Why The Billy Graham Rule Can Be Harmful For Women

by | Aug 28, 2023 | Faith | 64 comments

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Let’s talk about The Billy Graham Rule!

In a podcast last season with Todd Korpi about his new book Your Daughters Shall Prophesy, we ended up talking about The Billy Graham Rule–and that seems to have been the thing in that podcast that people picked up on the most (judging from comments!) 

So I thought it was worth talking about this in greater detail. 

The Billy Graham rule is a common ethic that many well-intentioned male pastors and church leaders put into practice as a means of accountability in their relationships. 

The Billy Graham Rule refers to a rule that Billy Graham made famous when he decided he did not want to invite suspicion into his ministry or his fidelity to his wife, and so he refused to ever be alone with a woman who was not his wife.

In more recent years, this rule has also been referred to as “the Mike Pence rule.”

Now, on the surface this sounds great. You want to be above suspicion, and everyone should be wary of temptation!

But can we look at the underlying assumptions of the Billy Graham rule?

The rule assumes that, in mixed gender relationships, sex is the natural outcome. The Billy Graham Rule is often seen as a reasonable safeguard that allows women to avoid being placed in vulnerable positions or to avoid any suspicions of men’s integrity and righteous character–because get two people of the opposite sex together, and BOOM.

How can this rule harm women?

1. The Billy Graham Rule puts a cap on women’s development in their ministries or careers. 

In a world where men and women cannot meet together one-on-one, women miss out on mentoring opportunities to grow in their work or ministry. And in the church, even within egalitarian denominations, representation of women in leadership is still in the minority, leaving men as the only reasonable option for many women to receive mentorship.

This becomes impossible when a man is enforcing the Billy Graham Rule in his life. So while men are free to receive the mentorship they need to advance in ministry, women are left without the same kind of resources. This leads to gatekeeping that keeps men in power over women by preventing them to follow the call of God in their ministries.

2. The Billy Graham rule makes opposite sex friendships almost impossible, as well as extremely suspect

And this leads to: 

3. The Billy Graham rule unnecessarily sexualizes and demonizes women.

It implies that women are untrustworthy seductresses looking for any opportunity to sleep with men or for any opportunity to make false allegations against men in an attempt to ruin their marriages or ministries.

She Deserves Better!

Because we all deserve a big faith.

Your daughter deserves better than what you likely grew up with in church.

What would it look like to prepare the next generation without toxic teachings about modesty, sex, or consent, and instead set her up for a big faith?

This assumption goes against the fact that we know false allegations are exceedingly rare and that if someone is bent on making up lies about a man in a position of authority, they will find a way to do that regardless of whether or not the Billy Graham Rule is in place. 

I’m sorry, guys, but most women don’t want to sleep with you. Because isn’t that what the rule assumes?  I’m going to suddenly have sex that I didn’t intend to have. 

But in order for sex to happen, two things need to be true:

  • He wants to have sex
  • She wants to have sex

(if the sex is consensual; of course there can also be grooming and abusive behaviour, too, which some argue the Billy Graham rule can prevent!).

So when men say, “we need the Billy Graham rule to make sure no sex happens,” they’re actually implicitly assuming that you want to have sex with them.

I’m sorry, but in the vast majority of cases–that ain’t happening. 

And if you think you’re that close to having an affair, you have bigger problems that the Billy Graham rule won’t solve.

We had some great comments on this aspect of the Billy Graham rule:

Not done listening yet, but this made me laugh, and I’m paraphrasing.

Todd: “There is this idea that if a man and a woman are alone together long enough, sex will spontaneously combust.”

And as was addressed, one of the things that this fear stems from is this belief in men that they exude more attraction or sexuality than what they actually also do.

But another thing to consider. This “Sexual Combusting” notion creates excellent camouflage or underbrush in which predators can hide. It cancels out the idea in so many people’s brains that the predator has been grooming his victim for some time before the alleged ‘sexual combustion’. As Todd said, the sex won’t happen unless you want it to happen. The predators are actively pursuing it knowing they can fall back on the ‘sexual combustion’ defense.

The idea of sexual combustion needs to go away in order to make it harder for the predators to hide among us.”

