Tagmarriage

A Second Look at Mike Pence’s “Rule”

Back in March the Washington Post ran a profile of Mike Pence’s wife which mentioned his longstanding practice of not socializing alone with women other than his family. News of this practice was met with scorn, outrage, and derision by many critics. In their view, this was an affront to the equality of women in the workplace – or worse (this is the rape culture at work!).

At the time, I pointed out that while Pence’s scruples may seem highly unusual to some, this was a widely accepted safe-guard among those of us who are labeled “evangelicals” (it even has a name – the “Billy Graham Rule”). For those of us who believe that marriage is truly a sacred commitment before God, maintaining clear boundaries around marriage is just common sense. I recognized then (and now) that not everyone shares the same religious convictions about (what used to be commonly referred to as) “holy matrimony,” and that even among those who do, not everyone follows this cautious principle. But I argued that surely even those who disagree with how Pence and his wife approach this matter of judgment could at least see why they do so, and maybe even feel a certain sense of grudging admiration for such conviction.

Alas, that was not to be. Critics just double downed on the Pences, and on me. There was no empathy for differing religious convictions. No, this was simply a matter of brazen sexism, a denial of opportunities for women Pence would not socialize with in private. And I was not spared, either. One person on Facebook even insinuated directly charged that since I follow the same rule, I must not trust my wife very much (so much for tolerance and diversity!!).

Indeed, of all the exchanges I have had on Facebook, this one was by far the most depressing. It truly stunned me that some segments of our society are so antagonistic to conservative-minded Christians that it was not even possible for them to allow for any other motives for this practice other than sinister chauvinism. And it also revealed just how pervasive crassly political tribal thinking is, since the overwhelming percentage of critics were Trump bashers, and Pence’s role as his running mate clearly drew much of this fire (of course, I did as well, and I was an outspoken “NeverTrumper”).

It was also bizarre to me to see how the opinions of Christian women like my wife were brushed aside. Kristi was a hard-working professional woman for many years, and – like many other women I know – was completely in support of Pence’s approach. Many single, professional Christian women were adamant on social media about how uncomfortable it would make them if a male superior wanted to socialize alone with them. But since this did not fit the dominant narrative of the critics, these views were breezily dismissed.

Nor did it matter that – as the son of a single mother who worked two jobs most of her life to make ends meet – even though I wanted my mom to be treated with absolute fairness, that I also appreciated the way my mom’s bosses conducted themselves toward her by never putting her in a private social situation. No, unless one subscribed to the particular approach to equality that the critics espoused, this was discrimination, plain and simple. End of discussion.

And then, the dam broke.

Bill O’Reilly. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin SpaceyRoy Moore. Al Franken. Louis CK.

Just to name a few.

Not all of these cases are identical, of course. Some involved men who were married, others involved men who were single. Some involved children, and some cases involved same-sex abuses. But here is one thing they all have in common – they all took place in private. And in many instances, they occurred in social settings connected to work.

There is every reason to believe that many, many more cases will come to light. Inappropriate sexual conduct is epidemic on Capitol Hill, and my guess is that there are many Congressmen nervously checking the news every day to see if/when they are named. But what is especially revealing is this CNN story about the unwritten rules of female Congressional staffers:

Be extra careful of the male lawmakers who sleep in their offices — they can be trouble. Avoid finding yourself alone with a congressman or senator in elevators, late-night meetings or events where alcohol is flowing. And think twice before speaking out about sexual harassment from a boss — it could cost you your career.

These are a few of the unwritten rules that some female lawmakers, staff and interns say they follow on Capitol Hill, where they say harassment and coercion is pervasive on both sides of the rotunda.

Just in case you missed it, here it is again:
Avoid finding yourself alone with a congressman or senator in elevators, late-night meetings or events where alcohol is flowing.

 

That’s not the rule of the Ayatollah Mike Pence. It is the rule that women in the congressional workplace have devised to protect themselves.

