End the #BillyGrahamRule: Here's the men Christians should be following

One unintended consequence of recent male sexual misconduct in America, particularly among well-known pastors and Christian leaders, has been a resurgence of what is known as the Billy Graham Rule.

If you aren't an Evangelical Christian, you might have first heard this rule mentioned regarding Vice President Mike Pence. Last November, Fox News personality Brit Hume tweeted this after sex abuse scandals involving Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, U.S. Senator Al Franken, and other prominent men came to light:


For those of you catching up, the Billy Graham rule states, in essence, that married men should not eat alone with women other than their wives. Many extend this to "meet" alone with women other than their wives. Pence also says he doesn't attend events where alcohol is served without his wife.

For all appearances, Pence and his wife, Karen, seem to have a happy and healthy marriage. This isn't about them. I'm bringing the rule up today because I think it's bogus, particularly when it's purported to be a part of "Christian" culture.

Willow Creek founding pastor Bill Hybels, whose wife, Lynne, has been a public supporter of the #MeToo movement, has been the most-recent pastor to be accused of sexual misconduct. As more women have come out accusing Hybels of sexual misconduct and harassment, I've seen troubling trend among male pastors and church leaders, as well as among Christians in general.

One African-American pastor said, in light of recent scandals, that he'll be following two rules: (1) Not owning a yacht, and (2) The Billy Graham Rule: not meeting alone with women other than his wife.

So I'd like to weigh in here, because I think the whole narrative the "Christians" are putting forth on this topic is a) unbiblical, b) anti-women, and c) factually incorrect. I also think it does men a huge disservice, doesn't tell the truth about men, and isn't anything I'd ever want to teach my two sons.

I do have some experience in this arena. Prior to becoming a Pastor, I earned a journalism degree at the University of Missouri and spent about five years as a sportswriter, on assignments and as a part of sports departments that were almost exclusively male. I covered Major League Baseball, NFL, college basketball and the NHL and spent time in locker rooms of each of those sports. I was the only woman to cover the MLB owners' meetings the year I was there, and the only woman to cover the NHL GM meetings two years in a row. I worked with exclusively male coaches and male sports editors, and I became the first woman beat writer for the hockey team I covered. When I took that job, I was just 22 years old.

After my years in sportswriting, I attended a Lutheran Seminary and was ordained as a Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I served on a large church staff in Las Vegas with two other male pastors, and I served as Pastor of Discipleship and Community Life of a large church in Orange County with a male senior pastor. 

I also happen to currently live with three men - two boys aged 5 and 2, and my husband, Ben.

In light of all these professional - and personal - experiences working with men. I'd like to share my thoughts and also propose something new. Let's get rid of the Billy Graham rule. It's time. 

Let's look at the Bible. I sure seem to see Jesus spending a lot of time alone with women who weren't his wife. How about the woman at the well (John 4)? How about his dinner with Mary and Martha, his close friends (Luke 10, and other instances of Jesus spending time in Mary and Martha's home)? How about his first post-death appearance to the three Mary's (Luke 24 and parallels)? 

Jesus, who was unmarried, was certainly no advocate of anything like Christian sex segregation, or purdah: a practice in Muslim and Hindu culture where women are kept out of sight of men.

The Billy Graham rule has nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with male superiority complex, a devaluing of the human body, patriarchy, oppression of women. After all, if women can't dine with the CEO - if women can't attend the office party where deals get made - women will never lead the board room, women will never win the White House, and women will never get equal pay or equal respect. 

My story, I imagine, is no different than any other women's story who has found success in male-dominated professions. My path was forged ahead by caring, respectful men who built relationships with me and gave me opportunities.

What I actually want to do in this blog is lift up those men.

Forget Billy Graham, may he rest in peace.

New rule time. I propose the

Peter/Joe/Mark/Greg/Craig/Gerry/Malcolm/Ernie/Mark/Michael/Matt/Bob Rule

These are names of some - but not all - of the dynamic, confident, respectful men in my life who have not adhered to the Billy Graham rule but instead met with me privately, built up relationships with me, never pursued me sexually, didn't sexually harass me, didn't cheat on their wives with me, mentored me, taught me, prayed with me, ate with me - and gave me opportunities to lead, to grow, and to share the truth (in journalism) and the Truth (in the church).