Yes, I’ve noticed it seems to be a particularly strong fear that married men have about single women – the number of times I’ve heard a married guy talk about single women ‘tempting’ him or being ‘traps’ or ‘minefields’ or ‘danger’ to his marriage, and I’m thinking…really?!!! Just because you found one woman who liked you enough to marry you, it doesn’t mean every female in the world is going to fall for you. Maybe just be grateful you found ONE who did? (And most of these guys are so arrogant and immature, I’m pretty amazed that they even found one…)”

“I’m with Sheila when she says, “I mean I’m sorry, guys. But most women don’t want to sleep with you.”

I had started volunteering as an admin assistant for our pastor and realized he was practicing the Billy Graham rule for our weekly meetings. I was well into my 30s by that point, but mentally reacted like a teenage girl: “Eww!!! Gross!!!” Totally changed how I viewed him, and made interactions with his wife awkward (at least on my side)”

The Billy Graham Rule would be considered sexual harassment in many workplaces.

Refusing to meet with a woman would be grounds to bring a complaint against someone, because you’re inherently treating her as a sex object rather than as a colleague. 

I think one of the saddest things that we learned as we were talking to people when we were writing our book, She Deserves Better, is that for so many young women, church is the only place where they are discriminated against.  

In universities, they are praised. In colleges, they’re praised. They’re encouraged to get graduate degrees, to keep going.  In the workplace, they have multiple opportunities.  

But in church, they don’t.  And it’s really hard when the place that represents your faith, and that represents the God that you so desperately love, is the only place that tells you you’re not good enough.

That treats you like you’re a danger to the men around you, rather than an important person in the mission of the church.

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Women and Men are capable of doing mission together.

We are capable of being friends. 

Yes, we need to be careful of grooming behaviour, but almost all of the grooming stories I’ve heard about would not have been fixed by the Billy Graham Rule. 

And false allegations are so, so rare.

By painting women as evil seductresses trying to bring good men down, we do a lot of danger in the church. There has to be a better way than this that honors the personhood of both men and women, and encourages the co-laborer relationships Paul mentions in Romans 16.


What do you think of the Billy Graham rule? How can we handle these things better? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Jo R

    I’m just a lowly woman, but let’s see if I can string a couple of ideas together.

    Men preach and teach that they can’t be alone with a woman who is not their wife, because sex may happen.

    Men preach and teach that women don’t like sex, don’t want sex, and don’t need sex the way men do.


    So if I subtract the second from the first, then a man meeting a woman one-on-one for, say, mentoring or discipling may result in … the man raping the woman.

    Will someone check my arithmetic, please?

    • Mo’el

      I wish I was still homeschooling my girls so I could add this to our math curriculum

    • Cathrine

      Lol! This!!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Sounds about right! (I wonder if these guys ever think through the implications of what they teach?)

  2. Lindsey

    The assumptions here are missing the point. The point of the rule is to honor both the man and the woman. It does not cap anyone’s career development. If a man and woman cannot meet just the two of them, then bring in an extra person or two. Turning this into a point about discrimination is a HUGE stretch. We can’t turn everything into a way to point the finger at others. The rule never says it’s about women being untrustworthy either. It doesn’t even have to be about sex. How about just consideration for your spouse? How about respect for your spouse? Some women actually consider it an honor to practice things like this.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m curious–how do you know it doesn’t cap anyone’s career development? Studies have certainly found that it does!

      Let me give you an example. My husband is a pediatrician who teaches medical residents. Most residents are female; most of his colleagues are female.

      Most of the day in hospital is really, really busy seeing patients. It’s hard to take time to do any teaching, but that’s what he’s supposed to do.

      The best time for teaching is to take a resident out to grab a super quick lunch and go over the latest asthma protocols, or the latest protocols for diabetic ketoacidosis when it shows up in the ER.

      So he takes these female residents out for a quick lunch and teaches them something. They benefit from his teaching, and do better on their exams. They get to ask him questions, and he gets a better idea of their qualities as a physician, and so is able to write recommendation letters for them to get into good programs/get good jobs.

      Now, imagine that he could only do that with male residents. The male residents would get better recommendation letters and better teaching.

      The female residents that were paired with one of my husband’s female colleagues would get better teaching and better recommendations.

      It absolutely would hold women back if they aren’t able to get the mentorship and teaching that they need at work.

