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Promise Keepers considered // The left wrings its hands over some praying men

This week, some 35,000 men, under the auspices of the group Promise Keepers, got together in Shea Stadium in Queens to reinforce one another in their commitment to Jesus, to each other and to their wives and families.

Men committing themselves to lead moral, religious and responsible lives. Sound innocuous to you? Sound like maybe even something we could use more of? You must be a normal American.

If you were a liberal, you'd see right through the veneer of decency into the dark, dangerous heart of the matter. Promise Keepers, according to an article in The Nation, is "the third wave of the religious right's assault on American democracy and values." In the New York Times, Frank Rich hints darkly at comparisons to the "far-right militias" that blew up a federal building in Oklahoma, pointing to Promise Keepers' "cult-like psychology and its authoritarian, military-modeled organization, with its proliferating network of local cells." (A national organization, with local branches? How ominous!)

"When you think of the top problems facing America," David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values (where I am an affiliate scholar), says, eyes rolling, "a bunch of guys getting together to pray to be better fathers _ that's right on the top of the list."

Frank Rich confessed that, hard as he looked for right-wing revolutionaries bent on imposing theocracy, he couldn't find any: "The Promise Keepers I met at Shea seemed more motivated by a Robert Bly-esque hunger to overcome macho inhibitions and reconnect with God than any desire to enlist in a political army."

But that doesn't mean they aren't there somewhere, hidden under a rock or behind a grassy knoll. Can't ever be too careful about those Christians, you know.

In fact, to the frustration of many pro-family activists, Promise Keepers is resolutely apolitical. The only remotely political item on its agenda is racial reconciliation.

So how did Promise Keepers make it onto the hit list of the paranoid far-left?

It's a question of sex, really. What really gets the goat of the left is that Promise Keepers tries to tell men that they are needed by their wives and families, that there is an important male role in family life that they should not surrender to their wives or anyone else.

How backward can you get?

For 30 years, American elites have promoted the opposite: a sex-neutral ideal of family life. Women don't need men. Children may benefit from two parents, but there's no reason one of them has to be a man. In the ideal family, men and women play interchangeable roles. If you happen to marry a man, the best thing to do is make sure both you and he do exactly the same things, both working full-time and splitting the burdens of family life exactly down the middle.

After 30 years of vigorous efforts, how close are we to this ideal? Marriage has collapsed. Fatherlessness is rampant. Men have fled (or in some cases pushed out of) family life en masse.

Mothers, meanwhile, remain far less attracted to the sex-neutral than the elites would have us believe. In just 22 percent of married couples with preschool children, for example, as Blankenhorn points out, do both the husband and wife work full time year-round. (Add in wives supporting unemployed, domestic or student husbands, and the number rises to just 28 percent.)

For women, having real choices about combining work and family presupposes above all one increasingly denigrated commodity: a committed, reliable husband.

If hanging out cheering to God in sports stadiums helps bring more men home, I say praise the Lord, and please Frank, spare the ammunition.

Maggie Gallagher, distributed by Universal Press Syndicate