 I want to tell you about these men. Because, moms and dads and church leaders - these are the men we should be lifting up in church. These are the men we should ask our children to emulate. These are the men who are following the word and example of Jesus. And these are the men who are Making America Great.

Peter: Pastor Peter Geisendorfer-Lindgren was my pastor growing up - and he's really still my pastor in many ways today. Peter came to the hospital when I was born. He walked me through confirmation and speaking at our high school baccalaureate service. He met with me when I considered seminary, when I had a rough first call following a pastor who - guess what? - committed sexual misconduct! Peter and I have always stayed in touch, connecting over writing, current events, and the state of the church. Last week, we met for coffee in Minneapolis. I have never once not one time felt sexually harassed, nor has there ever been anything even remotely similar to that. What Peter has done is recommended me, over and over again, for pastoral positions and opportunities, and he has connected me with others in the church, as well as promoting my writing and my preaching.

Joe: Joe Walljasper gave me my first paid sportswriting job for the Columbia Daily Tribune. I joined an all-male sports department at age 20. Joe trusted me and even sent me with the team to cover the then-Big 12 tournament in Dallas and Kansas City. He never once spoke or acted inappropriately to me; instead he promoted me to other papers, edited my work, put my writing up for awards, and helped me to publish my first story in Sports Illustrated.

Mark Wo: Mark Wollemann was my sports editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, my first big writing internship. He helped me grow as a writer and believed in me when I took on out-of-the-box assignments, like a front-page takeout on boxing in Minnesota. Mark and I have stayed in touch over the years, meeting for coffee and breakfast and even happy hour on occasion. He's a Wisconsinite and likes beer. I've also met for lunch with Mark and his wife, Melody, who happens to be an accomplished documentary filmmaker and all-around all-star. Is it surprising that a man who promotes his incredibly strong wife and daughter's work is also a man who promoted my writing, worked with me as a professional and a friend, and never once spoke or acted inappropriately toward me? No, it is not surprising - but to hear too many prominent Christians tell it, this kind of professional, mentoring relationship between a man and a woman is simply impossible, without also destroying that man's marriage.

Greg: Greg Hardwig gave me my first big sportswriting job after college, covering the hockey beat at the Naples Daily News in Naples, Fla. I remember the paper flew me down for a visit and Greg took me to lunch and drove me around town, showing me sights like Larry Bird's house and Judge Judy's house. He didn't flinch when the hockey team initially balked at having me (the first female to cover them) in the locker room after games. Greg backed me 100 percent and insisted the team change its policy. They did, almost immediately. As part of an all-male sports staff in Florida, I made many friends with my co-workers. We went out for drinks or dinner or lunch after covering games and practices. We met up for tennis or basketball pick-up games. Some of them were close in age to me and some were much older. It didn't matter. They respected me, even though I was fresh out of college and in my first sports job. These men never made me feel uncomfortable or spoke or acted inappropriately towards me. We were friends. Yes, Christians, this is possible and preferable in professional settings involving men and women!

Craig, Gerry, Malcolm, Ernie and the Hockey Men: I use these three names to represent all the men who I encountered and worked with in the hockey world. Craig Brush was the GM of the hockey team I covered in Florida. Gerry Fleming was the head coach initially, and then he took another job and was replaced with Malcolm Cameron. Ernie Hartlieb was a veteran on the team and one of the players I knew the best, though I often met players for lunch for interviews and had to contact many athletes throughout my career via cell phone or text message for private interviews. Now the caveat here, I will not say that every single coach, athlete or sports official was 100 percent respectful to me. Some comments were made that were probably inappropriate, and I also probably flirted with players who I saw at a sports bar after a game. I was 22 years old, single, and they were typically around my age or even at times younger. That said, I never once felt unsafe because of the way a player or coach or sports official treated me. The vast majority of players, coaches and officials who I worked with were incredibly respectful of my job and what I was there to do. I earned their respect because of honest reporting and conduct. It didn't matter that I was a woman. And while not everyone was perfect, I have never encountered or seen an athlete or coach act in the manner I've heard described about prominent pastors, church leaders and politicians accused of sexual misconduct or harassment, especially when it comes to abuse of power among female colleagues and using one's position to gain sexual favors.