      • Lindsey

        Sheila, I assure you as a woman in healthcare myself, women are not at all being capped in that career.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          You’re choosing not to listen to me. I’m not sure why, but you’re deliberately choosing not to listen, because what I wrote was blatantly obvious. Just because most people in healthcare are women does not mean that a woman would not be penalized if she had my husband as a supervisor for a rotation and he couldn’t meet one on one with her.

          I don’t know why you won’t admit this blatantly obvious fact that I spelled out, but there you go.

        • That Girl

          Hi Lindsey, I am a female physician that can attest to the truth of both Sheila’s article and her response to you. I absolutely have had career opportunities limited by men using the Billy Graham Rule. As a medical student, I was turned down for an elective with a Christian family physician with a large, rural practice. I was very interested in this type of medicine. He turned me down instantly, without rationale, and then accepted male candidates immediately. Based on what I know about what type of church he attends, I strongly believe his refusal was in line with the BGR. As a result, I did not go into rural, family medicine. This hurts patients, because this area desperately needs doctors, and I happen to be a pretty good one. Meanwhile, I’ve worked alongside countless men of all faiths and none in my new chosen specialty, working side by side through the night, sleeping in adjacent call-rooms, and responding to emotionally intense situations together, all without a single hint of sex. It’s called personal integrity. Those who have it, have it. If one needs the BGR to avoid sleeping around, one has serious problems. If all male physicians had the attitude that many evangelical Christian men do, that would eliminate women from medicine. The BGR is an incredibly immature approach to life, and it definitely hurts women’s careers. Thank goodness it is not universally applied, or we would have 50% the doctors that we do. (By the way, your hinting that there are lots of women in healthcare is not the point! Women aren’t using the BGR on each other. But when men do impose it, it is only women whose jobs take a hit.)

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Thank you, That Girl. And I’m sorry you have that experience on a potential rural medicine rotation!

      • Jane Eyre

        You can modify the rule to be something like “don’t go out for drinks one on one with a woman,” or “don’t do date-like things with a woman unless you’re trying to date her.”

        As a woman in the professional world, I deeply appreciate when men ask me if I want to meet for coffee during the work day, not drinks after work or something like that. I know it’s just business! Ambiguous invitations are unsettling and I feel the need to refuse them on principle. Men who make it clear that it’s not a date are not the ones holding me back in my career.

    • Stephanie

      Yes! This is just about being above reproach and also recognizing there is an enemy looking for opportunities to kill, steal and destroy.
      Men are capable of seducing and having ill intentions and even if neither side has ill intentions it’s always smart to protect things we value. Often times in my life there are things in scripture I do not understand but because I know the character of Christ and His word I trust him. His ways are higher than my ways. My feelings should never be what dictates truth.
      Ok I never comment on stuff like this but these perspectives are filled with opinions and not the wisdom from Gods word. Scary stuff when man’s truth trumps His.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Can you tell me where in Scripture it says that we must never be alone with someone of the opposite sex, or grab lunch with a colleague at work to talk about work?

        Because Jesus was alone with women. And Paul talked about women as his co-laborers.

    • Jo R

      How is it honoring both the man and the woman to think neither of them has self-control? That either of them can’t see the other as anything but a sex partner? That men are to be reduced to just a penis?

      Have you ever had a conversation that you wouldn’t have wanted to have in front of a third party? Maybe you need to have a talk with your boss about professional development, and that talk is going to include an issue of poor grammar in the reports you write. Would you want to have your poor grammar pointed out to you in front of a third person?

      Or maybe you need to talk to HR about your boss hitting on you. If your HR rep is the opposite sex from you, do you want a third person in the room to hear you describe what your boss did or said? Won’t it be hard enough to discuss those things with one person, and now we have to have an audience?

      This attitude probably doesn’t help teenagers develop platonic friendships with the opposite sex in the first place. Telling kids, and modeling to them, that adults are incapable of platonic friendships makes both sexes afraid of half the population.

      • Nessie

        “Have you ever had a conversation that you wouldn’t have wanted to have in front of a third party?”
        Yes. The pastor needed to “call me out” on something but had to have a female present. Really, it was so he could have someone else on his side. (They completely blindsided me with that btw. I asked for the meeting which was over a person I was highly concerned about with great reason and they chose to attack me when I was distracted- cowards. But narcissists are great at getting people to gang up on you to shame you so this rule works very well to keep women “in their place.”)

