Vice President Mike Pence’s marriage became the topic of debate this week. In a 2002 interview with the Hill, Pence revealed he “doesn’t dine alone with women or attend events where alcohol is served if his wife doesn’t accompany him.” Conservative and religious commentators were quick to label criticisms of this—the so-called Billy Graham rule—as indicative of liberal intolerance and ignorance.
While the Pences are free to follow this guideline (one rooted in his religion and not necessarily uncommon) the implications of the practice are concerning. It is one thing to follow such a principle in private life. It is another thing entirely to view life through that lens while also being responsible for policy decisions that alter the lives of over 300 million.
This sort of religious guideline is not uncommon or unique to evangelical Christians. As National Review writer Jonah Goldberg highlighted, “if the Pences were Muslims and followed similar rules, as devout Muslims indeed might, I doubt there’d be anything like this kind of liberal scorn.” There are, in fact, similar rules in all Abrahamic religions. Adherence, clearly, varies.
Criticizing this practice is not simply, as Goldberg contends, liberals identifying Pence as a religious zealot or pervert incapable of controlling himself around members of the opposite sex.
Goldberg is correct that liberals are hypocritical in targeting this practice, while defending similar orthodox values in other faiths. Liberals, like conservatives, swim in hypocrisy. It is worth noting this two-faced behavior does not discount criticisms of such hysterically outdated logic.
The belief that dining or being alone with another woman is bad practice is blatantly misogynistic. If not, it is self-loathing. Why? Because either you are suggesting that women prey upon married men the minute the opportunity presents itself or men have the self-control of a toddler.
Really, you are suggesting there is no such thing as a platonic relationship. Goldberg, in reference to Bill Clinton’s infidelity, wrote: “It’s a very strange place we’ve found ourselves in when elites say we have no right to judge adultery, but we have every right to judge couples who take steps to avoid it.”
If the only way Mike Pence can avoid cheating on his wife is by surgically attaching her to his hip and never being in the company of another woman without her, then he is suffering from psychological issues of a clinical nature. The Billy Graham rule enforces an inherent mistrust of women and men and characterizes all relationships between the two as unavoidably sexual. While Pence and others argue this is a foolproof way of preventing adultery, that sort of casual mistrust of one’s partner is damning. It is jealousy and sexism bound, as is often the case, through religion.
Evangelical Christians often rally against the idea that we share a common ancestor with apes. However, based on this world view, we still are primal animals tamed only by a Bible-shaped chastity belt.
This is not a uniquely Christian viewpoint. One can still recognize that while arguing against this sort of thinking. The argument that liberals will protect any religious or ethnic minority’s orthodox, misogynistic views to the point of absurdity is patently false. Being mindful of the tendency to deem other viewpoints as taboo through cultural elitism does not bar criticism of blatantly damaging concepts of morality.
Injustice is injustice, no matter the geography, race, culture or creed. Recognizing that one group is responsible for far more injustice than any other may make people like Mike Pence feel targeted. But it is simply a matter of fact.
Criticism should be directed at any view that follows such absurd logic. Whether that view stems from Islam, Christianity or cultural norms. That is not the basis upon which the acceptability of criticism should rest. Any liberals who argue otherwise betray the sincerity of his or her own values and make the pseudo-case presented by Jonah Goldberg and others far easier.
The Pence family have the liberty to guide their family life under the direction of whichever scripture or doctrine they choose. However, that right to criticize such decisions as being so far out of the logical as to enforce harmful views of women and relationships is sacred.