Katelyn Beaty is editor-at-large at Christianity Today, covering women's issues. She's the author of "A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World." I admit I haven't read the book (being a man, it wouldn't really apply to me), but the reviewers on Amazon give it very high marks.
The New York Times published an op-ed by Beaty headlined "A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule." Upon reading the headline, my initial reaction was an eye-roll. I was fully prepared to read another piece slamming Christians for being prudes and hindering women's ambitions in the workplace.
I skimmed down to the paragraph where Beaty relates an anecdote about meeting a potential ministry contact for breakfast, and seeing two men seated at the restaurant, where she was made "acutely aware that my existence as a woman was a problem that needed to be managed in a public setting." More eye-rolls.
Then I read the article from top to bottom, beginning with Beaty's quoting of Erick Erickson:
“The very same left-wing activists and Hollywood stars now running away from Harvey Weinstein were assailing Mike Pence for having a rule of not dining alone or taking meetings alone with women,” said Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and radio host. “The media and the left savaged Mike Pence for his principled stand, but they will never run stories about Mike Pence sexually harassing women.”
What's wrong with the "Pence rule," which has more commonly been known for decades as the "Billy Graham rule?" The NYT editors would like you to take away that the rule is the problem, hence their headline.
But that's not at all what I believe Beaty was conveying.
I know many Christians who keep some version of the rule. These men have good motives. Their stated intent — marital fidelity — is noble, and one that I respect. But the Pence rule is inadequate to stop Weinstein-ian behavior. In fact, it might be its sanctified cousin. It’s time for men in power to believe their female peers when they say that the rule hurts more than helps.
How would the rule hurt more than it helps? As a man, I look at it the same way many Christian men look at it. Who will see me? What will they think? Is this avoiding "the appearance of evil?"
But those rules seem to have the intent of protecting a reputation versus promoting living a holy life. And reputation can be protected my more than just a rule determining who sees you having dinner with a woman who is not your wife, or taking a meeting alone with a woman in your office (fear, intimidation, etc. are all sinful but effective ways to protect reputation, as we've seen).
What Beaty is saying--and this is a tough message for a man--is that the best solution to keep men accountable for their behavior is to allow women to have a larger voice and more power in the workplace. Strong. Godly women in business, entertainment, and (gasp!) ministry who aren't afraid to speak out and hold men accountable are a better solution than men holding each other accountable, and claiming women are nothing more than an opportunity for temptation.
By flipping the situation on its head, we can expose this well-entrenched "man-thinking." (I must admit, I am an inveterate man-thinker, having no other way of thinking available to me.)
If a woman propositioned a men or made an improper invitation that made the man feel uncomfortable, that woman would easily be called out by other men, because men would make it their business to hold her accountable. I'm talking about a Christian environment here, not Hollywood where men expected women to be promiscuous and sell their bodies to advance their careers. Men are expected to hold women accountable, but a woman holding a man accountable is suspect because it's an accusation.
That is what I think Beaty meant by this paragraph, which at first puzzled me.
Most female Christian leaders I know find the Pence rule frustrating. (All the people I know who keep the rule are men.) Imagine a male boss keeps some variation of the rule but is happy to meet with a male peer over lunch or travel with him for business. The informal and strategic conversations they can have is the stuff of workplace advancement. Unless there are women in senior leadership positions — and in many Christian organizations, there are not — women will never benefit from the kind of advancement available to men.
The root of the problem, if I might "mansplain" it, is that men do not like being held accountable by women. As a man, I can tell you I don't like it--I feel it's nagging, an attack, or some feelings-based weirdness. I'd rather be told by a man, or confess to a man.
Holding strictly to the Pence rule is a great way to protect reputation. I remember, when my wife and I were dating, I had outpatient surgery and came home very much drugged up and in need of care. She stayed at my house for three days--nothing happened because I was in a Percocet-induced haze--but one of the lady ministers at our church pointed out that my wife was not avoiding 'the appearance of evil" because people saw her car at my house for three days.
Now it's commendable to avoid the appearance of evil. But we are not to live to please others, but to please God. There comes a time when personal behavior versus perception is more important--that's called maturity.
Beaty's takeaway is the Pence Rule is a great rule of thumb, but it should not be an absolute, because it makes women into nothing more than objects of temptation. I have to admit, I've never thought about it that way.