WHY IS AMERICAN ATHEISTS PICKETING THE PROMISE KEEPERS?
American Atheists is picketing Bill McCartney of the Promise Keepers movement as a way to challenge the agenda of this group. Promise Keepers have made many dogmatic and brash statements, and tell society that they have a "solution" to problems both cultural and personal. Is this really true? We're asking-- whether you agree with American Atheists or not on other points-- for people to step back and examine the Promise Keepers movement- their public as well as little-known private agendas of its member organizations. What exactly is it they want? What exactly is it they are saying? Even other religious groups are confused, and wary. Worse yet is that the PK leadership conceals its own extreme, bizarre theological and political agenda behind a veneer of endless sloganeering.
We should have a degree of sympathy for many of the men who are drawn toward the Promise Keepers movement. Many men are legitimately upset at the problems and convulsive changes taking place in the world today. So are women! Despite a good economy, earning power for many workers is down, and job stability is more uncertain than ever. Crime, gang violence, drug abuse, and the breakdown of the family are very real problems which need to be addressed. There are many legitimate sociological problems, and legitimate questions to be asked.
- Is Promise Keepers really just a non-political movement of men who want to strengthen their families and communities? No. On the other hand, the Promise Keepers are not as overtly political as the Christian Coalition, but the close links between PK and other authoritarian and politically pro-active groups should be cause for concern. Despite a public face which they insist is "non-political," one writer has labeled the Promise Keepers as "the ideological boot-camp for the religious right." Member organizations such as the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, and Family Research Council, are heavily involved in political issues such as abortion, family planning, censorship of the Internet, school prayer, anti-gay initiatives, and government endorsement and funding of private religious institutions. When Bill McCartney says that he wants to "take back the nation for Christ," he means much more than a personal religious revival. Raleigh Washington, the organizer of the Stand in the Gap rally last October in DC, plainly states that "there is no way the group can restrict itself when it comes to public policy. We are producing leaders in this organization. They will enter the public sphere." (Dallas Observer, Nov. 14, 1996)
- The Promise Keepers movement represents an extreme, charismatic-evangelical theology which makes even other religious groups uncomfortable. Promise Keepers grew out of the "Latter Rain Movement," which embraces extreme, even bizarre and cultish religious practices-- speaking in tongues, direct revelation, and even the authoritarian "Shepherding-Discipleship" tradition which teaches a dangerous, manipulative "leader-follower" relationship. Theologically, this group's roots are apocalyptic, concerning Armageddon and raising "Joel's Army" to combat transgressors and sinners, and prepare the way for a "Kingdom" at the end of the world. This sect follows the theology of "Dominionism," which teaches that Christians are commanded by god to occupy and govern all institutions in anticipation of the "final days" and the Second Coming. "Bible Law" must govern the person, families, neighborhoods, communities and governmental institutions; there is no separating of state and church; the police powers of the government are harnessed to ensure that Bible law is enforced. Reconstructionist members of the Promise Keepers call for a judicial system and government based literally upon Old Testament Bible law, and proscribes the penalty of death for a wide range of offenses including adultery, "witchcraft," blasphemy or disobedience to parents. It is no accident that these doctrines are never mentioned in Promise Keeper literature intended for their rank-and-file members.
- Promise Keepers is a male-centered movement with a homophobic agenda -- and a questionable record concerning racial justice. Despite lipservice about "being worthy of women," PK'ers are exhorted to "take back" governance of the heterosexual, nuclear family . "Women, keep silent in the churches; men are heads of the household, as Christ is the head of the church", paraphrasing St. Paul. Promise Keepers defines a "godly man" as one who obeys the church and is involved in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship. What about gays and lesbians? Single moms? Divorcees? Are they "godly"? It's true that some women do want men to become more involved in domestic relationships. But not all women opt for that; presuming that all or even most women want the sort of male-dominated marital situation in a nuclear family which PK leaders say they do is arrogant and presumptive. And the record concerning blacks is highly problematic. The Promise Keepers seem to distinguish between what they term "reconciliation" and true equality. Black men are "godly" if they fit into the PK heterosexual template.
