Tag Archives: modesty

Billy Graham Rule Follow-up

I recently wrote a blog to correct the misinterpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You can find it here. I am certainly aware that in terms of the age of internet news, Mike Pence and the Billy Graham rule are the equivalent of 200 years ago, but I can’t seem to let bad theology go, especially when it harms the sheep.

I also know that most readers skim, so please – before you skim, read this paragraph: I have nothing against Mike Pence and his love for his wife and his desire to protect himself as a famous politician with a great deal of power. It seems like a wise thing to do, given his position in our country. So PLEASE don’t think that this post is about that. Also, I don’t know anything about Billy Graham or his rule, having never read his biography. How Billy Graham does things rarely enters my mind.

What this post is about is the bad theology that has surfaced in the aftermath of the discussion. I find it concerning and harmful.

The whole discussion seems to center around whether or not a pastor should be alone with a woman who is a member of his congregation. Apparently, the only danger is if the woman is attractive, because that seems to be the word attached to “young woman” every time she is spoken of.

As a disclaimer, I would never meet with a woman alone in my office with the door shut. I wrote in my previous blog that I could think of valid reasons to not meet with a woman alone. Here are a few.

  1. My wife is a very skilled counselor herself and has remarkable empathy and understanding, especially when it comes to counseling women. She is almost always with me.
  2. There are times when a woman wishes to meet with her pastor to discuss childhood sexual abuse, assault, domestic violence and other attacks on her person. The worst thing a pastor can do is to make her feel vulnerable and threatened. Meeting alone in a closed space does not tend to make a parishioner feel very safe.
  3. There are other times when a meeting alone in a closed space would not be good for the comfort and peace of the woman for other reasons, and as a pastor it is my calling to be sensitive to that.
  4. If it is necessary to meet alone, an open door or an open place takes away the feeling of being trapped, this is very important when counseling. You are seeking to reestablish the counselee as a person who matters, who can make choices, who can take power back in her life. Trapping her with a closed door seems to me to defeat that purpose .

So I would like everyone to understand me. I am not at all against acting in wisdom, walking circumspectly and being above reproach.

That being said, there are others who practice the so-called “Billy Graham Rule” but for reasons I reject completely. Here are some of those reasons.

First: “All it takes is one accusation to ruin a ministry.” This might be true, but are not our calling and reputation in the hands of God? It seems to me that our calling is to be faithful stewards and submit ourselves to the sovereign hand of God, doing what we are commanded to do and leaving the rest in His hands. We are simply farmhands in God’s field, workers in God’s vineyard. It isn’t our ministry to begin with.

I also can’t think of one example where someone’s ministry was ruined by one false accusation. Every one of the “destroyed ministries” that I can think of were destroyed because of accusations that were backed up with stacks of evidence, multiple witnesses, over many, many years. When it comes to famous celebrity pastors, one accusation is almost never believed. It usually takes mountains and evidence and years and years of time. Even then, the celebrity pastor generally just goes away for a few months and then starts again. So it is a false objection to begin with.

But suppose it is true, and a reputation is destroyed because a pastor met alone with a woman who was a sinner. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did?

Jesus “made himself of no reputation” when he saved us from our sins. The Bible tells us that this way of thinking is to be also in us (Phil. 2:5-12). Meditate on these verses for a while. Jesus, in order to save us from our sins, allowed himself to be viewed and treated as a sinner. He despised the shame of the cross, so great was his love for us. He came down from the glory of heaven and sunk right into our filth and mire and corruption in order to save our stinking rotten corpses. He healed our sicknesses and did it on the Sabbath day, knowing that it would “ruin his reputation”. In fact, this is specifically why they hated him.

I honestly cannot fathom why a Christian would not help one in need for fear that someone might ruin the reputation of his ministry. If this is your thinking, then the ministry that you have is truly yours, for it bears no resemblance to the ministry of Christ. Would it not be more pleasing to God to bear joyfully the reproach of Christ while helping those who need you?

