The Marginalization of Single Women Via The Billy Graham Rule, Fleeing the Appearance of Evil, and James Dobson
There is much more I could say about the Billy Graham Rule (sometimes also referred to these days as “The Mike Pence Rule”) than what I am writing about here and now, but for this post, I wanted to narrow it down a little bit.
In the context of the Bill Hybels scandal discussion, news sites and abuse survivor blogs are mentioning how mega-church preacher Bill Hybels told one of his targets that under the advice of Focus On The Family’s James Dobson, he wanted to watch some pornography movies.
So, Hybels – who was married – asked his target, an unmarried woman staffer at his church, a Pat Baranowski, to run out and buy or rent porn, then he watched it with her while wearing nothing but a bathrobe. Baranowski also lived with Hybels and his wife in their home for approximately two years.
One of the spiritual abuse survivor blogs covering this whole ordeal is The Wartburg Watch in this post, where one of the TWW bloggers, Dee, wrote this:
James Dobson was part of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography in the latter half of the 1980s. Note how Hybels cleverly used something that was true to give him plausible deniability.
Mr. Hybels told Ms. Baranowski that he had been told to educate himself on the issue by James Dobson, founder of the ministry Focus on the Family, who had been appointed by President Ronald Reagan to an anti-pornography commission.
Calling it research, Mr. Hybels once instructed Ms. Baranowski to go out and rent several pornographic videos, she said, to her great embarrassment. He insisted on watching them with her, she said, while he was dressed in a bathrobe.
I am opposed to the BGR (Billy Graham Rule), for a few reasons, one of which is because it (like a lot of complementarian teachings, though side note: I don’t believe Hybels was complementarian) assumes several obnoxious things and perpetuates sexist stereotypes: it assumes that men, all men, are unable (or maybe unwilling?) to control their libidos, that all single women are sexual temptresses who have loose sexual morals and are willing to have affairs with married men.
Because of these assumptions, some Christians believe that men and women should not be alone together, especially not married men with single women.
One method many Christians use to defend the BGR is by appealing to this Bible verse, as worded in the KJV:
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
(1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV)
Here are how a few other translations word the same verse:
Reject every kind of evil.
Abstain from every form of evil.
Avoid every kind of evil.
Are a married man and a single woman doing something such as meeting for a business lunch with each other at the same table, at a restaurant, an “appearance of evil”? In my opinion, and in my experience, no.
You have to carry a mindset that is sex-saturated, that always assumes the worst of people and their motives, coupled with all those gender stereotypes I listed above, to automatically assume any and every meeting between two people of the opposite sex is sexual in nature, or that it will end in sex.
I’m a never-married woman over the age of 45, and I met alone plenty of times with male bosses and co-workers for work-related lunches, in conference rooms, and sometimes in their office (or mine), even after hours if we were working late on a project – and no sex ever happened.
Some of these male co-workers of mine I sometimes met alone with were married men, or were engaged to be married – and no sex happened. I didn’t flirt with them, they didn’t make a pass at me.
So, here I am, being reminded of the time James Dobson, conservative Christian and one time lead of the conservative Christian group, Focus On The Family, says he voluntarily watched pornography movies as a sacrifice, to learn about how damaging porn was to the fabric of American life.
From his page on Wikipedia:
Dobson served on the committee that wrote the Meese Report on pornography.
According to a poster, Nathan Priddis, on TWW thread about Hybels:
… I can’t speak for others, but the porn “research” brought back 80’s-90’s religious flashbacks. Yes, James Dobson, took to the airwaves to inform us of his personal sacrifice watching that porn. …
The TWW blog linked to this 1986 piece at Washington Post (Descent Into the World of Porn), which reads in part:
by Lloyd Grove
… “One of the most unpleasant things I’ve ever done in my life,” says Commissioner James C. Dobson, a family counselor from California who hosts a syndicated radio show.
… The trip to the bookstores in Houston, after a day of public testimony, was just such an anxiety-producer. The commissioners were ferried through the city’s red-light district in government vans, TV crews in tow.
When they arrived at the first porn shop most of the customers fled, leaving the Justice Department delegation to its own devices. Staff members passed out tokens for the peep shows. The commissioners stepped into the arcade and watched, while camera crews watched them watching.
… “It was excruciating — not just boring,” says the ACLU’s Lynn. He recalls a late-night session last February in Scottsdale, Ariz., one of seven cities where he and the panel set up shop, in which commissioners spent the better part of an hour listening to “Dial-a-Porn” tapes.
…On the other hand, says Alan Sears, the commission’s executive director, there were a few laughs. One occasion for levity, for instance, was spending taxpayers’ money to buy “Pregnant Lesbians,” “Dirty Boys in the Bushes,” “Tri-Sexual Lust” and other illustrated literature.
