Pence Makes Sense on Morality and Marriage

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen have a rule for relationships. “Don’t travel or dine alone with a person of the opposite sex who isn’t your spouse.” The Vice President sees this a healthy guardrail to protect him and his family from even the appearance of impropriety. He’s not the first to implement such a policy. Billy Graham did the same. I’ve known men and women of less status yet equal resolve who have made the same choice.

One might think that the Vice President’s boundaries would be robustly and widely applauded. The #MeToo movement has called each of us to a higher level of vigilance and concern. Inappropriate actions from one gender to the other can wound a person, deeply and permanently. What’s more, many of us have expressed concerns about tones of indecency about our national leaders. We might think that news of a leader’s rigorous resolve would be a model to follow. Curiously, some are hesitant to do so. Today’s release of a new, less than complimentary book about the Vice President (The Shadow President by Michael D’Antonio) has rekindled the disdain some feel for the “Pence Rule.” It has been deemed as the source of a double standard and a new barrier for women in the marketplace. The rule is perceived, by some, as sexist, suggesting that women lack self-control. (See “Why Women Hate the Pence Rule”)

Hmmm, perhaps the opposite might be the case? I’ve self-imposed similar boundaries, not because I don’t trust female colleagues, but because I know I don’t trust myself. And, even more, I don’t trust the devil.  Given the right (or “wrong”) set of circumstances, the people of strongest character might make the worst of choices. I, for one, salute the Vice President and his wife. I have expressed concern over indecency in D.C. I want to be equally vocal about the appearance of decency.

The family is the most ancient battlefield on the planet. The devil plotted against the first family in the Garden of Eden and has schemed against each and every one since. Each husband and wife must develop a plan, in concert with one another, to protect their family. “Honor marriage and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband. God draws a firm line against casual and illicit sex” (Hebrews 13:4 MSG emphasis mine).

The call of Scripture is to guard our marriages. Build a fence. Post sentries. Create boundaries. The intimacy of marriage is too valuable to be left unprotected. Be quick to understand: God is not anti-sex. Dismiss any notion of God as anti-affection and anti-intercourse. After all, he developed the whole package. Sex is his idea. From His perspective, sex is nothing short of holy.

He views sexual intimacy the way I view our family Bible. Passed down from my father’s side, the volume is a century old and twelve inches thick. Replete with lithographs, scribblings, and a family tree, it is, in my estimation, beyond value. Hence, I use it carefully.

When I need a stepladder, I don’t step on the Bible. If the foot of my bed breaks, you won’t find the family Bible serving as a prop. When we need old paper for kindling, we don’t rip a sheet out of this book. We reserve the heirloom for special times and keep it in a chosen place.

Regard sex the same way; as a holy gift to be opened in a special place at special times. The place is marriage and the time is with your spouse.

Intimacy outside of marriage pretends we can give the body and not impact the soul. We can’t. We humans are so intricately wired that whatever touches the body impacts the psyche as well. The phrase, “as long as no one gets hurt” sounds noble, but the truth is, we don’t know who gets hurt. You may think your dalliances are harmless and years may pass before the x-rays reveal the internal damage, but don’t be fooled. Casual sex is a diet of chocolate–it tastes good for a while–but the imbalance will ruin you. Sex apart from God’s plan wounds the soul.

Husbands and wives must take steps to “guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy.” Toward this end, I promised Denalyn that I would never meet with a woman behind closed doors or travel alone with a female companion. Does this decision come across as old-fashioned or unfair? If so, I don’t intend it as such. Yet, my number one aim is not the opinion of the people with whom I work, but the woman to whom I pledged my devotion.

Two events prompted my strict guidelines.

Some thirty years ago, a pastor who was well into his final years of ministry, asked to show me a list he’d compiled in the flyleaf of his Bible. It contained the names of ministers who’d lost their marriages and ministries due to marital infidelity. The list was long enough to take up the entire page. I did not read the names, nor did I want to do so. But I left with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Then, about twenty years ago, a friend gave me this counsel. “Make a list of all the lives you would impact through your sexual immorality.” I did. Every so often I re-read it. The list includes the names of my wife, my three daughters, my son-in-laws, my grandchildren. Every person who has ever read one of my books or heard my sermons. My publishing team. Our church staff. The list reminds me: one act of pleasure would be a poor exchange for a lifetime of lost legacy.

Can I encourage, no, implore you- make a plan to protect your marriage. Husbands and wives, sit down and sketch out a strategy. You think the “Pence Rule” is too strict?  Fine.  Create the plan that works for your family. Be assured the devil has one against you.

The “Pence Rule” is a good guide. Consider drafting your own. The details of your policy are open to discussion. The decision behind the discipline, however, is worthy of emulation. Fidelity in marriage matters. I, for one, salute the Pence family for seeking to protect it.

