Gail was still laughing about it, some fifty years later.
Fresh from college and seminary, Gail had arrived in Columbus, Mississippi, to be interviewed for the position of director of the Baptists’ college ministry. She would be the BSU director for the local campus of Mississippi State College for Women, now called Mississippi University for Women, or MUW. Since the position was paid by the First Baptist Church, Pastor S. R. Woodson was interviewing her and would be her primary supervisor.
After the interview, Dr. Woodson wanted to show Gail the nice center on College Street, some half-dozen blocks away.
The question was how to get her there without the two having to sharing the automobile. A man alone in a car with a woman not his wife was unthinkable.
“I walked the entire six blocks,” Gail laughs. “With him driving his car alongside to make sure I was safe.”
Changing times? You bet. These days, almost every pastor I know would have said, “Come on and get in, and I’ll run you over there,” and not given it a second thought.
Changing standards? That’s another question altogether.
Billy Graham famously said he decided early on in his ministry he would never be in a room alone with a woman not his wife, mother, daughter, or sister.
What about meeting a woman for coffee? Having lunch with a woman in a very public restaurant? Anything wrong with that?
Confession: I’ve done that–taken a woman to lunch–but it’s been a truckload of years ago. And I felt awkward at the time, like maybe this should not be happening.
When Lauren–who is like a niece and precious to our whole family–was passing through town and had time only for lunch, I asked daughter-in-law Julie to join us. Since she also adores Lauren, it was a good thing to do.
When Holly visited a local church where I was preaching and wanted to do lunch, I arranged for my two granddaughters to go along. An instant friendship developed between them.
But do it alone? Not a good idea.
Why not? Isn’t this old-fashioned? An out-of-date standard that should have been tossed out with spats? Aren’t we living in modern times when people are beyond those old hypocritical restrictions?
Let’s consider that.
1) People are still the same.
They still sin, they lust, they steal and cheat and lie. They find themselves in the middle of temptation before they realize what happened. A wise person will shield himself/herself against every entrapment they can. “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (I Peter 2:11).
2) The “times” has nothing to do with anything.
Every generation that has ever lived on this planet thought of itself as the latest model from the creator and superior to all the previous versions of humanity. “Finally, He got it right! He made us!”
The egotism of each generation is a given. And is a con.
To repeat the first point above, people are still the same. In this world, we will never outgrow our love for sin, our blindness to our own foibles, and our need for protection.
3) Some things are right and always will be.
It has always been right to love God and love our neighbor, to give to the needy and to forgive sins. Right does not adapt itself to the calendar.
4) Some things are wrong and will always be wrong.
Lust, murder, adultery, thieving–they’re all wrong. Always have been; always will be. The fact that we are living in the “modern age,” the age of Post-anything, has nothing to do with anything.
5) There is a quick test which I recommend.
Ask your wife. She will tell you the truth. (I’m honestly unsure if the opposite is true, that women should “ask your husband.” Maybe “ask your mother” would be better.)
While drawing at a car show in New Orleans, I overheard two women talking about a cat which was allergic to other cats. I found that so bizarre, I interjected myself into their conversation to inquire about it.
“That’s not the worst of it,” the woman said. “She’s also allergic to herself. If she licks her own fur, she breaks out in a rash.”
I said, “I’m a preacher, and I guarantee you there is a sermon illustration in there somewhere!” She laughed.
That cat–like many of us–is his own worst enemy. We sometimes do things against our best judgment, knowing they are wrong and going on regardless, and end up paying severe consequences.
The standards of accepted behavior may be adjusted back and forth a little over the generations, but not so much that we should condone crossing those invisible lines of male-female connections and then try to justify it by rationalizations.
In this, the year 2021, on every hand people are declaring that our culture has finally come of age and may now cast off the outdated practices/customs of past generations which dictated strict sexual limits, limited marriage to a man and a woman, made abortion wrong and illegal, and called for respect of military and law enforcement.
I suspect we are about to pay an enormous price for such foolish thinking.
God help us.