Promise Keepers' Goals

The thousands of men converging on Washington's National Mall tomorrow have kicked up a cloud of controversy. Their group, Promise Keepers, recently has been charged with being just an arm of the religious right and with wanting to shove gender relationships back to the 1950s, if not the 1890s.

There are, undoubtedly, many Promise Keepers whose personal views might fit with these criticisms. But the crucial issue is less what some men may say or think, than changes actually wrought in the lives of the many individuals the group reaches.

Promise Keepers ministers to men's desires to be constructive members of their families and communities. The need for such a ministry is attested by the huge response the organization has elicited. Men have filled stadiums to proclaim their commitment to support wives (and that doesn't mean just financially), help nurture children, and, of late, to help build racial harmony.

These goals can't be faulted. If the half-million men anticipated in Washington represent that many families made more wholesome by newly caring fathers and husbands - that's well worth celebrating in the nation's capital. Even very small steps in that direction, particularly when multiplied by thousands, can be significant.

One Promise Keeper, busing down from St. Albans, Vt., said the group "has helped me from the standpoint of learning to listen to my wife and be understanding." He added: "I'm not perfect. But it keeps me aware of what I have to work on."

That awareness is moral wakefulness, and the country needs all of that it can get in the late 20th century.

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