This post comments on the discussion around Mike Pence and the Billy Graham Rule that has been much-debated in the news and social media this week. I have resisted comment, but can do so no longer since reading several articles that pitch the positions as ‘Christian’ v ‘Liberal.’ It is far more complicated than that, and adopts a narrative sub-text that suggests women are best left at home.
This week alone, I have counselled a pastor, had individual supervisory meetings with several students, went for lunch with a colleague and got a lift home from my boss. What do you think they have in common? That’s right, they were all men.
And I am a woman.
Yes, a woman. That Jezebel of the species who hides in wardrobes and longs to leap into the arms of any Christian leader she can get near.
I have always worked in a man’s world, and had to negotiate that space carefully. As a student I had a colleague tell me I did not belong in seminary; as a pastor, I have had deacons’ wives tell me they would not share their husbands with me; as a young faculty member, I have had superiors stare at my chest while talking to me about a promotion; as a theologian at conference, I have been told by a man not to talk to him, as he sent me to socialize instead with his wife; I have watched the old boy’s network circle and protect more times than I care to remember.
But I refuse to be excluded from my calling simply because some people cannot handle the thought that a professional woman doesn’t want to be in the pants of every man she meets.
Much of the current discussion paints women as conniving manipulators, and it pushes back women’s leadership by decades. While Billy Graham may have needed assistants to check his wardrobes for strange lurking women, the reality is that most women, particularly most women leaders, have no desire whatsoever to get busy with their colleagues. The discussion becomes inherently sexist, plain and simple.
Perhaps the heart of the problem is that Christians are often ashamed to admit that we are human beings with bodies that might sometimes find other bodies (or minds for that matter) attractive. Men and women, young and old, we are relationally created, we have sex drive, and we yearn for connection. It is part of what it means to be human. God is not surprised by this. Somehow, as evangelicals, we are.
We refuse to bring these struggles into our relationship with God for fear that he might find us out. We neglect open confession at our peril. Come on, HE KNOWS! When we bring him into the conversation, we are able to put these desires in their rightful place. Bringing dark things into the light robs them of their power over us. And this gives us freedom, though not freedom with abandon.
So, I am aware, and I am not foolish. If the door is closed, the shutters are open. Driving together to a meeting is very different from taking a long drive to talk. A lunch in a public place with a male colleague is far less improper than a tryst in a windowless photocopier room. Somebody who wants to play away will find a way. I have learned to listen to, and trust my instincts. In a male-dominated profession, the predators I have encountered are not women.
I admire men who love their wives and seek to do all they can to protect their marriages. I have one to protect too. But protecting a marriage surely goes beyond appearances. If Mike Pence can’t keep it in his pants, then he is right to protect the women around him, recognizing that he is the problem, not them. But surely, eating in public with a woman, or attending a meeting with her; or riding on the train with her, or seeking her counsel is far less of a threat to anyone’s marriage than the things that are done in secret.
If men and women cannot meet together alone, then I can no longer do my job. I can no longer fulfil my calling.
What the ‘old boys rule’ achieves finally is an old boys rule: the exclusion of women from the skill-development, colleague-bonding and decision-making processes that keeps them from rising to the highest levels of Christian leadership.
And if there are no women leaders, you don’t have to worry about having lunch with them.