Put most succinctly, the “Billy Graham Rule” is a practice for Christian men in which they live by the moral stricture of never being alone with a woman who is not their wife. This means that Christian men who hold to this rule will not, for example, give a woman a ride home from a meeting. Many interpret the rule in such a way as to mean any one-on-one meeting between a man and woman. This interpretation would even preclude the possibility of a man meeting a woman for coffee in a public space.
The Billy Graham Rule has been criticized for many reasons. Some have argued that the Billy Graham Rule unnecessarily targets women as being universally “seductresses.” Others have argued it objectifies women, making them nothing more than a foil for men. Still others argue that the rule is inherently sexist because it targets women specifically for exclusion. Distressingly, many have pointed out that the Rule makes certain work relationships impossible, because one-on-one meetings can be required between supervisors and subordinates. While I think each of these arguments has value, I want to make my own argument against the rule. Namely, the problem with the Billy Graham Rule is that those who practice it are, in the name of alleged Christian values, in fact giving in to a complete capitulation to non-Christian thought patterns.
The message that is given in our culture is one which pushes the necessity of male-female relations being inherently sexual. On television shows, time and again, men and women who are “just friends” end up together. People who are dating other people start hanging out, they discover a rapport, and the message that is delivered is something akin to “Hey, they’re so good together because they can talk about X, Y, and Z! So now they’re dating.” The same thing plays out in many, many books. Men and women who start as friends inevitably start to wonder about the possibility of dating and often end up together. The message is pushed time and again: men and women can’t be just friends. Even the sitcom entitled Friends features these relationships happening. Secular society states the message loud and clear: men and women who get together one-on-one or who are friends will end up dating or at least one of them will develop feelings for the other.
The Billy Graham Rule presents an attempt to counter to this non-Christian message. It does so by undercutting the scenarios presented by simply making it impossible for a simple one-on-one chat over coffee or a ride home because it’s raining to develop into romantic or sexual feelings. But in doing so, it presents a solution to a problem that itself is what Christians ought to be confronting. Thus, among other possible problems with the Billy Graham Rule, it must be challenged on the front that it cedes to non-Christian society the possibility of male-female relations that remain Godly outside of marriage.
Rather than giving in to the message in secular society that men and women cannot hang out one-on-one without developing romantic or sexual feelings, Christians can offer a better way, a way that embraces the full humanity of both male and female. Men and women are told to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). This mutual submission is paired with a radical equality in which there is no male and female in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28). The very Word of God calls us to challenge the secular message that undercuts male-female relations and reduces them to mere sexual/romantic endeavors. Instead, we are to acknowledge our mutuality and our equality.
So go ahead men, give your women colleagues rides home after meetings. Go out for coffee to talk over a tough time. Do these things as a challenge to secular society and as a witness to the goodness of God–a God who calls us to mutuality in ways that only Christ can demand.
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