What is very curious to me is that when Mike Pence follows this rule, it is benighted sexism, or worse. But when women themselves insist on the very same rule, there is nary a peep from anyone. It makes me wonder if the real motivation behind many of Pence’s critics was not concern about sexism, but thinly veiled prejudice against conservative-minded Christians. And the fact that I have never seen any of the same erstwhile champions of feminism criticize traditional Muslims or Orthodox Jews who practice the same scruple makes me even more cynical.

Look, I am sympathetic regarding the concern that women get fair treatment in the workplace. I understand why some people think the “Billy Graham Rule” is unfair, and could rob women of opportunities. I disagree with this – as do many professional women – but I get it. If I had a job in the business world, I may even choose not to socialize in private with anyone who worked for me, just to avoid the appearance of favoritism.

But it is astonishing to me how utterly incapable many of Pence’s critics (and mine) were to offer any kind of charitable regard for the convictions behind his practice. I wonder if the recent avalanche of stories about exploitation of women in private has caused some of those critics to take pause. Since most of these criticism were prompted by shill ideological dogmatism, I doubt it.

But just to restate the case, for some of us, marriage is a sacred and beautiful commitment to God to pledge lifelong devotion to one husband/wife. And like all sacred and beautiful things, it deserves careful protection. The issue here is not some kind of arrogant conceit that I possess such an aura of animal magnetism that any women caught in private with me would surely throw herself at me. To even write that sentence has me laughing out loud in my study! Nor is the issue here whether I trust my spouse  – I do, with my life. The issue is whether I trust myself. And while I hope and think I would always maintain my integrity, the simple truth is that the religious landscape is littered with the broken lives of men and women who thought they were impervious to temptation, only to learn that what Jesus said is true – “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Further, the approach that Pence, myself, and others take in these matters is also designed to avoid making women feel uncomfortable, given the general moral climate we live in. As the unwritten rules of these female congressional staffers reveal, many women prefer this approach for their own security. The fact that so many critics were incapable of seeing this reveals an enormous blindspot.

We have been studying the Book of Job in our Wednesday night adult class at church. This past Wednesday we looked at Job’s oath of innocence, his final protest that he is not guilty of sin and doesn’t deserve to be punished. As he lays out evidence of his integrity, the very first thing he mentions is his conduct toward young women:

I have made a covenant with my eyes;
    how then could I gaze at a virgin?
What would be my portion from God above
    and my heritage from the Almighty on high?
Is not calamity for the unrighteous,
    and disaster for the workers of iniquity?
Does not he see my ways
    and number all my steps? (Job 31:1-4)

In the ancient world, men of status like Job often collected harems. And it was commonplace for landowners and field hands to take advantage of the young ladies who came to work in their fields. But Job did neither. He made a covenant – a solemn vow – not to even look at a young woman in this light. All because he knew he was accountable to God.

To my friends who are committed to Christ-honoring purity, do not be discouraged. Yes, we live in a collapsing culture – a time when even many who profess to be Christians are willing to excuse or rationalize just about anything. Taking up the cross of Jesus has never been easy. But as Job believed, our heritage is from the Almighty on high, and we can trust in Jesus’ promise that the pure in heart with someday see him (Matthew 5:8).

 

 

 

 

 

In Sickness and In Health

One night last week my wife was working late, so I grabbed a bite by myself at one of Plant City’s landmark restaurants, Fred’s. As I was getting back into the car to go home, I noticed a man helping a woman into a van. She did not appear to be old enough to be his mother, and the way they interacted almost certainly indicated that she was his wife.

And she was in poor health. She used a scooter to get around, and she was also on oxygen. In order for her to get into their van, she needed her husband’s help. I watched as he positioned the scooter in order for her to stand up and then navigated her into the passenger seat. This took a long time, and obviously took a lot out of her. Then, he moved the scooter to the back of the van, and (after some effort) mounted the scooter on the brackets that held it in place.

I was so moved by his obvious care for his wife that I almost got out of the car to ask if he wanted help. But he clearly was capable, and what seemed to me like a time-consuming and challenging task was no doubt quite routine for him. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help watching, and I regret not at least rolling down my window to let him know how touched I was by his patient care for his wife. Maybe I will see them again and have the chance to say as much (looks like I have to eat at Fred’s again!).

