Mike Pence, "Truth's Table" and Fencing the Law
The last week provided more disturbing information on the collapse of civilization and reason in secular America. Vice President Mike Pence revealed that he follows the "Billy Graham Rule," refraining from private meals with women other than his wife in order to protect his marriage from adultery. The secular media responded with hysteria, describing Pence's policy as "rape culture" (National Post), "sexist" (LA Times), "perpetuating patriarchy" (TIME), and "prophylactic gender separatism" (New Yorker).
Apparently, the leftist media has not noticed how sexual sin has destroyed the American family, wreaking untold ruin to marriages and causing heartbreak to children whose homes are broken. The same media that savaged President Trump (rightly) for his sexual offenses cannot stomach Mike Pence taking prudent steps to avoid the same. Not only is Vice President Pence seeking to ensure that he remains faithful to his wife but also for her to be free from anxiety over the kinds of marital threats that are rife in the workplace. Years ago, I also began practicing the "Billy Graham Rule," as I think all pastors are wise to do. (It's actually not that hard and it doesn't exclude women, since meals can easily be arranged to include more than two.) While the media savages Pence for having so little sexual self-control that he will not eat privately with a woman, the reality is exactly the opposite. Self-control is best manifested not in the face of temptation but in the avoidance of it. Leftist American culture simply does not understand fallen human nature: it is not perverse to think that close working relationships between the sexes are likely to lead to marital infidelity, but rather wisdom.
While the mocking of godly wisdom among pagan media elites is troubling, it is not surprising. But it is noteworthy to find similar reasoning coming from fellow Reformed Christians. At the same time that the liberal media was going apoplectic over Pence's Christian prudence, a group of Reformed women on the Truth's Table podcast took aim at "Gender Apartheid" in complementarian Christian circles. Interaction over this podcast has been fairly heated and I have been advised by friends to avoid raising concerns, lest I be charged with racism. However, I believe it is a sign of respect to interact with the views that are publicly stated and I also believe the issues at hand are of significance. I agree with the women of Truth's Table that men should be listening to the concerns of women. Yet affirming and respecting women also includes being willing to challenge and interact with their statements. I hope that I will be able to do so both courteously and fairly.
Before getting to the topic of "fencing the law," which relates to Mike Pence, the podcast issued the charge of "gender apartheid" among complementarian Christians, equating the exclusion of women from conference plenary addresses to Nelson Mandela's multi-decade imprisonment for opposing radical racial separatism in South Africa. I have argued before that complementarians need to be careful not to over-react to the ordination of women in liberal churches and that we must foster opportunities for women to exercise appropriately all their gifts in the church. But is it really "toxic patriarchy" for Reformed conferences to assign plenary addresses only to male speakers, out of respect for 1 Timothy 2:11-14? Some might challenge judgment calls like this and point out unintended effects, but does it warrant the statement that conferences should use "penis shaped microphones" to live out our oppression of female biology? And is there a single non-theonomic Reformed church in America where women are forbidden to greet at doors and are given "no visible presence?" If so, I haven't seen it.
The Truth's Table ladies then took a shot at "purity culture," as if prudent steps for avoiding sexual sin are not needed today. In virtually the same language with which the liberal media criticized Mike Pence, one Truth's Table host argued that "purity culture" in the church teaches that "women are predators and are to be feared." To be sure, there are abstinence strategies in evangelical churches that need to be rethought (I would put "purity rings" in this category). But the label "purity culture" ought to be used in praise rather than scorn. "Why can't a married Christian man take my single woman phone number?" a Truth's Table host asked. One answer would be found in Hebrews 13:4, "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled." It is one thing for the secular media to deny the tendencies of fallen human nature, but one would hope that Christians would critique Paul's "flee youthful passions" advice more positively (2 Tim. 2:22). Having been preceded in my last two pastorates by ministers who resigned over sexually-related accusations, I do not apologize for preserving my marriage, my family, and my congregation from passions that are only so natural for fallen mankind, and I do not think the "Billy Graham Rule" is too high a cost to be paid.
Of particular interest to me was the ladies' concern over "fencing the law." By this, they seem to mean the creation of extra-biblical rules designed to reinforce and protect the law of God among Christians. This is a subject that calls for careful reflection, to be sure. On the one hand, there is a kind of Pharisaism whereby the law is virtually replaced with man-made rules that become the basis for works righteousness. In some circles, the length of hems, the avoidance of restaurants that serve alcohol, and abstention from movies effectively displaces the good news of justification through faith. We should be willing to examine policies and practices that may have a similar effect in our circles. On the other hand, the Bible itself commands Christians prudently to avoid tempting circumstances. When Paul urged Timothy to "flee youthful passions," this was not hypocritical, gender-apartheid legalism, but godly prudence for those who wish not to sin. In Romans 13:14, Paul joined the active avoidance of sin together with the gospel message of Christ's righteousness: "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." By that standard, Christians should unite in praise for Vice President Pence and follow his example in proactively avoiding our pagan culture's morass of sexual sin. There is a vast difference between "fencing the law" as a form of man-made righteousness and the positive application of the law out of a loving desire to honor Christ and be faithful in our callings.
Anyone who listens to the Truth's Table podcast will detect significant differences from the secular media's treatment of these same topics. The hosts expressed many biblical aspirations that the media would never espouse. Moreover, male listeners should see that false and truly unbiblical gender barriers are removed, keeping in mind the burden of these concerned women. Is there a role for a Lydia, a Euodia, or a Priscilla in our church? If not, why not? Yet, were the arguments about gender used by the Truth's Table all that different from the secular media? Listening to the secular media's reaction to Mike Pence, I have little hope other than revival through the gospel. Yet listening to the Truth's Table ladies, I do have hopes. I prayerfully hope we can avoid the divisive effects of inflammatory labels. I hope the Lord will enable me to listen to the hurts behind the heated rhetoric. And I hope we can communicate about significant biblical topics - and sexual ethics today is one of them - in a way that will bring us closer together at a table of biblical truth.