Promise Keepers: Proof-text Poker

Three days before their October 1997 "Stand in the Gap" gathering on the Washington Mall, I heard Promise Keepers’ CEO Bill McCartney interviewed on National Public Radio. Among other things, he was asked his position on the issue of male headship vs. spousal equality in marriage. With no equivocation or hesitation, McCartney stated, "Almighty God has mandated that the man take the spiritual lead in the home. Isaiah 38:19 says ‘A father to the children shall make known the truth.’" His emphasis made it clear that he saw this text as authorizing fathers to be responsible for mediating God’s teaching to their children in a way that mothers are not.

I recalled that I had heard him appeal to this same text, with precisely the same emphasis, in an August 1995 interview with Time religion editor Richard Ostling. This aired on the (then) MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour, and I had taped it for use in my Psychology of Gender class. Since Isaiah 38:19 is not among the texts normally used by gender traditionalists to justify male headship (these come largely from the Pauline and other New Testament epistles), I decided it was time to look up the context of this verse. What I found made me uncertain whether I should laugh or cry.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1998
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