Two More Votes for ‘The Modesto Manifesto’

Mark 10:2-9 (ESV)
And Pharisees came up and in order to test [Jesus] asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

My wife Shelly and I are both survivors of divorce.

Enslaved to anger, alcohol and flat-out stupidity, I moved out on my first wife – and our two-year-old daughter – in Jan. of 1997; our divorce became final a year later. Shelly, my second wife, informed her first husband that she wanted out in Nov. of 1998; they separated in Jan. of 1999 – right after Christmas – and their divorce was final in Sept. of that year. While we are both exceedingly grateful for the vast amount of repair work that Jesus has done in our lives since those dark days, we nonetheless continue to live out the logical consequences of violating God’s clearly-stated design for marriage.

Cliff Barrows, Grady Wilson, Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea

Cliff Barrows, Grady Wilson, Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea

I intentionally use the term “survivors” as I think it captures well the tremendous (mostly unforeseen) amount of physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, legal and relational pain that an individual suffers in the wake of the end of a marriage. Our American culture, in particular, seeks to downplay the devastation brought on by divorce, but let me assure you that the ripple effects remain with an individual for the rest of his or her life. In several meaningful ways, divorce is a life sentence, even if your marriage has not produced any children. As one trusted counselor has well said, “Divorce is about the most painful thing you can slide a human being through and have them still live.” Personally, I like to use a word picture taken from the 2000 film Cast Away to give others a sense of what divorce feels like; just like the character played by Tom Hanks, Shelly and I both survived the initial plane crash, and yet…garbage keeps washing up on our shore years, even decades, after the event.

Can God repair the wounds left in our lives by divorce? Yes, absolutely. Will we carry lifelong scars to remind us of the pain? Yes, absolutely.

This past week, the blogosphere blew up (yet again) because one powerful man – in this case, Vice President Mike Pence – made public his practice of living out “The Modesto Manifesto” of biblical integrity. More commonly known as “The Billy Graham Rule,” the manifesto was initially developed by Graham, George Beverly Shea, Grady Wilson and Cliff Barrows in Oct. of 1948 as a series of guidelines by which they could be diligent about their professed beliefs, working confidently above even the appearance of impropriety. Simply put, the “rule” that Graham and others developed for themselves is that they would not be found alone under any circumstance with a woman. For more on that, see Justin Taylor’s blog entitled Where Did the ‘Billy Graham Rule’ Come From?

I began this blog by noting my firsthand experience with the consequences of divorce simply to make the point that when it comes to living out a life of integrity, we are all, like Pence, wise to believe that the stakes are indeed quite high, higher in fact than many of us are able to fully comprehend.

Protecting ourselves from obvious danger is something we quite naturally do. We install railings on balconies and observation decks for a very good reason. It seems Pence has thought through the consequences of a man of power like himself being alone with a woman, and believes there to be potential danger to be avoided. Certainly, we can agree that even an entirely-innocent moment can be construed to look as though he has done something he ought not. One of the most powerful reasons for living by the Modesto Manifesto is to do our utmost to avoid falling into the “He-Said, She-Said” quagmire that can often arouse suspicions. Absent a reliable third party, even the most casual elevator ride can come back to haunt a man, especially if that man is powerful, a public figure and (especially) someone who has made a public confession of faith in Jesus.

A few more thoughts to consider, in no particular order:

