Promise Keepers

Promise Keepers

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Oct. 2 1997 3:30 AM

Promise Keepers

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Marci,

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       Your piece on the Promise Keepers in the current issue of U.S. News & World Report, while quite fair in its observations, isn't likely to put you in the good graces of many feminists and other civil-liberty watchdogs. Through anecdotes and your own sensibilities as a woman, you have done them a disservice by failing to label this group of rallying guys a threat to women's rights. Surely, NOW's Patricia Ireland expected a sharp, probing journalist like you to write about the wolf masquerading in sheep's clothing, the conspiracy to return women to the dark ages of servitude. But you didn't, and that took some courage.
       Like you, I harbor some basic skepticism over Promise Keepers' leaders' claim that the organization has no political agenda. If that's the case, why, for heaven's sake, has the group chosen Washington, D.C., to stage its biggest rally? Any reporter knows that virtually any mass event held in the nation's capital is, in some sense, politically motivated. But as one who participated in the Million Man March but who is NOT a Louis Farrakhan loyalist, I also understand something else: Sometimes a message is more powerful than its messenger.
       As I reported in my cover story for Time, the power of the Promise Keepers' message hit me over and over again in unexpected ways. Words spoken into a professional, dispassionate ear took on an emotional charge as they echoed on gut levels of my life as a husband, father, son, and neighbor. So many men spend their lives running from or making up for promises to their wives, children, and jobs. Yet few have ever been exposed to frank, no-holds-barred dialogue about how they might begin to really make good on keeping those promises; and few have sat side by side with other men struggling to come to grips with their various failures. Any forum, Christian or secular, that fills this void I believe is a positive thing.
       It wasn't until toward the end of my reporting on the Promise Keepers that I realized how out of sync NOW is with some women on this issue. I was on a flight from Lawton, Okla., where I had attended a small Promise Keepers revival, when a woman sitting beside me inquired about the colorful Promise Keepers press packet I was reading. She was struck by the "Men of Integrity" subhead and wondered what the group was about and what my connection was to it. After I explained all this, tears welled up in her eyes.
       As it turned out, this 28-year-old woman was contemplating divorce from her husband of four years. He had proposed marriage to her during a romantic, whirlwind courtship, and she had quickly accepted the opportunity to build a future with a man who had proved, up to that point, to be sensitive, adventurous, and chivalrous. But he had morphed into a distant, overly critical couch potato whose deep-seated anger had overwhelmed two marriage counselors. She had boarded the plane resolved to go home and dump the guy, but hearing about the Promise Keepers gave her sudden pause. "Maybe I can get him to go to one of those rallies," she said. "He just might do it. It's our last hope." Who would want to deny her that?

Ron Stodghill is Detroit bureau chief for Time magazine and author of the Oct. 6, 1997, cover story, "God of Our Fathers." Marci McDonald is a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and author of the Oct. 6, 1997, piece titled "My Wife Told Me to Go."