by John Ellis
“Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting, but if let alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins.” The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
Although I shouldn’t be surprise, I can’t help but reflexively raise my eyebrows whenever professing Christians take offense at the efforts of others to mortify their own sin. Vice President Mike Pence is the latest to find himself in the crosshairs of those who don’t seem to understand the perfidy of sin, especially sexual sin.
This past week, The Washington Post published a profile of Second-Lady Karen Pence. The piece is fairly boilerplate, highlighting the Second Lady’s social conservative stances, her passion for art therapy, and the behind the scenes yet highly influential role Karen Pence plays in her husband’s career. With nothing really new revealed, the article would’ve passed out of the public consciousness without creating much of a social ripple except for one seemingly throw-away sentence/paragraph.
Buried in the middle of the article with no obvious transitions, the Post reveals, “In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”
Often referred to as the Billy Graham Rule, the Vice President is being pilloried for adopting the rule. He finds himself accused of being a misogynist, promoting patriarchy, and relegating women to being nothing more than sex objects. Twitter being Twitter, in other words, Twitter being the dialectical equivalent of my fifth grade recess, is in the midst of an anti-Mike Pence game of rhetorical hand-slap. Both progressive Christians and non-Christians are desperately competing in order to be the one who verbally slaps Vice President Pence (i.e. all male conservatives) into submission. Articles screeching “the Vice President views women as nothing more than sex objects” are being typed as I type this one.
The thing is, and the thing that progressive Christians, and leftists, in general, can’t comprehend, not everything can be reduced to tribalism. Contrary to what identity politics teaches, not everything is a socially constructed game of power dynamics. Quoting one of the fathers of identity politics, Sigmund Freud, “Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” Likewise, sometimes men are simply recognizing that they are sinful, and are attempting to guard themselves from their own idols of lust. You see, I know this to be true, because I have similar rules for myself. In fact, one of my rules is exactly like the rule in question.
For starters, and although I struggle with resenting the fact that I need to point this out, I want to remind everyone that these rules are not commands from the Bible. Nowhere does the Bible command a married man to avoid having a meal with a member of the opposite sex who is not his wife. Just because Vice President Pence, Billy Graham, and John Ellis have the rule, that doesn’t mean that it’s required for anyone else. Also, for most of the men who have these rules, the spirit of the rule is what’s important, not necessarily the law. For example, as a general rule, I won’t ride in a car alone with a woman who is not my wife. However, if I drive past a sister in Christ from my church who is walking down the sidewalk in the rain, I will stop and offer her a ride. Granted, I will also text my wife and let her know. If you want to mock or revile me for texting my wife in that scenario, feel free to do so. But please know that you’re mocking and reviling me for my weakness. If you’re a fellow Christian, you’re mocking and reviling is not helping me to mortify my sin as I pursue holiness.
I know my own heart; Vice President Pence and Billy Graham apparently know their own heart, too. And when I make a rule for myself about not eating alone with a member of the opposite sex who is not my wife, I am not making any claims about that woman or women, in general; I’m making an embarrassing claim about myself. I’m telling everyone that I am a sinner who struggles with lust. That is not the fault of women. Unfortunately, I understand all too well that no matter how often I say that, I will continue to be accused of slut-shaming, contributing to the rape culture, and sexually objectifying women. However, once again, the reason that as a general rule I won’t eat alone with a member of the opposite sex who is not my wife is solely because of me, not because of women.
Sadly, like Vice President Pence, I have been accused of misogyny, turning women into sex objects, and of subjugating women within a patriarchal system that doesn’t want to see them advance. However, being faithful to my wife and to my God is more important than the slings and arrows of those who seek to be a stumbling block to me. Referencing the John Owen quote at the top of this article, sin is seeking to destroy people. A man (or woman) allowing lust a toehold in his heart is a path to destruction. As Jesus said, an emotional affair (lusting after a woman in your heart) is the same thing as committing adultery. And lust often happens because of familiarity; it doesn’t matter what the woman is wearing or how she acts. Mike Pence is correct, engaging in activities with members of the opposite sex is a small step to seemingly “innocuous” intimacy. In turn, lust is then right outside the door; banging on the door is probably more accurate. And just because you don’t understand that, doesn’t mean that it’s not true.
Christian, if you are despising Vice President Pence or, for that matter, any man who has established personal rules in order to help mortify sin and pursue holiness, I encourage you to examine your own motives. What’s more important for you? Engaging in secular tribalism or being an encouragement to your brothers in Christ who are pursuing holiness? Of course, these rules are messy and make all of us uncomfortable. Sin is destructive, after all. But we are called to serve our King above all else.
Unbelievers are never going to understand any of this; they are never going to understand Christians prioritizing obeying King Jesus over material pursuits or ideological objectives. It’s a shame that many professing Christians don’t seem to understand the importance of making obeying King Jesus a priority, either.
Soli Deo Gloria
 Actually, I’m a little behind. Most of the articles have probably already been written. At this point, I’m even behind the pro-Billy Graham Rule articles. Relevant has had the time to publish an article from both sides.
 There’s no evidence that Freud actually said that. It’s most likely just apocryphal.
 Really, it boggles my mind that I have to point this out. Grinds my gears. Is a fly in my ointment. Sand in my shorts.
 I will probably also text my pastor and let him know, too
 Also, it has very little to do with what might happen between me and the woman. I’m not under the idiotic delusion that just because a woman eats a meal with me that means that she wants to sleep with me. Once again, my rule is not in any way, shape, or form the fault of women. It’s the fault of my heart. Me. My. Mine.