“They wanted to take whatever precautions were necessary to protect the integrity of their message,” said A. Larry Ross, who spent more than three decades as a spokesperson for Graham.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association later became a founding member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
Graham and his friends set up two other rules in 1948. First, they’d always seek to cooperate with local churches when setting up their traveling evangelistic crusades. They’d never criticize other pastors or churches. Running down other churches or pastors, Graham later wrote, was “not only counterproductive but also wrong from the Bible’s standpoint.”
Second, Graham’s ministry avoided “fake news” about their work. They were scrupulous in reporting attendance figures—often relying on data from turnstiles at a stadium or the reports of local official about crowd size. Any reports about number of conversions at a crusade were backed up by information cards filled out by converts.
For Graham and his associates, telling the truth even about the small things—like attendance—mattered.
In order to be safe, “we’d often round the numbers down,” Ross said.
All four rules worked together to help safeguard the integrity of Graham’s work, says Ross. That was the point.
“Mr. Graham and his close-knit team determined that integrity would be the hallmark of their ministry,” he said.
Following Graham’s lead today
Tyler says that the musicians he managed often played at Graham’s events. When that happened, he’d talk with staff members about how they handled ethical issues.
For those staffers, he said, the small things often mattered. Tyler recalls one staffer who put a picture of his family on the TV in every hotel room he stayed at—as a deterrent in case he was tempted to flip on a porn channel. Others would turn down upgrades at the rental car counter—out of concern that donors or folks who attended a crusade might see them driving a fancy car and wonder how the ministry was spending money.
At his church, Tyler tries to stay away from money matters. He doesn’t know how much individual members give and as long as the church hits its budget, he’s happy. The church’s books are open to any one who donates to the church. And the church files a 990 tax return for the Conduit Mission, a separate nonprofit that oversees its mission work overseas. (Notably, the IRS does not require that churches make their tax returns public. Ironically, the IRS recently granted the BGEA’s request to move from a nonprofit to church status designation.)
“If you don’t have anything to hide—why not be transparent?” he says.
Tyler also follows Graham’s rule for church attendance. They count attendance each week for planning purposes—especially for big events like Easter. Otherwise, they try not to talk about attendance numbers. There’s too much temptation among pastors, he says, to overinflate their church’s attendance as a point of pride.
“That’s why we don’t cook the books when it comes to attendance,” he says.
But not all of Graham’s rules fit today’s workplace, says Shelley.
For example, the rule about not meeting alone with someone of the opposite sex may not be appropriate, especially in a work environment where many women are in leadership roles and both sexes often work together on projects.
But finding ways for staff members to treat each other with respect and to create a team that has healthy ethics when it comes to sexuality, money, power, and honesty is still important.
“Graham was looking for a way to act with integrity,” Shelley said. “Whether you follow his rules or not—you still need to be looking out for integrity.”
Bob Smietana is a veteran religion reporter based in Nashville and past president of the Religion News Association.