Fall 1997 Through 2000: 
NOW, Allies Confront Promise Keepers' Agenda


a NOW-organized news conference at the PK eventA NOW-organized news conference at the Promise Keepers' event on the National Mall in Washington drew demonstrators and media crews. "Patriarchy Keepers" is how NOW labeled Promise Keepers in a poster series, right, that presented some of their most offensive quotes. Photo by Lisa Bennett-Haigney.

by Beth Myers, Field Organizer

When the Promise Keepers converged on Washington, D.C., with their multi-million dollar stage, sound and public relations machine, NOW emerged as the leading voice in opposition to their right-wing agenda. And when they wound up by announcing plans to rally in state capitals in the year 2000, NOW vowed to keep up the heat. In appearance after appearance NOW leaders squared off with the Promise Keepers in television debates, newspaper coverage and radio interviews. NOW was also on the National Mall during the Oct. 4 rally to prove once again that women will not surrender to male domination.

NOW offered a new promise to the men on the Mall. NOW asked them to promise: to respect women's equality and reject calls for women to submit to male authority; to uphold women's rights, including the rights to abortion and to be free from male violence; and to support civil rights for all, including people of color, lesbians and gays, and religious freedom for all.

Stealth Politics As Usual

NOW President Patricia Ireland zeroed in on the real reason Promise Keepers were having their rally in Washington with the Capitol as the backdrop. "When members of Congress look out onto the Mall, they see the same thing I see hundreds of thousands of constituents and voters," she said, in a widely quoted comment.

NOW was not alone in speaking out on the day of the Promise Keepers "Stand in the Gap" Rally. A NOW-organized news conference a block from the rally drew leaders from the Feminist Majority, Equal Partners in Faith, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Center for Democracy Studies.

Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal urged people not to be fooled by the Promise Keepers feel-good rhetoric. "The Promise Keepers are preaching that men are ordained to lead women to submit or follow. We have been there, done that. These outmoded attitudes have led time and time again to low pay, low status and the abuse of omen."

Other national leaders were in agreement. Rev. Ken Brooker-Langston, spokesperson for Equal Partners in Faith, said, "It is obvious that when the Coach (Bill McCartney, founder and leader of the PKs) talks about a Christian nation at Promise Keepers' rallies, he has a political agenda in mind."

"The Promise Keepers' stated philosophy threatens to undermine decades of progress," said Pamela Coukos of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, "because it emphasizes men regaining rightful control of the family."

NOW members around the country also made their views on the Promise Keepers known in editorials, letters to the editors and countless interviews. Activists in the field have been a constant voice for tolerance and equality, a voice that provoked Promise Keepers' leaders to reveal more of their true agenda.

In response to NOW's presence in the media, the National Action Center received an extraordinary outpouring of letters, e-mails and phone calls. These messages came from people who are supportive of NOW's efforts, from women who are looking for help to deal with a Promise Keepers husband or pastor and from opponents. The "No Surrender" campaign clearly struck a nerve with people all over the country.

Future Promises

At the "Stand in the Gap" Rally in Washington, Promise Keepers' President Bill McCartney made plans for the organization's future, including 18 stadium and arena events in 1998, a major election year. While the locations have yet to be announced, local NOW chapters are gearing up, having been highly successful in countering previous rallies in their cities. The Promise Keepers now plan to demonstrate their force at the seats of state government throughout the country. After the Washington rally, McCartney issued a call for massive rallies in every state capital in January of the year 2000 and also said he'd be a fool not to run for president if God called him.

NOW has made a commitment to continue exposing the Promise Keepers and in the upcoming year plans to extend this agenda to target the entire radical right. The close relationship between groups like the Promise Keepers, the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family encourages monitoring the movement as a whole.

"Make no mistake; the Promise Keepers are political, and they aim to build a network of radical right religious activists whose goal is the submission of women to male authority, " Ireland said in a quote picked up by the Religious News Service.

Whether it is the Promise Keepers' rallies in 2000 or the Christian Coalition's work in the 1998 elections, NOW activists have demonstrated that they will not submit to patriarchy.

(For more on NOW 's organizing around the Promise Keepers and monitoring the religious right, see CyberNOW.) 


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