        “That men are to be reduced to just a penis?”
        Sadly, I think some of these “men” would be very happy to be viewed as that, they think so highly of themselves in that capacity.

    • Lynn

      It absolutely handicaps a woman professionally! Imagine a lawyer, who works with associates. If he’s going to BG on his female associates, they can’t have private conversations about cases! And it would become super obvious if he only ever meets men alone.

      Funny how people have never considered that some of these men are gay, and they “should” be BGing other men.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Also, female lawyers couldn’t meet with male clients. And vice versa.

        • Boone

          Well, I’m going to go ahead and admit it. I follow this practice. I always have my paralegal in the office if I’m meeting with a female client. The reason being that we have had more than one male attorney in our and surrounding counties get caught in sexual relationships with clients. In almost all cases it’s was male attorneys and female divorce clients. In almost all of the cases the allegations came from the client’s husband. Allegations against the wife’s attorney pop up rather frequently now. We have a female lawyer right now accused of destroying evidence for a criminal client that she became involved with and this is her second go around.
          I also insist on this policy along with a strict can’t date anybody from work policy for my business clients in the defense industry. Yes, I’m close to Oak Ridge. Ninety percent of the time if the bosses get involved with a co-worker it’s just office drama. The other ten per cent it’s a set up for black mail. These women will have handlers and those handlers will work for some really bad people.

    • Bernadette

      Men at the top of the ladder are willing to meet one on one with men who are climbing the ladder. They will not provide the same courtesy to women. So yes, that is discrimination based on sex.

      And if one on one mentorship is exactly the same as having one mentor teaching two or three students, as you seem to imply, then why not make male students bring one or two people along when they want to get some advice?

      If the Billy Graham rule has no affect on the people it’s applied to, why not apply it to both sexes?

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        It’s also completely unworkable the way Lindsey says. In my husband’s job, a physician is matched with one student or resident a day. There aren’t two or three to bring along. There is only one. This is typical for medical placements–and for many other professions too.

        Just think about how this would work for a trainee police officer or EMT! Most of their work is done one-on-one.

  3. Lisa Johns

    Really, if a man is grabbing a quick lunch in a public place with a colleague or student, does this count as being alone with her? Is it that strict? I’m curious.
    My pastor will regularly meet with me one on one, but there’s a small window in his office door, or we will sit in the foyer. I’m curious if Billy Graham rule keepers would see this as a problem.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Many would, yes. Many people say, “you can’t be alone in a car; you can’t have a meal with a person; you can’t talk one-on-one.” My husband often drove to the hospital with a resident. He often ate with a resident. It was just easier that way. When people have that rule (and many churches or Christian workplaces or Christian univeresities do) it absolutely holds women back. Male professors can meet and talk with male students, but only with female students in groups, for instance.

      Or if a company needs to send two people to a conference, they won’t send the woman because the woman can’t be alone in a car with a man. So they’ll send a male colleague instead, and she will miss out on that opportunity.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, in many places it’s that strict. You can’t be in a car with someone (even if driving from one place of work to another). You can’t have a meal.

      Or if you have people setting up the stage for worship in the sanctuary, you cant’ have a man and a woman both working at the same time.

      It really is that strict.

      • Lisa Johns

        So ridiculous. So so so ridiculous.

    • Lynn

      Yes, it really is that strict, because it’s not just about sex. It’s that a man may feel close to a woman if he is having a one-on-one with her, even in public. And that’s an “emotional affair.”

      BTDT. Yuck. And it was super embarrassing.

  4. Jennifer

    The Billy Graham rule assumes a very low view of men. A man can’t help but lust. A man can’t help but think of a woman as a sex object. A man can’t help but be a predator. So therefore he needs to be protected from himself by not being alone with a woman.

    • John

      I think for quite a lot of men, this is true. Lust certainly isn’t everyman’s battle of course, but for a significant minority it is. I think this rule is mainly about the weakness of these men. By keeping to this rule, are they self identifying (apart from the interesting legal situation mentioned above and similar)? Clearly if a man is struggling with lust, he shouldn’t be in a ministry position that would normally include one-on-one meetings with women.

