The Billy Graham Rules for Religious Organizations and Individuals


In 1948, the late Reverend Billy Graham developed “The Modesto Manifesto” which contained 4 rules for maintaining the integrity of the ministry, which eliminates the traps religious organizations and individuals can fall into.

The scandals and trappings of ministry

Scandals seem to come and go in the world of ministry. Whether it is televangelists begging for obscene amounts of money to pay for private jets, or sexual scandals of all variety – they never seem to end.

This week, Jerry Falwell Jr, head of Liberty University, has resigned following allegations involving a sex scandal between his wife and a Miami pool boy, and claims that Falwell knew of the six-year affair and liked to watch, Reuters reported.

This follows the release of a photo of Falwell holding a drink with another woman, with both of them with their bellies exposed in their pants zipped down. Falwell confirmed the photo but said it was a joke.

The bigger lesson here is that anyone – not only ministers or people of faith – can fall into these traps by not conducting themselves with integrity.

Billy Graham Modesto Manifesto helps keep people on track

In 1948, Billy Graham brought together his ministry team, comprised of Cliff Barrows, George Beverly (“Bev”) Shea and Grady Wilson, for a series of meetings in Modesto, California. The result was what has been dubbed “The Modesto Manifesto.” It lays out for principles or rules for conduct in order to uphold the integrity of the ministry. But these rules apply to anyone.

The second of these principles has garnered the name “the Billy Graham rule,” which is focused on upholding sexual morality.

The Modesto manifesto was discussed in Billy Graham’s autobiography “Just As I am.”

The four principles of the Modesto manifesto

Here is an overview of the four principles of The Modesto Manifesto that the Billy Graham organization used for a guidepost in its future evangelic work.

1. Money

Most religious organizations depend on donations for their financial support. But Graham realized there was a strong temptation to try to wring as much money as possible from the audience. Strong emotional appeals could be made in the donations would flood in.

This became the de facto template for many televangelists. This was ripe for abuse, and led to the charge by many that evangelists were only in it for the money.

Even today many ministries come under fire for their fundraising. For example, mega-church pastor Joel Osteen draws no salary from the church, earning all his personal income through the authorship of books.

The Billy Graham organization decided to do as much as possible to downplay the offerings and, instead, depend on raising as much money as possible through local committees in advance.

2. Sexual immorality

This principle also earned the nickname “the Billy Graham rule.” This is a principal every person can adopt and employ in their own life.

Graham made a decision in 1948 to never travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than his wife. It helped avoid any situation that could draw suspicion or even have the appearance of compromise, Graham said.

Graham wrote: “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).”

3. Ministerial cooperation

Graham noticed the tendency of many evangelists to carry on their work apart from their local church. Worse, they sometimes criticize local pastors and churches openly – even scathingly. Not only did Graham and his advisors find this counterproductive, but they knew it was wrong from a biblical standpoint.

Graham said they decided to cooperate with all who would cooperate with them in publicly proclaiming the gospel. They vowed to avoid any anti-church or anti-clergy attitude.

4. Publicity

The fourth and final principal was how publicity should be conducted. Graham’s team noticed how some evangelists would make exaggerations about their success, such as climbing higher attendance numbers than they actually had. They felt this not only brought the enterprise of evangelism under suspicion by the press, but discredited evangelism as a whole.

This led to the press refusing to take notice of evangelical work. The team committed itself to always reporting accurately and with integrity in all publicity.

The takeaway: Guidelines for all human beings

Christianity is already engaged in an uphill battle against a secular and skeptical public. Anything that brings doubt, scandal, shame, suspicion and diminishes integrity to organizations as a whole or to individuals, only further impedes the ability of ministries to spread the gospel.

The Modesto Manifesto is based on the same principles found in the Holy Bible. It gives both religious organizations and individuals a set of standards to use as a roadmap for maintaining ethics and integrity in doing ministerial work.

Further, even if you aren’t in the ministry, any human being can follow these guidelines for conducting themselves with dignity and propriety in everyday life.