The Sun Dome has seen its share of controversial characters.
On April 13, the building played host to the People Have the Power rally, which featured former presidential candidate Ralph Nader and political author Michael Moore.
Now the Dome will host the Promise Keepers, a group that is on the opposite end of the political spectrum but no less controversial.
The group, which will hold its Storm the Gates conference Friday and Saturday, is associated with the Baptists and has preached in arenas and stadiums to men-only audiences since 1990. The group says its goal is to teach men to be responsible fathers and parents.
Ray Vialpando, a U.S. director for Promise Keepers, said the vision of his organization is to transform men worldwide.
“The heart and soul of our ministry is our Christ center, meaning if men have a heart for Christ and the Bible, they learn how to serve God, wife and kids more effectively,” Vialpando said.
Vialpando said this is the third conference Promise Keepers has held in the area. He said he expects a full house at the Sun Dome this weekend.
“We’ve always felt welcome by the men here,” he said.
Appearing at the conference will be several speakers. Of note is the popular Promise Keepers speaker Joe White, who will deliver an address titled “Dead Men Who Have Nothing to Lose.” There will also be a performance by the music group Salvador.
Tickets for the conference are $49 for youths and $69 for adults. Vialpando said the expense of the tickets is necessary to cover the cost of the conference.
“The majority of it goes to that, the other part goes to the needs of the ministry,” he said.
Vialpando said the reason the conference is restricted to men only is because the Promise Keepers ministry deals with the role of the man in society.
“Being that it’s an all-male environment, men have a tendency to respond more easily,” he said. “Primarily because we deal with men’s issues, we believe God has called us to speak to men.”
The Promise Keepers organization has been accused in the past of being sexist due to its concentration on the man’s position in the family. Vialpando said there is nothing controversial about the message.
“(We teach) the love of God and love for family needs to come before yourself,” Vialpando said. “I don’t know how that can be controversial.”
Vialpando said his group has nothing against women and believes they should function equally with their husbands.
“They should be in a leadership role along side of their husbands,” he said. “We believe God called us to speak to men. The bottom line is women are very relational generally and committed to relationships. A lot of times we find the men have been focused on other things rather than just the relationship.”
But not everyone agrees with Vialpando’s assertion that Promise Keepers is not a sexist group. Linda Miklowitz, president for the Tallahassee chapter of the National Organization for Women, said she may travel to Tampa this weekend to join a NOW picket slated to take place Saturday in front of the Sun Dome.Miklowitz said her organization has maintained a level of concern about Promise Keepers.
“The reason we are wary of Promise Keepers is that it’s a group of fundamentalist religious men who do not believe in the equality of women and promote a dominant/subservient relationship between men and women,” she said.
Miklowitz said she doesn’t believe the group encourages violence, but that their message is medieval. She said there are several examples of quotes from Promise Keepers members calling for men to be dominant in the household.
“I think it’s this double message,” Miklowitz said. “They give a promising message and when they get them in there, they tell them something else.”
Miklowitz said it’s a myth that Promise Keepers is good for women because the group teaches men to take a dominant approach to marriage. She said she does not believe the group does what it claims.
“It does amaze me how people can say what they do with a straight face,” she said. “I suppose there are people stupid enough to believe that stuff. It’s sad.”
Miklowitz said the NOW Web site points out several facts about Promise Keepers. Among those, she said, is the fact that the group’s founder, Bill McCartney, is known to have been involved with Operation Rescue, a militant anti-abortion group.
As for the connection between Promise Keepers and Christianity, Miklowitz said the Bible can be used to justify almost anything.
“It’s amazing what you can do with the Bible. Some people use religion for positive purposes, and others use it to spread hatred,” Miklowitz said. “These are the worst people because they spread hate in the name of God. The Promise Keepers give religion a bad name.”
Mike Cale, a member of Baptist Collegiate Ministry at USF, said he will attend this weekend’s conference. He said Promise Keepers provides a positive message.
“I am a believer in Christ,” Cale said. “It’s really a good organization for men and how to be a godly man in this world.”
Cale said the $69 price tag on the conference did not deter him.
“It’s a little steep but some sacrifices I’m willing to make,” he said.
Cale said Miklowitz’s assertion that Promise Keepers has a sexist message is wrong. He said the group teaches men to love and serve their wives.
“I believe that if you really take a look at a lot of the things they say, it’s not just women being submissive to their husbands, it’s men loving and serving their wives,” Cale said. “I think it’s a lot misunderstood.”
As for NOW’s plans to picket the event, Cale said he is not surprised.
“There are a lot of protests at USF about a lot of different things,” he said.