      There is also this perspective: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-interacting-with-woman-leave-man-cognitively-impaired/

      • Lisa Johns

        That’s an interesting article! Now I’m curious to break that down between groups of evangelical Christians and non-evangelical or non-christian men. Maybe the Bare Marriage team can incorporate that in future research! 😁

  5. Barb

    Jesus met alone with the woman at the well in a culture that was far more segregated than ours. You’d think the Bible would say, “It’s only ok because he was Jesus,” if the BG rule applied to everyone else! Also, some men, yes, even pastors, are attracted to men as well as women. So, if applied fairly, the BG rule should be in force with both men and women.

    • Shaye

      Jesus had much more at stake than Billy Graham or any Christian man has today. He had the eternal destiny of every human who has ever lived riding on His shoulders.

      In order for the cross to be effective, He had to be sinless. All it would have taken to derail the atonement was one sinful thought in the mind of Jesus.

      You heard me right. One. Sinful. Thought.

      Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NKJV). “All points ” means all points. Of course He was tempted sexually. He could not be our High Priest if He wasn’t.

      And yet…He did not follow the Billy Graham rule. He had an extended conversation alone with a woman at a well. And he included a number of women among His regular traveling companions (Luke 8:1).

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Exactly, Shaye! Thank you.

  6. Maggie

    Nevermind that the Billy Graham rule completely ignores same sex attraction. Honestly until I worked for an ambulance service as an EMT I felt awkward being alone with a man due to the Billy Graham rule mentality I had been taught. I was kind of shocked like “really? They allow a male/female to be alone in the ambulance together?” But when I thought about how common same-sex relationships are, and I developed nice casual work friendships with some of the men I worked with, I realized how stupid the whole idea was. People of both genders can and should be expected to behave professionally.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, that’s another great point! The Billy Graham Rule would make it virtually impossible for anyone to work as an EMT or a police officer, professions where one is often paired with someone of the opposite sex (for good reason).

    • Perfect Number

      Yes! I have seen posts from bisexual people, talking about how Christians told them “men and women can’t be friends” and they’re like “so by this logic, I am never allowed to have any friends?”

  7. Micah

    I think it’s worth noting that the Billy Graham Rule (one of four rules related to avoiding any appearances of impropriety) was developed in 1948, when the “traditional” nuclear family was developing, the vast majority of denominations didn’t ordain women, and the vast majority of jobs available to women put them under the authority of men (think of the classic “businessman having affair with secretary” trope). In that context, the rule makes more sense, but I think we’ve come a long way since then. Boundaries are still a good idea (especially if you’ve had trouble in the past), but just because Billy Graham endorsed a particular rule doesn’t mean it’s gospel truth.

    • Angharad

      Good point. The church in which my father was a minister followed this rule, but bearing in mind the roles that were open to women within a church in the 60s and 70s, there would be no good reason for a man and a woman to NEED to work together in isolation. The only potential need for this kind of one-to-one meeting would be if a woman were seeking counselling, and the rule was actually in place to protect women, because of the risk of a leader being able to manipulate/abuse that position when counselling someone vulnerable. And no, that does NOT mean that every guy in leadership was planning on raping someone – it was simply an awareness that if there is an opportunity for abuse, a small minority of people are going to take that opportunity, and you don’t always know who they are. How many times today do we hear of a leader who has abused members of his congregation, and everyone is so shocked because he’s the last person they imagined would do that?

  8. Wild Honey

    Going to let you all in on a little secret.

    I’ve been alone with a man I’m not married to more times than I can remember this last year. In my bedroom, even.

    We just moved into a house in need of a number of repairs. First was the pest control technician (I thought it was rats, turned out to be bats). The window replacement guy. The drywall guy (liked him a lot, might have him come back and do baseboards for us). The flooring guy. The appliance guy. Like three different plumbers (don’t ask).

    Since I’m the SAHM, I’m the one who gets tasked with meeting with the repair people.

    Sex never spontaneously combusted. Pinky swear.

    • Jo R

      Pinky swear! 😃 😀 😄 😁 🤣

    • exwifeofasexaddict

      I’m working on learning piano tuning and repair. I have a little giggle when I think about the men I’ve been under a piano with. A piano tech I was learning from, a pastor, even my daughter’s boyfriend! No sex spontaneously combusted.

      I’m also a piano teacher, and right now I have an adult male student and high school male student. One on one lessons. No sex. I have families who are very loyal to me because they trust me to teach their kids well and appropriately.

