The Billy Graham Rule Goes to Court

A North Carolina sheriff’s deputy sues his former employer for religious discrimination after it wouldn’t accommodate his request to not train a female officer one-on-one.

The Billy Graham Rule Goes to Court

Aformer North Carolina sheriff’s deputy may be the first to file a lawsuit alleging he faced discrimination for his commitment to the “Billy Graham Rule.”

Manuel Torres, 51, claims in a federal lawsuit that he requested a “religious accommodation” from the Lee County, North Carolina, Sheriff’s Office, where he was employed from 2012 to 2017, after he was ordered to train a female deputy. The training included “the requirement that he spend significant periods of time alone in his patrol car with the female officer trainee.”

A deacon at East Sanford Baptist Church in Sanford, North Carolina, Torres “holds the strong and sincere religious belief that the Holy Bible prohibits him, a married man, from being alone for extended periods of time with a female who is not his wife,” according to the lawsuit filed July 31 in US district court.

The practice of not being alone with a member of the opposite sex other than one’s spouse is called the Billy Graham Rule in honor of the late evangelist, who adopted the policy early in his ministry to avoid temptation and accusations of sexual immorality. While some say the practice demonstrates integrity and protects marriages, others claim it can be discriminatory.

According to Torres’s lawsuit, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office allegedly vacillated between granting and denying the requested accommodation for weeks before terminating Torres “without an explanation.” Torres also claims a colleague “failed to respond” to his call for backup at a “multi-vehicle accident in an unsafe area” because of the requested accommodation.

Howard Friedman, a University of Toledo law professor who blogs about religious liberty at Religion Clause, said he is unaware of any other court cases involving the Billy Graham Rule but noted Torres’s lawsuit “is part of the growing number of cases in which religious freedom clashes with non-discrimination norms.”

“This is a public official who is invoking religious free exercise to avoid carrying out a part of his employment duties,” Friedman said in an email to Christianity Today. “In that context, it is similar to the long-running Kim Davis saga in which a Kentucky court clerk refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”

He also noted “a parallel” to a case in which Washington State pharmacists were ordered to dispense emergency contraception pills despite their religious objections.

Robbie Gibson, Torres’s pastor at East Sanford Baptist Church, told CT Torres is “a man who is genuinely trying to walk his faith out in everyday life.” The Graham Rule, he said, is the “best approach” for avoiding temptation and guarding against false accusations of impropriety. Still, after news of Torres’s lawsuit broke, the church’s Facebook page was inundated with negative comments, including some calling the congregation “bigots” and “oppressors of women.”

“You cannot live in a #MeToo world” and “then force people to act and live in such a way that they can be accused without any defense,” Gibson said, as when an employee is told, “I’m going to put you out alone all night long in a car with someone.”

Vice President Mike Pence and former Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Robert Foster are among public figures to draw critique for stating they follow the Billy Graham Rule. Pence faced criticism in 2017 after a Washington Post profile of his wife, Karen, claimed the vice president never eats alone with a woman who is not his wife. A reporter for Mississippi Todaysaid last month it was “sexist” for Foster to ask that a male colleague accompany her if she wanted to ride along with him on a campaign trip.

Despite criticism of Graham Rule adherents, a New York Times poll found most American women and nearly half of men think it is inappropriate to have dinner alone with someone of the opposite gender who is not their spouse. About a quarter of those polled found it inappropriate to have a work meeting alone with a colleague of the opposite gender.

Torres alleges religious discrimination against his former employer as well as two North Carolina police departments—the Apex Police Department and the Silver City Police Department—which supposedly did not hire him after the Lee County told them about his request for a religious accommodation.

The lawsuit asks the court to award Torres $300,000 in compensatory damages plus more than $15,000 in punitive damages. The defendants have yet to file their responses to the suit.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act “requires a reasonable accommodation” in cases like Torres’s, according to Friedman. Yet a female employee who was denied training due to the Billy Graham Rule might also have grounds to claim discrimination on the basis of sex if her trainer was given an exemption.

David Roach is a writer in Nashville, Tennessee.

How Billy Graham Learned the Art of Preaching

The late evangelist called himself the “champion rambler.”


How Billy Graham Learned the Art of Preaching

When I entered my small Methodist church one Sunday morning a few winters ago, Bob Maddry, a retired truck driver and old chum, walked over. “I lost a dear friend this week,” he said. “Billy Graham brought me to Jesus. He saved my life.” Bob paused and then added, “I never shook his hand.”

A couple of weeks later, I asked Bob if he remembered where and when his conversion had taken place. He answered immediately and precisely. “Raleigh. Wednesday night, September 26, 1973.” At that moment, I knew that Bob spoke for countless other salt-of-the-earth folk everywhere. They never personally met Graham, but his ministry had remade their lives.

