Friday, July 18, 2014

The Appearance of Righteousness

My wife, Laurie, forwarded an article today written by Ty Grigg: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Billy Graham Rule and Love Like Jesus.

I knew what he meant by "the Billy Graham rule" right away. I've served in several institutions where the Billy Graham rule was the rule (usually an unwritten rule). I've had respected mentors and professors expound on the virtue of the Billy Graham rule. Essentially the rule is: a man should never be alone with a woman... not in an office, not in a car, not for a meal, not even on an elevator. In the case of Billy Graham there was fear that he would be targeted by someone out to get him by fabricating a scandal (I think this is the plot of the movie being released today: Persecuted). I've never thought of myself as such a big deal that anyone would go to such efforts to "get me."

But that isn't my only reason why I routinely ignored the rule. For me it has never seemed at all practical. My first real boss, other than my dad, was a woman (I don't think most of the boys who strictly follow the Graham rule have ever had a female boss). I've always had female colleagues (up the org chart, down the org chart, and horizontal on the org chart); I can't work with people if there are no one-on-ones, no meetings on the fly in an elevator, or no road trips.

I think I've made good decisions to protect my reputation and others. I've relied on my spidey sense. I've even cut windows into walls and doors when offices seemed too secluded.

I worked through the best reason for ignoring the rule a few years ago when I more clearly saw what various implementations of the Graham rule was doing to my female friends and colleagues. We were reworking the governance documents at the University I served, from the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws all the way through the various employee manuals. Some of the more old-school members of the leadership team wanted to codify the Graham rule in the manuals. I was intent on using my influence to not go there, but I wasn't winning the argument based merely on the practicality of it all. So we started listening more carefully to women to understand their perspectives, starting with the voices around that table, but seeking out the stories of others as well. Laurie had valuable input, as I listened more carefully to my spouse, to what she heard and what she even experienced.

I heard stories about how women were marginalized. Decisions would be made in boys-only meetings, whether in the office, on the road, or on the golf course. There was an important camaraderie enjoyed by men that extended into the office from which women were barred. It might not be that decisions were made in boys-only meetings, but they might as well have been since we spoke in code forged in fellowship and relied on contexts and experiences that were shared in various boys-only spaces.

We determined that our values of gender equity, full-spectrum perspective, and championing women in leadership could not coexist with the Graham rule.

For those who insist on keeping the Graham rule, I sometimes wonder what is really going on. A couple of possibilities come to mind:

  1. They have a lust problem. It seems to me that if you think the only way you can remain pure is to avoid being alone with a woman, you should seek professional help. 
  2. They have a fear problem. If you think you are that hot or such a big deal that people are out to get you, you likely have an inflated view of yourself. 
  3. They have a righteousness problem. If you think that building such a fence is worth it so that you "avoid the appearance of evil" then you likely misunderstand righteousness. 
I appreciate what Grigg had to say about 1 Thessalonians 5:22. The KJV says, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." Most scholars agree that is a crummy translation. The NIV is better, saying, "Reject every kind of evil." This isn't the only Bible verse that has been mangled in order to proof text unfounded Church behavior, but it might be my favorite. 

Jesus didn't have anything to say about avoiding the appearance of evil, but He had a lot to say about avoiding the appearance of righteousness. There is certainly one thing worse than "the appearance of evil": relishing in the appearance of righteousness. 

It seems to me that a lot of those who insist on following the Graham rule are not merely misguidedly avoiding the appearance of evil, but are really pursuing the appearance of righteousness. And in so doing they are causing their sisters in Christ harm (sometimes inadvertently, sometimes knowingly but with a flawed rationale for the collateral damage). 

Father, and sisters, forgive us of our evil... when we have excluded and marginalized and protected our boys' club. And forgive us of our righteousness... when we have built fences around our righteousness with our overly simple and misguided rules that have done such damage.