      I have to admit, though, that part of my healing from religious trauma has been dealing with feeling weird in these situations. Even though I haven’t been afraid of any of the men I mentioned above, and I know I won’t do anything inappropriate, I always feel like I’m doing something wrong.

      • Nessie

        Exwife- “I always feel like I’m doing something wrong.”

        Same! IMO it’s along the same lines as telling men they WILL lust. The power of suggestion can make a person worry about it which can channel their thoughts down that path. Even though there is not one iota of attraction, I feel like I *should* feel guilty if I am alone with a man anywhere. If I had not been told about this rule, I probably wouldn’t even give it a second thought! Thankful to now be in a church where the guys aren’t creepy and don’t care. Far less paranoia and judgment for not being “above reproach.”

        How about living in such a way the rest of our hours that no one would think anything ill of opposite genders being alone together?

        • Lisa Johns

          Amen, I love that!!

  9. Codec

    I doubt that Billy Graham would take the rule to those extremes, but you make a lot of good points Ms Sheila. Heck if you took those rules to a logical extreme it would be impossible for me to train in martial arts because that involves one on one sparring and drilling and sometimes my training partners are women.

    You also bring up faking sexual assaults and other crimes. This is an issue that as a young man I will tell you now terrifies a lot of young men. You know that joke “The worst she can say is no” well after seeing some of the cases of faking such crimes a lot of guys are so terrified that someone may do that that some honestly become paranoid of women. In a similiar mode if women are told that men can not handle themselves around a little bit of bare skin and that men need sex then it makes sense that women would be scared of men.

    It seems to me that if paranoia increases between the sexes that things will only get worse.

  10. Nathan

    My church uses the Billy Graham rule, but (at least officially) it’s used to prevent gossip rather than to prevent “spontaneous sexual combustion”. Even this isn’t good, as women are now prevented from speaking to the lead pastor if they have a serious (and private) issue.

    • Angharad

      Could they not meet in an office which has a window into a public area? Or meet at one end of a large room? In a previous church I attended, the church had a ‘prayer corner’ where people could go for prayer or to share problems after the service – it was one end of the very large sanctuary, so no one could hear what was said, but it was in the public space.

  11. Anon

    The BG rule is just another form of idol worship! Totally pathetic rule!

  12. K.G.

    There is much to think about here. On the face of it, I agree with your arguments.

    However, for me, I am nervous in some scenarios to the point where I will avoid being somewhere alone with a female. I do so simply out of fear of false accusation. There are too many examples of men’s lives being ruined by such, going all the way back to Joseph in Potiphar’s household. I cannot help but think one lesson from that account is that men need to guard their reputations against false accusations. This is even more crucial in these days of the “believe all women” doctrine.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      K.G., let me ask you something. How many men do you know who have lost their job from a false allegation? Now, how many women do you know who have been sexually harassed/assaulted at work?

      I don’t know a single man who has lost a job from a false allegation. I know a ton of women who have been sexually harassed/abused.

      The Billy Graham Rule sets up an expectation that men are in danger, and women pose that danger. Thus, it creates the environment where sexual abuse is normalized. False allegations are simply not the problem. Most allegations people think are false end up being true anyway.

      At one point in my life, I was sure two particular allegations were false. I even wrote a newspaper column defending one of the perpetrators.

      Years later I found out they were true. Every allegation has people declaring that they are false. Just because someone says they’re false doesn’t mean they are. False allegations are very, very rare.

  13. Angharad

    My husband is a church minister and the guidelines he was given when training for ministry were not to be alone with ANYONE. It’s really not that hard. If he needs to discuss matters of church leadership one-to-one, they meet in a coffee shop or chat at one end of the room before or after a service. If he needs to discuss something confidential, then the meeting is out of earshot but still visible. No one is being ‘held back’ in their development, and because the rule applies to everyone, no one is feeling discriminated against.

    I think these kind of guidelines are wise for two reasons – the first is that if the rule applies to everyone, those with whom it would definitely be unwise to meet alone will not feel discriminated against (e.g. the person with mental health problems who has a history of making false allegations). Secondly, it protects the vulnerable. No one is going to knowingly appoint someone to a position of leadership if they believe they could be an abuser, but the reality is that people do slip through the net. How many times do we hear of a congregation’s shock at discovering a trusted leader is really a serial abuser? Maybe 99% of leaders are not going to need that rule. But if 100% follow it, the abusive 1% will be hindered.

