By Tish Harrison Warren

An Open Letter to Men Who Broke the Billy Graham Rule

To the men who have met with me one-on-one:

In light of the Vice President’s revelation that he does not eat meals alone with women (besides his wife) and the widespread discussion of the “Billy Graham Rule,” I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for meeting with me — some of you years ago, some of you last week — to disciple me, befriend me, love me, and honor me as a fellow follower of Christ and as a human being.

So thank you.

Thank you to my college minister, who over four years and endless cups of coffee and lunches and walks slowly taught me about grace and dared me to believe that God runs to those who feel like failures in the Christian life. Thank you that when I was growing cynical after seeing a particularly terrible example of Christian leadership, you invited me to be an intern in the church, saying, “I want you to see how a healthy church works before you give up on ministry.”

Thank you to my former pastor. You made time to get to know me, constantly told me, “I’m proud of you, girl,” and stood in as a dad for me, while still honoring how much my real-life dad meant to me.

Thank you to my seminary professor. You met with me over a meal to make me promise I’d finish seminary because you thought I was called to it. Even though you were a pastor in a denomination that did not ordain women, you saw something in me in your class and went out of your way to name it and fan it into flame.

Thank you to my ministry supervisor in campus ministry. You met with me often and always knew how to ask great questions. You never failed to make me laugh, pay for my coffee, and call the best work out of me because I was 100% sure you were for me.

Thank you to my colleague in ministry who saw me as a valued member of his church and staff, who met with me weekly to scheme about how our church could love people and preach the gospel more effectively.

Thank you to my spiritual director, who asks hard questions about my marriage or my prayer life or my sleep habits and tells me to chill out a lot.

Thank you to my current boss for his intentional commitment to hiring a woman as a pastor and including me in church decisions in important and meaningful ways. You wanted to make sure that you were raising up not just male leaders in ministry, but female ones as well.  Thank you for believing that women have perspective and gifts to offer your church, and for believing that female voices matter and should be amplified.

Thank you to my (male) priest friend who insisted that women be included in a ministry gathering in our denomination — and when his colleagues asked, “What do we do about the men who won’t be comfortable in small groups with women?” replied, “Well, we could suggest they get counseling.”

And thank you to the many men who have been friends to me, who I met in college, at work, through writing and publishing, or in the pew beside me. Thank you for good conversations that helped me find my way, for asking my advice and giving me yours, and for thinking that I, as a woman, may have a unique perspective to offer you.

You, men-who’ve-met-with-me-one-on-one, who’ve eaten with me, had coffee with me, mentored me, encouraged me, and befriended me — you have changed my life. I am a Christian because you poured into me. I am a pastor because you pastored me. I am, I hope, a better wife and mother because you are in my life.

You did not see me as a sexual threat to be avoided, but as a human being, even a sister. And you were safe. You never hit on me. You never made me feel weird or uneasy. If you ever struggled with sexual temptation, you’ve dealt with that by talking with your wife, male friends, or a counselor so that you could be a friend, brother, and pastor to women around you. Because of that, I have the gift of having men in my life who are trustworthy and who are true, dear friends.

And thanks also to your wives. They do not see me (and all the other women on the planet) as a danger. They do not regard your friendship with or ministry among women as perilous, but as essential. They pushed you out of the house to go love people in the name of Jesus, with full confidence in you and in the boundaries you no doubt set together. Many of them have also become mentors and friends to me as well, and I have felt only welcome from them. They have helped me to encourage my own husband to befriend and invest in women, hoping that he could impact someone as I have been impacted by you.

I am grateful to you, my brothers and pastors. Thank you for talking to me about theology and politics — because you didn’t assume women don’t care about these topics or aren’t smart enough to engage them. Thank you for not hiving yourself off at parties, with the men in one room and the women in another. Thank you for breaking the “Billy Graham rule,” for not winking at subtle sexism in the name of propriety, and for caring about me more than you clung to legalism and fear. Thank you for seeing me as someone worthy of love and investment, and not simply as a temptation to avoid. Mostly, I thank you for seeing me as a human being, God’s image bearer, who, like you, needs Jesus and pastors and friends and good conversation over coffee.

Your impact on my life is clear to me each and every day. And I thank God for you.

About the Author

Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. She is the author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (Christianity Today's 2018 Book of the Year) and Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work, or Watch, or Weep (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year). Tish has written a weekly newsletter for The New York Times, and she is a columnist for Christianity Today. Her articles and essays have appeared in Religion News Service, Christianity Today, Comment Magazine, The Point Magazine, The New York Times, and elsewhere. For over a decade, Tish has worked in ministry settings as a campus minister with InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries, as an associate rector, and with addicts and those in poverty through various churches and non-profit organizations. She is a founding member of The Pelican Project and a Senior Fellow with the Trinity Forum. She lives with her husband and three children in Austin, Texas.

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