- Is this a manipulative movement? Just as PK literature, with its abundance of sports metaphors and catchy, yet amorphous slogans renders it difficult for participants to get "a handle" on, is manipulative, so is the role of the PK movement. Men in the Promise Keepers movement are given a steady stream of literature and teachings, most of which are based on emotionally evocative, but vague slogans. Worse yet, the PK "huddles" or local groups reinforce the group's doctrines through peer pressure -- not rational persuasion and discourse-- where men are probed by other participants and compelled to "confess" and reveal highly personal, even confidential facts about their life. PK events are orchestrated through the use of literally hours of verbal pounding, repetitive use of content-void slogans (often employing a sports vocabulary), group reinforcement, heightened states of emotional excitement bordering on the hysterical (accounting for the "waves" of joyous weeping, crying, public praying and other emotive outbursts) and more. Promise Keepers plays on all sides of men's emotions and upbringing. It exploits doubts about being "worthy" but then caters to a fantasy of "taking charge" and being "head of household." Any dispassionate examination of twentieth century political and social movements would suggest a red flag about any group that bases so much on emotional outburst, outpourings and sloganeering.
- Promise Keepers should also be scrutinized for another reason -- it offers simplistic solutions to complex problems. The world isn't like that. Is there any evidence, other than the anecdotal tales in PK literature, to suggest that followers of this movement really do become "better fathers and husbands"? If so, where? How long does this change last? There are other alternatives besides the exclusively Christian religious conversion offered as a solution by PK, which can help families cope, even in today's stressful environment.
- Promise Keepers is a threat to one of the most important pillars of contemporary civil society -- the survival of secular institutions, and the preservation of state-church separation. "Joel's Army" of "godly men" seek to prepare the way for the Second Coming of Christ. In a diverse, pluralistic America founded upon the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, Promise Keepers represents a backlash against the rights of women, gays and other segments of society who don't conform to fundamentalist dictates and stereotypes. We consider Promise Keepers as just another religious ploy to promote a fundamentalist social and religious agenda, and to create a cultural environment wherein one must be religious in order to be considered a decent human being. The Promise Keepers threaten the cherished principles of First Amendment based state-church separation, and the liberties of Atheists, other nonbelievers, and minority religious groups -- male or female, gay or straight.
But is Promise Keepers, or any other religious right movement necessarily the answer?
Too often, we look for easy answers to difficult questions; we feel alienated, stressed out -- and can become "easy picking" for hucksters who offer a well-packaged program which requires little thinking or scrutiny. Promise Keepers preys on the discontents of modern society, specifically, how those discontents manifest themselves in men. Their members are probably mostly unaware of the backgrounds and full agendas of the leadership of this group, which prefers to employ catchy sports-metaphors and spectacle rallies to "shepherd" the flock. We should ask if these "feel-good" solutions being peddled are simply a "bait-and-switch" tactic for a far more extreme and dangerous agenda, and we encourage critical examination of this organization by individuals and the press.
Join us for a
Monday, February 9, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Southwest corner of Pineville-Matthews Road (Route 51) and Rea Road in front of Calvary Church, 5801 Pineville-Matthews Road where the Promise Keepers will be meeting.
(Park is about one tenth of a mile northeast of the intersection of Rea Road and Pineville Matthews Road on CARY RIDGE DRIVE off of the northbound lane of Pineville-Matthews Road (Route 51)---- it is a divided highway at that point and people coming down the southbound lane will have to make a U-turn at Rea Rd.)
Later also join us for a
Jerry Klein Discussion of Promise Keepers
with Wayne Aiken, NC state director of American Atheists
Monday, February 9, 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Seven Seeds Coffee House 1213-B West Morehead Street, Charlotte
We have a web page up to publicize our Monday demonstration. Please check it out at:
Access an in-depth article by Conrad Goeringer "God's Mighty Men: The Promise Keepers Rise Up" by clicking on the "Learn more about the Promise Keepers (American Atheist Magazine)" link below McCartney's picture. Also another link there is "DISTORTING THE RECORD: 'Christian Revisionism' and the Ten Commandments in Charlotte (Wayne Aiken)".
This page is also linked to American Atheists' http://www.atheists.org website main FLASHLINE page for breaking news.
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Atheist Viewpoint is a weekly half-hour talk show devoted to the civil rights of Atheists; state-church separation; discussion of religious practices, their origins and applications; and the philosophy of Atheism.
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