Graham very much wanted to invite every person on the planet to embrace the gospel, and he also hoped to inspire them to reform society as a whole, from top to bottom. But his method—the way he sought to do it—was always the same: one soul at a time.

In one sense, Graham is the last person on earth whose approach should be described with the words “one soul at a time.” After all, he perfected the art of mass evangelism. He preached to 215 million people in 185 countries in crusades, rallies, and live satellite feeds. Of those, some 77 million saw him face-to-face in 53 countries. More than three million souls responded to his invitation to profess faith in Christ. He broke numerous attendance records, sometimes speaking to more than 100,000 people in a single service. Indeed, twice he spoke to more than 1 million in one event.

Even so, Graham said that he always saw himself speaking not to audiences, let alone to nameless multitudes, but to individual hearts. That is where enduring change ultimately had to begin—with each person making his or her own decision to follow Christ. Or not. “This is not mass evangelism,” he liked to say, “but personal evangelism on a mass scale.”

His ministry to individual souls hinged on the sermon.

Sometimes, Graham insisted that everything depended on the months of preparatory prayer by the organizing committee and sponsoring pastors. Other times he insisted with equal fervor that everything depended on the follow-up efforts of counselors and local churches after he left town. Or the spiritual power of the music during the meetings. Or the direct hand of the Holy Spirit.

He surely believed every word he said. But at some level, he also knew that the sermon stood at the center. Faith, after all, came by hearing.

The secular press and many historians have focused on Graham’s activities in the realm of politics, but that focus reflects their interests more than his. Close students of Graham’s life quickly find that his heart lay elsewhere. The overwhelming part of his written and spoken words pertained to matters of salvation, not state. And that spiritual orientation emerged with particular force in his preaching.

Graham was not a great preacher, if by great we mean eloquent. He knew it, and almost everyone else did, too, including his wife. “Homiletically,” said W. E. Sangster, a leading cleric in England, “his sermons leave almost everything to be desired.” Graham admitted that he was a champion rambler, with as many as 17 points in a single sermon. He told one biographer that the subject and the words of his first sermon were “mercifully lost to memory.”

Still, he was a great preacher, if by great we mean effective. Sometimes his sermons flopped, but far more often they did exactly what he hoped they would do: persuade men and women to stand up, walk to the front, and profess new or renewed faith in Christ. Or pull off to the side of the road, as the radio carried Hour of Decision, and bow their heads to pray the serious words.

Graham’s messages regularly began with a biblical text, but he rarely paused to exegete the text in depth. Whatever the chosen passage, the verse he always focused on was the one he had used the first night at Madison Square Garden: John 3:16.

Almost immediately, Graham turned to a litany of crises. International threats usually came first, then national ones, and then personal ones. The specifics changed with the decades, but underlying perennials included divorce, hopelessness, loneliness, immorality, and fear of death. Natural disasters—earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes—made occasional appearances, too. Unlike his Puritan predecessors, Graham usually portrayed natural disasters as signs of the brokenness of creation, not direct punishments from God for America’s—or any other nation’s—sins. But that was a distinction without much of a difference. They reminded folks of the precariousness of life.

Graham gathered these data with demonstrably wide reading of current newspapers and magazines as well as the work of two or three trusted staff members and his wife, Ruth. He liked to quip that borrowing from one writer was plagiarism, but borrowing from many was research. Auditors might reasonably question whether Graham had actually read, or at least read in any serious way, the many authorities he routinely quoted—politicians, historians, theologians, philosophers, playwrights, musicians, sociologists, novelists—the list went on and on. But no one doubted that he read the Bible constantly and in depth.

For all the crises he named, there was one answer, and that answer was, of course, Christ. In Christ, people would find forgiveness and restoration. Again and again, he would say, “We need a new heart that will not have lust and greed and hate in it. We need a heart filled with love and peace and joy, and that is why Jesus came into the world … to make peace between us and God.”

Graham gradually mastered the art of streamlining his sermons. Audiences did not hear deep theological discussions or debates about matters in dispute. Nor did they hear about misdemeanors like smoking and cussing, tear-jerking deathbed tales, or attacks on individual persons. They heard about pernicious movements like communism, yes, but individuals, no. Graham saw no need to antagonize anyone before he had a chance to share. The timeless authority of Scripture reinforced the words that exploded at the beginning of countless sentences: “The Bible says …” Scripture, he said, turned the gospel into a “rapier.”

He usually preached from the King James Version because he knew it contained the words people knew best. His prodigious memory of Scripture kicked into gear in the first few minutes as he fired passages rapidly and repeatedly, up to one 100 times in a single sermon. He rarely, if ever, tried to defend the truth or relevance of the Bible. Instead, he just proclaimed it.

What audiences heard was a message of hope. A litany of “re-” words—reform, rebirth, renewal, regeneration—served as the pivot. Nothing had to stay the same. Everything could be changed. Others found new life, and so can you.

