Dear Mr. Vice-President,
Greetings. I am a pastor here in England who would like to start by thanking you for the gracious speech you gave at the big pro-life rally back in January. Though many in this debate often demonise the other side, you presented your case with firmness as well as with respect for those who might disagree with you – something rarely done in politics.
I also want to thank you for being a man of integrity in your marriage. In an age filled with so much divorce and adultery, you have, like President Obama before you, been scandal free in your faithfulness to your wife. As you are a Statesman, I thank you for your example.
It is in regards to your comments about your marriage that I now write. It was the comment you made about how you never meet with a woman alone over food or coffee.
I do not write to rebuke you. God forbid! In fact, I respect your motive - a desire to be faithful to your wife. Many who are now rebuking you for being too guarded and overly cautious with women are the same ones who rebuked your running mate for being unfaithful and too loose with women. They mock you both as the Playboy and the Puritan. I am not looking to score any political points one way or another. I am writing explain why I live another way and why I teach others to do so.
I realise you were simply describing how you, as a married man in the public eye, wish to behave in a way that is above reproach. It’s understandable. I respect the personal choices you and your wife make. But as you are a statesman, many look to your behaviour as well as your policies. Your critics will look for things to fault you on and your supporters will look to you as exemplary.
Billy Graham Rule
As you probably know, your practice is often referred to as the ‘Billy Graham rule’. Not because he ever made it a rule for others. But he was also in the public eye and wanted to avoid scandal. Sadly, others have taken that personal practice and begun teaching that all Christian men must do the same.
I meet with women regularly over coffee or meals. Sometimes this is work related - a ‘work lunch’. But sometimes it is purely social with someone I care about. My wife has done the same with trusted brothers or fathers in the Lord.
Women have played a big role in my life since becoming a Christian as a teenager. At that young age, there were a couple of older women in the church who reached out to me in a caring, maternal way. One of those women – about 30 years my elder – I still try to take out for lunch when I can. I do this as a way of showing filial respect for the role she played in my life, and the role she still plays.
My parents divorced around the time I came to faith and for me the church has been the family that the New Testament says it should be. In finding Christ I also found his family of fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. And for those closest to me – my inner circle of friends – I really do treat them as such. Yes, I spend time with my friends in groups. But we also know that for any relationship to grow in depth, some one on one conversations are needed.
I do not keep these mothers and sisters tucked away, meeting them only in secret so that no one gets the wrong idea. I believe it is important for a generation of young men to know and see healthy cross-gendered friendships being modelled. In today’s sexualised world young men are constantly seeing examples of how men should pursue and pick up women as romantic or sexual objects. They rarely ever see examples of how Christian men should treat women as mothers, sisters, or friends. In Scripture, Paul writes to Timothy about this saying,
Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters.
-1 Timothy 5
This is what I try to live and model.
This is not a disguise for any political agenda. As I have already suggested, I am one of the least political pastors you’ll meet. Nor am I trying to push any new social or theological agenda. My views on gender, family, and church are quite classically Christian. (One feminist critic referred – rather cheekily – to my views as ‘soft-core patriarchy’!) I do not think my non-modern views hinder these friendships. Rather, I think they can enrich them.
Importance of Meals
Food and drink are not always involved when I spend quality time with a friend (of either gender). But often it is, and this is a thoroughly Christian practice. It is for a reason that our chief sacrament is a meal we eat together to show our unity. Bonds are built over the shared bread and wine. Even outside of our Christian faith, most cultures eat together as a sign of acceptance and trust.
That’s one of the reasons I would not want to discourage any two Christians from sharing coffee or lunch together. Eating together with Christians across racial, political, age, and gender divides glorifies the unity that Christ brings.
Yes, my wife and I believe in healthy boundaries. We believe in people showing themselves to be trustworthy before they are given these sorts of inroads into our lives. I also know whenever my wife meets with a man and she knows when and where I ever meet with women. As you can appreciate, there is a big difference in having a private conversation with someone of the opposite gender and having one that is secret.
I know your political enemies would love to grab a picture of you with a woman that they could use to discredit you. I understand that because of this you need to be extra careful. But many of those who may look up to you have no such challenges. Their challenge is how to relate to the opposite gender in a pure, non-sexualised way.
Like you, there are many pastors eager to keep their lives and ministries scandal free. My encouragement to them and you would be this: in your zeal to exemplify purity, please also seek for a way to exemplify the family relationships that the gospel calls us to live out.
Purity by way of gender segregation is the way some Islamic cultures have gone. But this is not the Christian way. As one who has spent time in some of these cultures, let me assure you that such practices have done nothing to eliminate the lust of the heart. The best medicine against unholy relationships with women is holy relationships with women – not avoidance of women.
If you wish to discuss the issue more, I’ve put a link to the book I’ve written on this subject at the bottom. If you read it, perhaps we can meet to talk… over a meal ;).
May God grant wisdom to yourself and the President you work with,