I remember the first time I heard about the “Billy Graham Rule.” It was post-college, right after I became a Young Life leader, and it changed everything.
In case you’re unaware of the “Billy Graham Rule,” it’s not a rule. Rather, it’s a pledge he made to uphold the integrity of his ministry. In his words, from his autobiography Just As I Am:
We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife.”
The reasoning behind the pledge was simple: avoid an affair and unnecessary rumors. The pledge could be based off of the biblical verse from 1 Timothy 3:2 (NIV) that states a leader or “overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife.” Essentially, a leader should live so that even if someone points a finger, they would have no basis.
Recently, the “Billy Graham Rule” came into the national spotlight after a Washington Post writer uncovered Vice President Mike Pence’s interview with The Hill in 2002. He said he does not eat alone with women nor does he attend events where alcohol is served without his wife.
Social media went into a frenzy regarding the “Billy Graham rule.” Many called it sexist. Some commentaries say this rule hypersexualizes relationships between men and women. Some believe the “Billy Graham rule” reduces women to sex objects and excludes them from leadership meetings.
In my workplace, I don’t have any male coworkers. My manager is a female and my sales overlaps are also female. I meet with them often, but not alone; we meet in public restaurants.
Is the Billy Graham Rule Valid Today?
Transparency defines the corporate world today. Many corporations have moved private offices and conference rooms to open workspaces and glass rooms in the name of transparency. The Sunshine Act ensures transparency in the medical industry to provide greater accountability within pharmaceutical company and physician relationships. Transparency and accountability are both good things when it comes to business meetings of any kind with any person, and transparency is at the heart of the “Billy Graham rule.”
One Rule I Follow:
Take advice from people who’ve shown success in an area you want success. I will listen to a critic if they can demonstrate success. However, finding someone who can match the kind of integrity Billy Graham has had in his ministry and his relationship with his wife is virtually unfathomable.
Do exceptions exist?
Absolutely. I don’t think the “Billy Graham rule” was ever meant to be a blanket law. Instead, it’s a word of caution that begs the question more people should consider: “How do my actions come across to others?”
Boundaries and transparency shouldn’t be shamed, but empowered.
Now I’m going to address why the “Billy Graham rule” made sense during my time as a Young Life leader. A fellow leader and friend started meeting with a younger girl. I warned him this could be misconstrued and was against Young Life policy, but he assured me everything was strictly innocent and he was trying to help her.
One day I got a call from him. He was crying and stated, “I don’t know what happened. We were boarding the bus to head to summer camp, and I was called off and told I couldn’t go.” He had to step down from being a leader.
The reason why? He continued meeting with the young girl. I asked him if he had ever been inappropriate and he said no, but that wasn’t her story. She came forward as a minor and stated he had touched her. Did he? We’ll never know, but he also was not acting above reproach.