Why so many scandals?
Culture | Tullian Tchividjian shows why we need the Billy Graham rule
by Marvin Olasky
Posted on Monday, June 22, 2015, at 10:32 am
The Tullian Tchividjian tragedy—he just resigned from his megachurch pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after admitting he had an affair—has prompted sadness among many evangelicals but also questions: Why are we seeing so many scandals?
We should never discount the noetic effects of original sin: the way sin affects our brains and undermines our intellects. God told Cain in Chapter 4 of Genesis, “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” One question throughout the rest of the Bible is how we rule over it.
Clearly, we need God’s grace. Any list of rules we impose drops us into legalism—and the Bible clearly shows us that legalism doesn’t work. Sometimes, though, we drop into antinomianism, the idea that we should scoff at all rules, and that doesn’t work either. When I interviewed Tchividjian four years ago, he was hard on rule-keeping, and he’s right when we confuse simplicity with salvation—but some simple rules make good sense.
How does that apply here? No rule prevents adultery, but one rule does help—and ironically, in regard to this tragedy, it’s a rule that Tchividjian’s grandpa, Billy Graham, made famous. The Graham rule is that he would never meet, eat, or travel with a woman alone. A double irony is that last month the magazine Graham founded, Christianity Today, ran an article on its blog Her-meneutics criticizing the Graham rule.
The article, “Sexed-Up Culture Ruined Healthy Male-Female Work Relationships,” began by noting that Billy Graham observed his rule as “a strategy to protect his marriage and to avoid even the appearance of an inappropriate relationship.” But writer Halee Gray Scott reported problems such as, “The first female vice president of a Christian organization confessed she missed out on opportunities to advance her projects because the president made businesses decisions over lunch, and he promised his wife he wouldn’t eat lunch alone with women. It was enough to make her want to quit.”
Scott gives other examples, and I don’t at all question her reporting or her wish: “When tensions between the genders keep us from exercising our God-given talents, we need to address the root issues to find a healthy way forward.” But what are the root issues?
She writes, “The way forward lies in recognizing how the hypersexualized culture has affected each of us, warping our vision of one another. … The way forward lies in shoring ourselves up in other kinds of love. … The way forward lies in a commitment to building relationships as prescribed by the Scriptures.”
True enough, but since the real root issue is original sin, and the way it noetically affects our ability to recognize our weaknesses, shore ourselves up, and build relationships, it’s not enough to say, as Scott does, that “We can pioneer a middle way. … We can stand firm against the tide of culture by committing to relate to one another as family members.” That’s a worthy goal but an abstract one. With the Tchividjian tragedy in front of us, we should begin with something concrete.
A simple starting-point suggestion: Male leaders of Christian organizations should publicly sign onto the heart of the Billy Graham rule: No closed doors when sin is crouching at the door. How exactly to do that in a culture that’s changed radically since the 1950s, with many more women working alongside men, will need some rethinking, but we should remember that not only our wills but our intellects are fallen, so let’s not elevate our thinking above the basics.
This means we don’t get hold of the complex by ignoring the simple. Sometimes, Grandpa was right.
Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism. Marvin resides with his wife, Susan, in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.