Billy Graham would have turned one hundred this year. He was one of the most influential Christians in the last seventy years, preaching all over the world. Graham met with and counseled every U. S. president since Harry Truman and has appeared on television discussing religion with the likes of Woody Allen. His influence has been felt most strongly in evangelical churches, especially among pastors and evangelists. Growing up, I heard Graham’s version of the Sinner’s Prayer thousands of times: “… I accept You as my personal Lord and Savior.”
Graham was highly regarded as a man of faith, a servant of God, and as a cultural influencer. He stayed above the shower of scandals that have affected so many other Christian leaders. One of the major reasons for this was his commitment to not meet alone with a woman other than his wife. This became known as the Billy Graham rule. Many pastors and Christian men have taken up this rule in their own lives, attempting to stay away from temptation or even the appearance of immorality with someone of the opposite sex.
I was at a summer camp in high school when I first heard someone talk about this. A famous evangelist was speaking in an auditorium and said that he never met in public or in private with a woman alone except his wife. He wouldn’t even drive alone with a woman in his car. Applause percolated the room, and a few “Amens” were let out. This also seems to be the attitude toward Graham. Most Christians admire his commitment to a life of integrity and look up to the example that he set.
Twenty-seventeen was a year of realizing that the world is made up of a lot of men without integrity. Men in positions of power and influence have used their status for all manner of inappropriate and outright criminal behavior toward women. In most cases, this has happened because a man can lure a woman into a one-on-one situation. And because so much of this sexual abuse goes on behind closed doors, there often aren’t many witnesses to support women who have been mistreated.
Given all sorts of discussions about abusive sexual behavior in the workplace and elsewhere, what do Billy Graham’s life and his rule have to say to us? Christians have usually taken up the Billy Graham rule as a noble defense against the temptations of adultery, but now, there’s the added concern of sexual harassment and abuse even in the church. Unfortunately, pastors are not exempt from abusive behavior. Stricter codes of conduct between men and women could at least be a way to show the world how serious Christians are about purity and integrity. And thankfully, Graham was a fantastic display of a life committed to Christ in the public eye. His rule certainly helped.
But this rule provides another, less admirable example. It gives us a view of fellow Christians that turns us against one another. Committing to not meet one-on-one with someone of the opposite sex is a defensive attitude, an attitude that views a brother or sister in Christ as a potential threat to your morality. What should Christians do in the face of so much distrust between the sexes and so much inappropriate behavior behind closed doors? I think in the workplace, Christian men can show that they are respectful and professional toward their female coworkers. Christian men should strive to be the kind of colleagues that women feel comfortable with meeting alone. This could be an even more powerful example for the world to see.
Christians in the workplace can also build trust with their colleagues and be witnesses for Christ, but in many cases, this can only happen when two people are able to build a relationship alone. We need to trust God to help us resist temptation and the appearance of evil. He will protect our hearts if we rely upon His strength. Rules are helpful, but it’s God’s power in the end that keeps us from sin.
Relationships are confusing and often awkward things. Rules are a safe way to find control. Graham’s rule contributed to his life of integrity, and many fellow Christian leaders could benefit by following his example. On the other hand, we can also go beyond a rule that’s partially based on defense and the perseverance of outward appearances. We should live lives that demonstrate healthy Christ-centered relationships with individuals, whether they be friends, colleagues, or someone we meet on the street. The world needs it now more than ever.
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