So let’s get this straight. To protect his marriage, Vice President Mike Pence doesn’t dine alone with other women. And people are angry about that?
Once upon a time, in the early days of the web, many predicted this new technology would foster a climate of polite civil discourse, where people could interact peaceably and thoughtfully. Instead, our world of digital connection has evolved into a simmering cauldron of resentment, ridicule, and outrage. It seems every week something sparks a contentious debate where people hiss and scream at each other like a pack of feral cats.
And in recent days one of these debates has focused on, of all things, Vice President Pence’s self-imposed rules to protect his marriage.
It began with a Washington Post profile on Pence’s wife, Karen. The article focuses on their close marriage and mentions the influence of their conservative Christian beliefs, and one sentence attracted a lot of attention: “In 2002, Mike Pence told The Hill [a political website] that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”
An article last fall in the Indianapolis Star provided more context:
During his 12 years in Congress, Pence had rules to avoid any infidelity temptations, or even rumors of impropriety. Those included requiring that any aide who had to work late to assist him be male, never dining alone with a woman other than his wife, and not attending an event where alcohol is served unless Karen was there.
In a 2002 interview with The Hill, Pence called it, “building a zone around your marriage.”
The Billy Graham rule
In the evangelical world, “zones” like these are not unusual. Some call it the “Billy Graham rule.” In the early days of Graham’s ministry, his team took steps to avoid some of the traps that had ensnared other evangelists. “We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel,” Graham wrote in his autobiography, Just As I Am. “We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet, or eat alone with a woman other than my wife. We determined that the Apostle Paul’s mandate to the young pastor Timothy would be ours as well: ‘Flee … youthful lusts’ (2 Timothy 2:22, KJV).”
Here at FamilyLife we follow similar rules to protect our marriages and to guard the organization from charges of impropriety. If you’re married, include someone else when you travel or eat out with a co-worker of the opposite sex. If you need to meet privately, do it in a room with a window to the hallway. These rules don’t limit opportunities for women. And while they are sometimes inconvenient, they help foster a culture that reminds us of the sanctity of the marriage relationship. We are, after all, an organization that teaches biblical principles for marriage and family.
Author Jerry Jenkins wrote a book in which he calls these “hedges” of protection. In an interview on FamilyLife Today®, he talked of other hedges he’s constructed regarding issues like flirting, hugging, and access to adult videos in hotel rooms. Just as parents will keep their children far away from the busy road in front of their house, hedges can help keep you from harm’s way; in the spirit of Ephesians 5:3: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you…”
Rules like these are especially beneficial for pastors, church leaders, and others in the public eye (like Mike Pence). And they set an example for all followers of Christ who understand how easily we can make wrong choices and who want to remain faithful to our spouses.
Author Michael Hyatt, in an article about protecting his marriage, includes a similar list of self-imposed guidelines and says they “may sound old-fashioned, perhaps even legalistic. So be it. I think our world could use a little old-fashioned common sense.”
In the last few days, news of Pence’s rules reached critical mass and burst into a social media firestorm of ridicule, sarcasm, and indignation. Some typical statements from articles, Tweets, and reader comments:
- “Pence is a good man, but he’s living in 1950.”
- “In this worldview, men have no self-control, and women are either temptresses or guardians of virtue.”
- “The revolting thing about Pence’s no-meals-with-women rule isn’t prudishness. It’s that he’s limiting key professional opportunities to men.”
- “If Pence won’t eat dinner alone with any woman but his wife, that means he won’t hire women in key spots.”
(Those last two comments must have come as a surprise to the women who were hired for key roles on Vice President Pence’s staff.)
I’m sure the tone of this particular debate is influenced by the political shouting matches that have dominated our nation for the last year. But the biggest factor here may be that, in a culture that is growing more secular, many people just don’t understand evangelicals. As Aaron Blake of the Washington Post writes, “The fact that [Pence’s] arrangement is so foreign and unthinkable to some people in this country reinforces what separate worlds we live in.”
Two factors appear to be involved:
The importance of marriage. FamilyLife president Dennis Rainey is fond of saying, “The Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a wedding.” From the initial union of Adam and Eve in Genesis to the glorious union of Christ and His bride—the church—in Revelation, it is clear that marriage is the foundation of the family and is a key component in God’s plan.
As we teach at the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, marriage is a gift from God… an incredible blessing for us and a tremendous opportunity to glorify God and reflect His love to the world. In an increasingly immoral and permissive culture, it is vital for us to protect this gift. Even when the steps we take to do so seem bothersome to us and old-fashioned to the outside world. As crazy as it sounds, one reason Mike Pence is wise to protect his marriage is that it may end up influencing more people than his role as Vice President.
The sinful nature of human beings. Many have expressed scorn about the idea that men and women can’t be trusted to spend time together alone with a co-worker who is not their spouse. Yet don’t we all know people who have wrecked their marriage by having an affair with a co-worker?
The fact is that many just don’t understand the biblical truth that even mature followers of Christ are still vulnerable to temptation and pride. We are, in the words of the old hymn, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” As a result, we must recognize our need to flee from temptation and to remain humble before God, confessing our sins daily.
In an excellent article on The Atlantic website, Andrew Exum writes, “What an age to be alive! The internet has broken out into a feverish and wildly entertaining debate over, of all things, the fallen nature of man.” Later he says, “I’m not sure when Americans stopped being so clear-eyed about man’s sinful nature, but it surely wasn’t too long ago that we could all agree that men and women are frail creatures who, when left to their own devices, often fail to do the right thing morally.”
Exum is a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy, and he makes it clear he believes the Billy Graham Rule is “misguided.” But he also writes, “I completely understand why a husband and wife would want to place guardrails in their personal conduct to protect their marriage from both the temptations of the flesh as well as the many other ways in which marriages can atrophy or grow cold over time.”
If only we could find that kind of understanding more often in our polarized media world.