Those outside the Church should know the Billy Graham Rule has come under a lot of criticism within the Church. First off, it’s increasingly recognized that the Billy Graham Rule is sexist in practice if not in theory. Because the leadership in evangelical churches is almost entirely male, the Billy Graham Rule has served to stifle the development and discipleship of female members of the Church. All too often in evangelical churches, men are afforded opportunities to meet individually with their pastors for deep theological discussions over coffee or beers while women are herded into a “moms’ group” or other all-female gatherings.
Second, the Billy Graham Rule reinforces the sexist notion that women have less to contribute to the life of the Church. The Church has struggled with the same sexism present in broader society since its inception. The Bible itself, meanwhile, tells a very different story about the worth of women as disciples and leaders, from Ruth and Naomi in the Old Testament to Mary and Martha in the New. In the Bible, it’s generally the women who keep their faith when the men falter.
Outside the Church, meanwhile, rules like those the vice president follows likewise harm the professional development of—and the professional opportunities afforded to—women. If, as either governor of Indiana or vice president of the United States, Mike Pence would share a glass of scotch at the end of the day with a male subordinate in a way that he would not with a female subordinate, that creates an obviously unfair advantage for the men working under Pence. Leaders in both the private and public sectors have to be very careful about creating such unequal opportunities for mentorship and professional development.
It’s also a fact of life—and one heterosexual Christian men like myself need to come to grips with—that women have made broad gains in the workforce since the heyday of Billy Graham’s ministry. I spent the first years of my working life in an all-male environment in the U.S. Army’s infantry and special operations communities but have spent most of my subsequent professional life working in jobs and in offices where women were, at least on paper, equal members of the team.
I most recently completed two years as a manager in the federal government where I led a 45-person team of both men and women with whom I often traveled internationally. As a manager, it never occurred to me that I might not dine with one of my female subordinates while abroad: Leaving aside my own merits as a dinner companion, to not afford them the same opportunities professionally that I afforded my male subordinates would have been grossly unfair.
All that having been said, count me among those who sympathizes with Mike and Karen Pence. I’m not sure when Americans stopped being so clear-eyed about man’s sinful nature, but it surely wasn’t too long ago that we could all agree that men and women are frail creatures who, when left to their own devices, often fail to do the right thing morally.