Pennsylvania Baptist Church Bans Women from Fishing Trip Raffle Because Pastor Wanted to Avoid False Accusation of Sexual Misconduct

Emily Smaniotto, 27, said she won a church raffle for participation in a fishing trip but was told that she couldn’t join because she’s a woman. (Emily Smaniotto)

Always the outdoor enthusiast, Emily Smaniotto was thrilled to enter a church raffle for a bow-fishing trip. But her excitement faded quickly when she was told that an insurmountable issue stood in the way of winning: her gender.

“I remember the word ‘Really?’ coming out of my mouth,” Smaniotto, 27, said. “And I heard another woman say, ‘Are you serious?’ ”

The issue, church leaders said, was that a woman’s presence on the trip could lead to a bogus accusation of sexual misconduct. The guest pastor who raffled off the opportunity was simply protecting himself, they said.

“Living in the days of sexual scandals and accusations many pastors including myself, take the personal position that we will not put ourselves in a position that could bring about a false accusation and thus bring a multitude of problems, hence why he personally offered them for men only,” Bethel Baptist Church in Uniontown, Pa., wrote on its Facebook page.

The practice appears to be an extrapolation of the common evangelical Christian position that a man should avoid being alone with a woman to protect from suspicions of inappropriate behavior and to keep from cheating on his wife. Known as the “Billy Graham Rule,” the principle is named after the late evangelical pastor, who had a policy of not eating, traveling or meeting alone with a woman besides his spouse.

But in this case, Smaniotto said, four church members would have accompanied the guest pastor on the fishing trip — not just one person. The controversy was first reported by Pittsburgh television station WTAE.

The wild-game dinner at which the raffle took place Saturday was an annual tradition that Smaniotto, a nurse, has participated in with her father for about six years. Guests pay $10 admission to eat from a buffet of bear, raccoon and other game, and then enter their names for a chance to win prizes.

This year, Smaniotto said, the pastor raffling the fishing excursion noted that the event was for men only and advised anyone entering to “make sure you leave your wives at home.” The dinner guests laughed, and Smaniotto said she wondered whether the comment had been a joke.

Smaniotto, uninterested in the other prizes, saw another woman enter to win the fishing trip and decided to throw her own name into the mix.

Then the speaker drew the other woman’s name. He declined to give her the prize, citing the gender policy. Smaniotto’s name was the next to be chosen, she said, but the guest pastor turned her down, too.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Marisa Iati

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