A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule.

When Harvey Weinstein's decades of sexual predation came to light last month, one could hear the soft din of schadenfreude from many evangelicals. Conservative Christians have long considered Hollywood to be a hotbed of moral libertinism wrapped in obnoxious moral superiority. Mr. Weinstein's behavior was seen as an excess of an industry that celebrates sexual freedom, consequences be damned.

In light of Mr. Weinstein and other members of the Hollywood elite now being exposed for sexual assault, some Christian leaders have advocated that we recover the Pence rule: Vice President Pence has said he doesn't meet alone with a woman who isn't his wife. People may accuse him of being prudish and misogynist, but at least he will never be accused of Mr. Weinstein's sins.

"The very same left-wing activists and Hollywood stars now running away from Harvey Weinstein were assailing Mike Pence for having a rule of not dining alone or taking meetings alone with women," said Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and radio host. "The media and the left savaged Mike Pence for his principled stand, but they will never run stories about Mike Pence sexually harassing women."

The Pence rule or some variation of it is common, though not universal, among evangelicals, but it's often known as the Billy Graham rule. Early in Mr. Graham's ministry, he and his team signed the "Modesto Manifesto." They agreed not to eat, travel or meet alone with any women who weren't their wives. Mr. Graham ended his decades-long public ministry with nary a scandal.

Today, many ministry leaders follow Mr. Graham's example to avoid "the appearance of evil," as the New Testament puts it. Indeed, the Bible says a lot about humans' proclivity to sin. Many Christian men believe it's better to limit interacting with women altogether than open the door to temptation. As Mr. Graham's own grandson and other pastors prey on women in Christian circles, there's a comforting clarity about the rule.

I know many Christians who keep some version of the rule. These men have good motives. Their stated intent — marital fidelity — is noble, and one that I respect. But the Pence rule is inadequate to stop Weinstein-ian behavior. In fact, it might be its sanctified cousin. It's time for men in power to believe their female peers when they say that the rule hurts more than helps.

Last year, a ministry leader in the Chicago suburbs asked if I would join his organization's board. I agreed to meet him at a popular breakfast spot to learn more. Upon arriving, I scanned the crowd to find the man who matched the website photo — and another man was sitting next to him.

Immediately, I knew what was going on. Both men were warm and complimentary. We share the same faith and read the same Bible. But a decade into my career, I've rarely had a more alienating meeting. I was made acutely aware that my existence as a woman was a problem that needed to be managed in a public setting. I did not join the board.

The Pence rule can manifest in ways that are strangely un-Christian. A former colleague at a Christian nonprofit threw her back out while on a business trip. Lying in pain in her hotel room, she asked her co-worker to carry her suitcase from her room. He refused to enter the room. One wonders what he thought was going to happen. In this and other cases, personal purity seems to take precedence over the command to love your neighbor.

Jesus condemned the teachers of the law for fastidiously keeping religious traditions while neglecting the greater law — "justice, mercy and faithfulness." Religious leaders of his day would show great care to strain insects from their wine. Yet in straining out a gnat, Jesus said, the men "swallowed a camel." In other words, one can follow personal codes of morality down to the iota while neglecting camel-size moral imperatives like loving your neighbor as yourself.

To be sure, there's wisdom in married people avoiding settings that naturally cultivate attraction. Even men far outside the Christian world, and plenty of well-known liberals, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, keep some version of the Pence rule. Alcohol and isolation put otherwise honorable people in precarious situations, and one needn't be religious to acknowledge moral vulnerability.

But reasonable people know the difference between a business meeting over breakfast and drinks at a hotel bar at night. And what the Pence rule fails to grapple with is that the Weinstein story wasn't, at its root, about attraction but abuse of power. The producer's behavior wasn't fundamentally about lust gone wild. It flowed from male consolidation of power in Hollywood, and the lack of opportunity and influence that women have there and in many other industries. Mr. Weinstein could prey on women because of his undue influence over actresses' careers. He knew they would have little recourse if they spoke out. Those women wouldn't have been helped by greater isolation from men. They needed a stronger voice in the industry and greater agency over their careers.

The Pence rule arises from a broken view of the sexes: Men are lustful beasts that must be contained, while women are objects of desire that must be hidden away. Offering the Pence rule as a solution to male predation is like saying, "I can't meet with you one on one, otherwise I might eventually assault you." If that's the case, we have far deeper problems around men and power than any personal conduct rule can solve.

Most female Christian leaders I know find the Pence rule frustrating. (All the people I know who keep the rule are men.) Imagine a male boss keeps some variation of the rule but is happy to meet with a male peer over lunch or travel with him for business. The informal and strategic conversations they can have is the stuff of workplace advancement. Unless there are women in senior leadership positions — and in many Christian organizations, there are not — women will never benefit from the kind of advancement available to men.

The answer is not to ask women to leave the room. It's to hold all men in the room accountable, and kick out those who long ago lost their right to be there.

Katelyn Beaty is an editor at large for Christianity Today and the author of "A Woman's Place." She wrote this in The New York Times on November 15, 2017.


November 16, 2017

Post Script. To me, the so-called Pence Rule is a Christian version of the extreme segregation of women and men in orthodox Jewish and orthodox Muslim communities. In all three groups, the same assumption dominates - Men are lustful beasts that must be contained, while women are objects of desire that must be hidden away.

And all three communities are not places where women are either full citizens or individuals who are allowed to develop “their God-given talents," as one just candidate for President recently stated the case.

The assumptions underlying segregation by gender are no more valid than the assumptions about race that segregated peoples by color, and practices. Similarly, behavior based on these assumptions are not valid or acceptable.

The Pence Rule is behavioral modification for a man who walks around feeling he can't otherwise control himself around women. Pence, it turns out, sees himself as a disciplined version of Trump “pussy-grabber," sexual predator

Mr. Pence, if you are telling us you are a wild Beast who can't control his own lust, we feel for your problem and urge you to seek psychiatric help. But please. Do not offer your "Rule" as a way of life in 2017 America.

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