This is the point of the account of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite were on their way to Jerusalem when they saw the broken and bloodied man. They had no idea if he were dead or not. If they helped, and he turned out to be dead, they would have been defiled for touching a dead body. If they were defiled, they would have been unable to fulfill their ministry in Jerusalem. So they protected their ministry, and “passed by on the other side.” Their ministry was more important to them than the life of a man.

The Good Samaritan was already ceremonially defiled, being a Samaritan, so he had nothing to lose.

And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” We are  to consider ourselves already defiled, so that we might love others as Christ loved the church. Take up your cross with him; despise the shame. Make yourself of no reputation. “Let this mind be in you, that was also in Christ Jesus.”

Perhaps it is time that we start thinking about love, rather than reputation.

Second: “You need to be aware of the temptations of the flesh and put no confidence in it. You never know what will happen if you allow yourself to get too close.”

Really? Think about this one for a while. This one is so common it’s frightening. It’s almost as if fornication is like the flu, and you accidently catch it if you happen to be close to a woman. “Here I was, minding my own business, when all of the sudden! BLAM! I caught adultery. I couldn’t help it. Her knees were exposed.”

Sorry, guys. This one is on you. Pastors who commit adultery commit adultery because they want to. They take one step after another because they want to.

They start by complaining about how their wives never understood them. Because they want to.

They let a church member linger in their thoughts, and dance through their fantasies. Because they want to.

They hold hands a little too long, hug just a little extra, and let their imaginations flit. Because they want to.

Then it progresses to trying to find time alone – and here they use the excuse of pastoral counseling. “I’m just ministering to her.”

Now, at this point please use discernment and follow me. Elders and wives, if the pastor is insisting on counseling a particular women alone in a closed study, there’s a reason for it and it usually isn’t a good one. It’s is perhaps wise at this point to ask some questions. BUT the problem is the HEART, NOT because he was left alone with a woman. We have to get that straight.

The reason that we have to get it straight is because the Bible insists on it. Sanctification does not come because we have hedged ourselves about with extra rules. Sanctification is the work of the Spirit in the heart which comes through the gospel, not the law. You can make a rule about pastors counseling alone in their studies after hours, and maybe you should to protect your sheep, but the rule will never change the man’s heart!

39 “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; (John 5:39 NAS)

The Pharisees searched the scriptures looking for rules that would fix whatever problem they were having, and they missed Christ. When we search for rules to protect us from catching adultery, we also miss Christ.

Adultery begins in the heart: in the will, and the reasoning, and the emotions and the desires. It starts with the idolatry that we were born with and progresses from there. We say in our hearts, “I will be as God and everyone will serve me.” This is what must be put to death. And the only way to deal with it is on your knees in confession, putting to death the old man with the lusts thereof and making alive the new man. And this can only come through the gospel. It only comes through Christ. You must be born again by the Spirit of God.

Finally, and this to me is the biggest problem. If you make the rule about never being alone with a woman because you are afraid of “catching adultery”, then your view of women is devilish and wicked, and you must repent of it. It is the same reason that non-Christian religions try to avoid fornication by covering up a woman from head to toe. It’s wicked, oppressive and wrong.

Let me explain. According to Scripture, a woman is a child of God, a firstborn son (Gal. 3:28-4:7), the image of God (Gen. 1:27), fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), with gifts and abilities and personhood, filled with the Spirit, and thus the Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

The devil hates that and seeks to destroy it. One very effective weapon is through sexual assault, domestic abuse, rape and sexual harassment. The effects of sexual assault are that a woman is “reduced” in her mind and in the mind of the assailant, to a body to be despised and used and discarded.

And now she comes to the pastor for help and she is told that she can’t meet alone because the pastor might “catch adultery” from her.

I can see telling her that you would love to meet with her outside on the picnic table. Or with your wife who is very gentle and kind. Or in a place that isn’t nearly as threatening as alone in the pastors study. All of these I can see.