    I agree if the rule is limited (e.g. married men cannot meet alone with unmarried women) then it is discriminatory and offensive, but if it applies to everyone, regardless of gender or status, then I think it is helpful.

    • Nessie

      See, that makes sense. It isn’t discriminatory. But even some of the situations you provide- meeting in a coffee shop or alone at the othe end of a room- were considered taboo in my circles. They simply meant even more people could see the potential inappropriateness between them.

      Of course, “pastor” could take liberties with this rule time to time and if you questioned him, he would talk about how *you*have a critical spirit and need to consider that *you* have the problem if you are imagining something going on between him and a female. (Narcissistic and spiritual abuse is a terrible combination.) In these circles, the only meetings between those of the opposite sex considered “safe” were of two unmarrieds. Anything else was a problem- unless the pastor was using his “wisdom and discretion.”

      • Lisa Johns

        “The only meetings between those of the opposite sex considered ‘safe’ were of two unmarrieds.” …??!! That’s actually hilarious!

        For a few years after college my best friend was a guy, and when we, for a short time, became an item, there was at least one person who said “I told you so!” — because of course men and women can’t BE friends! (We were still friends for a while after that, even, but that’s for another day.) I still have good friends who are male, and with no one else has it been an issue. But that two unmarrieds were, in your church, considered “safe” to meet together when no one else was is really funny.

        • Nessie

          By “safe” I think they meant above reproach as in gossip couldn’t happen, but… yeah, basically it was supposedly the safest for all involved.

      • Angharad

        I guess that’s the issue when people talk about the ‘Billy Graham Rule’ – different people mean different things by it. As a teen, I knew many men who did follow it (in the milder form – talking one to one was fine as long as it was in a public place and visible to others, which I believe is how Billy Graham himself implemented it) and they were all lovely men of God that I felt 100% safe around and who never left me feeling objectified in any way. And I know their heart motives were pure and they were acting out of a concern to protect women.

        Ironically, I’ve also encountered men who didn’t follow the Billy Graham Rule yet constantly regarded single women as a ‘threat’ to them (in your dreams Bro!)

        I think it’s good to raise questions around this area and to challenge people who support the rule to consider some of the potential problems and think about their reasons for following the rule. But I also think it’s important to treat the subject with grace – many men will be following this rule out of a desire to do what is right and may not even have thought of some of the implications, so they shouldn’t be branded as monsters.

  14. Jo R

    Seen on a meme just this morning:

    “Being polite is so rare these days that it’s often confused with flirting.”

    That sounds like a good first-order approximation. Who can forget the whole James Dobson “I didn’t take the bait”? 🙄

    (https://baremarriage.com/2021/08/podcast-on-sex-new-reformation/, for those who may need a giggle)

  15. Taylor

    I think it can be helpful or damaging, depending on the context and the thinking behind it. When it applies to everyone, regardless of gender or marriage status, and the intention is mutual honor and respect, it may just be wise policy depending on the local culture, legalities, etc. (To me, visibility w/o auditory is perfectly reasonable. Whether it’s windows, or a meal at a Cafe, or whatever.)

    When it’s applied on the basis of gender and marriage status, it becomes problematic. As some commentators have already mentioned, it completely ignores same sex attraction. Also, when it’s applied because of fear of spontaneous sex combustion, that creates a “don’t think about a pink kangaroo” scenario. If the third party has to be physically present in the room for the sole purpose of protecting people from spontaneous sex (or accusations), that means sex is in the back of everyone’s minds, whether they want it to be or not. This can create awkward and icky feelings. And my personal experience with it is that it amplifies feeling unsafe.

    Also, taken to an extreme, this mindset can result in almost no opposite sex conversations happening even in very public places, especially with single women who might be of marriagable age. I have been attending a church with my children for quite a while, and only one of the men near my age will consistently initiate saying “hello” to me. Most of the others won’t talk to me at all. Their wives don’t talk to me much either. It’s made it nearly impossible to make friends who are in a similar stage of life. Which has isolated me. And it feels very lonely. (We are moving to another church.)

    • Lisa Johns

      Blessings on your church search. I hope you find a good, safe place to worship very soon! ❤️

      • Taylor

        Thank you! We’ve started visiting another place. One of the pastors on the team is a woman, and she recently preached!

