Some Thoughts Regarding the “Billy Graham Rule” and Friendships Between Men and Women.

This coming weekend at Toronto City Church I’m going to preaching on “No Glass Ceilings in the Kingdom: Women in Ministry” as part of our DNA Series; where we explore our mission and foundational elements of who we are as a church. My wife is away on a missions trip (for two weeks… pray for me people) so while she usually preaches on Mother’s Day, I’m up. I’m going to use the opportunity to teach on woman and ministry and why we embrace women having full access to participate in every aspect of Kingdom leadership and ministry. (My notes for it will be posted here on Sunday and you can listen to the message here early next week)

While it doesn’t relate directly to my message, I came across an interesting article recently entitled “It’s Not Billy Graham Rule or Bust” by Tish Harrison Warren that really got me thinking.

Some context: “The Billy Graham Rule” refers to a personal principle that the late evangelist Billy Graham had where he would never be alone with a woman who was not his wife. His heart in doing this was to guard against temptation, affairs, or false accusations. He was often away from his wife for weeks at a time and really wanted to honour their relationship. I, like many others, have an incredibly high respect and regard for Billy Graham. He was such an example of a man who served God with massive integrity and commitment. It’s been said that he preached the gospel in person to more people than anyone else in history. He is a hero of the faith for me.

Personally, I have endeavoured to walk with the utmost integrity as a pastor and leader over the past 20 years. One area I have really guarded has been in my relationships and interaction with women. I love my wife. I want to honour her and guard our marriage. I also want to be honouring to every woman that I come in contact with. For a long time for me, this meant following the “Billy Graham Rule”. I would do my best to make sure that I wasn’t ever alone with any woman who wasn’t my wife. My heart was very pure in this – I wanted to make sure that I honoured my wife, guarded against temptation and any false accusations.

Over time though, some conversations with my wife and other sisters in Christ made me re-think things a bit. While my intent was good, I didn’t consider what this standard could communicate to the women around me and how it would make them feel. It could communicate that they are ‘fundamentally dangerous’ (which they are not), simply a ‘temptation’ (rather than a friend, co-worker, sister) and it places a responsibility on them for something that is really mine (to walk in integrity). While my intention was to honour, it actually could actually dishonour and discourage my sisters in Christ.

So am I saying that all standard/cautions should be thrown to the wind? Of course not! I think it’s important that we all have healthy standards for our relationships with the opposites sex (men and women both) but I think there needs to be a little more nuance than just refusing to ever be alone with them. There are many times that I will still not be alone with a woman but my filters are level of relationship, trust, and context, not just “you are a woman so I cannot be alone with you”. Are there still some men who should follow this principle? Probably yes, but they should own their issues (ex: I have a lust issue right now I’m getting free from) and not place the blame on women.

I want to be very clear in this that I’m not meaning to criticize Billy Graham one bit. I honour him for his integrity and desire to avoid any circumstance of compromise. His life was very unique and in some ways, he formulated this standard in a bit of a different time then we live in now. I definitely want to emulate his commitment to integrity and have the kind of track record he did. I just think we can follow his heart/spirit of the law without necessarily ascribing to a legalistic application of it (if that makes sense).

I would be interested to dialogue about this a bit more – particularly with my sisters-in-Christ. Have you felt this way before? What are your thoughts? Anyone disagree? Let’s respectfully dialogue as well.

Anyways, I definitely recommend the article “It’s Not Billy Graham Rule or Bust”. I may have a couple areas where I disagree slightly but overall it will really make you think. In it the author shares 15 practices she and her husband have embraced to cultivate intimacy and trust in their relationship – they are really, really good.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash





  1. Good article son.

    The writer made some really good points. I always thought it chauvinist in the extreme that the woman was the “problem”…not that the man had a issue.

    Personally, if I find a woman attractive in a way that ultimately could lead to problems I back off fast. The relationship going forward has highly defined fence lines from my side. I also remind Sharon every so often that if she picks up anything going on from a woman’s perspective let me know immediately.

    Thank God for wonderful wives…like your mother.



    On Fri, May 11, 2018 at 11:34 AM, brendan wrote:

    > brendanwitton posted: “This coming weekend at Toronto City Church I’m > going to preaching on “No Glass Ceilings in the Kingdom: Women in Ministry” > as part of our DNA Series; where we explore our mission and foundational > elements of who we are as a church. My wife is away on a mi” >


  2. Wow! Talk about telling the truth. I appreciate your honesty on this topic. I wondered about this not long ago as I witness a brother in Christ wait patiently for me to arrive as he didn’t want be the first to arrive in the home of our married sister who’s husband was away on work. I thought, how thoughtful! Then, I began to ask myself, “have I been doing this wrong all this time…” But when I (and God) know my heart is pure towards by brother, that question doesn’t even arise. I don’t walk around with my guards up thinking every brother will be tempted by me so I should be careful… When I choose to walk in integrity, I cannot control a man’s (brother or not) thoughts and emotions.


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