© Max Lucado, August 27, 2018

28 comments on “Pence Makes Sense on Morality and Marriage

  1. Thank you for sharing this. We get so busy taking care of the “important” things in our lives, that we forget what really matters. We’ve been married 18 years. I often ask myself how many lives I would destroy by one selfish act.

  2. Totally agree with the Pence Rule! It would’ve saved a lot of pain (and all that that implies) had I believed it earlier in life.

    Thank you, Max

  3. I agree with you, Pastor Max!
    Our family has felt the sting of the so causal relationship:(.
    May The Lord always gives you wisdom and discernment in this matter:)

  4. “one act of pleasure would be a poor exchange for a lifetime of lost legacy.“
    If we would all remember this.

  5. This goes for singles, too. It’s hard looking around, especially at singles who call themselves ‘Christian’ and seeing them act no differently than an MTV video. I don’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I do put God first. And that’s what I want in a husband. He will love God so much that He wouldn’t think of cheating on Him…and that will filter down to me.

  6. I wish my Mother would have taught me these things when I was growing up. Our family was also dysfunctional, no love, and now that I’m an older Christian widow I’ve learned so much that I wish I could have applied to my last marriage. That was so well written.

  7. As an HR professional whose job it is to counsel managers and employees, I cannot agree with the “Pence Rule”. How many men and women have been denied the opportunity to receive feedback, learn from experienced and talented mentors, and progress in their careers? If the issue is that you can’t trust yourself, then maybe you shouldn’t be a role where it is expected that you can be trusted.

    Instead of adopting the Pence Rule and unintentionally punishing those needing guidance, counseling, and mentoring for our own shortcomings maybe we should hold ourselves to a higher moral and ethical standard.

  8. One more piece of advice I received was never take a drink of alcohol without your spouse being present. A lot of infidelity starts after the consumption of alcohol.

  9. Great article! We even went so far as to not have opposite sex friends on facebook, before we deleted it. We have friends with these same boundaries.

  10. Hello Pastor Max. I have great respect for you and your ministry. Your book, “In the Grip of Grace,” sent to me by a family member years ago, brought me back to my faith journey and to church. I read and listen to “Travel Light” often for sage advice, and I gifted it to a friend just recently to help her in a time of change. I appreciate your overall messages in the post above that we have to be thoughtful and purposeful in protecting the relationships with which we have been blessed, particularly those which include vows spoken before God, and that the appearance of impropriety can be detrimental to one’s relationships, reputation, and livelihood. What I would ask you to consider is the impact a personal rule never to be alone in certain business settings with a member of another gender can, does, and will have on those one encounters in one’s professional life. With the current concentration of power and influence arguably in the hands of men, despite at least 50 percent of the workforce being women, how will women ever be enabled to use fully their God-given gifts if they are essentially cut off from opportunities that continue to be afforded their other-gendered colleagues. If a person believes that without a third person in attendance in a particular business setting they may choose to succumb to temptation (assuming the other person wants to be a party to it themselves), the choice to never be alone in a business setting with a person of “the opposite” gender benefits the former while essentially marginalizing the latter. Perhaps a more fitting personal rule for a person would be to never be alone in a business setting with anyone – this would accomplish the goal without being prejudicial or preferential. As you think about this scenario, should this seem troublesome or ridiculous (how can two high-powered peers ever get anything done if they can never meet alone?; how can I golf with my business contact if I need to make sure I have a third person along?), then perhaps you see what I mean. A no-certain-business-functions-alone-with-a-woman rule puts the woman at a disadvantage she likely has done nothing to deserve (yes, I realize there are exceptions), and it reserves one-on-one business, including mentoring, to men. THAT is why this rule is seen as sexist – it appears to solve the man’s issue of temptation or appearance of impropriety but does so by marginalizing women, whether they seek to tempt or not. Curiously, there is no call to a higher level of vigilance and concern on the part of professional women, no concerted push to have women adopt the same rule. Perhaps the self-imposed boundary should be the discipline to act toward all people at all times in a way that makes one worthy of trust by one’s spouse as well as “opposite sex” colleagues. I hope you will prayerfully consider this perspective. Thank you and God bless.

  11. All these years, I’ve followed you and read your books…I’m so disappointed and saddened that you would use a racist as a Godly example! I’m done!

  12. 44 years ago we made a similar pledge. It meant so much to me. Almost 20 years ago, it was broken. We are still together but it has never been the same. A double vow was broken. Amen to the Pences and all those who honor their vows. God Bless us all.