        I would love not feel like I’m being viewed as a marriage threat. I just want to be acknowledged as a person, and be free to worship and make some friends.

  16. Angharad

    I’ve just done some reading on how the Billy Graham Rule first originated, and it’s interesting. Graham was concerned to uphold the highest standards of integrity in ministry, so he asked his ministry team to each spend an hour reflecting on the main temptations that an evangelist might face. When they gathered together again, they had all come up with similar issues, so they wrote a ‘Modesty Manifesto’ that was designed to implement rules to keep them from sinning in these areas (NB: Modesty in this context has nothing to do with clothing, but is about living a ‘modest’ Christian lifestyle).

    They identified four main areas where evangelists were likely to be tempted – money (both manipulating people into giving money and misusing finances that had been given), immorality (both adultery and behaving toward a woman in such a way that would lead to gossip or suspicion), unhealthy independence from the church (criticising local churches for their work and behaving as if the evangelists were much better than the local ministers), and publicity (boasting about what they had achieved and exaggerating their successes)

    I wonder if current day ‘Billy Graham Rule extremists’ would be surprised to realise that immorality was the second item on their list of concerns, not the first? And I’m sure they would be surprised to realise that the focus of the list was to keep Graham and his co workers from harming others, not to keep others from harming them! (I’d also love to know how many of the ‘rule keepers’ today follow Graham’s FIRST rule, about finances…or his third one about not criticising other churches…or his fourth one about not boasting and exaggerating their own success…I bet many are not quite as keen to implement these!)

  17. Elle

    I am a woman who works at an academic library and my supervisor follows the Billy Graham rule. He mentored another man with a library degree who ultimately ended up being very successful. They have even published works together. I am positive that I would not get this same mentoring opportunity if I wanted to pursue a similar career.

    My supervisor will also meet with me with his office door open which is awkward when I have something private (and work related) I need to speak with him about.

    • Angharad

      Maybe you should ask him how he’s doing on following the other three of Billy Graham’s FOUR rules? 😊 I love the way everyone is so fixated on the one about women and conveniently ignoring the ones about handling finances well, not boasting and not criticising others…

      • Lisa Johns

        Angharad, thank you for taking the time to find out about those rules and share them with us. I have made note and will remember them when questions come up! 😁

  18. Susannah Cragwick

    Thank you for speaking into this issue. I love that you highlighted how Jesus was alone with women. He prioritized the woman at the well and took time to really invest in her and answer her questions. Even when there were crowds around as in the case of the woman who suffered from years of bleeding and the woman crippled for many years, Jesus chose to focus on those women as if they were the only ones in the crowd. If the Bible were written so that Jesus only had conversations with men and healed men and mentored men, I would find very little reason to stay Christian. Since Jesus prioritized these women, there is hope that he is loving and listening to me.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely! I don’t know if a lot of men truly realize how healing those stories are for the women reading them.

  19. Marie

    This is an interesting topic when I think about my late dad. I should preface this with the fact that he was never a follower of a “Billy Graham” or any other similar rule; he formulated his standards based on his own convictions. When he was a pastor, he would never do *personal counseling* with a woman alone. I think he was concerned about what the kind of emotional intimacy such conversations could create and aware of the power mismatch. There was certainly the potential for negative perceptions to come from it. He personally knew of several instances where pastors did fall into that temptation, and I don’t think he ever wanted to give even the appearance of wrongdoing on the part of either him or the woman. So he always had my mom with him or at least in the building when he had those kinds of conversations. However, he had no problem with spending time with women alone in other contexts. One instance that stands out to me was when he was working a secular job before being called as a pastor. He and one of his female coworkers had gone to a nearby restaurant for lunch, and a couple from the church where we were attending at the time came in while they were there. They came over to his table, and he immediately introduced them to his coworker; it should have been completely obvious that there was nothing going on. Well, this couple left and immediately called my mom to ask if she knew my dad was out to eat with another woman. Both of my parents were very angry that they did that; they viewed it as trying to cause trouble. And I am sure that influenced his caution regarding perceptions. I don’t recall any situation where my dad’s decision not to do personal counseling alone with a woman held any of them back, though. As I recall, they were grateful for the respect that he gave to them, and I think they trusted him even more as a result. So I guess a lot may depend on the way such “rules” are applied.


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