Why did this simple scene have such an impact on me? Maybe it  had to do with the fact that this was the night before my wife’s next cancer treatment, at which we were scheduled to receive her latest scan results (which happily showed no progression in the disease). Kristi is blessed with great health overall even with Stage 4 cancer, but that night I was confronted with the fact that many couples live a much more difficult story. To think that every time the anonymous husband and wife went anywhere to do anything that they had to go through this tedious process was indeed a bittersweet idea to contemplate. How sad that this is their cross to bear; how sweet that they are willing to bear it.

This chance encounter was even more poignant in light of the seemingly endless barrage of stories in the news right now about sexual harassment and abuse. Day after day we learn of another man who exploited and abused women (or children, or both) for perverse sexual gratification. These stories are so widespread – involving men from all social, political, and religious (or non-religious) backgrounds – that it almost seems like virtuous manhood is extinct.

But then I saw this man serving his wife. Of course, it is possible that this wasn’t a faithfully devoted couple at all. For all I know, they could turn out to be criminal masterminds! But at this one snapshot in time, what I believe I saw was a man who loved his wife “in sickness and his health.”

Love between a husband and wife as Scripture speaks of it is not ultimately a feeling to be experienced, but a promise to be kept. It is not just an emotion; it is a decision. In the traditional vows used for generations, it is a pledge to “have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” We don’t take vows to do things that are easy. I’ve never vowed to eat dessert! We make vows precisely because something isn’t going to be easy.

But this isn’t how lots of people look at marriage. They walk away when adversity strikes, or when the passion wanes, or just because they see someone else who is appealing. Rather than modeling the gracious and giving love of God, they subvert it and take God’s place, creating an idol out of self.

But if we could see ourselves as God sees us, we would know that he loved us in sickness – period. Grievous, terminal spiritual sickness.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

The love we share in any of our relationships is really just the overflow of God’s undeserved love that was poured into us through Christ, cascading through us and on to others. Such love makes marriage especially sweet in times of health and prosperity, but it makes marriage comforting and resilient in times of sickness and adversity. This is the joy that comes to husbands and wives “as those who share God’s life-giving kindness,” as God’s Word translation renders 1 Peter 3:7.

So, thank you, anonymous husband, for reminding me what commitment looks like. Thank you for modeling what a real man looks like. And thank you for giving me a glimmer of the love of God in this increasingly dark age.

 

 

“To Have and to Hold…Til Death Do We Part”

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

The New York Times broke the story about Harvey Weinstein’s vile pattern of sexual abuse just after the Vegas shooting. In the days following the nightmare in Vegas, stories were beginning to emerge about the heroes in the midst of that horror, but thanks to the Weinstein bombshell, those stories were quickly lost in the shuffle. This only adds to the tragedy of the events in Vegas. So in this post, I want to draw attention to two heroes.

Those heroes are Jack Beaton and Sonny Melton.

Both men were at the concert in Vegas that fateful night along with their wives. Jack Beaton was a 54-year old roofer, in Vegas with his wife to celebrate their 23rd wedding  anniversary. Sonny Melton was a 29-year old nurse, in Vegas with his wife to enjoy the music festival that weekend.

When the shooting began, both men immediately sought to shield their wives from harm. Here’s how Beaton’s wife described what happened that night-

“He told me, ‘Get down, get down, get down!’” Laurie Beaton told The Associated Press ahead of the memorial service.

He put his body on top of hers for protection, she said.

“He told me, ‘I love you, Laurie,’ and his arms were around me and his body just went heavy on me,” she said.

Melton’s story is similar-

“He saved my life,” Heather Gulish Melton told USA Today. “He grabbed me from behind and started running when I felt him get shot in the back.”

Both husbands died protecting their wives.

The contrast between Jack Beaton & Sonny Melton and Harvey Weinstein could not be sharper. Weinstein preyed on women, viewing them as objects to serve his perverted fantasies, exploiting his power and status for selfish gratification. Weinstein expected women to give themselves to him. Beaton and Melton gave themselves for their wives.