But to say that you won’t meet with her because you need to guard the heart is to confirm her worst fears: There is something wrong with her. She’s just a body to be gawked at and used. She has no worth other than sexually. She has to cover herself up and take responsibility for the pastor’s corruption. And this is the message that she is receiving from her pastor. It breaks my heart.

We should be restoring her to the image of God in Christ, giving her back her voice, her dignity, her worth. We should be talking to her as a whole person, in whom dwells the Holy Spirit of God. But instead, we are worrying about “catching adultery.”

25 percent of your congregation has been sexually assaulted. And this is how we respond. We may have a problem in our churches.

Perhaps I overreact. But I don’t know what else to think when I read comments that say, “So you would meet alone with an attractive woman in your study? Isn’t this an appearance of evil?”

I don’t know how else to take it. Let’s break it down. “Attractiveness” is apparently determined by the pastor. The fear is apparently that this woman would arouse so much lust in the pastor against his will that he will be unable to control himself. So really, it would be her fault – and his, by implication, for not hedging himself about with anti-adultery rules. If they get too close for too long, BAM – he catches adultery.

This rule also applies if she is in the car with him, walking down the sidewalk, or wearing a skirt a little to short. The solution, then, is burkas and isolation…wait a minute…

Do you see where this leads?

I believe that the Bible teaches another way. When we cast off the old man and put on the new, we start to learn to love our neighbor – men and women alike. This means that we MUST repent and flee from our fleshly tendency to view others as objects designed to give us what we want. Through the gospel, we are to reach out to humans AS HUMANS, made in God’s image. We must learn to see our sisters in Christ as sisters (1 Tim. 5:2), with thoughts, longings, dreams, hopes, fears. They also long for the marriage supper of the lamb. They also long to be closer to God. They long to be healed, just as we all do.

They long for a name, for significance and worth, for dignity – because they are in God’s image. We as Christians should begin to see one another as fellow-pilgrims, not as objects to be used and discarded. Cross the road and help the one in the ditch. Bear the reproach of Christ with joy.

Adultery starts when we reduce women to objects of possession, a collection of body parts, rather than sisters in Christ. This is where repentance must take place.

Please don’t use Joseph and Potiphar’s wife as an example. Joseph fled from her, not because he was afraid of “catching adultery”, but because he was a slave with no rights and was being sexually assaulted by someone in power.

We will never be effective pastors as long as we are afraid of the women in the congregation. When Paul said to have no confidence in the flesh, he meant that adding rules to protect yourself from sin would do absolutely nothing in the war against sin. Hedging the law with stacks of rules is exactly the “flesh” that Paul had no confidence in. Read all of Philippians 3 in the context to see what I mean. Paul was the expert in all the rules. A Pharisee of the Pharisees. THIS was exactly what he learned to have no confidence in. He counted it all dung, that he might know Christ.

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Filed under Men and women, Pastoral ministry, practical theology

Modesty–yep, again!

Why do I get so worked up about the modesty debate? So much ugliness and misogyny!
It is one thing to say that we should teach our daughters to dress like daughters of the king, loved by Christ and honored. It is quite another to teach them that they are responsible for the lust of men’s hearts. One lifts up and encourages. The other leads to the date rape mentality.

If she is responsible – even a little – for my lust, why can’t I say that she is responsible when I attack her? Oh, that’s right. WE DO! God, though, is not mocked. You stand alone before His judgment throne. I would URGE you to quit griping about Jezebels in your midst and deal with your own ugly hearts!

I hate abuse. I hate blameshifting. I hate the despising and belittling of women and children. And I really, really, really hate the idea that women are responsible for the lustful hearts of men.

If we continue to blame man’s lustful thoughts on how women are dressed, nothing but oppression, guilt, lies and destruction are left. If salvation could come from stricter dress codes, Jesus would not have had to die.

Further, do we really want to say that women are incapable of dressing themselves without the church telling them how?

I’ve been asked if I would confront a woman’s attire in my church.
Please tell me how you envision that conversation. “I noticed that you are causing me to lust. Could you please cover up.”

