Author comments on the Promise Keepers movement
Vol. 17, No. 27April 16, 1998

Author comments on the Promise Keepers movement

When The New York Times wanted an opinion piece about the Promise Keepers-a high-profile Christian group that encourages men to retake their roles as moral and spiritual leaders of the family-editorial staff member, Sam Tanenhaus turned to Christine Heyrman, history, author of Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt.

Although her book covers the period from approximately 1740 to 1840, in the epilogue of the book, Heyrman wrote about evangelicalism in contemporary America, emphasizing that "evangelicalism has never been a static, monolithic structure of belief and that its adherents have never been an undifferentiated mass." The last pages of the book briefly touched on the Promise Keepers may have prompted the Times' request.

The Promise Keepers had received a lot of publicity, some related to its rally in Washington, D.C., and other because of the controversy it generated among leaders of women's and liberal groups.

Although one minister denied that Promise Keepers endorsed a "me Tarzan, you Jane" model of marriage, Heyrman points out in her book that "it aims at nothing less than restoring to the churches a role in regulating the behavior of men within their own households.... Even more ambitiously, the national organization strives to remodel the idea of masculinity itself" where men assume "an authoritative religious presence in home...and also express their tender feelings freely."

In the Times article, Heyrman pointed out that "Promise Keepers has fallen on hard times" with lower attendance at rallies, plans to lay off its staff and rely on volunteers. She asks the question: "Why is Promise Keepers, one of evangelical Christianity's most intriguing movements, failing?"

Her answer is that the group has "brought little imagination to sustaining its followers' enthusiasm," which some groups do by "denouncing the sins of outsiders." Heyrman suggests that "it's not too late for Promise Keepers to identify genuine enemies of its professed values: those who abuse women, neglect children or foment racial hatred." Combating these social ills, "could go a long way toward reviving the fortunes of Promise Keepers and toward affording its adherents the redemption they seek," she wrote.

Heyrman has received several comments on the article, but none from the Promise Keepers themselves, she said.

The article also has been published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Arizona Daily Star.