October 8, 2007
Keeping An Eye on the Promise Keepers
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Published by Emerge Magazine
by David A. Love
(Author's note: In light of this election season, I thought it was useful to resurrect the following commentary from ten years ago.)
Last September, I attended the Promise Keepers conference at Shea Stadium. One of the few African-Americans in the crowd of nearly 50,000 men, I was out of my element. A progressive person--I belong to a group that fights the burning of Black churches, police brutality and the regressive policies of an extremist U.S. Congress-- I did not attend the event expecting a message that would appeal to my interests. Rather, I went to study the Promise Keepers' concept of "racial reconciliation."
The Promise Keepers hold their all-male conferences in stadiums across the country, drawing crowds of up to 725,000. Most of the mainstream media have painted the group as an innocuous, apolitical organization that seeks to embrace the spiritual lives of Christian men. Televised images of Promise Keepers events-- men singing together, crying and embracing each other-- reinforce that image.
However, an Oct. 7th article in The Nation magazine provides a different perspective. It says the Promise Keepers are an attempt to give the radical Right a friendly face, and further its fundamentalist and bigoted political agenda in the process. With a reported annual budget in excess of $115 million, the support of rich conservative businessmen and the blessing of individuals such as Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network and Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, the Promise Keepers hope to build on the political success of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition.
One of the primary themes of this movement is a call for racial reconciliation. Surely, the word "reconciliation" was chosen very carefully. As a concept, reconciliation is quite different from equality or justice. If two individuals reconcile, that does not mean they both get what they want. A slave and a slave master may reconcile, but that will not necessarily alter their fundamental relationship.
The "Christian" Right does not seek racial justice in the United States. Throughout history, it has stood in the way of freedom for all Americans. Conservative White Christians justified the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of Native Americans, participated in Jim Crow segregation, burned crosses and blocked schoolhouse doors. Today, they endorse policies that threaten the already tenuous position of the poor and reward those who possess more than enough wealth. Their stance against women's rights and reproductive rights is repressive, and their attitude toward immigrants is racist and xenophobic.
Moreover, in the spirit of their segregationist predecessors, today's Christian conservatives are uncompromising in their opposition to affirmative action and other programs that seek redress for racial discrimination. In a cynical attempt to detract attention from their own complicity in this racially charged climate, elements of the radical Right (including the Christian Coalition and the Promise Keepers) have pledged funds to rebuild Black churches. Forgive me if I am suspicious of those who have show nothing but intolerance and hatred toward me, yet suddenly claim to seek my friendship.
Not unlike last year's Republican convention, the Promise Keepers' event at Shea Stadium was abundant in racial symbolism but short in substance. Many of the female volunteers were Black or Latino. Furthermore, although th crowd was overwhelmingly White, many of the featured speakers were men of color. For example, Rev. Joseph Garlington, pastor of a nondenominational church in Pittsburgh, ws a member of the reelection committee for conservative Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). E.V. Hill, and African-American pastor from Los Angeles who is featured at many Promise Keepers conferences, gave President Nixon's inaugural prayer in 1973 and was the chairman of Clergy for Reagan. By putting Black faces in high places, the Promise Keepers create the illusion of an organization that is sympathetic to people of a darker hue.
So, what do the Promise Keepers really want? If they can attract significant numbers from Black, Latino and mainstream White congregations and instructs them to vote for Right-wing political candidates with so-called "Christian" values, they will have succeeded in destroying the traditional New Deal coalition.