Promise Keepers: The Religious Right’s Trojan Horse

Although Promise Keepers claims to be just a men’s support group having no ulterior political motives, people who are worried about the group’s true intentions include more than activists on the left. Many others have expressed concerns that the organization is a Trojan horse for the Religious Right.

The coalition “Equal Partners in Faith” consists of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy. Based in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York, the coalition has blasted Promise Keepers. It says this “support group” does the following:

  • promotes women’s inequality in the family, church, and society
  • opposes the dignity and worth of homosexuals
  • talks about racial reconciliation without endorsing any agenda for ending
    institutional racism in education, housing, and employment; and
  • has close ties to the Religious Right.

Moreover, the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and the Family spoke out against Promise Keepers in 1996. The bishops accused the movement of lacking “theological clarity about the balance of power between husbands and wives,” and as teaching “prejudice and discrimination against homosexuals.”

Promise Keepers has also been denounced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This coalition represents over 1,300 battered women’s groups, as well as state sexual assault and domestic violence associations. It says Promise Keepers’ support for “men regaining ‘rightful’ control of the family” may subvert “years of hard work to change outdated laws and social attitudes.”

Concerns about a strong link between Promise Keepers and the Religious Right are well-founded. Promise Keepers has a fundamentalist theology based on the supposed inerrancy of the Bible. Its big financial backers have included such Religious Right kingpins as Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson, the Family Research Council’s Gary Bauer, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, and media mogul Stephen Strang.

The founder of Promise Keepers is former University of Colorado head football coach Bill McCartney. He has used militaristic rhetoric indicating the group has the same belligerence and political designs as the Religious Right.

In a 1995 Promise Keepers video, McCartney said: “Many of you feel like you have been in a war for a long time, yet the fiercest fighting is just ahead. God has brought us here to prepare us. Let’s proceed. It’s wartime.” Clearly, the group’s goals include more that just providing support to members.

McCartney revealed the purpose of his “war” when he told thousands of pastors gathered in Atlanta: “Whoever stands with the Messiah will rule with him. Let’s take this nation for Jesus!”

An example of McCartney’s idea of a Christian nation was seen when he called homosexuality “an abomination against Almighty God” and endorsed Colorado’s infamous Amendment 2. The Amendment tried to eliminate laws protecting civil rights of gays and lesbians. It was too much for even a conservative U.S. Supreme Court to stomach, and therefore was held unconstitutional.

The prospects for women’s rights also wouldn’t be bright in a world governed by Promise Keepers. According to John Swomley, a scholar who has extensively studied the group, they ask men “to make or keep women submissive in the family, the church and elsewhere.” And he states that at Promise Keepers rallies throughout the country, “Their speakers oppose what they call the ‘feminization’ of the church.”

Also in regard to women’s rights, McCartney has long been active in the anti-abortion movement.

In fact, opposition to feminism seems to be an integral tactic of Promise Keepers. The Center for Democracy Studies says the group’s leaders “understand that they can never achieve their goal of creating a theocratic, male supremacist society unless they reverse the legal and social gains made by women.”

Promise Keepers is revealed by its theology, leading supporters, tactics, goals, and prejudices to be a thinly veiled branch of the Religious Right. People on all points along the political spectrum are justified in viewing the group as a threat to the basic rights and liberties of millions of Americans.