Mississippi politician won’t travel alone with female reporter

Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Robert Foster is in this news this week for holding to the Billy Graham rule, made famous by the great evangelist who refused to spend time alone with women to whom he was not married. The Billy Graham rule has also been popularized by Vice President Mike Pence, although many ridicule this practice as being sexist and outdated.

With Foster, a Mississippi journalist named Larrison Campbell wanted to go with Foster for a day on the campaign trail. Campbell has interviewed Foster before and broke the story of his candidacy for governor. Foster’s campaign said that he would only participate if she had another journalist traveling with her so as to avoid a situation where the two were traveling alone.

This has received criticism. Monica Hesse wrote an editorial for the Washington Post titled “The Billy Graham rule doesn’t honor your wife. It demeans her – and all women.”

In the piece, Hesse argues “It doesn’t honor your wife. It just presumes that your marriage vows are so flimsy that you can’t be trusted to uphold them unless a babysitter monitors you.” This is a common criticism I’ve seen. The idea that a person who doesn’t want to spend time with people of the opposite sex is dong it out of insecurity of their ability to be faithful to their marriage.

By that logic, would spending lots of time alone with people of the opposite sex show someone’s strength in their marriage? It’s absurd.

Just because a person refuses to spend time with members of the opposite sex does not mean that they’re insecure in their marriage. It’s not suggesting that this reporter would have ever accused Foster of anything inappropriate or questioning her integrity. It’s not suggesting that Foster has no self-control.

But it’s avoiding all of those potential risks. And that’s why it’s wise.

And there’s another aspect that people are overlooking. For a Christian, the Bible talks about being above reproach. Part of that is even giving the appearance of sin.

The writer was not happy.

“The only reason you think that people will think I’m having a (improper) relationship with your candidate is because I am a woman,” That’s literally the point.

Foster’s campaign did make a way for Campbell to travel with him. Having someone else present. But she didn’t like those terms. The New York Times spun the story as “Mississippi politician denies access to female reporter so as not to ‘insinuate’ affair.”

He didn’t deny access. He had conditions to protect both parties.

There is something to be said for the argument that he could have arranged for someone else from his campaign to be present. Perhaps he chose against that route because someone from his campaign could be seen as being loyal to Foster.

People have also argued that this futile because men also have affairs with other men. They question if traveling with a male reporter would really be any safer than traveling with a female because the potential is still there. I think that this is a bad counterargument. For starters, assuming that Foster isn’t a secretly closeted homosexual, there isn’t the same risk in traveling with a man. Secondly, the optics of a married man being seen traveling with another man is not the same thing as a married man being seen with a woman who’s not his wife. It’s not the same.

Say what you will about Billy Graham and Mike Pence. People can dislike their faith and values. But Graham was never tied to any scandal regarding infidelity. The same could be said about our vice president. It’s especially wise for politicians to take these precautions when infidelity seems so common among them.

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Josh Benner has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.