The Billy Graham Rule: Millard Fuller, Clayton Jennings, Tom Chantry, and Common Sense

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Although the admonition can’t be found in the pages of scripture, many men engaged in vocational ministry are familiar with the “Billy Graham Rule.” A 2015 article published in Christianity Today elucidated Graham’s rule well; “During his career, evangelist Billy Graham vowed never to meet, eat, or travel alone with a woman other than his wife, a strategy to protect his marriage and to avoid the even the appearance of an inappropriate relationship.” Graham implemented this rule in 1948; it worked. In nearly seventy years of ministry, the handsome and charismatic preacher never found himself embroiled in even a hint of sexual scandal. Even in the absence of his rule, Billy Graham’s moral virtue may have kept him from free sexual immorality. However, the presence of his rule kept him away from so much as an accusation of impropriety; the appearance of evil was avoided. The same cannot be said for all ministries. Unfortunately, the Christian world is often rocked by stories of inappropriate sexual relationships involving ministers and those in their care. Sometimes, the relationships are between consenting adults. Other times the relationships involve child abuse. In almost every case, the damage could have been avoided through the exercising of common sense. Several examples illustrate the wisdom of the Billy Graham Rule

The Fall of the House of Fuller

Habitat for Humanity is one of America’s most venerated Christian nonprofit entities. It was founded in the 1970s by Millard Fuller. In the interest of Christian charity, Habitat for Humanity builds homes for needy families. Rather than retaining ownership of the properties it builds, Habit sells its homes to the needy people which they house. Habitat provides mortgages to the new homeowners at a 0% interest rate. Because of his extensive charity work, Millard Fuller (who served as Habitat’s President) became well-respected in the Christian community and beyond. In 1996, Fuller received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his philanthropic pursuits. Seven years later, he was fired by Habitat’s board of directors amid accusations of sexual harassment. According to a report in the Washington Post, “The seven-member executive committee of Habitat for Humanity’s board of directors removed Fuller as president on Jan. 31 after an accusation that he inappropriately touched and made suggestive comments to a female employee during a ride to the Atlanta airport in 2003. The committee also fired his wife, Linda Fuller, who had helped him run the organization for 29 years.” After this incident, similar allegations surfaced. Fuller’s supporters denied these allegations. Regardless of the merit of the sexual harassment claims levied against him, had Fuller not put himself alone in a car with his future accuser, his reputation and that of his organization would not have been sullied. The Graham rule would have at best prevented actual sexual harassment and at worst eliminated the environment in which sexual harassment could have taken place.

Clayton Jennings: The Next Billy Graham

In 2015, Indiana TV Station RTV6 reported on the exploits of evangelist Clayton Jennings. Jennings explained to RTV6 that he wanted to “go back to the days of Billy Graham” by launching evangelistic crusades across the United States. Jennings, through his unique brand of preaching, had already garnered himself legions of young followers and preached to “millions”. The young preacher was every bit as handsome as Billy Graham. Unfortunately, Jennings was not as cautious. In November 2016, his home church revoked his license to ministry. This revocation came in the wake of numerous reports that Jennings has seduced several young women and engaged in sexual relationships with them.

Chantry Takes a Chance?

On November 26th, The Daily Courier of Prescott, Arizona reported that respected author, blogger, and reformed Baptist Pastor Tom Chantry had been charged with “five counts of molestation of a child, related to two minors, and three counts of aggravated assault on three separate minors as well.” One of the alleged victims reported to police that “Chantry told his parents that he wanted to tutor the victim, then ‘approximately 9 or 10 years old,’ privately in his church office.” Even if these allegations turn out to be false, a lack of common sense almost certainly contributed to their existence. What nine year old would require private pastoral tutoring? What parents would leave their young child alone with an older man, even a pastor, for such activity? Why would a pastor expose himself to such risk? Clergy-child sex abuse is unfortunately not uncommon. Because of the opportunities and trust afforded to ministers, predators are attracted to careers in the clergy. Many churches wisely implement Graham-like rules which stipulate that two staff-persons or volunteers must be present with children at all times. In other words, a non-parental adult is never left alone with a child. Of course, one should never blame a victim or his parents for the transgressions of abuser. Yet, it’s hard not to see that many incidents of child abuse (both real and contrived) could be avoided. Time will tell if Chantry is found guilty of these very disturbing allegations. In the meantime, Christians should take common sense precautions to avoid the occurrence and appearance of evil.  Children in a church’s care should not be left alone with a single adult.

  1. Ministers should avoid being left alone with women who are not their wives.

  2. All allegations of illegal sexual activity should be reported to police immediately.

  3. Victims should not hesitate to come forward. Doing so could prevent the future abuse of themselves and others.

  4. Everyone should remember that we live in a Genesis 3 world. The potential for sin is everywhere, even in the pastor’s office.

[Contributed by: Seth Dunn]

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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@gsethdunn

Seth Dunn

Editor at Pulpit & Pen
Host of the Christian Commute Podcast
Member, Evangelical Theological Society
@gsethdunn

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