The Promise Keepers--A dangerous movement for male domination
Revolutionary Worker #941, January 25, 1998
Promise Keepers graphic
"Stand up and slap high-five with 16 guys and say, "Thank god you're a male!"
Ed Cole, addressing a crowd of 45,000 men
in a Texas Stadium near Dallas
"The demise of our community and culture is the fault of sissified men who have been overly influenced by women."
"Don't you understand mister, you are royalty and God has chosen you to be the priest of your home?"
Singing the hymn "I surrender All," thousands of women raise white handkerchiefs to symbolize their submission to men.
The scene at a May 1997
"Chosen Women" rally
More than 2.6 million men have attended 61 stadium conferences since 1992.
Fact sheet put out
by the Promise Keepers
The images alone send a chill down your spine: Football stadiums filled with men, getting down on their knees, hugging, weeping, praying... their eyes glued to 18 giant video screens where a man asks forgiveness for allowing his wife to have an abortion...they prostrate themselves on the ground and promise to return home to "retake" leadership from their wives.
This is some pretty scary--and dangerous--stuff. This is not about men "getting in touch with themselves." This is not about men being nicer to their wives and children. This is about men being organized around male domination and reactionary Christian fundamentalism.
The Promise Keepers was founded in 1990 in Boulder, Colorado by Bill McCartney. Today it has a staff of over 350 people and a $117 million a year budget. In October 1997, it spent $10 million to organize a rally of several hundred thousand men in Washington, D.C. And it claims to have 16,000 "small groups" around the country where men meet weekly to study the Bible in order to "become more godly influences in their families, communities and workplaces."
The PK press packet issued for the D.C. rally contained quotes from women, talking about how their PK husbands now have "more respect for family, marriage and children" and are "better husbands and fathers." And some commentary in the press responded by saying, "Well, who could be opposed to this?"
Well, a lot of people could be--and should be--opposed to this movement of feel-good male domination.
In an attempt to appeal to men, as well as answer their critics, the Promise Keepers package themselves with a new-age, touchy-feely veneer. And they connect with men who may be put off by societal pressure to fulfill the image of a typical macho male.
John Stoltenberg, reporting for On The Issues, went to a PK rally and recounted: "During a lunch break I talk in the stands to a 13-year-old who traveled here from a small town in Texas with a church group that includes his father. `He's been to Promise Keepers more than I have,' says the youth, a gangly fawn among stags. `He was thinking of not bringing me this time, but I kept on begging him and begging him to bring me.' Then he says, in a quavering voice with tears in his eyes: `Here you see kids your age. You don't have to act like you're all macho and everything. You can act like yourself, 'cause you have your brothers here with you.' "
PK tells its followers: it's "manly" to pray, read the Bible, sing, go to church, stay loyal to their wives and take care of their children. PK excludes women from its rallies because, they say, men need a "masculine context that allows them to come clean." Or as one PK organizer explained, "When a man sees a stadium full of other men crying, he figures it's all right to cry too. With women there, he might not get that honest."
But the honest truth here is that this PK movement is, at bottom, about male domination over women. PK founder Bill McCartney says, "You can talk around it, but the man has a responsibility before God. He must stand before God and give an account. Did you take spiritual leadership in your home?... You know what a woman is told [in the Bible]? Respect your husband. O.K.? The way she would do that is that she would come alongside him and let him take the lead, and he in turn would lay down his life. He would serve her, affectionately and tenderly serve her."
And Tony Evans, a major PK leader, explains what PK men should do after attending a PK rally: "I'm not suggesting that you ask [your wife] for your role back, I'm urging you to take it back. If you simply ask for it, your wife is likely to say, `Look, for the last ten years, I've had to raise these kids, look after the house, and pay the bills. I've had to get a job and still keep up my duties in the home. I've had to do my job and yours. You think I'm just going to turn everything back over to you?' Your wife's concerns may be justified. Unfortunately, however, there can be no compromise here. If you're going to lead, you must lead. Be sensitive. Listen. Treat the lady gently and lovingly. But lead!"
In exchange for promises to not cheat and do a few more chores around the house, women are supposed to subordinate themselves to their husband's "leadership."
All this reminds me of how the German Nazis were often characterized by the phrase "sentimental brutality." As Mary Lou Greenberg has pointed out, "The Nazis sentimentalized motherhood, but the brutal fact behind this sentimentalization was the right of men backed by the full power of the state to force women to bear children against their will."
And while PK talks about men "kindly and gently" asserting their role as head of the family, what happens if their wives, and women in general, don't want male domination, no matter how "kindly and gently" it may (at first) be asserted? What if women--and men who stand against the oppression of women--resist this male domination? Are the PKs going to then back off and say, "O.K., instead of male domination and female submission, we're going to promote equality between men and women in the home and in every sphere of society"? No, the Promise Keepers are not going to do this, because this would mean repudiating everything the PKs stand for.
