Misogyny in Missions

by Jonathan Trotter on July 4, 2016

Ladies Who Lunch – With Men

That’s the name of an article I shared on Facebook recently, not knowing it would unleash a torrent of opinion. How should men and women interact? If they work together, what sort of rules should we put around their interaction? How do we safeguard marriages while treating women with respect?

Do our rules surrounding male-female interaction demean women?

It was an interesting discussion, and one that I think our community needs to have.


Women as Traps
Are men and women who aren’t married to each other allowed to meet together? Ride in cars together? Be in the office alone together? If we allow those types of things, is an affair inevitable?

The author of “Ladies Who Lunch” references The Billy Graham Rule. She says, The ‘rule’ goes something like this: to avoid temptation, or the appearance thereof, it has been said that Billy Graham never meets with a woman alone. Graham has done his best to avoid solo encounters with females—whether over lunch, prayer, dinner, a meeting, or any other occasion.”

Many churches and missions agencies have similar rules and policies, and I believe they’ve typically been enacted with good intentions and without malevolence. However, I believe there are problems with strict enforcement, least of which is that it misses the heart of the matter entirely, treating women as traps.

These types of rules, broadly applied, end up sexualizing every woman I meet, dehumanizing her and turning her into an existential threat to my marriage. An illicit liaison waiting to happen. That, to me, is simply untenable.

Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, Josh Duggar, all had VERY STRICT rules surrounding their interactions with women. Or at least that’s what it looked like.

The thing is, moral purity cannot be created through rules. And frankly, rules provide much less protection than we think while objectifying women more than we think.

These rules have been made by men for men. And typically, the conversations are filled with male voices. I’d love to hear from the women. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. 


Culturally Sensitive?
Perhaps some of these policies are the result of cultural sensitivity. Great. There’s certainly a place for that.
Perhaps the driving force is our fear of false accusations. OK, we can talk about that.
Or perhaps the rules exist because deep down, to the core, we believe that women are scary.

Well, I’m not really ok with that.

Protecting marriages is a great thing. Recognizing the great risk of moral failure is wise. But when that slips into discouraging men from having normal and healthy friendships with women, we’re in dangerous territory, and we end up robbing our communities of something both the men and the women need; healthy relationships with one another!

The difference is subtle, but just because something is hard to see doesn’t mean it’s not there.


Objectification Much?
Do our rules actually end up objectifying women? Often, I think the answer is YES.

Now, if you’re a guy and you don’t like what I’m saying, can I ask you a question? Do you watch porn? Do you watch movies or shows that objectify women?

Using women in private and then piously protecting yourself from them in public seems a bit disingenuous. Don’t punish women in public for your sin in private. Deal with your own stuff.

My wife experienced this in a local church before we met. Strict rules, with high levels of outward purity. And a respected leader who abused girls. He’s still a leader.

I experienced it too. Charismatic leader, courtship culture, very restrictive purity rules, and a leader who’s now been accused of sexually molesting scores of young women. He’s still a leader.

I’m NOT saying that every guy that disagrees with me on this has a porn problem or is an abuser. It’s just that I’ve come across too many men with “high standards” in public who hurt women in private. I’m not ok with that, and I’m pretty sure Jesus isn’t either.


Should we have rules?
Yeah! In Proverbs 5, the young man is warned about the immoral woman. [And I will certainly teach my daughters to take heed and avoid the immoral man!] This is the woman whose lips are “as sweet as honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil.” This is the woman who “cares nothing about the path to life.”

He is warned: “Stay away from her! Don’t go near the door of her house.”

The caution is to stay away from her door, not all doors. He’s not told to avoid walking by the houses of all women all the time. Just her house. She is dangerous. She’s looking for an affair and she cares nothing about the path to life.

This does not mean that all women are dangerous to him. Or me.

We shouldn’t check our brains at the door and avoid all women. We also shouldn’t check our brains at the door and embrace all women.


