Albion Monitor /Commentary
[Editor's note: This commentary is over a year old, first appearing on August 2, 1996. But coverage of the recent Washington D.C. rally finds little has changed. While some stories in the mainstream press acknowledged questions about the movement, most of the reporting was complimentary.]

Mass Media Are Boosting Promise Keepers

by Norman Solomon

So far, news coverage of Promise Keepers has been more like advertising than journalism.

Big media outlets jumped on the Promise Keepers bandwagon last year. ABC News lauded "a Christian men's movement devoted to reviving faith and family." An upbeat New York Times story appeared under the front-page headline "Men Crowd Stadiums to Fulfill Their Souls." Time magazine chimed in with an equally gushy article titled "Full of Promise."

The current Saturday Evening Post provides the typical spin: "Promise Keepers is striking a chord with today's men, who are seeking to reclaim and strengthen their roles as husbands, fathers and community leaders."

Promise Keepers drew a total of 727,000 men to its huge gatherings in 1995 and expects to attract more than 1 million this year. The sincerity of most participants is unmistakable.

However, so is the rigid power of the organization's hierarchy.

The Promise Keeper dogma insists that husbands should lead and wives should follow -- a message proclaimed at one stadium- filling event after another. Less obvious is the leadership's hostility to gay people.

The group's founder and most revered leader, former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, campaigned for a statewide anti-gay ballot measure in 1992. He told a Colorado press conference that homosexuality is "an abomination of almighty God."

When they claim to be nonpolitical, Promise Keeper chieftains are obscuring reality. The far-right juggernaut Focus on the Family helped to bankroll the organization and continues to publish its main text, "Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper."

James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, has been a Promise Keepers speaker. Another big supporter, Christian Coalition eminence Pat Robertson, has featured McCartney on his "700 Club" TV program.

Although mass media tell us little about the nitty-gritty of Promise Keepers, we can now get a much clearer picture -- thanks to researchers and independent journalists who have rushed in where mainstream reporters fear to tread:

  • The August issue of The Progressive magazine scrutinizes the Promise Keepers. "Their first step is to reassert male dominance in the family," writes Nancy Novosad. A companion article by Suzanne Pharr describes Promise Keepers as "ground troops in an authoritarian movement that seeks to merge church and state."

  • The Aug. 5 edition of In These Times calls Promise Keeper events "the slickest religious consumer product since televangelism." Frederick Clarkson observes that "an ambitious political and religious agenda...lurks behind the pep-rally atmosphere."

  • Ending racial division is a strong Promise Keepers theme. But, in her new book Facing the Wrath , scholar Sara Diamond notes what's missing: "Rhetoric around 'racial reconciliation' typically does not mention the political-economic roots of racial injustice." That brand of anti-racism serves the strategy of the Christian right -- "which wants to absolve itself of the racist stereotype and enlist black and Latino conservatives who oppose abortion, gay rights and affirmative action."

  • In another recent book (Eyes Right! ), researcher Russ Bellant says that Promise Keepers "may be the strongest, most organized effort to capitalize on male backlash in the country during the 1990s."

  • A video documentary and a printed report, produced by the Manhattan-based Sterling Research Associates, go beyond the standard media accounts. They place Promise Keepers in context as "a major effort by the leadership of well-financed religious conservative organizations to create a new men-only movement to promote their social and political agenda."
As more information surfaces about Promise Keepers, some activists are trying to raise key issues. A few weeks ago -- when nearly 50,000 men converged on a Charlotte, N.C., speedway for a Promise Keepers extravaganza -- the president of Liberals United held a news conference outside the gates to confront the group's ideology. Charlotte native T. J. Walker, who now lives in New York City, returned to his hometown to speak out against male supremacy and anti-gay bigotry. It was a bold action.

Such responses seem likely to grow. As Promise Keepers readied another mega-event Aug. 2 and 3 -- this time at a university stadium in Eugene, Ore. -- a local coalition announced plans for a candlelight vigil outside the stadium. Protest organizers decided to take a stand for equal rights.

For years, the leaders of Promise Keepers have enjoyed plenty of favorable media coverage. Now, their critics are clamoring to be heard.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor October 8, 1997 (

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