Mark Wi: Mark Wickstrom was my pastoral internship advisor and senior pastor of a Lutheran megachurch in Las Vegas. He is also a father of four and husband to Kristi, an awesome teacher and leader in her own right. Mark gave me chances to preach and lead at a huge level for just an intern pastor at such a huge church. He and our other pastor, Michael, never once left me out because I was a woman. They even included me on a pastors-only skeet shooting trip, even though I was pregnant and hated shooting! We did a basketball pool together and I took them for a fancy lunch when I lost. Mark taught me much of what I know now about preaching, being a pastor, and being a human (really). He is incredibly wise. He never once made me feel uncomfortable or treated me inappropriately in the countless times I met with him privately to discuss sermons, mentoring, or pastoral development. He has recommended me for future pastoral positions and has always been there to support and guide me as a mentor and friend.

Michael: Michael Stoops was the assistant pastor in Vegas when I served as intern pastor there. He is a couple of years older than me, and both of us were fairly recently married, with no kids, when we worked together. We immediately got along upon first meeting, and it helped that my husband and his wife also connected. But then Michael and I butted heads over relatively trivial things. It took some deep, one-on-one discussions and prayer - and sometimes talking it through with Pastor Mark - to make our friendship and teamwork work. And then it did. We realized, I think, that part of what made us fight was that we were so similar. We ended up becoming close friends. We spent Christmas Eve together at What-A-Burger in a Vegas casino at 1 a.m., following several back-to-back worship services. When we both later ended up serving churches in California, he and his wife, Jacqueline, were the first friends to visit us after the birth of my second son. Michael baptized my first son, with Pastor Mark. We had several one-on-one lunches together at Jack-in-the-Box, and traveled as couples to California, where Michael and I attended a church conference, and our spouses hung out at the beach. Guess what? It was never inappropriate. We were friends and colleagues. I learned a lot from Michael. We're still friends today, and friends with each other's spouses. He never once made me feel uncomfortable or took advantage of his authority over me. And if the Billy Graham rule would've been followed, this awesome friendship never would have happened.

Matt: Matt Stuhlmuller was one of my best pastor friends in Chicago during my first call, among other male (and female) pastors my age who I would meet occasionally for lunch or breakfast. When I heard Matt speak at a synod gathering about his church plant, I messaged him and we met for lunch. We became friends and he introduced me to other like-minded pastors. His friendship helped me see beyond my small, struggling church - and his advice, and the friendships and relationships I built with other male (and female) pastors in Chicago helped me turn that church around. We're still friends today, as I am with many of the awesome male (and female) pastors I met there. Matt and I even shared a rental car when traveling to a conference in Florida. Today we're both parents of two boys and married to amazing spouses. Same thing as with the others I mentioned: never ever anything even remotely inappropriate, a friendship that brought much good to our families and to the church, and something that never would have been possible had we followed the bogus Billy Graham rule.