False Accusations
Strict rules on male-female interaction probably do provide some protection against false accusations, and there’s some value to that. Even so, we seem to be way more concerned with false accusations than Jesus ever was. He let women do stuff to him that REALLY caused a stir and ignited the burning glares of the religious elite.

He didn’t stop her and say “This looks bad. The important men are going to judge me.” No, he saw HER instead of the others. He saw what SHE needed instead of what he needed.

She needed love more than he needed respect.

There are lessons here for us.


Our Story
Early on in our marriage, I had to come to terms with the fact that my wife was in a male-dominated university studying engineering with a bunch of guys. She had male lab partners, she studied late on projects with guys; frankly, she was with guys alone a whole lot. I think my thoughts on this are greatly flavored by that experience.

And then, of course, I started studying nursing, which meant I was in a female-dominated world, with female lab partners, studying late on projects, etc. And then I worked as a nurse with a bunch of ladies.

And then, as now, we talked about it. There were no secrets, but there was trust. And it was totally cool.

Nowadays, I do a lot of member care and pastoral counseling, and since women seek out pastoral care too, I often meet with women.

If I’m going to have a meeting with a woman, Elizabeth knows about it. While protecting client confidentiality, I still tell Elizabeth when I’m meeting and where I’m meeting. There’s still trust.


Honesty as Protection
If I begin to feel any attraction, even slightly, for another woman, I tell Elizabeth. I name it and say it and steal temptation’s power. The light defuses the darkness.

When I do this, I’m not telling my wife that I’ve fallen in love with another woman; I’m telling her that I don’t want to. I’m acknowledging that there’s some attraction there, but I’m affirming our relationship, and I’m recognizing that in the telling, the temptation’s power is stripped and the threat greatly reduced.

Honesty. Trust.

We had conversations like this when I worked in a local church in America, when I was in nursing school, when I worked at a hospital, and now, when I’m working as a pastoral counselor.

Not talking about it doesn’t make it not exist. It just makes it a secret.

Women are not scary. Secrets are.

Talking about it brings it out into the open, and it also shows Elizabeth that I’m turning my heart towards her. And if I’m constantly turning my heart towards my wife, it’ll be much less likely to turn towards another woman. It’s locked on Elizabeth.


Rules are easy to make.

Rules make us feel safe.

Rules are simple to follow.

And rules are terrible at creating emotionally healthy, intimately connected human beings.

What if we spent more time growing intimacy on the inside of our marriages and less time trying to kill the threats on the outside?

What if we worked to develop trust and honesty within more than we fretted about the dangers without?

Sure, it might be scary, and it might be complicated.

But I think it’d also be really, really good.


We come from a great variety of cultures and experiences, so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

A friend of mine commented on my original Facebook post that perhaps this is an American thing. What do you think? Are these types of rules something that Americans are hung up on?

How have you been impacted by these types of rules?

How do we balance the desire to guard against false accusations with the mandate to love people well?

How do we ensure that women on the field (married or single) feel like equal players, with equal access to relationships and opportunities?


Further Reading:
Women are Scary (and other lessons modesty culture teaches men)

What is a Woman Worth?

A Letter to Singles

I asked a friend of mine to preview an early draft of this article. Her responses were so insightful and her perspective so unique that I asked her if I could publish them. In Misogyny in Missions {part 2}, Tanya Crossman gives us a whole lot to chew on.

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About Jonathan Trotter

Jonathan is a missionary in Southeast Asia, where he provides pastoral counseling at a local counseling center. He also serves as one of the pastors at an international church. Before moving to the field with his wife of sixteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. | www.trotters41.com | facebook: trotters41 | twitter: @trotters41
  • John Yoder

    I read both blogs and agree with the motives involved, though I’m also no big fan of ‘rules’ per say. I currently lead a ministry in Cambodia which is staffed entirely by women (though we desire and invite men to join any time we get a chance). Our ministry involves outreach to western men in Phnom Penh’s red light districts, so lately I’ve had no choice but to conduct our outreach visits with my female comrades. Because I’m married to a Khmer woman much younger than me, I’ve always had a rule that I would never sit at a restaurant, drive in a car, or walk on a street with one woman alone; not because of temptation, but because my wife has many friends in the Phnom Penh area, and I don’t want to give Satan any room to bring suspicion of impropriety into our marriage if I can help it. I explain this to any women who I’m put in this situation with, expressly so that they don’t feel objectified.

