The Billy Graham Rule

By Justin Taylor, who is more and more developing his hand at the history of American evangelicalism:

A recent Washington Post profile of Vice President Mike Pence quoted a 2012 piece which said “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.”

Not surprisingly, revelation of this practice was met with a fair bit of mockery and criticism online.

It is well known that Billy Graham established a rule like this, one that he and his friends worked on together, and here’s a version of that rule’s development:

On October 24, 1948, Billy Graham begin a series of evangelistic meetings in Modesto, California—about 90 miles east of San Francisco.

Graham was a couple of weeks shy of his 30th birthday. He was with his close friends and associates, George Beverly Shea (age 39), Grady Wilson (age 29), and Cliff Barrows (age 25). They were lodging at a motel on South Ninth Street in Modesto.

In November, Graham initiated discussion with the men about problems they had witnessed among other evangelists, actions that had undermined the integrity of the gospel message, revealed hypocrisy, and ruined lives…..

Money, sexual immorality, attitude against the local church, and magnifying their publicity and successes. They made commitments on these, call them “fences around the law,” and who today can discount their wisdom?

So there it is. An unwritten “manifesto” (no document exists) informally and coincidentally named after a town that means “modesty” in Spanish. The four men covenanted together to keep these commitments for the sake of gospel integrity.

After citing the story in his careful study of Graham’s ministry, historian Grant Wacker notes:

Over the years Graham received intense media scrutiny, but hardly anyone accused him of violating any of those four principles.

The most controversial of these four commitments, of course, was their desire to avoid even the hint of sexual impropriety. This is certainly more complicated in the modern work force.

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