Billy Graham rule

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Billy Graham in 1966

The Billy Graham rule is a practice among some male evangelical Protestant leaders, in which they avoid spending time alone with women to whom they are not married. It is adopted as a display of integrity, a means of avoiding sexual temptation, to avoid any appearance of doing something considered morally objectionable, and to avoid being accused of sexual harassment or assault.

The rule has been named after Billy Graham, who was one of the early proponents of the practice. More recently, it has also been called the Mike Pence rule, after a US Vice President who also supported the idea.[1]


"Billy Graham rule"[edit]

In 1948, Graham held a series of evangelistic meetings in Modesto, California. Together with Cliff Barrows, Grady Wilson and George Beverly Shea, he resolved to "avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion".[2] The accountability agreement, which has become known as the Modesto Manifesto,[3] covered not only their interactions with women, but also commitments to integrity with respect to:

From that time onward, Graham made a point of not traveling, meeting, or eating alone with a woman other than his wife Ruth.[5] Graham biographer Grant Wacker observed that "Over the years Graham received intense media scrutiny, but hardly anyone accused him of violating any of those four principles."[6]

By Graham's own admission, though, he was not an absolutist in the application of the rule that now bears his name: his autobiography relates a lunch meeting with Hillary Clinton that he initially refused on the grounds that he does not eat alone with women other than his wife, but she persuaded him that they could have a private conversation in a public dining room.[7][8]

"Mike Pence rule"[edit]

48th Vice President Mike Pence in 2017, with Second Lady Karen Pence

In March 2017, The Washington Post noted that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence never eats alone with a woman other than his wife, Karen, and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side.[9][10][11] Emma Green, writing for The Atlantic, noted that the controversy was an example of how "notions of gender divide American culture": while "socially liberal or non-religious people may see Pence's practice as misogynistic or bizarre", for "a lot of conservative religious people" the "set-up probably sounds normal, or even wise".[12]


The rule has been criticized for viewing women as potential objects of lust, as well as restricting opportunities for women to network with any male colleagues who happen to implement this rule.[9][13]

When applied to workplace dinners or meetings, it could result in illegal labor discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[14][15][16]

American pastor Tracey Bianchi says that one result is that "women are marginalized and cut out of opportunities to network, share their ideas, and advance in the organization."[17] Bianchi also says that the rule conflicts with the practice of Jesus himself, who spent time alone with the Samaritan woman at the well.[17]

American pastor Ty Grigg says that the rule (assuming all American pastors implemented it) has not been "effective at curbing infidelity". He says that the rule "has framed relating with the opposite sex with fear", and that this leads to a diminished mutual respect, which in turn creates "the kind of environment where inappropriate relating is more likely to occur".[18] Others, though, suggest that unfaithful pastors must have failed to implement the rule.[19]

Christian author Michael Brown says that criticism against the rule has misunderstood the purposes of the rule. He says that the rule prevents third parties from suspecting that an illicit romantic relationship exists (avoiding the appearance of evil). It also protects against any future accusations should the other party become embittered and seek to attack the innocent boss. Finally, it does protect both parties from developing natural attractions and potentially falling into adultery.[20]

Public opinion[edit]

According to a 2017 poll conducted by the Morning Consult for the New York Times, 53% of women and 45% of men believe that it would be inappropriate to have dinner alone with someone of the opposite sex who is not their spouse, compared to 35% of women and 43% of men who would consider it appropriate.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bowles, Nellie (November 10, 2017). "Men at Work Wonder if They Overstepped With Women, Too". The New York Times. Retrieved November 10, 2017. Still, some workers said they were starting to follow "the Pence rule," which was formerly known as the Billy Graham rule, after the evangelical preacher, but is now named for Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Pence has said he does not eat alone with women who are not his wife or attend an event without her if alcohol will be served.
  2. ^ Graham, Billy (1999). Just As I Am. HarperOne. p. 128. ISBN 978-0060633929.
  3. ^ Dowland, Seth (2014). "The 'Modesto Manifesto'". Christian History. 111.
  4. ^ Taylor, Justin (March 20, 2017). "Where Did the 'Billy Graham Rule' Come From?". The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  5. ^ "What part did the Modesto Manifesto play in the ministry of Billy Graham?". Billy Graham Center Archives. January 31, 2007. Retrieved May 16, 2017.
  6. ^ Wacker, Grant (2014). America's Pastor. Harvard University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0674052185.
  7. ^ Graham, Billy (1997). Just As I Am : the Autobiography of Billy Graham. Harper Collins. p. 651. ISBN 9780060633875. OCLC 883482847.
  8. ^ Gayle, J.K. (March 30, 2017). "When Hillary Clinton Persuaded Billy Graham to Break the 'Billy Graham Rule'". BLT – Bible * Literature * Translation.
  9. ^ a b "Twitter Tangles With the Billy Graham Rule". Relevant. March 30, 2017. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  10. ^ Parker, Ashley (March 28, 2017). "Karen Pence is the vice president's 'prayer warrior,' gut check and shield". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  11. ^ Showalter, Brendan (March 30, 2017). "Mike Pence Ridiculed for Practicing 'Billy Graham Rule'". The Christian Post. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  12. ^ Green, Emma (March 30, 2017). "How Mike Pence's Marriage Became Fodder for the Culture Wars". The Atlantic. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  13. ^ Turner, Laura (March 30, 2017). "The religious reasons Mike Pence won't eat alone with women don't add up". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  14. ^ Grossman, Joanna (December 4, 2017). "Vice President Pence's "never dine alone with a woman" rule isn't honorable. It's probably illegal". The Big Idea. Vox. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  15. ^ Hirshman, Linda (October 30, 2017). "Stop trying to limit the way men and women work together. It's illegal". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  16. ^ Spiggle, Tom (January 1, 2018). "Following the 'Pence Rule' in the workplace will get you sued". Chattanooga Times Free Press. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  17. ^ a b Bianchi, Tracey (June 23, 2016). "Ladies Who Lunch—with Men". Christianity Today. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  18. ^ Grigg, Ty (July 18, 2014). "How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Billy Graham Rule and Love Like Jesus". Missio Alliance. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  19. ^ Russell, Bob (2016). After 50 Years of Ministry: 7 Things I'd Do Differently and 7 Things I'd Do the Same. Moody Publishers. p. 84. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  20. ^ Brown, Michael (November 20, 2017). "Why the Mike Pence Rule is as Christian as it is Wise". The Stream. Retrieved May 4, 2018.
  21. ^ "It's Not Just Mike Pence. Americans Are Wary of Being Alone With the Opposite Sex". The New York Times. July 1, 2017. Retrieved August 14, 2018.