…”It didn’t affect my attitudes toward sex,” says Tilton. “It didn’t change my behavior or intrude on my personal life. If you were, for instance, alone and vulnerable emotionally, then the impact of that the material is very much different from sitting in public with a task before you. Watching this material for a year did not create deviant behavior on the part of the commissioners. At least I don’t know of any of the commissioners being arrested for sex crimes. I certainly haven’t been.”
It sounds as though Dobson watched and listened to a lot of porn that year, as a part of that commission.
He may still be watching porn now – this article appears to be from 2018, but I am unsure:
Trends in Pornography – from One Place, under a “Family Talk” column heading
A question Dobson was asked, as it appears on that One Place page:
I know you served on the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography in the 1980s. Update us on the pornography industry today, and tell us what direction it is moving.
And Dobson proceeds to answer that question.
If Dobson is a believer in ‘abstaining from even the appearance of evil,’ should he really be looking at pornography and admitting to it? Isn’t willingly viewing porn, regardless of the purpose, sort of counter-intuitive to the Billy Graham Rule interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22?
I could be totally wrong about this, but – I would be willing to bet that James Dobson, or his Focus on the Family organization – are likely supporters of the Billy Graham Rule.
Even if Dobson himself is not a supporter, I can see how Christian supporters of the Billy Graham Rule are never- the- less in sync with much of the Family Idolatry (“Family Values”), goody- two- shoes, goody-goody, type rhetoric that FotF promotes.
I would not be surprised if Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church, in spite of being non-complementarian (does he identify as a gender egalitarian?, I am not sure) probably to some degree supports the work and values of Focus On the Family.
This all seems quite hyocritical of conservative Christians.
Many backers of the Billy Graham Rule will defend it on the grounds that it “looks bad,” or unseemly, for a man to be seen alone with a woman anywhere, and that a man being seen with a woman not his wife at a restaurant or convention will start gossip. They may or may not quote that verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:22 to justify their position.
Single women, even Christian ones with traditional values, are often cut off from fellowship or from help because married men who have been marinated in the BGR view will avoid them.
So to will many married Christian women, who have been conditioned to view all single women (even other Christian women) as harlots and as potential man-stealers.
Married Christian men (and sometimes single ones) have been known to do things such as refuse to pick up a woman alone stranded road-side in a rain storm to drive her to get help, when her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Because of the Billy Graham Rule, they think it is sinful, or will look sinful, to by-standers if they are seen with a woman alone with them in the front seat of their car.
The BGR creates problems for unmarried women.
What I cannot grasp here is how these self-professing, often married, Christian men, are fine with viewing porn – you have Dobson admitting publicly he viewed porn (he still seems to be viewing it, as he is aware of trend in porn, unless he’s reading second-hand reports), and we have mega-church pastor Hybels not only allowing an unmarried woman to live in his home for two years, but he has her renting and watching porn with him alone.
How is it that Christians, or the Christian men doing this themselves (such as Hybels and Dobson), are fine with, and accepting of, a married Christian man viewing porn in any capacity, publicly, in a group, or in private, with an unmarried woman, but suddenly…
The mere idea of a married man meeting with a single woman for a business- related luncheon at noon on a work day at Applebee’s and TGI Fridays is considered a breech of the Billy Graham Rule, it supposedly has the appearance of evil, and must be verboten? But porn viewing with or without a woman present is a-okay?
Somehow in this mix, real-life, breathing and living single women are regarded as more scandalous than pornography, or Christian men viewing porn, regardless of the reason.
Even if you wish to say, well, Dobson was only viewing the porn at the behest of some Federal Group to fight it, so his motive was good, well, so too is the motive of the single woman who has to meet with a male boss or co-worker at Outback Steakhouse over a blooming onion to discuss whatever work-related business project they have under development.
In much conservative Christian understanding, single women (even celibate ones) are considered slutty and whore-ish, or potentially so, merely for existing and being women, so that married Christian men should avoid meeting with them, but, married Christian men viewing pornography, for whatever the reason, is perfectly acceptable or not as big a deal.
Why is viewing porn okay in this ‘Billy Graham Rule’ world view, but not meeting alone with women?
I think the Billy Graham Rule or Mike Pence Rule advocates might want to recheck some of their views and assumptions about women, sex, marriage, sexual purity, and mixed gender friendships, because it’s not consistent, and doesn’t seem to be working.
Edit. And by the way, don’t assume that single adults are all fornicators or are promiscuous, and that that a married person is above sexual sin, because married people are not impervious to sexual sin:
The media should stop ignoring when sexual misconduct perpetrators are married by Timothy P. Carney