As the date of the Promise Keeper's rally at the Mall in Washington, D.C. approaches, many clerics are speaking out against the organization, saying they are concerned that the Promise Keepers advocate women's oppression and are too closely affiliated with the political Religious Right.
Local clergy say they're discouraging their congregations from attending, as well as offering "alternative visions" for families in the days leading up to the rally. Rev. Dan Ivins of the First Baptist Church in Silver Springs said he distrusted "any movement that would take us backward to a time when women were definitely subordinate to men."
Many varied groups such as the National Organization for Women, the National Network To End Domestic Violence, Church Women United, National Black Lesbian & Gay Leadership Forum, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, The Center for Democracy, The Feminist Majority and Equal Partners in Faith have criticized Promise Keepers. Opponents cite a hidden political agenda inherent in an organization supported by people such as Pat Robertson, president of the Christian Coalition, and James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group. Jerry Falwell, who donated $10,000 towards Operation Rescue's fine for their abortion clinic violence in 1988, is also a strong supporter. These men have also donated hundreds of staff members to Promise Keepers and also publish their books, according to NOW.
The group's leader, Bill McCartney, has also been a vocal opponent of equal rights for gays and lesbians, because they are "a group of people who don't reproduce." He also helped raise funds for the Amendment 2 campaign in Colorado, a bill intended to ban civil rights for homosexuals. Former NOW Action Vice President Rosemary Dempsey said that hate crimes against lesbians and gays "increased dramatically" after the amendment was passed. McCartney, a former Colorado University football coach, also publicly defended two accused rapists on his team in 1989. He has also supported anti-abortion violence by speaking at Operation Rescue rallies.
Many feminists criticize Promise Keepers for their stance on women's role in the family. For example, women are not allowed at rallies, except to help set up events and anointing the men's seats with oil and praying. They are only allowed inside a conference to sell Promise Keeper merchandise. Their belief that women must be kept economically dependent is constantly reiterated, according to the Washington Post. Promise Keeper speaker Tony Evans wrote in "Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper," that men had given up control of their families to their wives, and that they needed to take it back. "I'm not suggesting you ask for your role back, I'm urging you to take it back. There can be no compromise here." Emphasizing the aggressive nature of their ideology, McCartney told a rally of 39,000 clergy in 1996 that "...the fiercest fighting is just ahead...It's wartime!"
On Oct. 4, Promise Keeper leaders hope "Stand in the Gap" will be a "million man march" for Christian men, although the Mayor's Office for Emergency Preparedness estimates the number will be closer to 500,000.
Many groups are expected to stage protests at the Mall on Oct. 4th. Check out NOW's website and our website for upcoming information.
Media Resources: The Washington Post - September 13, 1997