Not Your Momma

By Feuerherd, Peter | Commonweal, October 25, 1996 | Go to article overview

Not Your Momma


Feuerherd, Peter, Commonweal


Saturday, September 21, dawns gloriously in New York, the first day of autumn, when the hours of light and darkness are in perfect balance. But today I am to defy what the pop psychologists routinely call on men to do. No balance for me between my masculine and feminine sides. My calendar tells me it is going to be a male-bonding day, a time to revel in the glories of testosterone.

First, I spend the morning in my weekly ritual of basketball at Crowley Park in Elmhurst, Queens. I am part of a tribe of paunchy, middle-aged men who are weekend warriors in the "battle of the paint." As the sun rises over Queens, we are out there. And as in all male enterprises, there is clawing competition. Occasionally, an elbow connects with a face, and angry words pour forth. There are no referees, and disputes over foul calls generate the kind of passion not seen in this year's political debates. As I exit the court by late-morning, a particularly cantankerous opposing player offers me the one-fingered international sign of loathing. I take little offense. No harm, no foul. It is time to move on.

I am ready for some kinder, gentler male bonding as I ride the No. 7 train to Shea Stadium, the site of the first Promise Keepers gathering in New York. Promise Keepers is a largely Protestant evangelical organization devoted to getting men to accept Jesus, promote interracial harmony, and be responsible fathers and husbands. Its rallies have attracted more than 1.5 million participants across the country. Even though the group professes political neutrality, New York Times columnist Frank Rich has called them part of the vanguard of the Christian Right rearing the ugly head of male domination.

The rallies are all-male affairs. At this one, some 35,000 men, who paid sixty dollars apiece for the two-day rally, fill much of the giant horseshoe-shaped stadium located on Flushing Bay. The gathering has much of the same competitive feel I had experienced on the basketball court in the morning. The stadium erupts in cheers of "We Love Jesus, How About You?" with each section competing to see which can yell the loudest.

Exuberance is what Promise Keepers' rallies feature. Down on the stadium field, men are dancing - with each other - to the sound of a gospel beat. No room here for repressed, uptight, unsharing men. Despite feminist angst expressed about the Promise Keepers' philosophy, most of what I hear coming from the speakers' podium promotes understanding in the war between the sexes. A videotape depicts a husband, now converted to Promise Keepers, who confesses publicly to his sins of uncaring apathy in his marriage. …

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