    • Hey there, John! Thanks so much for the comment! And thanks for your work and ministry here in Phnom Penh!

  • Kathy

    I had to smile a bit when I read this as I’ve always thought of the need for rules because “men were scary”/ “men were dangerous”!! I guess same problem just different way of looking at it! I think one rule for all certainly doesn’t work and there is more need for wisdom, trust and transparency. I think John Yoder makes a good point that in a cross-cultural mission situation what others see & interpret is important but we still need to practice our own “rules” with love, care and consideration.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kathy. And yeah, that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? We’re in a whole lot of cultures with a huge variety of situations, and so we need to focus on the HEART of the matter instead of constantly searching for other people’s rule books. : ) I love the question, “What would it look like in this situation for me to love like Jesus?” That question forces me to be in the Word, listening to the Holy Spirit, and aware of the person in front of me.

  • Jenny Gentry

    I loved what you said in your article. Honestly, I hadn’t really given the issue much thought–you gave me quite a bit to think about. 🙂 As I believe we’d agree, I do think it absolutely is one of those things in which you need to be
    culturally sensitive. As should be the case when we’re living as guests
    in another country, we should put less stock into “personal freedoms”
    than we do in the cultural norms or customs t(hat don’t conflict with
    Biblical teaching, of course). And, again it’s not something I’d considered, but I love your practice of sharing as much as possible with your wife—including when you are starting to feel some attraction to another woman. How many husbands or wives do that? Here’s the reality that has been brought home to me during my 18 years of marriage. It is not typically the husband and wife who are each meeting each other’s needs, both emotionally and physically, who stumble into sexual sin. It’s when we’re not connecting on an emotional and physical basis, and are not nurturing our relationship with the Lord that a door is left open to temptation. But even then, except in the issue of porn, it requires another person who is also vulnerable. Whose emotional and physical needs are also not being met, and who is also not nurturing his or her relationship with the Lord. So maybe we should be less concerned about “the rules” and more concerned about fostering healthy marriages. And for our singles, fostering healthy singleness. I think that will do far more toward preventing temptation from taking root among our teams and people we work/minister with.

    • Love this: “So maybe we should be less concerned about “the rules” and more concerned about fostering healthy marriages. And for our singles, fostering healthy singleness. I think that will do far more toward preventing temptation from taking root among our teams and people we work/minister with.”

    • Indeed, and Amen!

  • I have so many thoughts! But I’d like to comment specifically on this phrase:

    “If I begin to feel any attraction, even slightly, for another woman, I tell Elizabeth. I name it and say it and steal temptation’s power. The light defuses the darkness.”

    So. I came of age steeped in purity culture. I kissed dating goodbye, I was passionate about purity, I was careful not to give away pieces of my heart, I knew Dobson’s 12 steps of intimacy and was ready lest a boy tried to do anything other than hold my hand … this is the world I was a teenager in, and the world in which my views about how to have healthy interactions with the other sex was formed. I’m really not sure how much of this is personality (I’ve always been a super friendly person, and highly aware of interpersonal relational dynamics) and how much was purity culture, but I was aware of an ‘attraction’ to EVERY boy I met. It’s like I could sense their pheramones. Every boy was a potential relationship. As a result of this, I did not have male friends. I walked around thinking, “hmm, he’s cute … he’s cute .. he’s cute” all day long. I even doubted my ability to stay faithful to a partner, and questioned if I’d even marry one day, because I had so many crushes. I wasn’t sure I could stay interested in a boy that long.

