Jesus Broke the Billy Graham Rule

18 June 2019

A lot of folks in ministry espouse the Billy Graham Rule: never meet with a woman alone. I was taught the rule as a teenager, along with various permutations and corollaries (leave the door open if you must have a conversation with a woman in your office, or have the secretary sit in, that sort of thing).

I went through Bible college and seminary thinking these were wise guidelines and expecting to live by them. I started my ministerial career living by them. I vividly remember the day I departed from them.

It’s a long story and the details aren’t important. Suffice it to say, I was faced with a simple choice: give my female counselee the dignity I’d expect in the same situation, or go through a bunch of gyrations to make sure I followed the Billy Graham Rule. I decided a choice between the man-made rule and the Golden Rule was no choice at all, and I followed Jesus.

That prompted me to re-examine things. Like Mark Twain liked to say, it’s not what you don’t know that gets you—it’s what you know that ain’t so. I “knew” that the Billy Graham Rule was the way you keep away from adultery. But upon consideration, it’s just not so.

I’ve known pastors who didn’t keep the Billy Graham rule, and ended up in adultery. It’s easy to say, “Well, if he’d just kept the Billy Graham Rule, it never woulda happened.” That’s a stupid thing to say. Why are we focusing on the man-made rule like that? Why don’t we say, “If he’d kept the 10 commandments, it never woulda happened”? That’s a lot more to the point.

But even God’s law doesn’t give us the power to resist sin. Why do we think that a man-made law will keep us from sin, when even God’s law cannot? Why do we trust schemes of our own devising more than we trust God? To ask the question is to answer it. We still pretend to godhood.

Stupid people let themselves think they can’t get entangled in adultery—because they’re strong, because they’re impotent anyhow, because they live by man-made rules that are supposed to guarantee it. All those reasons are idols, and all idols must fall.

Man-made guidelines, however wise they might be in a particular case, are not a substitute for the Spirit.

Nothing makes you impervious to sin except walking in the Spirit. Nothing.

I’ve known pastors who made it their lifestyle to live by the Billy Graham Rule, and ended up in adultery anyhow. Having your secretary sit in your counseling sessions doesn’t stop you from meeting the church pianist at a cheap motel on Highway 19, as it turns out. The external, man-made standard is not the difference that makes a difference, and no one but a Pharisee thinks it is. (And what sort of Jesus-follower thinks man-made rules are a means of holy living, anyhow?)

All those external regulations are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Righteousness doesn’t come by the law, because there is no law that gives life; you gotta get that from the Spirit—as a smart guy once told us. That smart guy was much maligned by the religious establishment for his teaching and display of liberty, if you can imagine!

When a pastor ends up in adultery, it is not because he met with a woman alone. James tells us how this happens; it’s not some big mystery. He had a desire—for sex, for emotional intimacy, to feel like a man again, whatever. What he should have done is bring that desire home to his wife; instead, he allowed it to focus on his counselee. Then, instead of responding to that warning sign by asking the Body for help, he hid it, kept it to himself, nurtured it. Desire conceived and gave birth to sin; sin, when it matured, brought forth death. Do not be deceived, like the man said.

Anybody who has thought through what his or her particular marriage needs, and can articulate a strategy for protecting the marriage, deserves our support. Whether it’s the Billy Graham Rule or a different strategy, as long as it’s not forbidden by Scripture, we should applaud and support one another’s efforts to protect our marriages. And we have the right to decide for ourselves what that requires—for freedom Christ has set us free. And for exactly that reason, if that same guy ascends a soapbox and begins telling everyone else that his answer is best for their marriage, the very mildest response we should have is to point and laugh. No one gets to make such pronouncements—for freedom Christ has set us free.

The guy on the soapbox will always say that he’s just explaining what’s “appropriate” and “wise.” Me, I think Jesus was wise, and that it’s wise to imitate Him. (So did Paul: “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”) Once upon a time, Jesus and his twelve accountability partners were walking up on a Samaritan village. He sent all twelve of His accountability partners into the town to buy food, while He sat by the well and started a conversation with a woman alone. A woman who turned out to be exactly the kind of girl no Christian man “should” meet alone.