When the apostle Paul described the sort of love husbands should have for their wives, he set the highest possible standard – the love of Christ for his people.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  (Ephesians 5:25-27)

The love of Christ is selfless. It gives, and gives deeply, all for the welfare of the “bride,” the church. Husbands are to follow this example, to give deeply for the wellbeing of their wives.

Many men today utter fail in the moment of testing. Some abandon their wives altogether, betraying the vows of marriage for the cheap thrill of sexual gratification with someone else. Others demean and degrade their wives rather than seeking their spiritual beauty. And others are simply oblivious to the needs of their wives, and do nothing to actively love, serve, and give to meet those needs.

I don’t know anything about the religious beliefs of Jack Beaton and Sonny Melton, but I do know this – when the shooting started, when it would have been easy to abandon their wives and save themselves, they instead wrapped themselves around their wives and died to save them. If their wedding vows were traditional, at some point those men pledged “to have and to hold…til death do we part.” They gave everything to keep that promise.

That is Christ-like love.

 

Put on the New Self…In Marriage

Yesterday marked 28 years for me as a preacher. My first work was with the Oak Hill church outside of Mount Sterling, Kentucky, and my first Sunday with them was May 14, 1989. I have many wonderful memories of the people there, and love seeing them every time I get the chance to go back and preach in the area. An added blessing for me during that time was the friendship of fellow minister John Smith, who preached nearby in my hometown of Winchester. We got together almost every week, sharing sermon ideas over lunch. In this post I want to pass along one of his ideas that I think is great. But first, some background. Continue reading

Marriage, “From Here to Eternity”

Recently I have been teaching the book of First Corinthians in our adult Bible class at church. The seventh chapter contains Paul’s responses to various questions raised by the Corinthians regarding marriage, divorce, remarriage, and celibacy. Paul’s general recommendation is that in view of a crisis the Corinthians were facing – something he calls “the present distress” (v. 26) – that it is better to remain unmarried if a person is able to live in celibacy. But he also assures the Corinthians that if a person is not blessed with this capacity that marriage is not a sin. Continue reading

The Degrading Plague of Pornography

Yesterday I read a statistic that astounded me. In 2016 porn viewers watched 4.6 billion hours of pornography on one website alone. Americans accounted for forty percent of this. This was stunning to me, but it should not have been. It makes perfect sense given the dominant values of our culture – individualism, consumerism, and materialism. If an individual should be free to do whatever gives him pleasure, and if customers should be able to get whatever they are willing to pay for, and if sex is nothing more than a physical act, then what could possibly reflect the times better than rampant porn use?

Christians are not immune to this problem – as any preacher or elder who has counseled couples in marriages nearly wrecked by porn use can testify.  And given the easy access to pornography through the internet, this problem is only going to get worse. Although this is an awkward subject to address, it is crucial for those who follow Jesus to be aware of this issue, and to have clear convictions about what is wrong with it. Continue reading

Love, Marriage, and Commitment

Here’s a story about love in four songs.

First, a song from 1925 by Irving Berlin-

I’ll be loving you always

with a love that’s true always.

When the things you’ve planned

Need a helping hand,

I will understand always.

Always.

Days may not be fair always,

That’s when Ill be there always.

Not for just an hour,

Not for just a day,

Not for just a year,

But always.

What does “love” mean in this song? What was Irving Berlin saying to his wife? I commit to love you, even when times are difficult. And this isn’t just a fleeting emotion – I’ll be there always.

Now, a different view of love, from 1964- Continue reading

The “Mystery” of Marriage

(This was a chapel talk I gave on February 13, 2017, at my alma mater, Florida College. I don’t know how long the link will last, but for now you can watch a Livestream of the service here).

I want to talk to you today about marriage. It seems like an appropriate time to do so – we’ve just enjoyed a great week of lectures about the topic, and it is the day before Valentine’s Day. And seven years ago today I went on the first date with my wife Kristi, so I guess marriage is on my mind.

Specifically I want to talk with you about the “mystery” of marriage – not how strange and perplexing marriage can be, though it sometimes is that! The “mystery” of marriage I have in mind is the language of the apostle Paul at the end of Ephesians 5 – Continue reading