    Then I met and married my husband. I love him dearly. Yet, I was still aware of those pheramones radiating off of people of the opposite gender. I entered the work force, and I didn’t know how to work professionally with men – I only knew how to be flirty-friendly. It was confusing, and it led to guilt that I wasn’t being faithful in my heart to my husband. Because of purity culture, I had internalized the belief that every time I noticed an attractive man, or felt a physical attraction to a man, I was having adultery with him. What a horrible wife I was.

    Then, through a crisis of faith and a deep valley of doubt, I started to deconstruct my faith, stripped it down to the bare bones, and reconstructed it with only that which is good and holy and edifying. One of the things to be stripped off and thrown into the fire was all of the baggage from purity culture. I was surprised and delighted to realize that just because I look at a man, and notice that he is physically attractive to me, doesn’t mean that I am looking at him lustfully and therefore have become an adulteress. No. That’s called, “Being a human and a sexual being just as God created me to be.” (as opposed to looking at him, cataloging what he looks like, then thinking about him later in a sexual way to pleasure myself) Just because I am friends with a man and enjoy having conversations with him about something we are both interested in, doesn’t mean I am an adulteress. No. That’s called, “being friends with a human and having healthy human interaction.”

    I wish someone had told me growing up, “It’s normal to have crushes. You’re going to have lots of crushes in life. It’s part of growing up and your body and mind deciding what you like and figuring out relationships,” instead of internalizing, “when you like a boy, you love him, and you have given a piece of your heart to him, and now there is less for you to give to your husband when you meet him.”

    Purity culture involves so many rules, so many unnecessary rules. It’s pharisaical, and its honestly what I think Jesus would rail against were he to come today like he did then. Then, he was most angered by people who added to the rules God had already laid out. By people who couldn’t see the spirit of the law because the letter of the law was in the way.

    • Add:

      One of the (many) problems with purity culture is that it relegates opposite sex relationships into three very strict categories : Either male/female are family, male/female are married, or male/female are sexually immoral. There is no room for in this paradigm for the myriad of different relationships between humans that occur in daily life – coworkers, boss/employee, pastor/parishioner, friend, coach/parent of child on team, parents whose kids are friends, classmate, creative collaborator … etcetcetc.

    • Love this: “Just because I am friends with a man and enjoy having conversations with him about something we are both interested in, doesn’t mean I am an adulteress. No. That’s called, “being friends with a human and having healthy human interaction.””

    • Thanks for the comment, Danica! I love this, “That’s called being friends with a human.” : ) I think we could all use some more practice in that!

  • Philippa Scott

    So much teaching that I have heard on this subject focuses on the ‘danger’ of single women to marriages. As a middle aged spinster, I find this incredibly hurtful and unhelpful. I have a problem with this teaching for three reasons. First, it shifts the blame – no other person is a ‘danger’ to your marriage; it is YOUR attitude to that person that is the danger. Second, it ignores the fact that most affairs involve two married people being unfaithful – I have only ever known one marriage broken up by the husband having an affair with a single woman, so it is unfair to blame it all on the singles (or on women – do men never make the first move?!!). Third, it encourages men to believe that all single Christian women are desperate to find a man at all costs, which in turn encourages them to behave inappropriately toward these women. I have had some very unpleasant experiences in church life because of this – the excuse is nearly always along the lines of ‘but you’re single, so I thought you wouldn’t mind.’

    • “it shifts the blame – no other person is a ‘danger’ to your marriage; it is YOUR attitude to that person that is the danger” – so true. Emotional health will always be a better prevention than rules.

    • Oh, wow, Philippa, thank you so much for this comment! Your comment reframes a lot of the discussion in a very positive way. Thanks for that! And if you’ve never read this, perhaps it could be a blessing to you today… http://velvetashes.com/a-letter-to-singles/

      • Philippa Scott

        Thanks, ‘a letter to singles’ has been a huge blessing to me. I read & shared it when it popped up on my Facebook feed earlier this year, and I’ve revisited it a few times since. I wish there were more writers promoting such a positive view of singleness!