Really? This is what you think a minister of the gospel should do?
What about “sending your wife to do it?” Really? You want our ministers’ wives to go to young women in the church and actually say to them, “By the way, I notice that you are causing the men in the church to lust. Could you please cover up?”
I worry about the state of our church!

The answer is, “No. I really don’t see having that conversation with a daughter of Christ in my congregation.”
I DO, however, see myself encouraging men to repent if they are lusting after the women in my church! In fact, I probably would command them to repent.

Here’s a better idea. Preach the gospel. Talk about how Christ came to die for sin and misery, and to free the oppressed. Talk about the beauty of holiness. Honor all. Respect all. Learn to look people in the eye and see human beings in God’s image. Quit thinking about sex all the time, and quit blaming today’s society if you do. We aren’t any more sex-saturated than ancient Rome, or ancient Israel, or any other culture. Knock it off.

Victorian morals have nothing to do with Christ, and didn’t do anything at all for the mortification of the flesh.

Instead of laying down the law to the women or ranting about Jezebel, follow Job and make a covenant with your eyes!

Seriously, people??

Why do we get so jumpy when it appears as if our women are going to get “uppity”.

Do we really believe that man’s problem is that he is seduced by Jezebel? Jezebel has her sins. But our hearts don’t need any prompting.

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Filed under modesty, Sex

The Modesty Debate

This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while now. And since it keeps coming up, I figured that I wouldn’t procrastinate any longer, but just put up my thoughts and let them fall where they may.

I’m talking about the modesty debate. You have heard it in Christian circles. I’ve heard it. My daughters have heard it. You really can’t send you kids off to a Christian camp during the summer without it.

It’s this. “Girls, listen up! These guys are your Christian brothers! When you dress immodestly, you are putting stumbling blocks in their way to purity! They are always tempted to lust, and you girls have to understand that, and dress accordingly.”

This sounds good on the surface, and many don’t give it a second thought. Except, of course, for the girls.

The problem with it is this. It’s degrading to women. It’s degrading to men. It’s degrading to Christ and his work. It’s thoroughly unbiblical, and therefore of no use whatsoever to salvation, purity or holiness.

Here are my problems:

First, it is degrading to men.

The assumption of the modesty debate is that men are creatures of lust who can’t help it – especially if a woman is dressed immodestly. Really, it’s her fault. The woman that you put in front of me, Lord, she gave it to me and I did look.

Piffle. Men, get this through your head. If you are in Christ, then you are being conformed to his image. Are you really saying that Jesus would have looked and lusted if a scantly dressed woman approached? The Bible teaches that each one is led away of his own lusts and enticed (James 1:14). The problem is your heart, not her skirt. Further, the Bible teaches us that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

In other words, we men do not need modesty laws to have a pure heart. What we need is Christ. We need to stop blaming the girls, the advertisers, the catalogs, the TV shows, and point the finger right where it belongs. At our filthy, corrupted, sinful hearts. We need to fall on our knees and beg God again for the Holy Spirit to create in us clean hearts that look on women as creatures made in God’s image, worthy of honor and dignity.

The strongest modesty laws of all are in sharia law, and those who hold it the most strictly are so consumed with lust that they keep slaves…

Second, it is degrading to women.

When we teach “modesty” laws to our daughters, what do we say, “Dress modestly so that you won’t cause men to lust”? Or do we say, “Dress as a daughter of the king. You have dignity, beauty and worth as a greatly loved daughter of God. You are made, body and soul, in his image and belonging to your faithful savior, who died for you.”

Unfortunately, I fear that we too often do the former. The message that we send our daughters is that their bodies are NOT good, and made in God’s image. But something shameful with no other purpose than to arouse men’s desires. I would ask at this point is this is really the message that we want to teach our daughters, but unfortunately I have met too many of their fathers who don’t seem to see anything wrong with that. But there is something greatly wrong with it.

It teaches women that their only purpose is to be lusted after, to gratify their husbands frequently so that he won’t lust (I have another post to write about THAT one), and to keep their opinions, with their legs, carefully hidden so as not to cause a fuss.