When our rules contradict what Jesus actually did, that should give us pause. I’m not saying that you can’t have the Billy Graham rule. If you think that’s wisest for you, who am I to argue? Go for it. I am saying that someday, the Spirit might put you in a situation where you need to leave that rule behind. If He does, do what Jesus did.

Don’t worry; nobody ever followed the Spirit into adultery. That’s not where He leads.

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Where Socialism Fails

22 March 2019

Here’s George Orwell, from The Road to Wigan Pier:

Indeed, from one point of view, Socialism is such elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed it has not established itself already. The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all co-operate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions, seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that nobody could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.

Orwell is right. If there’s plenty of provisions for everybody, and if everybody does their fair share of the work and gets their fair share of the provisions, then what could be the problem? What decent person wouldn’t want that?

If.

And that’s where the whole project falls apart. On a life raft with two likeminded people on it, the system might work okay. But it just doesn’t scale, and the bigger and more heterogeneous the group, the worse it falls apart. Everybody will not do their fair share of the work, no matter how we define “fair.” Humans fail. Humans succumb to laziness and stupidity. And this goes double when they’re guaranteed no reward for working extra hard or being particularly innovative, and punished with no lack for doing nothing, or wasting precious community resources on a poorly-thought-through experiment. Actual implementations of socialism are famous for that last one, actually.

Second, and perhaps more important—who will “see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions”? Who decides? Who has the authority to decide what you, personally, ought to do today? Who decides when you’ve contributed enough, and you can go home? Who decides if you can enjoy a beer after work? What if you want two? Who decides how much food, medical care, housing, etc., you get? What if you want more? What if you don’t like your job and quit? As Alfred P. Doolittle famously observed, those who won’t work don’t eat any less, and they drink a lot more. What about that?

This is where the whole scheme is inevitably totalitarian. In order to have the socialism Orwell so ably describes, we have to enthrone someone to decide. Some magistrate, commissar, board, commission–some Caesar, some human being with pretensions of deity will decide what your “fair share” of the work is, and what your “fair share” of the provisions will be. If the history of socialism has taught us anything at all, it is this: that position will attract the most corrupt, petty, hypocritical, and pretentious martinets in the whole society. They will abuse their positions to fatten themselves and their friends at the expense of the rest of us.

That’s what happens every single time—read a history book!—and every single time, there’s a chorus of eternal optimists who say “they didn’t implement it properly” and want to try again, this time with your health and prosperity at stake. You know what? No, they didn’t implement it properly—and nobody ever will. Human beings are not angels, and power attracts the corruptible.

And so I oppose socialism because Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. God has not delegated to Caesar the right to make these decisions–and we should not render to Caesar what does not belong to him. I oppose socialism because I am a Christian, and so should every Christian worthy of the name.


Jesus All The Way Down

22 February 2019

If I want to house a homeless woman, because Jesus, or feed a homeless man, because Jesus, I must also desire to pay for these things, because Jesus.

I may not drive someone from their apartment at gunpoint in Jesus’ name in order to house the homeless woman. I may not steal from the grocery store in Jesus’ name in order to feed the homeless man. And if—in Jesus’ name—I stick up some third neighbor at the ATM in order to pay the landlord and the grocer, I am only compounding the problem. It can’t be a slick patina of Jesus (which looks suspiciously like Shane Claiborne, just sayin’) on the surface, and an unrepentant Zacchaeus down where the real work gets done. It’s got to be Jesus all the way down.

The point here is simple: STOP COVETING OTHER PEOPLE’S STUFF!!!

In a more secular mode, the appeal is inevitably to “simple human compassion.” You cannot call it compassion to care for the addict who does not work or the mentally ill who cannot work while plotting to rob the worker to pay for it all. It is not compassion to hate the productive business owner and make him your slave. Covering it all with Jesus-talk does not somehow make it okay. We cannot expect God to bless our so-called compassion when we build the whole project on covetousness and theft.

All the Christian leftists who want to take other people’s stuff to pay for their compassionate endeavors—if all those people repented of their covetousness and became Christian business owners who work hard to earn the money to pay for those same endeavors so they can show real generosity with their own stuff rather than faking it with someone else’s—it would all be paid for, and then some. Or do you think God wouldn’t bless that?

“Let him who stole, steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, in order that he might have something to give the needy.”

And let him who lobbied for the stealing, and him who voted for the stealing, do the same.