  • Dalaina May

    Oh Jonathan, did you open a very can of worms that has DESPERATELY needed to be opened!!

    So to give some background: I am a TCK raised in a very conservative home. I am now an overseas worker, a team leader – the only married female team leader in my (large, well-known) org in our entire country (probably around 50ish male team leaders, most if not all of whom are married).

    As I kid, I remember watching my parents follow this rule and thinking it was the dumbest thing I had ever seen. My mom said it was “to avoid the appearance of evil,” and all I could think was, “So you prioritize reputations over actual people? You treat people like they are dangerous JUST IN CASE someone (awful) might be watching and want to start a rumor?” I haven’t changed my mind about that, but as a leader, there is a whole lot more at stake for me now.

    You’ve pointed out rightly that the so-called Billy Graham rule essentially rests on the idea that women are either victims or they are seductresses. I’d also add that it rests on the idea that men cannot control themselves. Both of these ideas are problematic. If any individual person struggles in an area (like lust or sexual temptation), it seems to me that the onus is on that person to deal with it. The onus is NOT on the object of their lust or sexual temptation. I think that is why Christ said about lust “if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out” rather than “cover up the person you are lusting over or make all other men/women avoid her too.” So having a personal rule is a real bummer (you are missing out on some potentially life-impacting relationships!), but it becomes problematic when it becomes a social norm in a missionary community.

    I accept the particulars of different cultures that we need to live with, but those have been the last things in consideration in my experience. Rather than being strategic and creative about dealing with cultural issues that create gender barriers, we use them as one more excuse to keep the walls up. This is a problem.
    I’ve heard in my org that one of the reasons that women are not being put into higher leadership roles is precisely because they will have to interact with the men under them and men at their level in a more intimate capacity – shepherding and coaching and making decisions together. This is a problem.

    I’ve heard from women in my org that they cannot call their (male) leader to have a private conversation when they are struggling without their husbands or the leader’s wife there, no matter the conversation. With the sensitive nature of teams and how deeply involved we are with one another personally and with the scary amount of abuse going unreported overseas, this is a problem.

    Many of the decisions that get made about ministry, get made in the context of social relationships. If I am not allowed to have any kind of social relationship with a male because we cannot be friends, I am effectively shut out of the decision making process. Many times in my own experience I hear about the direction things are going to go after my husband (co-team leader) hangs out with other team leaders in our area. I am voiceless. This is a problem.

    As a professional, if I am required to have a chaperone any time I meet professionally with a man, it undermines my credibility with expats and with local partners. And it creates a frustrating barrier that can make it much more desirable to just exclude me from the conversation/ministry entirely. This is a problem.

    If a male colleague of mine does not balance his family and ministry and leadership well, people say that HE does not have leadership capacity. If I do not balance those things well, people say that WOMEN do not have leadership capacity. We bear an unequal weight of expectation ,yet, the few women that are in leadership have less access to support systems with our peers simply because our would-be support system is male. This is a problem.

    I’ve heard often that cross-gender mentoring is a big no-no, even if it is strictly professional. This means that women in ministry are working with fewer resources because the people we are coming behind are predominantly men. If the older generation of men will not teach us and pass on the lessons they have learned, we are extremely disadvantaged professionally and the kingdom is crippled. This done in the name of “protecting reputations.” This is a problem.

    We know from a mountain of research that when women share leadership, very very good things -flourishing- happens in the organization, church, or ministry. We also know that women do not advance in leadership without male gatekeepers in many industries, especially ministry. We cripple our affect for the kingdom when we keep women intentionally or by default sidelined and unable to access mentors or function in leadership. I think it devastates the heart of God when we divide ourselves along gender lines. I think the world is disgusted when they see the church or ministry function as a good ol’ boys club and they want no part of what they think is a God mandate rather than our fearful rules. This is a problem.

