Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions Chapter 6

Billy Graham Most admired man 4% (statistical tie)

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For as long as I have been a Christian, I remember being taught, repeatedly, the story of Billy Graham and his attempt to always be above reproach.  I have no idea if the stories of the Reverend Graham are true or not but they went something along the lines of:  Reverend Graham would not get on an elevator if he’d be on board with a woman alone, that he wouldn’t counsel a woman unless a third party was present, etc.

I never questioned these stories or Reverend Graham’s intent until recently.  A dear friend of mine, we’ll call her Molly, came home from college and told me the story of how she couldn’t visit a male friend of hers because his wife wasn’t available to “tag along”.  Molly understood her friend’s feelings but yet she wound up feeling “icky”; which was quite vexing to her because she did nothing wrong.

I’m not faulting Billy Graham and his methods.  He is a world renowned preacher and evangelist.  I admire him for striving to do the right thing; to the best of my knowledge, his ministry is scandal free. He traveled constantly and was away from his wife and family a lot.  I think it was wise for him to put safeguards in place to avoid temptation. However, I don’t think the Church should be using him as the poster child of chastity.  We applaud him for staying strong, but we don’t seem to notice that every time the Church incorporates rules about married men not being alone with women, that we treat women as potential sexual predators.

I’m greatly troubled by how women are perceived and treated in the Church.  Dan Brennan quotes Kristina LaCelle-Peterson and she sums it up perfectly in my opinion.  “If women are viewed only as objects of male sexual desire, or if they are blamed for male temptation, they are dehumanized and not treated with respect, let alone justice.”

Jesus didn’t treat women this way.

In Chapter 6, entitled “Sacred Bodies and Friendship”, Dan Brennan recounts the story of the woman anointing Jesus feet in Luke 7.

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus saw this woman as someone who was overcome with love, not romantic love, for Him and expressed her love and gratefulness to Him in the best she way she knew how. There is nothing sexual about this scene at all.

Unfortunately, we as the Church are missing out the rewards of cross-gender relationships. Not all interactions with men and women are sexual in nature or have romantic undertones. The bogey man (or woman) is not lurching behind every corner.

I understand the need to be above reproach.  Temptation IS something to be on guard from but wisdom is also needed here as well.

I’m afraid that this is an incomplete review of Chapter 6 and I apologize for that.  Brennan was written quite a provocative book which is going to require many re-readings and further study.   I’ve formed a book club with “Molly” this summer.  She and I along with some friends (pastoral and non) will be discussing this book together as a group.

Chapter 1233a456, 7 discussions


I think there is a huge difference between Molly’s friends and Billy Graham. Billy Graham is a highly visible Christian leader. Unfortunately in our world today there are those that would turn an innocent elevator ride into something worse.

The news media wouldn’t hesitate to publish a picture of a Christian leader in a seemingly compromising position if they had one. So, I am unconcerned with Billy Graham taking additional precautions.

I do agree that a “normal” person with a “normal” job doesn’t need that kind of separation in daily life. I had a friend of mine go out of her way to tell me that she wasn’t friends with me on Facebook any longer because I was married and she wanted to keep a boundary.

That is horrible. I have never made a pass at her in the 7 years we have been friends…why does she think that all of a sudden I am going to start hitting on her now that I am married?

Or conversely I might be simply irresistible to her now that I am married. But, why would it take me getting married for her to become attracted to me?

This was rambling. To the point Austin!

Billy Graham probably needs more separation in his life from those of the opposite sex due to his stature.

    Austin,I’m curious how that “separation” and leadership works when it comes to Jesus. Jesus meeting Mary Magdalene alone after his resurrection was no small thing. I am sure you are aware that in some circles, Jesus and Mary Magdalene are a “hot” item. I would suggest before we dismiss those inferences, we really have to let it sink in that Jesus didn’t follow neat gender rules of separation.

      I understand both sides of this. I think there is a reason to be quite vigalent when you are a leader for your own heart. But if vigelence means no access then how does that impact others. If the pastor will not meet with a woman, then he loses ministry to half the congregation. If women are seen as predators then there is a real danger of harm to those (the far vast majority) that simply want appropriate pastoral interaction.

I have not read the book though thank to Vikki it is on my summer reading list. So here are my thoughts just on this entry and without the context of the book.

I’m not sure that a high profile religious leader is the best example though I certainly understand the sentiment Vikki expresses. I think that high profile leaders – religious or otherwise but especially ones professing a certain moral code – have to precautions that many of us don’t have to. Think Johnathan Edwards. The reality is that when you are a well known leader there are things you face that many other leaders – on the every day stage front – don’t face or not the extreme. High profile leaders are in danger of being “attacked” and not just by the opposite sex. And even the hinst of anything sexually inappropriate can ruin their career, their families, their lives. The reality is that there are people out there that want to take down their opponent and sex/sexuality is an easy target. And power has a tendency to corrupt and isolate people from the real world; it can give a false sense of self and security. I have a feeling that Billy Graham’s choices had as much to do with his inner desires and fallen self and predator type behavior as it did with the woman’s. How many high profile leaders have we seen seek out or fall into a trap (not set by a woman) or lead a woman astray or hire prostitues or think well known athletes that have raped/sexually assaulted? We wonder how could they be so dumb? How did they think it was okay or they would get away with it? Power had distorted their view of themsevles, others (and unfortunately power often distorts one’s view of those either weaker or considered weaker which is often women) and their world. So Billy Graham’s decision to live in a way that no man could accuse him of something has a lot to do with his fame as much as with the idea of female-male relationships. I’m not sure he is the best example though he has been toted as reason for men and women in the church to not have opposite sex relationships.

