Are Women Human in Christian Academia?

I am so grateful that my male colleagues have not marginalized me

“It isn’t surprising that Karen Swallow Prior’s article, not to mention the criticism that followed it, caught my attention. It made me think about the implications of the Billy Graham rule for women in Christian academia. It also made me think about the words of another famous Christian who died just a few years after Billy Graham began his crusades: Dorothy L. Sayers.”

 

Recently, Karen Swallow Prior spoke out against the “Billy Graham rule”–married men distancing themselves from women to avoid temptation and the appearance of evil. For those of you who missed Prior’s article, she eloquently argued that good moral character is better than rigid behavioral rules. As she writes, “Virtue ethics relies on moral character that is developed through good habits rather than rules or consequences for the governing of behavior…Virtue ethics is better than the Billy Graham rule.”

I actually just learned about the Billy Graham rule a few years ago. I was eavesdropping on a conversation between two Baylor history graduate students and overheard the phrase. So I asked what the Billy Graham rule was (just FYI: advanced graduate students, especially graduate students preparing for comprehensive exams, can answer fluently almost any question within their given field of study). They briefly summarized for me what Billy Graham decided in 1948 and later articulated in his autobiography: “We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife. We determined that the Apostle Paul’s mandate to the young pastor Timothy would be ours as well: ‘Flee…youthful lusts’ (2 Timothy 1:22, KJV).”

Suddenly, after hearing the Billy Graham rule explained for the first time, lots of things within my gendered evangelical world made sense. I felt, as my 8th grade self would have said, “Duh!”

It isn’t surprising that Karen Swallow Prior’s article, not to mention the criticism that followed it, caught my attention. It made me think about the implications of the Billy Graham rule for women in Christian academia. It also made me think about the words of another famous Christian who died just a few years after Billy Graham began his crusades: Dorothy L. Sayers.

For those of you unfamiliar with Dorothy Sayers, you should change that. I know as an educated Christian and medievalist, I should say that my favorite authors are C.S. Lewis and Augustine. But that wouldn’t be true (although I am a fan of both). My favorite authors are Homer (the Iliad) and Dorothy Sayers.  Medieval scholar, Christian theologian, mystery writer, contemporary of Tolkien and Lewis, and one of the first female graduates of Oxford University, Sayers was truly an exceptional woman. Her writing style reflects (at least what I consider) her personality: sensible, passionate, judicious.

In 1938 Sayers was asked to address a Woman’s Society. What she argued, in her essay “Are Women Human?”, was profound–that women should not be categorized by their biological difference from men but considered by their sameness as humans.

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