    To quote a friend, a female pastor, when we were discussing this exact article: “When boundaries are defined by an organization, and they inherently exclude women. When done organizationally, it’s a subtle yet direct way to tell women they aren’t “enough” to fully use their gifts.” This is a problem.

    • “If a male colleague of mine does not balance his family and ministry and leadership well, people say that HE does not have leadership capacity. If I do not balance those things well, people say that WOMEN do not have leadership capacity. ”

      A billion times, this.

    • So much yes!! Thank you for sharing your story, and for articulating so many important issues so powerfully.

    • Hey there, Dalaina! Thanks so much for adding your voice to this discussion! And as I’ve responded to your comments before here at A Life Overseas, “Yeah, what she said.” : )

  • Richelle Wright

    The original fb post starts off with this statement: “Moral purity cannot be created through rules.” I think that might just be the truest sentence out of all that has been written in regards to these posts. One could beg to ask: “Is it really ‘purity’ if rules are required to create or sustain or enforce?” because purity has the idea of freedom from anything that could sully or dirty or contaminate – and rules, by the very nature – can do just that. On the other hand, personal principles or boundaries can be very effective, especially as they remain just that – personal. Thus depending on histories, personalities, past struggles, present circumstances, culture, family situations, etc., etc., etc., we personally apply principles and convictions our study of the Bible and walk with the Lord have led us to apply – and recognize that “they” may work for a season and then need to be fine-tuned or even totally changed as our lives/seasons change.

    Organizational policies/rules are a different animal – closer akin to a form of government that is there to protect not just the members of the organization, but also the organization itself. Thus, while I may or may not personally apply this particular rule, I think my responsibility to the organization of which I am a part of is to comply and then, as long as I am sure it isn’t just for my personal advancement or comfort, possibly begin a discussion to see broader change – not to be a rebel who simply bucks the system because it doesn’t match with my personal practice.

    I don’t know that I think it right or just to label this “misogyny.” In doing so, we use today’s western cultural glasses to interpret policies (personal and organizational) and intentions behind them that were, quite possibly, established in/by a different generation/cultural situation. I’d rather assume the best – that these sorts of policies weren’t established to keep women silent, but rather to consider how they might have afforded protection, and perhaps, actually allowed women to have a voice where they might otherwise not have had one. Using the word “misogyny” creates an either/or situation and is divisive – whereas the reality is that some probably used rules to oppress while others used them to protect. Reality seems to more often fall within the realm of “and” than either/or.

    • Jason Smith

      Well said!

    • Thanks for the comment, Richelle! Indeed, I cannot judge the hearts and intentions of the church and missions leaders who’ve instituted these types of policies. That’s certainly not what I’m aiming to do here. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t look around and observe what the IMPACT of those policies is on folks I love, and indeed on the missions community at large. And when I do that, I see a lot of unnecessary (and even painful) censoring and silencing. Lindsey’s comment above is a great example of what I’m talking about…

      • Richelle Wright

        I appreciate Lindsey’s comment and totally agree that this exists and is something we need to address. I’ve lived it as well and have experienced that negative impact – of feeling like my hands are tied – as well as the awkward “embarrassing-ness.” It is just that word “misogyny.” There’s a fine line between falling into complacency with status quo or simply generating controversy. “Misogyny” is a “trigger” sort of word that often generates reaction rather than thoughtful response. I wonder if the use of the word misogyny too easily inflames, perhaps chasing off the very people who most need to read/begin participating in the discussion that has ensued from the article if change is to begin?

  • Scott Peck

    Jonathan, thanks for opening another Pandora’s Box. We count on you to challenge convention that will make us better Christ-followers.

    In the name of Christian propriety churches and Christian organizations have adopted the man-made, “Billy Graham Rule” as policy to protect their mission by reducing the risk of challenges to the reputation of their senior leaders. Reality is no policy can stop a sexual harasser or coworkers from hooking-up in secret.

