Presumption of Guilt and the Billy Graham Rule

Josh Buice

It has happened again.  Another sexual assault scandal has hit the news.  Just yesterday morning, co-hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb looked into the camera for what was a raw and emotionally tense moment to announce the termination of Matt Lauer’s employment from NBC’s Today Show.  After a lengthy public career in front of the camera, suddenly he vanished into thin air. He didn’t die. He didn’t say good-bye.  No closure.  Sudden termination after 23 years of employment as a news anchor for the popular Today show and the whole world is presuming the guilt of Matt Lauer.

The Danger of Presuming Guilt

The details may prove the guilt of Matt Lauer over the next several weeks.  However, in the meantime, the whole world is left to presume his guilt.  In the first 16 hours following the public announcement, the video circulated on Facebook by the official Today page racked up 15 million views.  According to our justice system, we are to presume innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  In the wake of the latest round of scandals, the tide has seemed to shift toward a position of “guilty until proven innocent.”

It’s absolutely healthy for our culture to protect women and to support victims as they come forward to confront those who have abused, mistreated, or violated them in some manner that is unlawful and disrespectful.  We must always support victims and protect the rights of such people to come forward.  However, we must likewise consider what happens in a culture where the default position is to presume guilt until proven innocence.  The innocence of many men is being challenged in an reckless fashion.

Emily Lindin, a columnist at Teen Vogue, made the following statement recently on Twitter. “I’m actually not at all concerned about innocent men losing their jobs over false sexual assault/harassment allegations,” she wrote. “If some innocent men’s reputations have to take a hit in the process of undoing the patriarchy, that is a price I am absolutely willing to pay.”  That approach is reprehensible and unfortunately—many people in our culture will allow her ideology to become the cultural norm.

The laws we enjoy in our land that protect people from being sexually assaulted and likewise protect character assassination of the innocent are reflected in God’s law that governed Israel.  In order for someone to receive the death penalty for an offense—it had to be established beyond a reasonable doubt by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut. 17:6; Deut. 19:15-21).  God was protecting the people on both sides of the fence—something that we must be careful to not neglect in our day as well.

The Genius of the Billy Graham Rule

Not long ago, the Vice President—Mike Pence, was heavily criticized for embracing the “Billy Graham rule.”  In short, a Washington Post piece documented a position held by Pence back in 2012 where he states that ““he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.”

This position was popularized by Billy Graham years ago who made a similar commitment in order to protect his character, his career, and to protect his marriage from failure during the lengthy crusades and frequent travels.  It was during a ministry trip to California in 1948 where Graham along with three friends (Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and Grady Wilson) discussed scandals that ruined ministries and marriages through the years and they made a commitment to protect themselves from such heart wrenching scandals.

When the position of Pence was made public, it led to a great number of sarcastic and demeaning tweets in response to Vice President Pence’s position.  Some of those tweets include the following:

Stop the insanity.  In a world full of scandals, deceit, abuse, and disappointments, is it really a scandalous crime for Vice President Pence to protect himself, his marriage, his career, and the reputation of the United States of America by refusing to spend time with women (other than his own wife) alone?  What’s worse, the recent barrage of sexual scandals and abuse or Vice President Pence’s embrace of the “Billy Graham rule?”  Does the “Billy Graham rule” really mock women and turn them into commodities or does it protect them from being used and abused?

If we can learn anything from these accusations with public figures, it would be wise for all men—especially a Christian man to refuse to meet together, dine together, and spend time with the opposite sex without his wife.  If a meeting is held in private and accusations are made—how is a man to protect himself in a culture that presumes guilt and demands the proof of innocence?  Once a character is damaged it’s too late.  False accusations spread far more rapidly than the truth.

How many pastors have fallen into sexual misconduct causing their marriage to fall apart and their ministry to come to a sudden end?  The list is lengthy.  No pastor should place himself in a place where he could be tempted to fall or where he could be falsely accused of misconduct. The genius of the “Billy Graham rule” focuses on several key factors:

  1.  Honesty about the deceit of the human heart (Jer. 17:9).
  2.  The necessity of protecting your character as a follower of Christ (Prov. 4:25-27).
  3.  Protecting the sanctity of marriage in the eyes of a perverse culture (Heb. 13:4).

While the world laughs and mocks Vice President Pence out of one side of their mouth—they applaud the termination of Matt Lauer’s job for an accusation of sexual misconduct out of the other side of their mouth.  The world doesn’t possess a great deal of sanity.  If there ever was a day where great wisdom was needed in the area of mixed relationships in the workplace—it’s now.

I appeal to all Christian men—especially pastors—create laughter by embracing the “Billy Graham rule” rather than tears for falling into a sex scandal.


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Author Presumption of Guilt and the Billy Graham Rule

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.