Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

VP Pence and My Mom

I didn’t know it was the ‘Billy Graham’ rule. I thought it was just sage advice from my mom.

Twitter, at least, has been all a-flutter (a-twitter?) with the surprising and shocking (?) revelation that Vice President Mike Pence operates with a policy of not dining alone with women other than his wife. I’m stunned that this is in the least bit controversial. I’ve not heard his justification for his policy. I’ve only heard what others, some bitterly opposed, have said about it. But since this was my policy for many years, I want to toss a few words into the fray.

After college I had the wonderful privilege of spending three years teaching English to seventh-graders. I liked that age. I loved their energy and enthusiasm and I loved seeing their minds begin to engage the world around them. They were old enough to begin to have intelligent conversations but they had yet to inhabit the cynical, cool world of the older adolescent.

My mom had for many years taught that age, and as I began my career one piece of advice she gave me stuck: don’t let myself be in a room alone with a junior high girl. In her experience, even in the 60s and 70s, all it took to ruin a man’s reputation was a girl’s accusations. True or not they could stain and ruin a male teacher. She wanted to protect me from that.

As I transitioned from teacher to pastor that counsel stuck with me, magnified by the terrible track record  of male pastors staying out of emotionally and sexually charged relationships with women. To not spend time alone with a woman – either in my study or over a meal (Starbucks was not a thing back then) – seemed at the time like a wise policy to adopt.

This policy did more than to protect my own reputation (and by extension that of the church). It gave my wife needed security. The tale is old as time, that a pastor under the guise of regular counsel of a woman moves from pastor to confidante to lover. And though I saw no reason that that would happen in my case, who does? It seemed wise to erect barriers that would give my wife an added layer of confidence.

My role was no where near that of a US Senator or Vice President. And I would never presume to demand that others embrace the rules by which I steered my life. But I understand how important reputation is and how easy it is, no matter who we are, to be careless in the preservation of it.

But as a policy it proved unsustainable for me. I pastored a small church in which I was often on site alone with a female administrative assistant or financial manager. Is there any greater stereotype than that of the pastor running off with the church secretary? But it was unavoidable, really, and so we did it. Not the running off, mind you. The being alone.

It was not only unsustainable, it was in the end unfair to women in need of spiritual and pastoral care. One could theorize that they could get that from their husbands or from other astute and wise women, but that was theory and not reality. My policy caused the neglect of sheep in my congregation in need of care. And so, eventually, I abandoned it.

I now meet with women, preferably in a public place (my mom’s voice is still in my head) when possible. Most of the time, my wife is aware, and she has the right and responsibility to speak to me should she perceive that any one relationship is receiving more attention than she thinks it should. I still am concerned about her sense of security.

Being Vice President invites the spotlight, and Mike Pence will no doubt have many things to answer for. But this should not be one of them. I can’t say if in his case he should or should not hold on to this policy. Looking in from the outside I’m inclined to say that it is impossible for him to do so. But I would never imply that his decision is reflective of weak character. It may be reflective of wisdom.

Or of listening to his mom.

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5 Comments

  1. Neal Ganzel

    Sage comment Randy. Thank you.

    Both in my previous 20 year business career, and in 16 years of gospel ministry, this has been my practice.

    IMO, the current sexually lawless and (especially where women are concerned) anti-clerical culture demands it as wisdom. There are ways to meet with with a woman for counsel that do not compromise either the rule or her right to private counsel with her pastor.

    And, especially where younger women are concerned, the Apostle directly reserves their need for discipleship wisdom not to to church planter Titus but to the older women Titus has authoritatively and NO DOUBT carefully & discretely instructed in their need for wisdom.

    • Not to challenge your practice, but I think it is important to note that while Paul encourages the older women to teach the younger women, he does not reserve that duty for older women. There is nothing in Titus 2 that would suggest that others, including Titus, might as well teach the younger women.

      • IMO, what is directly commanded of Titus in the passage (2:1-1o) first of all is what he should teach certain groups.

        It is clear that he reserves the specific “training” of younger women to older women who Titus has identified/trained in their mature responsiblies.

        If a church has no older women willing to train younger women in the virtues therein described (😱) then of course the church planter or pastor would have to do it–or his wife, or some older wom n imported from another church, etc.

        But I think the passage is pretty clear exegetically as to the wise apostolic preference here–especially applicable to a younger man.

        Just saying…

  2. Stephanie

    So you make a distinction that’s important. There is an enormous difference between alone with a woman and in public/in public view by yourself with a woman. That’s been my only point of contention with those who suggest men and women can’t be friends or that a married man meeting with a woman individually is wrong (and as some have suggested, sinful). Jeb and Betsy have made some phenomenal points about how those who hold the absolutist view are only contributing to the false idea that romantic intimacy is the only intimacy. Now, I just don’t care who VP Pence has dinner with in this scenario. if that is what he has arranged with his wife, then so be it. But I won’t swallow Matt Walsh or Kevin DeYoung’s malarkey that to do so is sin. Incidentally, just a few days ago, I met with Curt in our home, with neither Kelly nor Nathan present. We both awkwardly confirmed with one another that our spouses were cool with this (they were) and then laughed at our complimentarianism.

    • As you know, ‘wrong’ and ‘unwise’ are two different categories. I might counsel that a practice is ‘unwise’ but not ‘wrong’. And something that might be unwise for me, might be of no consequence for others. On that I suspect we agree. I am, however, cautious here. Intimacy between a man and a woman has to be carefully guarded. Too many who have felt that their laps could contain the coals have ended up being burned. Discretion is key.

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