Graham’s listeners also heard what might be called “marching orders.” Theologian Will Willimon rightly observes that whether Graham’s audience was young or not, he gave listeners a young person’s theology—a moment of closure that fit the other crucial moments of closure young people were expected to make as they reached maturity: choose a mate, choose a job, choose a path for your life. And choose Christ.

The main point rang out as clearly as any bell atop any steeple. Come as you are. “You don’t have to straighten out your lives first,” he told audience after audience. “You don’t have to make yourself well before going to a doctor.” The altar was a hospital for sinners, not a resort for saints.

Graham’s sermons drew mixed reactions. Critics pounced for many reasons, and the bill of particulars ran long. They said his preaching was simplistic. Or repetitive. Or premodern. Or disorganized. Or alarmist. Or all of the above. But letters to Graham leave little doubt that many people heard a message that seemed not simplistic but simple, not repetitive but reinforcing, not premodern but enduring, not disorganized but wide-ranging, not alarmist but timely.

One of Graham’s associates drolly but accurately observed that if you heard ten of Billy’s sermons, you heard them all. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” ran the perennial refrain. In his preaching, as in his life, Billy walked the talk.

Grant Wacker is Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Christian History at Duke Divinity School and author of One Soul at a Time: The Story of Billy Graham (Eerdmans, 2019).

This essay was adapted from One Soul at a Time: The Story of Billy Graham, copyright 2019 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) Reprinted by permission of the publisher; all rights reserved.


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VIDEO A Call to Prayer for our President! June 2nd, 2019

May 31, 2019 by Gabriel Etzel

This past week, Franklin Graham called for a special day of prayer for President Trump to be held on Sunday, June 2.

The website explains the initiative by stating, “The only one who can fix our country’s problems is God Himself, and we pray that God will bless our president and our nation for His glory.” The website also includes a list of numerous religious leaders supporting the special day including Jerry Falwell, Jack Graham, David Jeremiah, Jentezen Franklin, and Alan Keyes.

I realize this call to prayer is received in various ways; however, praying for one’s leaders is not a blue or red decision; it is an opportunity for Christians to come together. We participate in electing a President and other government officials and can have disagreements on policies, but praying for our country and our leaders is our responsibility whether or not our candidate wins. When I disagree with policies or decisions, I am unfortunately too quick to complain and I seek to argue my perspective. Perhaps if I turned to prayer as a first response instead of a last resort, I would see that the “prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5)


As you process through Franklin Graham’s request to pray for our President, consider the following:

First, there is power in prayer. The Billy Graham Evangelist Association explains prayer as a “spiritual communication between man and God, a two-way relationship in which man should not only talk to God but also listen to Him. Prayer to God is like a child’s conversation with his father. It is natural for a child to ask his father for the things he needs.” When God’s people pray, they are conversing with the God of the universe, and Scripture speaks to the importance of prayer within the life of the individual. AND, prayer is also where we can listen to God’s voice. Prayer speaks to God’s heart, but it also speaks to our hearts. Specifically, Philippians 4 instructs us to, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Prayer is not only a way to present our requests to God, it provides a posture for his followers to be formed and comforted by our heavenly Father.

Second, calling for special times of prayer is a common occurrence throughout the Scriptures. Prayer is a regular part of the lives of God’s people, and prayer is also part of some of the most important events throughout the Bible. Abraham prays for an heir in Genesis 15. Samuel’s mother Hannah prays for her son in 1 Samuel 2.

There is a special time of prayer at the dedication of Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 8. Daniel prays regularly and is used by God to influence world leaders. Nehemiah prayed for his nation before receiving permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. In the New Testament, Jesus taught his disciples to pray (Matthew 6), and he had a dedicated time of prayer with his disciples prior to his arrest and crucifixion. Prayer is woven throughout the fabric of the Bible, and is an important element within the life of God’s people.

Third, we are commanded in Scripture to pray for our leaders. First, Timothy 2:1-2 indicates we are to pray for all people, but also specifically notes national leaders. The text reads, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Scripture affirms the power of God to direct governing authorities and structures. From the humble beginnings of the nation of Israel to the establishment of kings over the nation of Israel, even to the future reign of Jesus over all creation, we see God’s sovereign hand at work. As his people, we are to faithfully serve him and regularly pray for those in authority over us.

Considering the power of prayer, the special times of prayer within Scripture, and the command for us to pray for our leaders, I hope you will make a special attempt to pray for our President this Sunday, it is both a privilege and responsible we bear as citizens of this nation and children of the King.

A Call to Prayer for our President! June 2nd, 2019

Died: Warren Wiersbe, Preachers’ Favorite Bible Commentator

The prolific author and pastor taught Christians how to “Be” in the Word.

