(The London Free Press, June 2, 1998)
ST. THOMAS, CANADA – Regarding, Male spirituality about partnerships (May 17), Free Press assistant city editor Larry Cornies shows it’s easier to criticize the evangelical Christian men’s movement Promise Keepers than it is to understand it.
Attending Promise Keepers’ rally May 15-16 in Pontiac, Mich., Cornies suggests the movement’s language denigrates women and its theology is irrelevant in today’s new era of male-female relations.
He concludes, “Far from being anti-women, genuine male spirituality is a quest for wholeness and integration in which men envision themselves as partners with women, with the Earth, with the marginalized . . . a quest for alternatives to the ‘dominator’ model so prevalent in our society and, in the end, so meaningless.”
As someone who has been at Promise Keeper events as both participant and journalist – in Hamilton, Washington, Atlanta and Pontiac – I question why Cornies fails to understand the quest to which he refers is exactly what Promise Keepers espouses through its Biblical principles.
Historic Christianity teaches men are responsible for taking spiritual leadership in their homes by setting a Godly example. This is not to be confused with any form of dominance, because for the believer, a third party is involved in any human relationship – husband and wife, child and parent, friend and neighbor. That third party is Christ.
That means Promise Keepers is not about men seeking to recreate themselves through outmoded definitions of manhood and womanhood, as Cornies asserts. It is about men learning how to submit to the needs of others, particularly their wives, out of reverence for Christ and submission to Him.
For many, this is a very liberating message that’s relevant any time.
To its credit, The Free Press printed the seven promises of a Promise Keeper alongside Cornies’ column, statements that clearly contradict any suggestion Promise Keepers is anti-women or built on any dominator model.
If it was, why have hundreds of thousands of wives pushed their men out the door to rallies and followup small-group studies? Could it be because they see men changing into more loving partners and better integrated fathers? Is it possible that rather than learning how to rule their homes with meaningless spirituality as hard as iron, Promise Keeper men develop a soft, servant’s heart?
If hundreds of thousands of Christian women got together to open their Bibles, worship God, and seek help amongst themselves for their specific issues within a Christian context, would anyone complain? Of course not. Nobody is lamenting, for example, Women of Faith, a large evangelical women’s movement scheduled for 26 American cities this year.
The double standard exists because women have fought hard to make gains in our society that men have often taken for granted. It may even be true that Christian men have failed to realize feminism can help them ask hard questions, and that modern feminism in fact has Christian roots.
Begun in the mid-19th century in America by seminary-trained Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Quaker Susan B. Anthony, modern feminism’s early goals were getting women the right to vote, go to school, and own property, rather modest by today’s standards. We still need to ask why a woman’s mental health and life expectancy go down when she marries while a man’s mental health and life expectancy goes up.
Nevertheless, I question if Cornies has joined the ranks of those raising the gauntlet against Promise Keepers because they prefer to be stuck in a feminist paradigm that views all forms of male power as suspect. After all, if men are inherently harmful and if Christianity is intrinsically patriarchal, then by definition any mass Christian men’s movement must be anti-women.
This line of reasoning makes one guilty of a sort of reverse sexism, in which evangelical Christian men can do no right.
Good male-female relationships have less to do with whether a couple embraces “headship” or “feminism” as much as honor, trust and joint submission. Love trumps ideology. It’s a good-news message many men across North America have received through the Promise Keepers movement. Perhaps it’s time critics such as Cornies laid down their weapons and had a second look.