  13. Oh this is so true. Whether this “one time” event leads to further things or not, it can and will put a very negative light on your marriage. It can cause questions and worse, gossip!! Tom nor I ever went out alone with someone of the opposite sex. I am a widow now but I still will not go out with a man alone on a first date. I want to know a man well before we go out alone. Maybe I am older and wiser today and a bit more fearful but dating today is not like it was when I was 20-21 years old. I’m content to be happy as I am.

  14. Sexual misconduct outside of marriage impacts that marriage forever. It can’t be undone. It can be forgiven, but can’t be forgotten. I know this all too well. There’s damage in our marriage that will never fully heal. I wish my husband had followed the Pence rule early in our marriage. We are in a better place now, but there will always be that little black cloud that relentlessly follows us around, no matter how hard we try to push past it.

    I was saddened to find out that statistics for infidelity are exactly the same between secular and Christian men – both run at up to 50% of married men who’ve had affairs, according to the multiple sources I read. I always thought that faith in Jesus would keep the Christian man from straying, but apparently it makes little difference for most men.

    If you’re a man and reading this, please know that the damage it causes to a marriage is permanent. There’s no going back. It’s not worth the risk.

  15. I am so glad to see this discussion and to know the Pences, Lucados and many others have made this a firm hedge against the most insidious of temptations. Our culture is replete with tears and sorrow from infidelity and broken families. I have always been strongly dedicated to maintaining complete faithfulness in my marriage. but it’s only by God’s grace that I was protected from failing in this commitment many years ago. Stepping too close to the fire surely risks singed toes! The boundaries set by the Pence Rule is an even better “fire retardant” than borax!

  16. I totally agree with this. My husband used to travel a lot with his job. There was a particular female that was with him often. They ate meals together and went sightseeing together. I had a real issue with it. Although my husband didn’t see anything wrong with it, it caused a lot of hurt and issues with me. I trusted my husband but I didn’t trust her.

  17. This advice and the list of those who would be touched by your choices should be given to all couples in pre-marriage counseling. We always seem to think we would never hurt the one we love.

    Thank you for theses great words of wisdom.

  18. Oh, Max,

    I’m so, so disappointed that you chose to use Mike Pence as a centerpiece for this important truth. One of the many reasons I admire you and love your writings is that you’re one of the few Christian leaders who seems to have chosen largely to stay out of today’s atrocious political scene.

    For many, Pence is a divisive, even disingenuous, figure, who has chosen to stand by and abet some of the ugliest presidential positions and corruption in our nation’s history. Only time will allow a full, clear picture as to the Trump presidency, but the VP has not once expressed anything but full-bridled support for too many heinous policies and behavior. His own participation in issues related to the Russian intervention in our election will also require additional time to understand. (And I’ll avoid a litany of particulars here, as that’s not really the point, or my reason for writing.)

    As a believer, I am appalled at what this entire administration—and my sisters and brothers in Messiah—have sanctioned and approved of. And tragically, perhaps the single-most damaging effect has been on our witness to nonbelievers. I’d argue that, more than ever, most see Christians in the worst light possible: as a demonstrably unloving and hypocritical people. And, sadly, with good reason.

    This is probably way more than you want to read. But I need to be honest with you, Max… please stay as far away as possible from conveying allegiance to this administration. For me, it truly affects my view of you as someone I can trust and rely on for truth. Honestly, it just leaves me feeling discouraged. :/

    Side note: You wrote than Billy Graham also practiced the “Pence Rule” (as he and all of us should, of course). You know, too, that after considerable pain and controversy—largely resulting from his relationship with Richard Nixon—Graham learned an important lesson, to recuse himself from politics. In fact, by the end of his life, he’d come to reject faith communities that cared more about influencing politics than worshipping Jesus Christ, saying in 2005, “I’m just going to preach the gospel and am not going to get off on all these hot-button issues. If I get on these other subjects, it divides the audience on an issue that is not the issue I’m promoting. I’m just promoting the gospel.”

  19. I completely agree with you and the “Pence Rule” boundaries must be set in everything in life. Marriage is sacred and honorable both in Heaven and on earth. Love and concern for others faith and salvation must be key in the choices we make in our marriages. Thank you Pastor Max, I appreciate you.

  20. I agree with everything that you said, but, is not the ability to exercise self control also to be desired? There are some situations where a meeting with the opposite sex might truly be required and God has also given us a brain and an ability to make wise choices, isn’t making Godly choices more of a witness than building hedges to wall ourselves away from sin. How does that really work?

  21. I think this is a wise position VP Pence has taken. Of course it’s controversial, unpopular, and divides… sounds a lot like the debate over Jesus healing on the Sabbath. From my reading of your comments on this matter you were not suggesting a hard and fast rule that everyone must follow, but rather that married couples who want to protect the sanctity of their vows should each prayerfully and reasonably develop their own plan for resisting impropriety or the appearance of it. Thank you for bringing this discussion to the forefront.

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