Down with the patriarchy! The driving force behind Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to dine with a woman alone must be his desire to oppress women! Or so much of my Twitter feed tells me.
Like this one:
They don’t think men and women have business dinners. Men conduct business, women are wives. pic.twitter.com/VEKVkR6VJv
— Rhea Butcher (@RheaButcher) March 30, 2017
However, something is missing among much of the outrage and praise of Christians who set what’s being dubbed, “The Billy Graham Rule.” That is, the acknowledgement that Christian men aren’t the only ones who set boundaries in a professional environment with the opposite sex. Religious conservative working women employ boundaries to protect our marriages, too. So do Christian homemakers. And so do many non-religious women who acknowledge the reality of adultery.
Yes, women set personal and professional boundaries when it comes to men who aren’t our husbands. Even so, you won’t hear accusations that these women reduce men to sexual objects or temptations. That’s because the motivations don’t make for an easy strawman for the left to mock.
“I realize there are a small handful who take it to the extreme (like not riding in an elevator or avoiding one-on-one conversations—that’s just silly). But most people I know have good, right motives: That is, the desire to protect the most important earthly relationship they have—their marriage. And yours,” explained Joy Horrell Allmond, a writer and editor for a conservative Evangelical publication. “Critics: The bottom line is that most people who follow this rule don’t do so because they are trying to avoid you, devalue you, disrespect you or dehumanize you. You are not the point. It’s about God. It’s about their spouse. It’s about integrity. It’s not about you.”
No, our rules and boundaries aren’t all identical in the conservative Christian world. My boundaries don’t mimic those established by both Mr. and Mrs. Pence. For example, it’s not uncommon for me to have a business meeting with a male colleague over dinner or coffee. But who am I to dictate how the Pence’s show respect for one another and for their marriage? I’ve no idea what experiences have shaped the Pence’s guidelines to protect their marriage from infidelity.
I’ve written openly in the past about my father’s affair and how that painful experience led my non-religious parents into the doors of a church. Today, my mother and father set personal and professional boundaries that look different from those of my marriage. Their boundaries are in accordance with their continued trust-building and past painful experiences. Careful limitations with other women don’t make my father a brute misogynist or reduce women to sexual objects. Boundaries make him unassuming of his fallen human nature and expressly devoted to my mother. And vice versa.
There are so many fantastic articles floating around the internet this morning regarding Pence and the “Billy Graham Rule.” You can read Mollie Hemingway explain why Mike Pence should be commended, not mocked. Or you can learn from Thomas Kidd about the origins of “The Billy Graham Rule.” And as always Rev. Anne Kennedy looks at this hubbub with humor and common sense over at her Patheos blog “Preventing Grace.”
Compared to these good reads, my points are quite simple: It’s not just men who set boundaries; women guard their marriages, too. However those boundaries may look, we should be careful to judge. As Joy put it so well, it’s not about you. It’s about human nature. You never know what past experiences shaped those boundaries, and you might not understand just how necessary they are to a marriage that isn’t yours.
(Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on Patheos.com. Click here to read it.)