A lot of contemptible nonsense is being peddled about the Promise Keepers. It's almost as contemptible as some of the things being peddled by the Promise Keepers. Both are symptoms of our collective inability to think. The deliberative, reflective, and logical aptitudes that differentiate our species from, say, chimpanzees, have been benumbed by the novocaine of haste and superficiality. We are habituated, trained really, to reach a conclusion, then employ our faculties in defense of that conclusion. Instead we should be employing our faculties to study an issue, then allow our conclusions to grow out of the evidence of our inquiries. This reversal is what makes soundbyte politics and designer clothes and the Promise Keepers work. All the successful spin doctor has to do is trick us into saying, "That's right," and we commit to his entire point of view.
Men have been faithless creatures! That's right! Men have been insensitive! That's right! Men have been irresponsible! That's right! Men have acted like children! That's right! A man who acts like a child forces his wife to act like a mother! That's right! A mother makes decisions and corrects the child! That's right! (Careful, now. Nothing up my sleeve...) A woman who makes the decisions and has to correct you will lose her respect! That's right! (Here it comes.) If she no longer trusts you, and no longer respects you, then she can no longer submit to you! (Let's seal the "logic.") You can not make love to your mother! That's right! Oh, that's darn right!
What's contemptible about the commentary on these desperate men being led by these post-Medieval demagogues is the prevalent tendency to say, "that's right," with regard to assertions of faithlessness, insensitivity, and irresponsibility. Commentators then renounce their responsibility. They neither criticize the logical failures of subsequent declarations nor question the desirability of "submitting" at all. I've dealt with childish men all my life, but just because they suddenly become faithful, or sensitive, or start changing a diaper, I'm supposed to submit to one of them? I don't think so. And let's be clear about these guys. What they are talking about is the submission of women. The rest of it is window dressing.
Just because African-American Promise Keeper spokesperson Wellington Boone says, "Whites can bring redemption to Blacks," or slavery prepared Blacks to "be fine slaves of God," or "The black community must stop criticizing Uncle Tom," doesn't mean African-Americans are going to sit by and passively accept the reinstitution of Jim Crow. And just because theocratic nutballs like Bill McCartney and born-again airborne ranger Chuck Stecker can manipulate the misguided religious impulses of thousands of men, doesn't mean we mere lasses (Black, white or anything else) are going to coo yes-dears and quietly follow hubby down the reactionary path.
Religion is a reflection of our need for security, consolation, and beauty. Its institutions, however, are used by different people for variant purposes. Religion is sometimes, as Charles Kingsley said in 1840, "the Bible, used as an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they are being overloaded." Or religion can be an instrument of liberation, demanding we treat every person, even "the least among us" as we would treat Jesus; the motif of some Black churches during the civil rights struggle and some of the radical theologies that side with the Latin American poor.
The most significant development in the battle for women's economic, social, and cultural emancipation has been the acquisition of control over our reproductive capacity. This is fundamentally an economic issue for women, especially poor women. We can not achieve emancipation from our economic dependence upon men without full reproductive choice, and this is the most tangible threat of the Promise Keepers. They intend to dismantle women's choices. They are the slickest project to date of the religious right in this country, and they are trying to use the Bible as an opium dose to keep women silent while the burdens of our past subjugation are fixed again across our backs.
Women who are applauding the Promise Keepers need to understand this, and decouple the issues of male responsibility and male supremacy. And we need to hold the alarmingly quiet liberal clergy responsible to confront these reactionaries, or women will continue to question their relevance. Women of faith in particular have already begun to form new faith communities that reflect women's desire for full citizenship, and their intention of becoming agents of their own destinies.
To join the fight against the Promise Keepers, contact your local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) or check their excellent website: http://www.now.org
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