For those that don’t know what I am referring to when I say the “Mike Pence Rule” or “Billy Graham Rule,” early on in the Rev. Billy Graham’s ministry, he and others on his team signed an agreement that stated they would not eat, travel, or meet alone with any woman who was not their wife.
Mr. Graham had an impressive reputation and no scandals.
As scandals involving politicians and Hollywood producers are frequenting the headlines right now, I have heard several conservative and religious folks say, “We must get back to the Billy Graham rule! It’s just common sense!”
But guess what? I could not conduct my job if I agreed to this standard. Period. It literally could not be done.
As a national correspondent for the TV Show “Inside Edition,” an author who travels to speaking engagements and actress/producer, I work with men constantly. I travel alone with male producers and photographers all the time for stories. I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner alone with men for professional reasons. We sometimes meet about a project, a book idea, a potential business deal or a pending opportunity.
I have had countless one-on-one meetings with men that were business lunches in open, public settings and we did just fine; and I am so thankful for that. I have gleaned wisdom and insight from these meetings that helped me in my career, and I appreciate that on some occasions it was proper and important that just the two of us met due to the business transactions taking place.
And, yes, these meetings have taken place with the embattled industries of Hollywood, politics and ministry. And during these meetings, I often did not need nor want another person as part of that conversation. This is life as a professional businesswoman, citizen and person in a position of leadership.
This dates back to my college years. When I was student body president of Westmont College, a Christian liberal arts college in Santa Barbara, California, I met with the president of our college every other week. Alone. We met in his office. We talked about our jobs, our staff, the current issues at the college and our ideas on solutions.
And then, we prayed together. I did this for an entire year.
I greatly valued those times. President Stan Gaede — who is now president of the Consortium of Christian Colleges — provided insight, wisdom and was a sounding board and listening ear I needed. It was totally professional, appropriate, and a welcome solace from the pressures of work and school.
Now, I realize that until I was elected president, the past 10 student body presidents had been male. But imagine if President Gaede had decided to invoke the “Billy Graham Rule” and not meet with me one-on-one. I would have missed out on this unique mentorship. Sure, a female administrator might have provided additional wisdom and counsel, but this one-on-one private, bi-weekly meeting was a tradition that all student body presidents looked forward to. It was literally the “Presidents Time – one student, one administrator.”
I am so thankful the president did not think about my gender; he just saw me as the student body president who would now be meeting with him. It was on both of us to conduct ourselves professionally. It can be done. That was Christian higher education, but let me give you an entirely different scenario.
I was in an intense acting class recently in New York City. I was given a scene to memorize and perform with another young man. We rehearsed together. We often met in a café out in public and went over our lines. But we also met in a private rehearsal space in New York. Alone. Here is where true “common sense” can come into play. The building was full of rehearsal spaces, so many actors coming and going all the time. Our acting instructor knew where we were. This is what’s required of the commitment to the class and to the part. We were professional at all times, rehearsed and never had an issue.
For many jobs, this was required to do the task. I knew this going into it. Growing up, my father and other male mentors taught me to trust my gut, access the situation and look past gender and instead, look at the person and the task at hand. Be professional, be prepared and be discerning. My husband knows many of the men I interact with on a professional level. We work hard to communicate with each other and share our whereabouts and what we are discussing. I would argue that good solid communication with your spouse is a better defense from “temptation” in this world than avoiding alone time with the opposite sex.
Here’s something to ask yourself about the Billy Graham rule. Is it putting a band-aid on something where surgery is needed? In other words, how are we teaching our children to treat each other?
I am a mother of two young boys. It’s on me to raise them to be respectful to women and to, in turn, choose to engage and interact with women who are respectful themselves. Let’s set the standard high. And if a meeting becomes unpleasant or uncomfortable, then trust your gut and excuse yourself! Move on and away.
But that goes back to the original issue: Are we making wise decisions in the first place about whom to hang out and interact with? There are many quality men and women who can handle one-on-one meetings. I know them and am thankful for our relationship.
In conclusion, a friend said he only advocates the Billy Graham rule for “people in positions of power or politics.” My response? Imagine if we held a female president to that standard. The president can and should meet with whomever they want, and when meeting with fellow leaders, sometimes it must be one-on-one.
It goes for senators, CEO’s and…yes, female student body presidents. Just imagine if a female president was choosing her cabinet and worried about the “Billy Graham Rule.” What about choosing her running mate? She would have to be alone with her male vice-president countless times. And if she worried about this? She might think it was not worth the trouble and just chose a female vice-president, instead of choosing the best person, regardless of gender, for the job.
Food for thought.
I wonder how many times this rule has actually applied to decisions conservative religious men make when selecting their staff, cabinet or business partners? Please consider and ponder this. I am not trying to slam this rule. But women lose if it simply becomes “too much trouble” to always have someone else present.
My take: While I appreciate the sentiment and intent behind this “rule” and believe most men genuinely are trying their best with it — and I sincerely believe both Billy Graham and Mike Pence’s intentions are pure and good — it is not the answer. And it keeps women out of opportunities and, frankly, holds us all back.
Some folks say the Billy Graham rule is “common sense,” but common sense to me is that there is a big difference between a business lunch or dinner and drinks in a dark corner of the bar.
I realize that some have encountered harassment and even worse due to a one-on-one meeting with someone of the opposite sex. And very serious consequences and pain have resulted. I deeply respect this is an important conversation and I realize many have different opinions, but because of this, I strongly do not think this one “rule” is the answer, and I have seen personally how my life and career has benefitted from the opportunity to meet with both genders one-on-one.
I would have missed out on many opportunities and wonderful friendships and mentorships in my career if this rule had been adhered to. To my fellow believers: we must learn to move and interact in the 21st century.
Megan Alexander is the author of, “Faith in the Spotlight—Thriving in Your Career While Staying True to Your Beliefs.”