May 3, 2019 by CALEB LINDGREN

Died: Warren Wiersbe, Preachers’ Favorite Bible Commentator

Bible teacher, pastor, and preacher Warren Wiersbe died Thursday at age 89, leaving an impressive legacy of teaching, preaching, and mentoring countless pastors. Through his lessons, broadcasted sermons, and over 150 books, he resourced the church to better read and explain the Bible.

In a tribute, grandson Dan Jacobsen recalled how pastors often tell him, “There’s not a passage in the Bible I haven’t first looked up what Wiersbe has said on the topic.”

Wiersbe described himself as a bridge builder, spanning the gap “from the world of the Bible to the world of today so that we could get to the other side of glory in Jesus,” according to Jacobsen.

Of all his many writings his “Be” commentary series is his most well known and well loved, including books like Be Loyal (Matthew), Be Diligent (Mark), Be Compassionate (Luke 1–13), Be Courageous (Luke 14–24), Be Alive (John 1–12), and Be Transformed (John 13–21). Wiersbe sawhis love of expounding the Scriptures as a gift that God had given him for the sake of others:

Writing to me is a ministry. I’m not an athlete, I’m not a mechanic. I can’t do so many of the things that successful men can do. But I can read and study and think and teach. This is a beautiful, wonderful gift from God. All I’m doing is using what He’s given to me to teach people, and to give glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.

His wisdom and teaching has left an indelible mark on countless pastors and Christian leaders.

Jerry Vines, Baptist minister and two-time past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, remarked on Twitter that “so many things I did were birthed by Warren Wiersbe.” Remembering his “great mentor and friend,” Vines said Wiersbe “is the man who taught me how to expound the Word of God.”

Daniel Darling, vice president for communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also spoke of Wiersbe’s influence: “Wiersbe had a formative influence on me as a writer and pastor. A long full life of service to the church.”

“Giving thanks for the life of one of the great preachers of our century, Warren Wiersbe,” tweeted Barry McCarty, professor of preaching and rhetoric at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “So many close friends who have influenced me deeply were mentored by Wiersbe. We owe him much.”

In addition to a prolific writing career, Wiersbe—who came to faith after hearing Billy Graham preach at an early Youth for Christ rally—was also involved in parachurch and pastoral ministry for much of his life.

Wiersbe served as director of Youth for Christ’s literature division and editor of Campus Life magazine, in addition to his work with groups such as the Slavic Gospel Association, Child Evangelism Fellowship, National Religious Broadcasters, Christian Booksellers Association, and Back to the Bible.

He received ordination from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, in 1951 and held pastorships at Central Baptist Church in East Chicago, Indiana (1951–1957), Calvary Baptist Church in Covington, Kentucky (1961–1971), where his Sunday sermons were broadcast over the radio as the “Calvary Hour,” and the historic Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, IL (1971–1980), where his sermons were broadcast on Moody Radio as part of Moody’s “Songs of the Night” national radio program.

While at Moody Memorial, Wiersbe was a regular contributor for Moody Monthly, writing the “Insight for the Pastor” column giving practical ministry advice as well as brief biographies of famous individuals from church history. He also taught classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School during his time in Chicago and developed curriculum for a DMin preaching course titled “Imagination and the Quest for Biblical Preaching.”

Another important aspect of his time in Chicago was mentoring young pastors, among them an up and coming preacher named Erwin Lutzer, who would succeed Wiersbe as the senior pastor at Moody Memorial after Wiersbe left in 1980. In a tribute to his mentor, Lutzer recalls that Wiersbe was always gracious with his time and cared deeply for the ministries of the pastors he was mentoring and the city where God had placed him:

He always had time for us; he always made us feel as if we were the important ones in the room; it was never about him but always about us. How I still remember him closing his books on his desk when we entered, sitting back, welcoming us, eager to discuss how our ministries were doing. We talked about the challenges of the city, the challenges of shepherding people, and the pressures of time for sermon preparation, etc. Then we would find some hidden room in the church and intercede for the needs of the city and the great need for a revival such as was experienced during the ministry of D.L. Moody.

In 1980, Wiersbe and his wife Betty and their family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where Wiersbe took a teaching post at Back to the Bible Radio Ministries and from 1984 to 1990, he served as General Director of Back to the Bible. During this time, Wiersbe also wrote regularly for CT and its sister publication Leadership Journal (read an excerpt here).

Wiersbe amassed a prodigious library during his lifetime, so much so that when they were house-hunting in Lincoln in 1980, ahead of their move to Back to the Bible, Betty told the realtor, “We are looking for a library with a house attached.” Wiersbe chose to leave his collection of around 14,000 books to Cedarville University as a part of the Warren and Betty Wiersbe Library and Reading Room.

Wiersbe became writer in residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1995, where he also was appointed Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

Author and pastor Michael Catt said of his friend via Twitter: “My heart breaks but heaven rejoices in the homecoming of this great man of God.”


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