I can also – being a preacher’s kid – attest that many women do “seek” out a pastor in unhealthy ways and for unhealthy reasons. Pastors are sexy much like married men are sexy and men in power are sexy. It’s also easy for a counseling relationship turn more than that when counseling a woman not b/c she’s a predator but b/c when you counsel you often form a bond, you form trust – neccessary for counseling – and if you aren’t careful that can cross the line. So I think there is good cause for pastors to take caution.

All that said, the problem is that we have made this a male-female thing rather than a pastoral thing meaning pastors are no longer just males. Woman pastors are susceptible to the same scrutiny and the males they counsel are just as likely to fall into the same trap. To me when it comes to the pastoring thing it’s not gender it’s leadership and being above reproach.

But and this is to me a big BUT … it’s far to easy for pastors and most often we hear this from male pastors … to quote Billy Graham as there reason for not counseling or not working with a woman, etc. let’s face it it’s just easier to go that route than to do the tough work of being wise and smart and setting up obstacles to cheating. Examples: my mom often counseld with my dad – males and females. singles and couples. I’d argue that whenever you counsel and whoever you counsel it’s good to have others around. Male counseling male. female to female or opposite sex and regardless of the issue. The world is crazy and having worked in some pretty messed up areas and working with some pretty messed up people you have to be gentle as doves adn wise as a serpent. I think being smart when you work with a co-worker. My boss is a male and a friend. I have no issue riding in the car with him or having lunch with him. I have a good marriage where communication is open, where we are open to therapy if/when needed and we have people in our life to hold us accountable. BUT the moment I find out that he “hides” this from his wife then that ends b/c then something isn’t right – either in our relationship or the one with his wife but I won’t be party to either one. My husband has a good relationsihp with a mutual friend and they often email and facebook. I won’t lie i have had moments where I thought, “does that mean somethign?” But again not only do I trust my husband but we have open marriage (not “that” way) 🙂 meaning I can get on his facebook and he on mine if we need too. The moment i come into the room and he starts clicking off facebook or not letting me see things there’s an issue. But the issue isn’t the woman. the best way I can explain that is from my first marriage where my ex committed adultery. People often found it odd I wasn’t mad at the other woman but the other woman did not make an obligation to me, she did not promise, make vows or committ. The issue wasn’t the other woman; the issue was faithfulness. The issue was character. I think when we point to the issue of gender first and make it primary (and I do believe gender is an issue that we can’t ignore either) than we are lazy and have taken the focus off character issues.

I know men – pastors – who won’t hire a female b/c it will disrupt the atmosphere they have going, they are comfortable with and b/c they don’t know how they would have meetings with a co-pastor if she were female and the secteray had a day off. That isn’t about gender; there are gender issues to consider sure, but that isn’t gender that’s a character issues, that’s a misunderstanding of women, that’s a self-control issue, that’s laziness.

And lastly I guess one has to answer the question can men and women just be friends or is there always a sexual tension in that relationship? And if there is always a sexual tension can it be overcome or should it be guarded? I’m excited to see what this book has to say.

Sorry for this long post.

    Jessie, I appreciated your response. You do raise some valid points about Graham. Yet, he tends to be symbolic in this conversation. I’ve lost track of the number of people (both young and old) who immediately reference him as the cross-gender friendship conversation starts up. Many present evangelicals still look to the “Billy Graham rules.”

    I do humbly think that the 21st century calls for the Church to better train/equip pastors for sexuality, love, friendship and marriage. I can’t speak for all evangelical seminaries but the ones I do know about have a heavy concentration on history of theology, languages, and exegesis, with little or no space for sexuality and friendship. Friendship in Christian spirituality is a significant issue as well as a deeper understanding in social sexuality. I believe the equalization of sexes calls us to rethink how seminaries equip pastors. You do raise some of the complexities. These are issues that should be addressed in courses on sexual maturity, holiness, and wisdom.

Great post, Vikki, and very helpful to get the perspective from Jessica that there are real pastoral issues that high-profile American Christian leaders need to be aware of – it’s perhaps less of an issue in th UK because pastors don’t have the social status (or power, or money!).

It does seem a shame, though, if the position of leaders affects the day to day relationships between men and women in churchse. Would have thought pastors could have contextualised their own special position to their congregrations and encouraged openness.

I’m glad that Dan is raising the issue, because if nothing is said then contemporary society moves ahead of the church healthily as well as unhealthily, and we seem to be dated and on the defensive rather than realising the fuller possibilities we have access to.

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