Be Right. Look Right.

One of my dad’s favorite sayings when we were growing up was, “Not only do you have be right, you have to look right.” He wasn’t telling us to pretend to be something we were not. He was teaching us about integrity and living above reproach. It’s caused me to think through the consequences of my actions, step outside of what I know I’m doing and imagine what it may appear I am doing.

Billy Graham, one of the most revered evangelists of our time, quite famously lived by this rule as well. Early in his ministry, he and his colleagues came up with strict rules of conduct that would protect their integrity as they carried the Gospel message around the world. In his article, “Man with a Mission”, Jimmy Tomlin says it like this:

“That’s one of the reasons for his longevity,” Leonard says. “From very early on, he set very high standards for his personal behavior, his finances, and his revival practices so that nothing would get in the way of his message.”

That decision was made in 1948 — when the young, hellfire preacher’s ministry began to catch on nationwide — at a meeting with three of his ministry team members in Modesto, California. Concerned that scandal could ruin his reputation and dilute his message of salvation, Graham and his colleagues came up with the so-called “Modesto Manifesto,” an unwritten guide for maintaining integrity — financial and otherwise — in Graham’s ministry. Of the points they agreed on, the best known is Graham’s refusal from that point forward to travel, meet, or eat alone with any woman other than Ruth, to avoid even the appearance of sexual impropriety.

“One of the guys that traveled with him would literally go into his hotel room, and my granddaddy would stay outside until this man had checked the room to make sure there was no one in there,” Will says. “He’d check under the beds and in the closets to make sure no one could surprise my granddaddy by having some girl run out naked or in skimpy clothes, and they’d take a quick picture and run out the door screaming, ‘Look who we found Billy Graham with!’ ”

Today, the policy of not being seen alone with a member of the opposite sex — other than one’s spouse — applies to all employees of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Some people may find such precautions prudish or extreme, but you can’t argue with the results.


The Billy Graham Rule might seem extreme, but it was important to him to protect his marriage, his ministry, and his personal integrity and he was willing to go out of the way to make sure he was above reproach. He took the teachings of Titus and Timothy to heart and it served him well.

When I find myself in situations that appear questionable, I hear the echo of my father’s words. “Be right…look right”, and I find a way out. Sometimes it’s difficult and gets me branded as a “prude”, but I’m ok with that. I’m in good company.

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