About the Billy Graham Rule

The Gospel is very clear and very explicit on this: It is we who must change to include others. They are not called to conform themselves to our standards.


There’s been quite a furor in the news recently (as noted in this link to a column on CNN) about two lawmakers in Mississippi who are invoking what they call “The Billy Graham Rule.” They are using it to shut women out of the political process in ways that are what I’d term antediluvian: resorting to tropes and portrayals of women that we know to have never been respectful, let alone accurate, and which have the effect of oppressing and excluding women from public life; keeping them under the control of men; and treating them more as property than as persons worthy of respect in their own right.

Moving on to the “Billy Graham Rule” itself: given my long time involvement with more conservative churches, I fully understand the rationale for it.  The idea is that in private or semi-private encounters with others, all parties need to be protected from misunderstandings or false accusations.  This is actually a good thing although sometimes badly misapplied, as we’ve seen.

Billy Graham advocated a witness being present, or at least within earshot, whenever meeting with a woman. The example he is famous for giving was to leave the door to his office open a crack during private conversations – not making a big deal of what he was doing, not trumpeting to the world that he was putting up fences to protect his reputation or his masculine ego, not humiliating or oppressing the person he was meeting with.  

Graham looked for ways to simply and quietly ensure that privacy was preserved, but also that his secretary or a staffer would be made aware if any commotion or problems occurred.  The gender of the “witness” was irrelevant in Rev. Graham’s eyes. (In fact, if you think about it, the intent of the “Billy Graham Rule” is a major reason why the interior doors of many offices and schools have glass windows.)

That said (and this is where State Representative Robert Foster and former Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. go off the rails), the problem is not exclusive to encounters between two individuals of opposite sex, nor is it even about sex itself. Rev. Graham framed his example in terms of a man and a woman being alone together, but it is a problem that exists in any private interaction, regardless of the genders those involved.  

The issue, as Rev. Graham saw it, is how to ensure that when accusations of any sort arise, there is a third party that can testify as what they saw and heard.  Rev. Graham believed that the mere presence of a third party was enough to stop false accusations before they started.  He was concerned about truth, not sexual predation.  

So, given that context, allowing a woman on to Foster’s campaign bus is not something Rev. Graham would have had a problem with. Such buses are filled with people – plenty of witnesses. And, if he felt uncomfortable meeting alone with a woman, Judge Waller could have resolved it in ways that were both subtle and respectful of his guest, as Graham said should be done.  

I will close by noting that Graham was never afraid to meet with those that were “against” him and – as far as I know – never used excuses to prevent such encounters. It is painfully clear that these two men really do not understand what Graham intended, and have misapplied it pretty egregiously.  They are abusing women and staining the legacy of a man who, even though he was the product of a far more sexist and “unaware” time – understood the Gospel far better than they.

Graham understood, as these men do not, the the primary message of the Gospel is one of inclusion. In fact, Jesus and Paul and Peter all made it explicitly clear in their teaching that when someone is “Other,” when they are not quite the type of person we are comfortable-with, we – not they – are mandated not to exclude them. We must find ways to include them. It is we who must change to make ourselves acceptable to them. They are not asked to make themselves acceptable to us. We are called to both respect and include others – all the time, and with every fiber of our being.

– Pastor Allen


Copyright (c) 2019, Allen Vander Meulen III.

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Author: Allen

A would be historian turned IT Professional who responded to the call to the Ministry, and is now focused on social justice and community service. He is a father of two (ages 30 & 9). He and his wife enjoy life near Boston. You can follow Pastor Allen on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PastorAllenV/ or on Twitter @allenvm3.

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