  • The current American ethos is terribly double-minded. As a culture, we seem quite keen not to intrude upon what two consenting adults have agreed to do with regard to issues of sexuality, even if they are not married. And yet, the furor over Pence’s publicized decision to honor his wife by not allowing himself to be a part of ambiguous situations seems a contradiction to the norm. For me, it begs the question, “Why is this anyone else’s business?”
  • Religious freedom, tolerance and respect…for some? In the spirit of “freedom of religion,” Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, even atheists and pantheists are habitually allowed to honor their marriages as they see fit. I struggle to believe that anyone would have the desire (or courage) to eviscerate an Islamic woman who, for example, made public her desire to live by the tenets of Sharia Law as a means of honoring her husband and their family. It seems to me that Christians are, less and less, given this same freedom…but public mockery does not mean we are not still called to seek to live above reproach.
  • Christians who seek to live consistently with the teachings of Scripture will be mocked. Jesus warned His followers that they would receive much scorn should they choose to follow after Him; His call to discipleship is to die (Matthew 16:24) and He made no bones about being hated by the world (John 15:18-25). The current imbroglio over Mike and Karen Pence may seek to discredit the words of Jesus, but actually achieves the opposite.
  • Jesus can spend time alone with a woman of Samaria (John 4), but you and I are not Jesus. My wife and I have endured financial and relational stress simply because we do not wish to repeat the mistakes of our first failed marriages and, even more to the point, we are uncompromising in our passion to never knowingly give another human being the power to surprise or upset the other. We cross-populate each other’s calendars, we share a single Facebook account, we routinely discourage other people from telling us secrets that they want us to keep from our spouse. Does this cause relational awkwardness at times? Yes. But we believe it also prevents problems within our marriage and is our attempt to honor each other above all others.
  • Guard rails, rather than restricting freedom, protect and enhance freedom. The guard rails that I have chosen to put up in my life are primarily about my understanding of who Jesus says we are, rather than my thoughts or feelings about other people. I believe Jesus when He said that my heart is sinful and filled with malice, envy, greed, strife and all manner of uncleanness. The guard rails of The Modesto Manifesto are a great way to live free from worry, fear and unnecessary forms of temptation. Nothing is more liberating than watching my wife pick up my iPhone (for whatever reason) and not have to leap to my feet in a panic, fearfully asking “Wait! What are you doing?!”
  • Integrity serves to guard others. Those same guard rails, while not primarily designed around what I think about others, actually serve to honor others by protecting not just my integrity but theirs as well. For example, my own ignorance could cause me unwittingly to sow discord in another person’s marriage simply because a woman I meet with one-on-one happens to be having serious trust issues with her husband. Not only that, but I have no idea what sort of impression it may leave on others once I make clear my intent not to violate the overall intent of living with integrity; my example may be “publicly mocked…but privately mulled.”
  • We all grossly underestimate our capacity for sin. By minimizing our own capacity for evil, we set ourselves up as bright-orange head pins in Satan’s bowling alley. Jesus had a lot of sobering things to say about our hearts; do I think I know my own heart better than Jesus does? If our hearts were not nearly as wicked as Jesus claims they are, why then did He feel it necessary to upset everyone so much during His three years of active ministry? He even called His own disciples – those guys who left everything they had ever known to follow Him – “evil.” When Peter speaks a little too impetuously, Jesus flat-out calls him “Satan.” (Matthew 7:11; Matthew 16:13-23)

Christians should expect to be ridiculed no matter what we do. Societies throughout the centuries have been happy to accept the charitable work in which Christians cheerfully engage – sometimes to their own demise – but nonetheless harbor vast reservoirs of ill will toward the faith that energizes us. In some ways, it seems to me evidence that I’m on the right path when, seeking to honor God, I end up offending unbelievers, even though that is never my intent. While I think we are all called to be as winsome as possible as we engage with “the world,” sometimes we may just need to accept that living in the light sometimes garners shouts from dark corners. It helps me to remember, in those moments, that I am living for Christ’s approval only.

Matthew 15:10-20
And [Jesus] called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

Background Info/Resources:

Where Did the ‘Billy Graham Rule’ Come From?
Justin Taylor, The Gospel Coalition

The Modesto Manifesto: A Declaration of Biblical Integrity
By Billy Graham

Karen Pence Is the Vice President’s ‘Prayer Warrior,’ Gut Check and Shield
Ashley Parker, The Washington Post

Mike Pence Ridiculed for Practicing ‘Billy Graham Rule’
Brandon Showalter, The Christian Post

One Comment

  1. Judy Sheppard said:

    This is so powerful. The best clarification on this topic I’ve seen. My husband and I have both been divorced and completely agree with your position. In our seeking God’s will for our future, we both asked God to do the choosing if we were to marry again. We attended the same church, and worked at the same place but never dated, nor were we even close friends. I consulted with our pastor, and he suggested I talk to Bill (now hubby) about my feelings for him. I felt sure Bill would scoff but instead he studied scripture and shortly after proposed before we ever dated or kissed. He said over and over in scripture, when God did the choosing, Israel was blessed. So, he allowed God to do the choosing. We have now been married 28 years. Yes, we live with the aftermath of divorce even though we both had unfaithful spouses. Consequences are not erased. We led the singles in our former church for several years and found those who chose to repent and follow God in obedience were blessed. We had several “graduates” – some even leading singles ministry in other churches. Ain’t God good!

    Bill and Judy Sheppard

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