Throughout history it's been shown that men who assert their domination over women in more "kind and gentle" terms, in certain circumstances and for a time, will enforce this domination in the most violent and brutal ways when women refuse and resist this domination--unless they are won to repudiate male domination and join the struggle for women's liberation.
The "Promise Reapers"
"Adam was a responsible, godly man when the Creator brought him Eve to be his helper. That word helper gives you a woman's basic responsibility. She was created to come alongside the man to assist him. She was never meant to bear the burden of responsibility for the home and family."
PK leader Tony Evans
One way to see the depth of male supremacy and domination in the PK movement is to look at the women who are married to and support PK men.
The names of the women's groups formed to support the PK are revealing in themselves: Suitable Helpers, Chosen Women, Daughters of the King, Promise Reapers, Heritage Keepers, Women of Faith, Women of the Promise, Praise Keepers, and Women of the Word.
The Heritage Keepers, whose credo is "submission is a place of honor," encourages women to "let go of the reins" of family control when their PK husbands return from their meetings. And Bunny Wilson, a speaker for Chosen Women, writes in her book Liberated through Submission (!!??), that men should "rule with a hand of steel that is covered with velvet." She urges women to "go against" their "feelings, thoughts and opinions, and `yield pleasantly' to authority," including their "husband, pastor or employer."
PK Watch, a publication that monitors the Promise Keepers, exposes the nature of these PK women's groups: "The message of the new wave of Christian women's groups is twofold: they appeal to what they see as women's needs for `spiritual renewal' and imperatives for being `right before the Lord'; and remain complicit with PKs' unwavering message of biblically mandated male domination and female subservience. In return, PK has no pretension of being interested in the right of women to determine how to restructure the family and gender relations: men make these decisions, and women are expected to adhere to their model."
And PK women are instructed to submit not just to their husbands, but to other male authority figures in the classroom and workplace. One young woman at a Chosen Women rally explained, "Our job is to submit to our teachers and our Professors...even if we know they are wrong. It is then in God's hands."
PK's Rhetoric of
"Many blacks have been taught to hate Uncle Tom and use his name as a symbol of detested compromise with the white man. I for one, completely disagree.... I want to boldly affirm Uncle Tom. The black community must stop criticizing Uncle Tom. He is a role model, who, when he was stepped on like a worm, at a point of crisis, evidenced the nature of the classic, model worm, Jesus."
"Blacks have had more than two centuries of training in being a slave of man. It can be added as a long-term qualification to prepare them to be a fine slave of God or to rule as a king."
Wellington Boone, designated in 1990
to be in charge of "Black mobilization"
for the Promise Keepers
The Promise Keepers repeatedly stress that they are working for "reconciliation between the races." At the huge rally in D.C. McCartney announced that his goal was to gather a multiracial rally of Christian men outside every state capitol at noon on Jan. 1, 2000, to pronounce that the church has eradicated racism within its own ranks. And PK has made a point of recruiting Black and Latino men into some of its high profile leadership positions.
PK wants people to think its talk of "racial reconciliation" means they are trying to deal with racial inequality in this country. But PK never talks about institutional racism or white supremacy--let alone put forward any real program for dealing with national oppression.
PK rhetoric about "racial reconciliation" never mentions the political and economic roots of inequality in this country. Instead the problem is portrayed as a "sin of prejudice" among individuals, and PK followers are told the solution is to just "form lasting friendships" with men of different nationalities.
PK followers aren't told to take political action to struggle for equality between different nationalities. They're not told to fight the attacks against affirmative action, or to oppose the racist criminalization of Black youth, police brutality or severe cutbacks in welfare and social services hitting Black and Latino communities the hardest.
In fact, PK is part of the right-wing Christian fundamentalist movement in this country that supports all these attacks on the people! This is the reality behind the PK's camouflage of "racial reconciliation."
Promises of a Right-wing Agenda
When PK founder Bill McCartney was a football coach at the University of Colorado, he mandated pre-game prayer for players. He supported Operation Rescue and spoke at anti-abortion rallies. And he was on the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values--a group which spearheaded efforts to deprive homosexuals in Colorado of their right to sue for protection against discrimination. This tells you something about the kind of movement McCartney set out to create.
The Promise Keepers repeatedly state they are "a religious movement, not a political movement." But in fact, PK has roots in, present ties with, and the support of just about every major right-wing, Christian fundamentalist organization in the United States. And the agenda of these forces, and of PK, is profoundly political.
PK is supported by Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition, Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority, and television evangelist D. James Kennedy. James Dobson and his group Focus on the Family publishes PK's key theoretical tracts. Dobson openly declares that the U.S. should be a "Christian nation" and says that the "church has not just the right, but the duty" to challenge a governmental leader who "acts contrary to God's will," and to "call him to biblical fidelity."
