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Promises we don't want kept.

One of the most dangerous of the fundamentalist Christian political groups active in the United States to day is the Promise Keepers. Led by Bill McCartney, the former football coach at the University of Colorado, Promise Keepers has been developing a mass macho appeal designed to provoke a backlash to the women's equality movement--part of the new strategy of Christian right leaders to build a mass male movement. The big guns of the fundamentalist right--from Pat Robert son of the Christian Coalition and James Dobson of Focus on the Family to Florida televangelist D. James Kennedy and Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ--are all publicly promoting Promise Keepers.

Promise Keepers has been able to fill football stadiums recently in Detroit and Los Angeles, with numbers over 70,000 each. In September 1995, it also moved into mainline churches with chapters like the United Methodist Men of the Kansas East Conference in Camp Chippewa, Kansas.

A vivid illustration of the Promise Keepers' anti women ideology appears in Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, which is published by Dobson's Focus on the Family. An essay by evangelist Tony Brown tells men how to deal with women: "I can hear you saying, 'I want to be a spiritually pure man. Where do I start?'" The first thing you do, Brown says, "is sit down with your wife and say something like this: 'Honey, I've made a terrible mistake. I've given you my role. I gave up leading this family, and I forced you to take my place. Now I must reclaim that role."'

Brown then tells his male readers: "Don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. I'm not suggesting that you ask for your role back. I'm urging you to take it back" This emphasis on the petriarchal family, Brown insists, must in volve "no compromise" He tells women that they must submit for "the survival of our culture." As Brown puts it:

I am convinced that the primary

cause of this national crisis is the

feminization of the American

male.... I'm trying to describe a

misunderstanding of manhood

that has produced a nation of

"sissified" men who abdicate

their role as spiritually pure

leaders, thus forcing women to

fill the vacuum.

Brown's directive is reinforced and reiterated by other specimens of Promise Keepers literature, such as Strategies for a Successful Marriage: A Study Guide for Men. In it, author E. Glenn Wagner discusses "praying over your wife" and quotes Coach McCartney:

Almighty God is calling men to

pray over their families in such a

way that, if a man will pray daily,

regularly, over his wife, praying

for God's blessing upon her, Al

mighty God will restore her self

image.... Our women need a man

providing the spiritual tempo

and leadership in the home.

When McCartney prays over his wife, this is his "model" prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, I invoke Your

power and Your spirit upon

Lind. Lord, I pray righteousness

and purity upon her. Lord, I pray

that You will heal all of her

scars, that You will mend up all

those things that keep her from

being the woman that she

desires to be and that You call

her to be.

Lord God, I pray that you

will breathe excitement into

her....

This and more is said with "his hand upon her" Tellingly, there is no reference to Lindi's being allowed or encouraged to lay her hand upon Bill and to pray over his "scars" or his "righteousness and purity" Men who dominate women don't seek equal treatment.

Bill McCartney and his right wing allies intend to build a disciplined and authoritarian army. The key to this is the formation of"accountability" cells of no more than five members, each one of whom is expected to expose all aspects of his life to the others. Each cell member must answer any questions about his marriage, "his family, his sexuality, his financial dealings, and his relationship to others." These cells usually operate within a church or other religious group. They are led by a "point man" who reports to an "ambassador,' who, in turn, reports to headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. The staff there numbers 150.

Various chapters in Promise Keepers books stress the importance of "mentoring"--persuading men to form small cells or groups with other men. The "point man" for each cell is recruited by the "ambassador,' who himself must be approved by the leaders of Promise Keepers. "Training is required for all Ambassadors,' reports one book. Each ambassador must agree with the Promise Keepers' "Statement of Faith" and with the "Seven Promises;' and each must be recommendend by his pastor, who must also agree to the Promise Keepers' mission.

This is the way to build political power, which is precisely what Promise Keepers' leadership and sponsors intend. McCartney, for example, is a member of the board of Colorado for Family Values, which sponsored the in famous anti gay rights initiative known as Amendment Two. That amendment would permit the state to nullify local equal protection ordinances that prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians in such areas as employment and housing. It was declared unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme Court and is now before the Supreme Court for review.

Promise Keepers is particularly dangerous because of the divisions it seeks to create within mainline churches that do not accept the Promise Keepers' Statement of Faith, which is obviously fundamentalist. That statement in eludes the following sentence: "We believe that the Bible is God's written revelation to man and that it is verbally inspired, authoritative, and without error in the original manuscripts" There is also a passage that speaks of the sec ond coming of Jesus Christ "to earth in power and glory;' which is a euphemism for a messianic leader who will triumph over the enemy.

Moreover, in the Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, the question is asked: "Do you belong to a Bible believing, Bible teaching church?" That is another euphemism, this time for a fundamentalist church which requires an absolutist belief in the inerrancy of scripture (or, at least, those select verses of scripture that are emphasized in such churches). McCartney associates him self with the Word of God Community, which requires complete submission to a person called "the head" He also has links with the Vineyard Church, which has a branch in Boulder. One of the leaders of the Vineyard Church has described his work as "power evangelism" and his followers as "self conscious members of God's army sent to do battle against the forces of the kingdom of darkness" If you are not in "God's kingdom" as he describes it, you are "in Satan's"

McCartney's pastor at the Boulder Valley Vineyard Church is the Reverend James Ryle, who is also a member of the Promise Keepers board. Charisma magazine of May 1995 reports that Promise Keepers' "top leaders are affiliated with Vineyard churches" According to an interview by Russ Bellant, an expert researcher on right-wing activity, Ryle says that Promise Keepers is the fulfillment of the end time "day of Jehovah and the destruction from the Almighty," as described in chapter 21 of the Book of Joel. "Never have 300,000 men come together throughout human history' said Ryle, "except for the purpose of war."

McCartney also uses the language of war. In a rally reported in the Boulder Daily Camera on duly 28, 1994, he said:

What you are about to hear is

God's word to the men of this

nation. We are going to war as of

tonight. We have divine power;

that is our weapon. We will not

compromise. Wherever truth is

at risk, in the school or

legislature, we are going to

contend for it. We will win"

The war is against secularism, abortion, homosexuality, and other enemies of the far right.

This is not to suggest that the teachings of McCartney or others in the Promise Keepers leadership are totally misleading or bad; for example, McCartney has an excellent chapter opposing racism. On the other hand, in the Promise Keepers' study series is a section called "The Devil Made Me Do It' which insists that there must be no compromise with school board members who would "soften your stance on abstinence based sex education" Abstinence is fine, but it provides no precautionary education for those teens who are already sexually active and who know little about using contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and disease. And when laudable teachings on racism are mixed with reactionary teachings about women, gays, and sexuality, the result is less than laudable.

Promise Keepers is now a national phenomenon. In 1995, it held rallies in 12 major cities featuring right-wing religious leaders such as James Dobson as speakers. Even more ominously, Promise Keepers is related--through Dobson, Robertson, and others--to the secretive Council for National Policy, which seeks political power. Paul Wey rich, a key member of that council, said: "We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are radicals working to overturn the present power structure of this country"

Promise Keepers is not a separate Christian fundamentalist movement. It functions within the context of both fundamentalist religion and the radical religious and political right.

John M. Swomley is professor emeritus at the St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri. He serves on the national board of the American Civil Liberties Union, chairing its church-state committee.
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Title Annotation:Watch on the Right; fundamentalist Christian political group Promise Keepers
Author:Swomley, John
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1996
Words:1563
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