By Aaron Earls
If it’s not their husband or wife, most say they would decline an invitation for dinner alone.
Most Americans believe it’s inappropriate to dine alone with anyone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse, according to new research from The New York Times.
The social situation became hotly debated after a 2002 profile of then-Rep. Mike Pence resurfaced following his election to the vice presidency.
At the time of the profile, Pence stated he didn’t eat alone with women other than his wife, following what has become known as the “Billy Graham Rule.”
Early in his ministry, Billy Graham established accountability guidelines to avoid falling into temptations he saw bringing down other ministers. These principles were drawn up in a compact that became known as the “Modesto Manifesto.”
The intent was to “avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion.” This included not having meals alone with a woman other than his wife.
As it turns out, most Americans agree with that rule—especially women.
Men are split as to whether it is appropriate for a man to have dinner alone with a woman who is not his spouse. Forty-five percent say it is inappropriate, while 43 percent disagree.
Meanwhile, a majority of women (53 percent) see dinner alone as inappropriate. Only 35 percent see nothing wrong.
Women are more split on lunch alone (44 percent say inappropriate, 43 percent say appropriate) and driving in a car alone (38 percent say inappropriate, 47 percent say appropriate).
A majority of men see nothing wrong with either.
Both men (66 percent) and women (63 percent) overwhelmingly see having a work meeting alone as appropriate.
Though a majority of evangelical men (57 percent) see nothing wrong with meeting alone with a woman for work, they are more than twice as likely as men with no religious affiliation to see it as inappropriate (34 percent to 16 percent).
The importance of religion plays a role in how likely a woman is to say something is inappropriate. Women who say religion is important in their lives are more likely to believe both dinner and a work meeting alone are inappropriate.
Younger women are more likely to see such social interactions as inappropriate compared to older women. Regardless of religion, the younger a woman is, the more likely she is to believe meeting alone for dinner or at work is inappropriate.
Dennis Hollinger, president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and expert on Christian sexual ethics, told The New York Times that avoiding meeting alone with those of the opposite sex can be a complicated issue.
“All of us know our ethical and spiritual vulnerabilities, and the idea of establishing protocols to live out those commitments can be a good thing,” he said.
“The negative side is this particular practice really can appear to treat women in really dehumanizing ways, almost as if they were a temptress.”
AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@Lifeway.com) is online editor of Facts & Trends.