The Billy Graham Rule and supposed sexist discrimination

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I am fascinated by the discussion in the United States concerning the so-called “Billy Graham Rule” or “Pence Rule”. This rule, named after the late evangelist Billy Graham is the commitment by some married men, mostly in the public eye, not to be alone with woman other than their respective wives, in order to avoid a number of problems:

  1. the potential appearance of an inappropriate relationship;
  2. their own temptation to an inappropriate relationship,;
  3. and lately, in the wake of #MeToo, potential accusations of inappropriate behaviour.

Of course, as the “Billy Graham Rule” it is primarily adopted by Christians; however, in the wake of #MeToo, recent surveys found that as many as 60% of male managers are uncomfortable meeting with women alone.

Women complain that this stance has the effect of limiting their professional opportunities and is therefore discriminatory and sexist. Recently a female reporter for “Mississippi Today” wanted to report on the campaign of State Senator Robert Foster, who is running for Governor, by following him around for a day. He declined her request, or rather stipulated that she would have to be accompanied by a male colleague, citing the commitment he had made to his wife before entering politics to follow the “Billy Graham Rule” by “avoiding any situation that may evoke suspicion or compromise of our marriage.”

According to the reporter, Larrison Campbell, this stance communicates that “a woman is a sexual object first and a reporter second”, and Kim Elsaesser, who did research at UCLA and wrote a book entitled “Sex and the Office: Women, Men, and the Sex Partition That’s Dividing the Workplace”, says that the networking many careers depend upon is hampered if women don’t have a access to the same leaders and influences that men have access to, if these men will not meet with women alone, and that this constitutes sexist discrimination.

The link below is to an article in the Los Angeles Time which set me thinking about this today.

Not that anybody cares, but here is my take on this:

  1. When I served with a Christian missionary youth organization at the beginning of the 1970s, we had a so-called “social policy” that regulated the way males and females related to each other within the organization. Among other things we were not supposed to be alone in a room or car with a member of the opposite sex, and we were supposed to always keep a distance of at least 30cm (1ft) from members of the opposite sex. The goal of these rules was two-fold: to ensure that we hormone-driven youngsters resisted any of the normal temptations, and to avoid all appearance of evil. As I look at this organization today, these rules seem to have fallen by the wayside; I have no way of judging whether this has led to more problems or fewer problems. But surely the fact that our founders and early leaders had become Christians through Billy Graham’s crusades was not entirely unrelated to us having these rules.
  2. In view of today’s societal climate with the increasing acceptance and affirmation of same-sex relationships as normal it will not be long before anyone wanting to avoid any suspicion of impropriety and any risk of being accused of inappropriate behavior will have to avoid spending time alone with anyone, of either sex or gender. One cannot any longer assume that men get up to no good only with women, and those who wish to sow suspicion will cotton on to that sooner rather than later.
  3. Anyone who is married has a primary responsibility towards his or her spouse and the marriage relationship, both in terms of avoiding temptation and in terms of avoiding any appearance of impropriety. Any supposed responsibility for the careers of men and women he or she may encouter takes a distant second place, if it exists at all. To take Mr Foster’s example, he did not get into politics in order to provide work for journalists, male or female.
  4. Following the “Billy Graham Rule” does not suggest that women are sex objects; it suggests, for example, that the man following the rule does not trust his own resistance to temptation and therefore will not put himself into situations where he might be tempted, or that he feels that there are enough people out there who might fabricate accusations against him and he will not make ther job easier by being alone with a woman (and perhaps, soon, a man).
  5. It is of course possible that enough people will be offended by Mr Foster’s stance that this will hurt his campaign; if he were concerned about that he could have acceeded to Ms Campbell’s request and made sure that he was always accompanied by one or more of his own friends or campaign staff; but he is not responsible to facilitate Ms Campbell’s career or work.
  6. And of course, it is Christians who are honest about their reasons for avoiding being alone with someone of the opposite sex who will experience the most push-back for this; non-Christian managers who are trying to avoid fake #MeToo accusations will simply tell harmless sounding, politically correct excuses why they cannot meet with a woman.

A Mississippi politician denied access to a female reporter. What is the ‘Billy Graham rule’ he cited?

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