I just got back from the Promise Keepers rally in Washington, DC. I was not there to protest, but to observe. And I saw a lot.
Many of us have been saying all along that our concerns with the Promise Keepers is that the men are pawns in the political game of the extreme religious right. This was evident on October 4th.
Bill McCartney, PK founder, continued to deny any political agenda. However, he did talk about unity in command, recruiting pastors, and accountability groups. He announced that pastors' conferences will be held in the capitals of all fifty states by 2000 .
Hundreds of thousands of free Bibles were distributed at the event. In the back of each were two envelopes for making contributions. Contrary to federal regulations against soliciting at Mall events, PK really pushed the envelope, allowing time at the end for men to make out their checks, share their pens, and fill in their credit card information.
Throughout the day, PK leadership emphasized the importance of following instructions. And the men conformed. Do this...Repent...Jesus loves you...Do this now...Ask forgiveness...Praise the Lord...Raise your hand if you're a public servant...Now everyone clap...You are a sinner... Jesus love you...Prostrate yourself...God forgives you...Follow the leader...Praise the Lord...Now fill out your checks.
Nonetheless, it was an extremely powerful and moving experience to see all those people on the lawn in silent prayer. At one point, complete silence prevailed.
I continue to believe that the men who attend these events have no political agenda, are truly seeking God, and want to improve their marriages. On the other hand, I think Bill McCartney seeks power, and the political religious right has in Promise Keeper s fertile soil for recruiting men who will do what they are told is the right thing to do.
This is a movement that — if it promoted equality for women and homosexuals — might not be such a bad thing. Unfortunately, the extreme religious right is the big winner here. We must be prepared for the ramifications of an organization that is changing o ur social, political, and religious structures.
Laura Montgomery Rutt is executive director of the Alliance for Tolerance and Freedom, based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.