I recently lost another friendship to the “Billy Graham Rule.” I am a female ordained minister, and I lost a fellow male pastor and colleague who was my friend.
This is not the first time this has happened; it has happened many times before. Even in the most liberal denominations, a woman is not seen as “safe” or even “honorable.” This was a friendship that was many years in the making and which saw me through some tough times in my life. Yet, one day, it was over because, simply put, I am a woman.
The summary of the Billy Graham Rule is that you must not be alone with someone of the opposite sex. The rationale is that unhealthy bonds will develop, and an inappropriate relationship may occur. Under this rule, sitting down in public for coffee at Starbucks, a meal at a local cafe, or a bench in a park is disallowed because it is a one-on-one (alone) conversation. Some conversations within a work setting may also be considered under this rule if it is in a closed office, room, or car.
Yet in today’s society, some ministers are homosexual or have homosexual attractions. This rule does not seem to apply to them. The Billy Graham Rule instead forces an absolute rule of discrimination based on the natural desires of the heart for intimacy. To help control the temptation for intimacy, gender discrimination is enforced. This allows men to continue in their dominance of the church while suppressing talented, gifted, and anointed ordained women.
The problem with the Billy Graham Rule is that it suppresses and denies the development, leadership, and mentorship of women in general. Whereas a male minister can sit down with another male minister and share about issues in the church, board problems, how to best effectively lead, how to successfully apply to a pastorate, personal problems, or even academic endeavors, a female minister only has herself to rely on. Most women ministers have very few successful female ministers to converse with. She is relegated to being alone and surviving as an island. She lives trying to break through the glass ceiling with no one to help her.
The Billy Graham Rule disallows the development and mentorship of women. Opportunities are lost, wisdom never found, and spiritual balance and health is left to the wayside. Perhaps you are reading this and you say, “But why do you even need to sit down with a person of the opposite sex?” Perhaps I might need encouragement in my skills and abilities, a sharper look at ministry ideas, or to even show a blueprint, plan, or manuscript to receive critical feedback. Through the loss of vital interactions with male ministers, a woman is placed at a clear disadvantage.
Influential denominations are raising the standard by ordaining and advocating for women clergy, yet they are hypocrites because of their treatment of them. Female clergy remain seen as seductresses, destroyers of marriages, and sexual objects. They are objectified by those who have sought to lift them up. These denominations have undone the progress they have made. They have not truly embraced a theology that allows a woman to operate fully in the priestly role. When a woman’s competence is mistaken for sexual intent, as a movement, we go back several decades.
As a female minister, I forgive those who have mistreated me. Often, it is the female spouse who enforces the Billy Graham Rule, and not the male minister. Women have continued the cycle of oppression due to feelings of inadequacy, fear, and low self-esteem. As a woman, I get it; I sometimes have those feelings as well. I forgive you for what you have done. Let’s get through it together. To the male ministers who only see me as a sexual object, I forgive you too. Let’s get over it as well, together.
There is so much work to be done in the Kingdom of God, let’s get about the work together. Let’s live out our words in fellowship, communion, and friendship. Let’s move on. We have more important things to do.
Reality Changing Observations:
1. How do I view women, and how has it impacted my relationships?
2. In what ways do my actions toward women, particularly female clergy, uphold my views, and where do I need improvement?
3. What do I need to change so that my thoughts (theology) and actions are in alignment?