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Avoid Groups that Don't Work for Equality

Copyright © 1995 by Michael Gurian

Author Michael Gurian

From the Washington Post, Aug. 1: "Boulder, Colo.- A crowd of 52,000- all of them men, most of them white and middle-aged -filled a football stadium over the weekend in a conservative Christian revival movement challenging feminism, gay rights and major aspects of liberal society."

From Newsweek, Aug. 29: "Four years ago (Bill) McCartney (University. of Colorado football coach) was seized by a vision of stadiums filled with deep-throated men chanting the praises of Jesus. The fruit of that vision is Promise Keepers, a nondenominational, multiracial organization committed to training men how to be responsible to God, to their wives and children, to their churches and to each other. Already this year Promise Keepers has filled six stadiums with a total of 234,000 disciples."

Promise Keepers, like the more mainstream Men's Movement that preceded it, is already changing lives of participants. Like any movement, it needs our scrutiny. The opinions I express in this column are based on what I've heard from colleagues, newspaper reports and PK meeting participants. I have not gone to a PK meeting. I welcome comments from those of you who have.

When I became active in the "Men's Movement" and became known as a leader in that movement, I faced (and still face) the overwhelming sense of having to be very, very careful about what I encourage men to do.

Men are in a time of desperation; men are losing their children to divorce, often unfairly and without any understanding of why; men and boys face economic hardship, terrible violence and early death; males are being attacked on all fronts for things the vast majority have never been involved in.

Men are especially confused about their role in relation to women. The Men's Movement I'm associated with carries as its basic tenet that social roles are changing for the better, and the pursuit of women's equality is one reason.

Promise Keepers, as I understand Bill McCartney's comments and those of Tony Evans, author of Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper," does not. Evans says, in referring to the traditional male role, "I'm not suggesting 'you ask for your role back; I'm urging that you take it back."

McCartney has said, "It's always been mandated by God that the spiritual leaders be men. It's always been God's heart that men would set the tone."

In a culture that has simply bashed men and masculinity too much, a movement like Promise Keepers should come as no surprise. And many of its values are essential to the future of any society: integrity, care of family, spiritual discipline, emotional openness. All men, not just Christian men, could gain by scrutinizing their lives in the mirror of these values.

As a searcher for gender justice, however, I hope all men will avoid the specific teachings of McCartney, Evans and any other like-minded leaders who encourage men to escape male desperation by turning on women. To do this would certainly be tantamount to joining the women who have escaped female desperation by turning on men. There's little integrity in that.

I hope, too, we will all beware of teachers who join their attacks on women's equality with attacks on gays and others they fear under the guise of saying, "The Bible says it's wrong, 80 it's wrong."

Spirituality is a personal quest; the Bible has many interpretations.

Integrity comes from loving others, not coming up with excuses, even biblical ones, to hate them.

Lastly, I hope our culture will admire Promise Keepers for what it's trying to do. My deep sense is that, underneath all the unnecessarily polarizing, even hate-filled, rhetoric, the movement's intention is to help families work well. That ought to be a primary intention of anyone in our culture right now.

When we scrutinize Promise Keepers, let s notice that it would not exist if men in our society felt they had an essential role and purpose in life. Millions of men do not feel essential to the life process.

If part of our mission as we enter the next century is to help women gain social equality, it had better also be to help men gain equality of spiritual purpose. If we do not as a whole society address this emptiness, we will have to rely on eccentric, puritanical and polarizing teachers who preach empowerment through domination.

Consider becoming a promise keeper in your everyday life, whether you belong to the movement or not. Promise to care for family, community, soul.

Consider promising, also, to create in your relationships a new role for both women and men, one in which workability and mutual nurturance replace gender superiority as standards of what the world needs.

Michael Gurian is the author of two books on men's issues, The Prince and the King and Mothers, Sons and Lovers and the forthcoming The Lovers Journey.. He leads workshops across the country on gender issues. This article first appeared in The Spokane Spokesman-Review. Michael may be reached at 22 East 30th Avenue, Spokane, WA 99203.

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