‘The Billy Graham Rule’ Under Fire for Demeaning Women


Since writing about the politician who denied a female reporter access to his campaign over the Billy Graham Rule, I’ve seen interesting reactions.

First things first: The Billy Graham Rule was named after the famed evangelist and refers to his practice of never allowing himself to be alone with a woman other than his wife.

The idea was first proposed by Graham and others in 1948 with the goal of avoiding “any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion.”

When Graham did it, it was mostly considered admirable from what I recall.

But when politicians — particularly Conservative political figures — began claiming they follow the practice, that changed. As I read about the fallout to the story I mentioned, I was surprised to see how deeply some people resent the idea.

It’s not a universally-admired idea.

A recent commentary in the Chicago Tribune carried the headline, “The ‘Billy Graham rule’ doesn’t honor your wife — it demeans her and all women.”

The rule, Monica Hesse writes, “just presumes that your marriage vows are so flimsy that you can’t be trusted to uphold them unless a babysitter monitors you.”

The Los Angeles Times carried an editorial with this title: “Following the Billy Graham rule doesn’t make you noble. It makes you a sexist dinosaur.”

The paper’s editorial board says, among other things, “the best way to not be accused of sexual misconduct is to not engage in sexual misconduct.”

Both notions may be valid to an extent.

But there’s more to it than that.

Before addressing these two statements, let me briefly restate my problem with the notion of a politician declining to give a female reporter access to his campaign activities based on her gender: quite obviously, it’s discriminatory. If the rule means so much to that male politician, and, presumably, his wife means so much to him, then he should be the one to provide the “babysitter.” It should be on him to make sure a male staffer accompanies him and any guests. And I suspect he already does. Surely, some of his campaign volunteers are women; surely, he keeps male volunteers or campaign staffers around to make sure he’s not alone with them, either.

Any action that prevents a journalist from practicing journalism in our republic is a problem. It doesn’t matter what you personally think about the media: journalists should not be impeded from doing their job, particularly by politicians who agree to uphold the Constitution.

Let me return to the editorials.

While both of those statements have some degree of merit, they assume that the bad intent can only be on the man’s shoulders. If you’ll allow me a “what if,” perhaps you’ll let me suggest that there could be a woman who might try to be the instigator of something improper. And perhaps you’ll use your imagination long enough to fathom a scene in which a woman whose advances were rejected might lash out.

The Billy Graham Rule wasn’t created solely to prevent a man from having sufficient “alone time” to victimize a woman. It was also created to prevent anyone from questioning the integrity of that alone time. (From either direction.)

In my earlier post, I related a story about being asked to accompany a pastor and a female church volunteer on a car ride. I have absolute confidence that had I not been there, the pastor would have made absolutely no error in judgment that would have compromised either his marriage or his ministry. And I am equally certain the volunteer, who, as I recall, was married, wouldn’t have compromised her marriage, either.

My presence there was requested less to prevent one of them from making a misstep than to prevent anyone else from wondering if a misstep might have been possible.

In this day and age, where far too many people seem to believe everything they see in the tabloids, appearances can make a difference. Even when those whose integrity might otherwise be questioned don’t deserve even an ounce of suspicion.

The Billy Graham Rule may seem a bit quaint or outmoded. But I think from a standpoint of accountability, it definitely has a place.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.