    In my life and ministry I regard Christian women of all ages, married and single, as my sisters, not objects of potential temptation or likely temptresses. In my culture we do not greet one another with a brotherly kiss, but neither do I keep the women of my family at arms distance. And non-Believers receive the same honor as kin. My father taught me how to honor women – with purity, modesty, prudence, appropriate touch, discernment and discretion. Joseph showed us how to deal with temptation – by recognizing and saying “no” to sin, understanding sin violates a holy God, avoiding known temptation, and when necessary, run (Gen 39). My wife and I enjoy over two decades of mutual trust in one another’s devotion, judgment and self-control in the face of temptation.

    In respect for Billy Graham, as he held a high profile position he chose not be alone with a woman for the sake of the gospel. I admire him for this. Likewise, I avoid traveling alone for the same reason.

    The final judgment for me comes from Jonathan’s observation of Jesus’ example with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4) – “She needed love more than he needed respect.” Loving others trumps my reputation.

    • Hey there, Scott! Thanks for the encouragement. I’m glad you said that about Billy Graham, and I’m right there with you, giving respect and honor where it’s due. His conviction, based on his situation, probably did protect him from quite a lot. But that’s not to say that his personal rule, applied institutionally, is a good thing for women.

      Can’t wait to meet up for coffee or wings or whatever once ya’ll arrive in the Kingdom of Wonder! : ) Later, brother!

  • I loved your thoughts here, thank you so much for writing this! One huge by-product of this principle is the affect of women being chosen for leadership positions. Because leadership in Christian organisations and churches tends to be men… this rule perpetuates men being chosen for other leadership roles. I have seen soooo many times a male leader choosing another man because he truly believed “there were no woman as capable for the job as the man I chose”. There were so many woman who were MORE capable but he didn’t know about them because he never allowed himself to spend time with women in a one-on-one setting. Men choose other men because they get to know them and work them so much more closely than women (in the name of keeping up guardrails). I have been in multiple roles were all the other men get one-on-one time with the leader but I got zero. I felt it really silenced my voice and limited my opportunities… how could a leader get to know me and my giftings if he refused to spend any time with me and saw me as a threat to his marriage?

    • Dalaina May

      Yes. Exactly. I have seen this too. The head of my org made a similar statement about why women do not exist in the highest leadership positions (there aren’t any). I immediately thought, “You just don’t know any because men are not allowed to associate closely with women or mentor them.” Until this “rule” gets ditched, qualified women will continue to get ignored and their gifts will be underutilized.

    • Wow, Lindsey! Thanks so much for adding this perspective! I think it’s so important that we really hear what you’re saying: “I have seen soooo many times a male leader choosing another man because he truly believed ‘there were no woman as capable for the job as the man I chose.’ There were so many woman who were MORE capable but he didn’t know about them because he never allowed himself to spend time with women in a one-on-one setting.”

    • Julia Smith-Brake

      This is almost exactly what I wanted to say, thanks for saying so much more clearly than I would have 🙂

    • Melanie Weldon-Soiset

      Amen! I have seen this happen so often (i.e. women ignored for leadership positions because of overly strict gender rules).

  • Kevin Howell

    I enjoyed the article.

  • Anonymous

    This is a complicated issue and I do think it’s important for people to follow their conscience and know their limits. At the same time, those choices affect other people. I can tell you how the BGR affected me. Between the BGR and regular exhortations to dress modestly (so as not to cause men to stumble), I felt like a human man-trap. My relationships with men were awkward and tinged with anxiety. I viewed sexual temptations as unstoppable force, only barely containable if your relationship with God was strong and you adhered strictly to the rules. I excused behavior in men that I would have deplored in myself because it seemed they were beset by struggles with lust that a woman could not comprehend. I don’t think my spiritual leaders intended for me to feel this way, but that’s how I felt.

    Later, I joined an organization where no one talked about the BGR or modest dress. Men and women who were not married to each other worked together closely and naturally and often developed personal friendships. At first, I thought that these people might be ignorant of the dangers to their moral purity. In time, though, I began to see that the team members simply believed that the level of self-control needed for our situation was, by the grace of God, well within our grasp. Sexual temptation was acknowledged, but not exaggerated. I have been working with this team for many years now and have always felt respected, valued and safe. I’ve felt free to let go of fearful attitudes towards men. My marriage and many other marriages have thrived in this environment.