Let me use an example. I just finished watching a very moving video here. It got me thinking. In Christian circles, we have been shouting about too much sex and scantly clad women in advertising for years, to no effect. But what reason is given? Because you are causing men to lust. Our boys are being led astray. Sexual enticement everywhere.

Yeah. I agree. It still works, so they’ll still do it. But why are they finding so many of our daughters willing to do that? Because we have taught them that it is the only thing they are good for!

We see our sons’ eyes glaze over when the model comes on the TV and we blame the way she is dressed, rather than teach our sons how to guard their hearts, and seek Christ and his Spirit. We miss a perfect opportunity to teach them that this singer on the music video is a human with dignity and worth, with value as a human being. Instead of teaching them that sex is a tremendous gift of love that God has given to us for the holy state of matrimony, we teach them that it is a dirty thing, to be ashamed of and never spoken of, except with contempt and disgust.

I have never heard anywhere a Christian pastor, mega-pastor, conference speaker, or Christian author talk about what message these advertisers are sending to our daughters! I may have missed some, and I hope that to be the case. But their voices are being drowned out by warnings of seduction! But seduction wouldn’t even be a problem if Christian men dealt with the heart issue (above), but I digress.

What is the message that they are sending to our daughters? It goes right along with the message Christian summer camp is sending to our daughters. You aren’t worth honor and dignity. All you are is a pair of legs designed to entrap and entice men. At Summer camp we tell them to cover up. And the advertisers tell them to use it to sell. Either way, the heart of the issue is the same.

I know that I’m going to get some flack from certain circles for linking that video, but I did it anyway. If your hearts aren’t crying out for these girls locked in a cycle of abuse; if all you are thinking when you see it is sex and seduction, then your heart is desperately in need of cleansing, and only Christ can do that.

I’m very sad to live in a world where we talk about thigh gaps.

Why is it, to sum up this rambling post, that whenever we see sex used to sell a product, that we immediately start to think about the effect it has on “innocent” men, rather than the horrible effect it has on our daughters, who are absorbing the doctrine that their bodies are only for the purpose of arousing lust; that they aren’t good and created in God’s image, but they are something to be ashamed of, hidden away, lest a good man stumble?

Sorry for the ramble. It’s late. But the worst part of it all is this:

It is degrading to Christ

Whenever we shift the blame for our sins upon a woman’s dress or mannerisms, or even on her sinful behavior, we have unwittingly confessed that salvation lies in getting these women under control. But this is really idolatry, isn’t it?

Isn’t salvation reserved for Christ, and Christ alone?

I also was once a teenage boy, and needed no help from anyone to lust in the heart. I went to a school where dress codes were strictly monitored. We didn’t have any of those “hippy clothes” when I was growing up. No mini-skirts, no bikinis, none of those kinds of thing.

And I still blush in shame at the thoughts of my heart, and the conversation of my friends about girls that were created in God’s image. I didn’t need a monastery. I needed Christ. And I still need Christ, every day.

These girls that the Christian church looks down on as tramps or harpies are made in God’s image. They probably have sins of their own. They may indeed be dressing to attract undue attention from men for reasons of their own.

But they are broken sinners in need of redemption; not tramps to be despised and avoided, to be shamed and ridiculed, and certainly not to be used to sell clothes or beer.

Jesus looked at the multitudes with compassion, because they were as sheep without a shepherd. They had no protection, no one leading them to quiet water and green pastures.

Instead of looking at the world with disgust and self-righteous contempt, maybe we should pray for a heart to view the world with that kind of compassion.

We must be careful not to bless God with our tongues, while at the same time calling down curses upon men and women made in God’s image, no matter how they may be dressed. We must seek to know, to understand and to speak to all people as human beings of dignity and worth – whether the world understands it or not. The danger is in our filthy hearts, not in the length of the skirt.

For more on this topic, please see my follow-up post here

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Filed under Sex