I almost feel I don’t need to write this story, that the headline speaks so strongly for itself that elaboration is pointless. But I won’t tease. The details, distressing as they are, matter too much to ignore.
So, the Promise Keepers are back. Maybe you’ve heard of them? They were a popular Evangelical Christian men’s movement that fought same-sex marriage and promoted theocratic sexism while packing stadiums with men who prayed and sang hymns.
Honey, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’ve given you my role. I gave up leading this family, and I forced you to take my place. Now I must reclaim this role.
Those are the words of Tony Evans in the group’s founding text The Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, urging Christian men to wield authority over their wives. He couches patriarchy in Biblical language, and his message resonated with certain conservative men in the 1990s and early naughts.
PK founder Bill McCarthy didn’t mince words about gay men and lesbians. In 1992 (and many times after) he called homosexuality “an abomination of God.”
He also promoted theocracy, selling books at packed events that urged “Christian men” to “take over the country,” including the government, preaching a dominion theology that would later come to a head in the marriage of Christian nationalism and Donald Trump.
By the mid 2000s, however, PK largely lost its ability to fill stadiums. Their hate-the-gays message, combined with preaching that women and adult children should obey husbands and fathers, didn’t resonate even with many conservative young people. PK’s echoes of Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ messaging that young adults should strictly obey spiritual leaders landed with a dull thud.
Maybe patriarchy doesn’t sell when its bones are exposed.
Young Christian men might dutifully nod their heads at the messaging, but they didn’t rush to buy tickets to mega events. It seems Gen X and Y just couldn’t get excited about a return to 1950s values.
Promise Keepers is leveraging transphobia for a big comeback
Today Ken Harrison is the chairman of PK, which never went away, just sort of withered on the vine. He recently appeared on Steve Bannon’s alt-right podcast to announce a return to mega events.
Leading with scaremongering transphobia, Harrison announced that PK will pack out AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, this coming July 16 and 17. Whether he can sell enough $85 tickets remains an open question, but he’s giving it the old college try, making the rounds of ultra-conservative media sources.
“How quickly we went from homosexual marriage to, now, men putting on dresses and being called women,” he sneers while promoting his event. He says Christian men are “sick and tired of the evil,” as he promises to “preach God’s word unapologetically.”
Given that raging against same-sex marriage increasingly taps a vein of apathy even among conservative Christians, Richardson is raging about the scapegoat du jour, trans folks, positioning them despite their small numbers as an existential threat to the Republic, sure to bring down the vengeance of a wrathful God.
I guess God got over his pique about us fags and dykes getting married? Or maybe COVID-19 is God’s punishment for naughty nuptials. Richardson’s God seems mightily pissed off about something, and if you listen to Richardson, he’s got a direct line to the Throne so he can fill us all in on the details — while we sing patriotic songs.
Oh, and racism? On Bannon’s podcast, Harrison calls racism a “leftist lie.” Will that message fill stadiums? I wonder what his God thinks about equality and humanity? Something tells me Harrison’s direct line is filled with some static.
Speaking of COVID… Seriously, guys? Packing a stadium?
This should go without saying, but COVID-19 is a still a serious problem in the U.S., with medical experts warning that vaccine hesitancy will almost certainly stop us from reaching herd immunity this year. Some states, Texas included, are seeing distressing rates of new infections and hospitalizations.
Doctors who specialize in pandemics are telling us to stay alert for a while longer, doing sensible things like wearing masks indoors and in crowded areas. Shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, as in packed stadiums, top the list of things to avoid to keep our neighbors free of COVID.
Sadly, conservatives, especially conservative Christians, are more likely than other Americans to reject safety measures and avoid vaccination. Given the Texas government’s resistance to enforcing public safety measures, experts warn a deadly fourth wave of infection is likely in the state later this summer.
Before I read about the Promise Keeper’s upcoming mega event, I wouldn’t have thought ANYONE would think a packed stadium in Dallas was a good idea right now. I was wrong.
This is what conservatives are reduced to these days
This is all they’ve got. Hate on a statistically tiny group of transgender people already facing violence, marginalization, and extremist discrimination. Leverage fear by spreading falsehoods. Pretend COVID-19 doesn’t exist, and preach a kind of antique sexism and misogyny just about nobody in the United States is down with.
But then maybe it’s really about the money? If Harrison manages to fill AT&T Stadium to capacity both days, he’ll rake in close to $9 million. Not a bad return on making a few vulnerable trans people the subject of more hate than they already are.
Hey Promise Keepers, check it out
Same-sex couples who love each other and get married have not destroyed the world or the institution of marriage. All the dire predictions didn’t come true. Accepting people who are different from you really and truly doesn’t make your life worse.
Gay people getting married hasn’t led to a rash of men wearing dresses and calling themselves women. That isn’t what transgender is all about. It’s about a statistically small number of people who, whether you want them to or not, experience gender differently from how you do. They aren’t hurting you, they aren’t a threat to you, and God isn’t going to hate on you for being nice to them.
In fact, if it weren’t for events like yours promoting scare-mongering, you’d probably never even notice trans people — which my trans friends tell me is what they want anyway.
So what do you say, how about you find a positive message to promote. Maybe something to do with Jesus? The New Testament is PACKED with his words about loving our neighbors, not judging them, and helping them stay safe and healthy.
Packing a stadium in Dallas during a pandemic, filling it with crowds egged on by hatred of trans folks? That’s got nothing to do with Jesus’s promise of love. Just saying.
Former Air Force intelligence analyst, longtime LGBTQ activist and alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, James Finn is an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, an “agented” novelist and a runner, Marine, Airman, polyglot and self-proclaimed “middle-aged, uppity faggot.” He blogs at Medium.