    I can’t tell people that they should stop following the BGR if their conscience demands it, but they should think twice about the message they are sending.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story! Shoot, I’m so sorry you felt like “a human man-trap.” Yikes. That being said, I’m so glad your present organization helps you to feel respected, valued, and safe!

  • Jen Douglass

    I’ve never felt the rule applied because I was scary. And I don’t feel objectified. I don’t want to meet with another man alone because I’d be afraid I’d really enjoy the conversation and desire more, even if my husband knew we were meeting and knew I enjoyed it. I don’t want to desire another mans company over my husband so I don’t put myself in that position. We do lots of group stuff so we’re not missing out. And rules aren’t the reason why people cheat or molest or whatever, it’s the person. I feel the purpose for the rule is pretty simple and we’ve made it something it’s not.

    • Hey there, Jen! I’m so glad that you’ve never felt objectified or scary. That’s a big blessing, but as you can see, a lot of other folks have felt those things. Please be sure to read Tanya’s thoughts in part 2. Her article expounds on some of things I’m talking about. I’d lot to hear your thoughts on her article…

      • Jen Douglass

        I will. This is interesting to me. I’ll read yours again too just in case I missed something. I had a friend who read the article and she said it was referring to ministry or business meetings, not necessarily me hanging out with my friends husband alone just because we want to. Is that correct?

  • Lori

    My church has a policy that people of the opposite sex can’t meet together alone. The only caveat is if they meet at the church in an office with a window in the door or the door open. I was going to be leading a short-term missions team and needed to interview some young men and was told that this rule applied. This is in spite of the fact that I’m single and would be meeting with single men 20 years younger than me so it’s not like we have a marriage that we are about to destroy. We weren’t even supposed to meet at a coffee shop which, to me, would be more public than in an office at church. I solved the problem by meeting with 2 men at the same time but I feel like blanket policies like this undermine trust. In spite of my character and integrity and years of Christian service and leadership role, I can’t be trusted to handle a meeting with the opposite sex in a God-honoring way? Surely, there’s something wrong with that. And it doesn’t go along with the American business culture where people of the opposite sex commonly meet for coffee or lunch in public to accomplish a task.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Lori! And thanks for boiling it down to a trust issue; that’s a powerful insight.

  • Don Johnson

    My name is Don Johnson. My wife is a licensed, clinical counselor specializing in counseling women in missions, and one of the things I do is present workshop at mission conferences and on college campuses regarding sexual purity in missions. The comments made in this post are very disturbing to me. The author uses a straw man argument saying that setting boundaries means we see women as “traps”. That is a logical fallacy. And it certainly has nothing to do with misogyny or the role of women in leadership–I don’t know how that leap in logic was made. Setting boudaries in gender relationships is no more legalistic or “bad” than putting warning signs and fences around the lion habitat at the zoo, or putting barriers near the precipice at the Grand Canyon. Sure, people can ignore those protections, and they can ignore safety boundaries in gender relationships. Those kinds of rules are not in place because men or women are “scary” but because men and women are sinners by nature. And there is such a thing as “emotional adultery,” something that is being ignored by many younger evangelicals today. The rate of divorce in this country among evangelicals and the rate of early return from the field by missionaries who “fell” into sexual sin should be warning enough. Thinking someone is attractive is one thing–letting yourself become attracted to someone is emotional adultery (you don’t have to wait until you “pleasure yourself” before calling it lust or sin). A great commentary on this can be found in the classic book on missionary care, “Doing Member Care Well,” edited by Kelly O’Donnell. The chapter titled, “Sexual Purity in Missions” by Dr. Ken Williams presents a much healthier approach to gender relations than the author of the article above. I strongly recommend it.

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