These are the kind of forces that supply PK with money, speakers, writers and advertising. And all these groups are very active in promoting right-wing politics and policy.
PK national spokesman Mark DeMoss, who told the Washington Post that PK has no political agenda, served on the Advisory Committee to Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign, and also as a spokesperson for Jerry Falwell. Bill Bright, whose group Campus Crusade for Christ has provided PK with money and staff, fights for state-sponsored prayer in public schools and is pushing to have the "biblical view of creation" taught instead of evolution.
The larger reactionary movement which PK is part of is made up of forces which openly flout the separation of church and state--like the judge in Alabama who starts every court session with a prayer and insists on keeping the "Ten Commandments" on the wall of his courtroom. And a major part of this movement are the forces waging a vicious war against abortion rights.
Promise Keepers =
" `The sacrifices which the man makes in the struggle of this nation, the woman makes in the preservation of that nation in individual cases. What the man gives in courage on the battlefield, the woman gives in eternal self-sacrifice, in eternal pain and suffering. Every child that a woman brings into the world is a battle, a battle waged for the existence of her people...our...movement has in reality but one single point, and that point is the child, that tiny creature which must be born and grow strong and which alone gives meaning to the whole life-struggle.'
"These are the words of Adolf Hitler. And they are being echoed today in the discourse of the Christian right. We should call these people what they really are: Christian fascists. To call this program "fascist" is not "name calling" but correctly identifying a political program which has great implications for huge sections of people, including women.
"We should call them fascist because that is what they are: promoters and advocates of openly, aggressively reactionary politics which seek to enforce, including through brute force unrestrained by law, the most oppressive and profit-squeezing (exploitative) economic and social relations. The better we understand this, the stronger will be our resolve and the better we'll do at uniting others to oppose them."
Mary Lou Greenberg
The Promise Keepers are part of a larger Christian fascist movement in the U.S. that stands for the enforcement of patriarchy as well as other oppressive social relations. And it is striking how the Nazi philosophy is echoed in this movement.
Richard Grunberger, in his book The 12-Year Reich, talks about women, the family and religion under the Nazis: "Their (the Nazis) concern for the family was motivated by power politics [including a growing birth-rate to increase the Aryan folk], but dovetailed with wider popular aspirations. `Restoring the family to its rightful place' seemed to be a non-political battle cry round which yearnings of those in retreat from the complexities of the present could crystallize.
"In reality, of course, this slogan was anything but non-political: the pre-1914 family pattern had been male-centered and authoritarian. Those who profited from it saw the post-war liberalization of family relationships and sexual mores as an attack on the foundations of the social order; those who disliked the [Weimar] Republic attributed the increase of juvenile prostitution bred by the Depression to the same cause...The new [Nazi] regime proved its claim to be better protectors of family life by imposing harsh curbs on equality for women, abortion, homosexuality and (conspicuous) prostitution. Beggars--who had proliferated during the slump--were cleared from the streets so that anxious matrons need no longer go in fear of assault."
This illustrates the fundamental unity between these fascists, in Germany then and the Christian fascists in the U.S. today, despite some differences.
And as the above quote from Hitler shows, there are similar parallels between the Nazis and the Promise Keepers, in terms of the treatment of women. The Nazis had their program for women--Kinder, Kirche, Kuche (Children, Church, Kitchen). While today, Christian fascists like the Promise Keepers also insist on the subordination of women to male authority in the home and in all aspects of society--even as they take into account the economic necessity for many women to work outside the home.
Many, but not all fascists in the U.S. today make religion, and in particular, Christian fundamentalism, a key aspect of their "appeal." There are other fascist forces in the United States which are not in groups like the Promise Keepers and the Christian Coalition. And, at the same time, not all religious fundamentalists are fascist or even reactionary--although such religious fundamentalism does, in the end, stand as an obstacle to building a movement to oppose, let alone to overthrow and uproot, the oppressive and exploitative relations in society.
But the most significant fascist forces right now in this country are the Christian fascists. And with its religious embodiment and coloration, this movement is a particularly effective vehicle for fascism in the U.S. today. And they are able to get a certain "legitimacy" that many other fascist forces can't achieve.
In an attempt to prove they are not a "political movement," the Promise Keepers are quick to point out that they don't endorse any political party or candidates. But the essence of politics is not the contest and electoral rivalry between different bourgeois political parties or groupings.
Politics is the struggle to influence the direction of society and affairs of state. And this is a struggle in which ultimately, different programs represent different social--and in class society, class--interests.
If we look at the Promise Keepers in this way, their political, ideological, and dangerous nature really stands out. And the importance and urgency of developing a powerful movement against everything this movement stands for also becomes very clear.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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