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Promise Keepers: supporting or oppressing women?

Paparelli family October 4, 1997
Web posted at: 1:17 p.m. EDT (1717 GMT)

From Correspondent Jeanne Meserve

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Some feminists are alarmed by the Promise Keepers' statements on gender relations within the family. The organization essentially promotes the idea of "husband leads, wife follows" -- a stance critics say severely restricts women's freedom.

In the midst of the debate, the traditional role models seem to be working for some couples.

Karen Paparelli of Patchogue, Washington, told CNN that, while Promise Keepers is exclusively for men, it had improved her marriage.

She said her husband Tony has changed.

"He has been more involved in raising the children. He has taken a more active role, and he has been more involved in our relationship."

Tony admitted that his views and priorities were changed by the tenets of Promise Keepers: "In the past I was a little more career-oriented and really thinking that being the breadwinner was enough to be a husband. But there really is a lot more to it than that."

It would seem that a man's increased devotion to his family would meet one of the main goals of the women's movement. But some feminists are skeptical, saying that Promise Keepers not only want to change the role of men, but also that of women.

"When they say men should take responsibility, they really mean men should take control ... that men should be heads and masters of their families, and women should take a back seat. That is a very bad message as far as I am concerned," said Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women.


NOW has been waging a campaign against Promise Keepers in an attempt to unmask what it sees as the true nature of the group: a feel-good form of male supremacy.

But Promise Keepers reject such allegations, and maintain they urge men to take responsibility for their families, as spelled out in the Bible.

"We believe in a biblical model of leadership in the home ... which is the man is a spiritual leader of his home and ought to lead by example spiritually in the home," Promise Keepers spokesman Mark DeMoss told CNN.

That echoes the philosophy of Women of Faith, the largest of several ministries for women that have sprung up in response to Promise Keepers.

"A man should serve his wife, a man should be willing to die for his wife. And if you have a man that is willing to do that for you, it would probably be a really good idea to subordinate yourself to that man," said Stephen Arterburn, founder of Women of Faith.

Karen Paparelli attended a Women of Faith rally, and applies their beliefs in her marriage to Tony.

"He actually is the head of the household, more or less the way my father was when I was growing up ... where he stands up and takes the authority. And it doesn't mean he rules with a rod. But when the last decision needs to be made, I will look to him to make that decision, and I won't overstep that," she said.

That may sound paternalistic to some ears, but for Karen and Tony it seems to have worked. After coming close to divorce a few months after their marriage, it was the formula that allowed them to keep the promises of their wedding day.


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