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NEWS STORY: Tiny group of protesters accuse Promise Keepers of political agenda

c. 1997 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ A little more than 200 supporters of the National Organization for Women filled a grassy corner on the edge of the vast Promise Keepers rally Saturday (Oct. 4) to denounce the leaders of the evangelical men’s movement as”wolves in sheeps’ clothing.” But just a few feet away, another […]

c. 1997 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ A little more than 200 supporters of the National Organization for Women filled a grassy corner on the edge of the vast Promise Keepers rally Saturday (Oct. 4) to denounce the leaders of the evangelical men’s movement as”wolves in sheeps’ clothing.” But just a few feet away, another 100 women _ supporters of the Christian men’s group _ waved signs welcoming the throng as they trekked down the street to join the hundreds of thousands gathered on the National Mall.

In a fiery speech to anti-Promise Keepers demonstrators, Patricia Ireland, president of NOW, said many followers of Promise Keepers”are simply here to pray”but the leadership, she said, is deceptive.”The only sin Promise Keepers followers have committed is looking for answers and God in all the wrong places.” NOW has been waging a campaign against Promise Keepers for the last several months, accusing the group of shrouding a”right-wing political agenda”in the gospel and family values.”Make no mistake,”she said,”the Promise Keepers are political and they aim to build a network of radical-right activists whose goal is the submission of women to male authority.” Despite the small numbers of anti-Promise Keepers demonstrators, Ireland called NOW’s effort to unveil the group’s political agenda a success. But, she said, her organization still has a long way to go in getting the public to see the ties between the Promise Keepers and the religious right.

Ireland and other NOW leaders challenged Promise Keepers to add another promise to the seven they already make:”If the Promise Keepers are truly committed to being responsible men let them promise to respect women’s equality.” On the other side of the ideological divide, Lisa Stancik of Olney, Md., has felt since 1995 that her place is with the Promise Keepers. Today she greeted the men as arrived on the Mall with a sign reading:”Women need promise keepers.” Stancik said she began working as a volunteer with the men-oriented organization two years ago, selling tapes and working as a first aid volunteers when the group met at a stadium in Washington, D.C.

To female opponents, Stancik said she wishes more women could experience the blessings that she has experienced as a volunteer.

Sandra Simpkins of Upper Marlboro, Md., also voiced support for the men going to the Mall. She said she is proud of the fact many women turned out to support the group.”A woman that has a man that is Christ-centered is really blessed and loved,”she said.”I don’t have one yet, but I’m waiting.”Asked is she was hoping to meet one on the Mall today, she said,”If its the Lord’s will for me, I will.” Earlier in the day at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, a couple of miles from the Mall, a group of some three dozen critics of Promise Keepers gathered for an interfaith worship service.

The Rev. Amos Brown, chairman of the civil rights committee of the National Baptist Convention of America and pastor of Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, said the service _ sponsored by Equal Partners in the Faith _ was meant to bring a different kind of message to the day.”In the midst of protest and rhetoric, people don’t get the real message,”Brown said.”We’re here to put into perspective what this phenomenon called the Promise Keepers really means.” Like NOW, Brown accused Promise Keepers of being political and less-than-honest about their agenda. In particular, Brown said he is concerned and angered that Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers, has refused to talk with traditional African-American religious and secular leaders about their efforts toward racial reconciliation.

He also said the group should make”full disclosure”about where its money comes from.”Its dishonest for them to say they are not political,”he said.”Indeed, they’re most political. They just do it through the back door.”As we move into the 20th century and in the midst of economic uncertainty and people feeling disenfranchised, you always have gurus showing shortcuts to paradise. That person is Bill McCartney,”Brown said.

MJP END HAWKINS