16 March 2023

Thinking twice about the "Billy Graham Rule"

Shurik and Lida study for exams. Operation Y and Other Adventures of Shurik; screenshot, source.

We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife.

With these words, Billy Graham explained how he and his leadership team came up with the so-called "Billy Graham Rule." It was one of four rules that they hoped would allow their work to demonstrate an integrity that they admitted was often missing from crusade-style evangelism.

I don't know of anyone who questions Graham's original intention—to shut down even a hint of the kind of impropriety that had obviously tempted many other public figures in the religion industry. (My term, not his!) However, over the years, the rule has come in for much criticism. Women have pointed out some of the implications of the rule: the not-so-subtle hint that women are temptresses, for example; and the professional and personal cost for women in public ministry because this theoretical risk has robbed them of mutually advantageous mentoring and collaboration; and finally and oh-so-familiarly, once again, men try to set all the ground rules.

In turn, others have noted that the rule reinforces the idea that men are so selfish and predatory that they must make unilateral rules to overcome their own weaknesses. Even if I intend to behave perfectly in my relationship with a woman friend or colleague, the onlooker might still assume "boys will be boys." Kristin Kobes Du Mez's book Jesus and John Wayne documents how this view of man-as-selfish-predator even served the cause of telling evangelical women to cater to their husbands' sexual whims: quoting from the LaHayes' book The Act of Marriage, "Few men accept bedroom failure without being carnal, nasty, and insulting." Really?

Behind all these discussions is the age-old question: can two people be friends across the conventional lines of sexual attraction? To be more precise and pointed: can two people who, in a romantic context, might feel sexually attracted to each other, relate fully in other contexts—work-related, for example, or simply as friends with shared interests and mutual appreciation?

Adrian Warnock, an MD and long-time Christian blogger, surveys the subject of male-female friendships in this recent blog post, "Men and Women CAN Be Friends—Retiring the Billy Graham Rule." He ends up firmly supporting the idea that men and women, including married men and women, can have warm and mutually helpful non-romantic relationships outside marriage, even though those relationships would not meet the Graham standard. He points out that some perfectly normal (heterosexual, he assumes) men prefer the companionship of women, and vice versa.

Warnock also says that "Men cannot pass the buck to women for their disgraceful thoughts. Men must take responsibility for handling their own internal thought life. and the stimulus that provokes it." (His emphasis; presumably the same applies to women.) This reminded me of something that a woman Quaker leader once said at a conference: (quoting from memory) "absolutely pure male-female friendships might happen, but they're rare. There's almost always some sexual tension."

If this is true (and I have no research to go on beyond what Warnock cites), the solution is not to avoid such relationships, but (a) not to "pass the buck" for this tension, making it somehow the other person's or other gender's fault; and (b) instead, take the responsibility to confront and manage the tension within oneself. Consider whether, after all, the relationship is rewarding in so many ways that this management of the tension, with prayer and with honest self-examination, is well worth it.

So, the question isn't whether non-sexual friendships across the conventional lines of sexual attraction will ALWAYS be successful, or NEVER be successful, where "success" means mutually beneficial and productive without becoming sexualized. Sometimes the truth is, success takes work and restraint and honesty, but the rewards can make that effort worthwhile.

PS: Is this a fair definition of "success"?

In the past, the categories Adrian Warnock uses in his post (male-female friendship, etc.) don't take into account sexual temptation outside once-predominant heterosexual male-female assumptions. To widen the discussion, I've adopted this formula of "friendships across the lines of sexual attraction,"  or "two people who, in a romantic context, might feel sexually attracted to each other..." but these sound a bit clumsy to me. Are there better ways to express my meaning?

Related posts:  Trust, the first testimony—now it gets personal; What's so urgent about sex?

Swedish "charismactivist" Micael Grenholm interviews Craig Keener on the Asbury University revival of last month.

Russia at war, faith, and conscientious objection: a successful appeal for alternative service; a draft counselor comments on the current wave of notifications to update conscription records (video, in Russian); Forum 18: "Thou shalt not kill" leads to fines.

David Remnick interviews historian Stephen Kotkin on how the war in Ukraine will end.

And so we have a Russia which looks more and more like the Putin regime as a society, not just as a regime, potentially. We have all the flotsam of the xenophobic hard right in Russia complaining that the war is not being fought properly, wanting to nuke Ukraine, nuke the West, as they go on social media and express the extremism that unfortunately social media facilitates and encourages. And so that’s the Russia we have already. Russia has already been transformed utterly. Wars are transformational in all ways.

Friends Committee on National Legislation looks inside the Biden budget.

"Ya gotta have fun, baby." Greg Morgan (Elder Chaplain) gives us a story of friendship and closure from one of his readers. Have you had a similar experience? Write to Greg.

Beacon Hill Friends House in Boston (where Judy and I met 45 years ago) is looking for a facility manager.

The people of Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends: Judy interviews Gil George.

Gil: Part of why I have the skill I have at fitting in wherever I go, is because I grew up in a house where I literally walked from one culture to another, just by changing rooms. I go up on the third floor and I'm in Guyana. I go across the hall from the Guyanese room, and I'm in Colombia. I go downstairs, I'm in Ethiopia. I go down to the basement and I'm in Jamaica.

To Josephine from Australia: Queen Juanita and the Zydeco Cowboys play an old classic.

Also on YouTube: Henry Gray's version, old-school (audio only). The Jerry Jaye version I remember from my teen years. The Fats Domino original.

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