Bob: Pastor Bob Mooney and I were Facebook friends before we became colleagues. I sent him an email when I saw his church was hiring a new pastor, and we talked on the phone before arranging a visit and interviews. He would occasionally text me with updates, and as Ben and I prepared to make a move from Chicago with our son, Jacob - our growing friendship with Bob and his wife, Jeannie: a formidable artist and an incredible woman - was part of what urged us to go ahead and take a new call and a new move. Once I became Bob's colleague pastor in California, he always respected me. Even though he'd served the church for 30 years, he never referred to me as his "associate pastor." Near the end of my time, he'd also really removed the term senior when referring to himself. He gave me every opportunity to lead, even sharing preaching duties on Christmas and Easter, and consistently promoting me and praising my work to the staff and the church. He never made people choose between us, and he never abused his power. Bob and I had lunch together many times and also often did walking meetings; if we met in the office, it was hard to get uninterrupted time without someone else coming to see one of us. Bob never once - not one time - did or said anything inappropriate to me, even though in conservative Orange County some people outside the church assumed we were married (otherwise a woman wouldn't be a pastor, went the thinking). Bob did everything in his power to combat that kind of misogynistic thinking, and to this day we are still close friends. I learned a lot from him, he continues to promote me and recommend me for new positions, and had we followed the Billy Graham rule - we never would have worked together, and I would have been denied the opportunity to take a pastoral call at a really fantastic church - which would have been a loss on both sides.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention three more names: Ben, Rick and Dennis. These are my husband, my father and my father-in-law. Not one of these men has ever cheated on their wives. Not one of these men have ever spoken inappropriately to a female colleague or abused their power to gain sexual favors or begin an affair. All three men have immense respect for women, including in the workplace. My husband, as an engineer, has had several female bosses. My dad also had a female supervisor. Never once did they suggest that these women shouldn't hold these positions because of their sex. Never once did any of these men suggest to me that I couldn't work in male-dominated fields. They've all supported me 100 percent. It is because of them that I can continue to work in these fields, because of them and because of all the brave, scrupulous, Jesus-following men I've mentioned above -- even the ones who wouldn't consider themselves overtly Christian are still following Jesus' earthly edict to respect women and treat them as cherished friends and colleagues.

Men can do better. The Billy Graham rule thinks too little of men, especially the men I know.

***

So here's the deal. It's been a rough year. Women face horrific incidences of sexual misconduct, harassment, abuse and even assault at the hands of powerful men: in politics, in Hollywood, and yes, in the church. And, #MeToo, I've experienced it, too.

But the answer isn't some antiquated, unfair to women, patriarchal dividing of the sexes, where the men get the golden room full of power and money and the women get the washroom full of rags.

The answer, as I see it, is above. For all the men who are acting like power-hungry, disrespectful, marriage-busting jerkfaces -- there are men out there treating women with respect in the name of Jesus. These men have changed my life, and my friendships with them continue to help me learn, grow and serve my God. There are many other men in my life I didn't list above who've opened doors for me as a writer, a leader, a speaker, and a voice for Christians in the world today.

The answer, in moving forward toward a more just society, is not only to denigrate the men who suck. The answer is also to lift up the men who get it, the men who love and respect women. These are the men who make America great. These are the men in whose image I want to raise my sons. These are the men who should set the standard of conduct for how men should treat women, not some outdated Evangelical rule that seeks to keep woman quiet and powerless.

Pastors and Friends in California: 
If we followed the Billy Graham rule, this partnership would never have taken place

Comments

  1. Proud of you and your ability -- and willingness -- to speak your truth. Also honored to be part of your journey. And glad that I could play a small part in helping you find your way.

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  2. Angela, While I appreciate your prospective, I think you've missed the entire purpose of the Billy Graham rule (which as a senior pastor, I am more than happy to follow). While a small part of the rule is avoid temptation, most of it is set up as staying above reproach in the eyes of others. Too many men have been wrongly accused and we all know that there is no justice in an accusation of that sort. It is automatically guilty even if proved innocent. So yes - I will protect myself, my family, and my church by not opening up myself to either temptation or false accusation.

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    1. I can understand and appreciate your thoughts. I am curious about these "too many men have been wrongly accused". Do you know any of these wrongly accused men?

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  7. I just found you from a post from red letter christians! Im deep in southern white evangelicalism and though I love so many things about the church and I have an amazing male mentor, until reading your blog post, I was a pretty committed Billy graham rule follower. Until recently I didnt know any different. Now it feels so yuck. Like, before I know it all of my brothers in Christ will be giving me only side hugs. I hate being made to feel like a sexual object all.the.dang.time. God help us.

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