives and activities. Perhaps most interesting is that for years these media magnets have loudly led the cries that it doesn’t really matter what one does in their own sexual lives, that character doesn’t really matter.
Guess what if these folks had followed the Billy Graham/Mike Pence Rule we would not be where we are today with most all of them. I’m not saying there would be no abuse, ungodly folks will find a way to do ungodly things, BUT many would not have been in such a setting if others lived by such a rule.
With more women in ministry and filling the role of “pastor” in denominations and with the cultural phenomenon of LGBTQIAPK (or whatever this week’s alphabet soup for sin is) some are questioning who, if anyone, we can, as ministers meet with and what, if any, guidelines we should have. I am going to stick my toe in the discussion.
I would suggest first off that there is no cookie-cutter solution. That is not to suggest that one should casually set whatever guidelines they wish to set. In fact, if a guideline looks too severe there may be reasons to give yourself pause to consider why that guideline seems too much. I would suggest that an individual must strive to know themselves and to be honest about their level of strength. This might be especially difficult early in ministry so I would surmise to be more strict on yourself than less. Better to err on the side of caution than to have your ministry ruined.
Here are some of my personal rules of conduct:
1. Melanie and I have no secrets from each other. Period. If there is something you are afraid to tell your spouse then that may be the very area the devil will play in. When it comes to counseling I am NOT a professional counselor and I always let the person(s) I am counseling know that. I try to not share any information with my spouse that may make her think less of another person. In those situations I will just tell her we need to be praying for _____.
2. Anytime I EVER counsel a woman I call or text my spouse both before and after the session.
3. My spouse has open access to any of my accounts and to my computer/cell phone at any and all times. If I have a social media, bank account, or any other I would be ashamed or afraid for her to have complete access to that would be a sign I should not have such an account.
4. I tell Melanie ANYTIME I am ever alone with any woman.
5. If I am ever attracted to another woman who I might be counseling with I will immediately stop meeting with that person. I do want to say here that I can think a person is pretty, handsome, etc without being attracted to them.
6. If I have hire a secretary Melanie gets complete veto power in such a hire.
7. If I have a secretary in the office I will counsel other women in my office (see next guideline), if I do not I will not.
8. If I am counseling a woman in my office my secretary has explicit instruction to interrupt the session every 15 minutes (i.e. Bring me a cup or water, something to sign, ask a question about a project, anything, etc). I tell the person I am counseling she will be doing that. That protects both of us AND is designed to discourage one who might falsely accuse me.
9. I have required that every office door I have had the last 31 years have a window in it. Two places they have has to install one.
10. I will only speak with respect of Melanie. I use her name, ours often (with permission if needed). This keeps her “in the room,” at the front of my mind, and the other person aware of the place she has in my life.
11. I don’t talk to ANYONE about our sex life! Period.
12. I pray and strive to remember that I am still human.
I’m certain I left a few things out but perhaps this will help others with some possibilities. I try to remember that a lifetime of good can be destroyed in a moment and possibly even from a malicious accusation, so strive to be above the accusation as much as possible. I also try to remember I will stand before God for my actions. Feel free to add your thoughts below.