Is the “Billy Graham rule” respectful or unfair to women?


Last week, Vice President Mike Pence came under public criticism for statements he made to The Hill in 2002.

The statements, mentioned in a Washington Post profile on Karen Pence, regarded Pence’s take on the “Billy Graham rule”—that is, Pence does not eat alone with a woman who is not his wife and does not attend events without her where alcohol is being served.

Public backlash was swift and severe to Pence’s statements—however, the practice of the “Billy Graham rule” has long been a practice among many evangelical Christians. Graham put the rule into practice because of the common pitfall of sexual immorality he observed of men in ministry, who underwent long stretches of time traveling, away from their families. He saw the conquences of their actions as devastating to families, so Graham put the rule into place to guard both his ministry and his marriage.

In Mike Pence’s career, who as a politician has had to travel for long periods of time and spend late nights working, the rule attempts to prevent an extramarital affair from developing. In the surrounding context of his statements, Pence intended the rule to help “build a zone” around his marriage. It also serves to combat any potential rumors of sex scandals, on account of his political stature.

However, many critics of Pence’s statements have cited the practice as sexism in the workplace that limits professional opportunities for women. The idea of preventing women from dining alone with professional married men is thought to inhibit the ability of women to do their jobs, have work meetings and form mentorships that could help advance their careers.

Pence’s rule is a conservative approach to the workplace and his marriage. His first aim is to protect and preserve what he views as his responsibility, and by this logic, he prioritizes his marriage above the potential advantages of advancing his own or anyone else’s career.

Nancy Vaughan, president of the Madison County chapter of the United Way and an AU adjunct professor of public relations, gave her thoughts on the matter.

“I think the context in which he made that statement would be really important,” Vaughan said. “It sort of plays into the perception of Mike Pence as this ultra-conservative choir boy, so I think that’s why the media tried to grab onto it. I think what he was trying to say is that he values his marriage. I don’t know how strictly he adheres to that, and if it ever started to interfere with his job, I think he would need to re-assess, but I don’t get the sense that was the case.”

Vaughan also gave her take on what is necessary for both genders to succeed in the workplace cooperatively.

“I think that there are a lot of times in my career, at my age, that I’ve been right up against the ‘good old boy’ network,” Vaughan said. “And I think you need to be professional, and set aside the gender roles, and you don’t assume that because this is a man and this is a woman, they’re always interacting like there’s something romantic going on. We have to be able to set that aside.”

Still, Vaughan doesn’t think Pence intended his statements to exclude women from the workplace, but to express that he values his wife and their relationship.

“I want to give him some leeway because he was probably trying to make the point that he values his marriage, which I totally support,” Vaughan said. “But, I think somebody should talk to him about how he conducts business, and whether he really conducts business differently with women than he does men, because that would be an issue. And that’s really the core of the issue. I hate to take that statement and apply that to how he conducts business, because I don’t know that that’s true. He’s probably trying to walk the line, between what his concept of being a good Christian man is, and doing his job.”

Vaughan noted that sexism in the workplace is being called out now, more so than it had been in the past.

“It’s changed, it’s gotten a lot better,” Vaughan said. “There was a lot of sexism in the workplace. I experienced it. It was common, and you didn’t get diversity talks. It just happened, and if you were a woman, you knew it was going to happen. So, does it happen now? Sure, but not as much. Because it’s easier to stand up and say something about it.”