Freedom Writer - September 1995
The Promise Keepers is the fastest-growing men's movement in America, and
also the fastest-growing Religious Right group. This year, 600,000 men are
expected to attend stadium-packed rallies in 13 cities coast-to-coast.
Next year, Promise Keepers plans to hold as many as 26 mega-rallies, with
more than 1 million men in attendance. Cities slated for the 1996 rallies
will be announced in November, 1995.
Countless articles about Promise Keepers have recently appeared in
newspapers and magazines around the country. Virtually each one of them
has related how the movement has grown since 1990, when former University
of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney gathered 72 Christian men
together. Now, as many as 72,000 men at a time attend the conferences.
Today, the Rev. Randy Phillips heads Promise Keepers and founder Bill
McCartney serves as its public figurehead.
The growth of the Promise Keepers has indeed been phenomenal. The
group's staff and budget has grown in proportion to the increased
attendance at the rallies. Last year Promise Keepers had 175 full-time
employees and a $22 million budget. This year they boast 310 full-time
employees and a $65 million budget.
Promise Keeper rallies offer a mixture of Christian rock bands,
tens-of-thousands of men doing "the wave" while shouting "Jesus,
Jesus, Jesus," and the introduction of born-again football players.
After everyone is sufficiently worked up, a series of preachers exhort
each man to avoid sexual temptation, take his proper place at the head
of his household, and find an older Christian man to act as his mentor
someone to whom he will be accountable.
Promise Keeper rally tickets range from $18 to $50, depending upon the
size of the stadium. A selection of memorabilia is available at the
rallies, and by phone order.
The group also has an official magazine, _New_Man:_For_Men_of_Integrity_,
with a circulation of about 500,000. New Man is published in cooperation
with Strang Communications, publisher of the Pentecostal magazine
The slick, bi-monthly magazine's editorial advisory board includes the
Rev. Jack Hayford, senior pastor of the Church on the Way in Van Nuys,
California, and the Rev. Wellington Boone of the Manna Christian
Fellowship Churches in Richmond, Virginia. Both men are politically
active. Hayford's church is heavily involved with the Christian
Coalition of California. And Sara Hardman, head of the Californian
Christian Coalition, considers Hayford her pastor. Boone is an editor
and columnist for _Crosswinds_ magazine, the publication of the
Christian Reconstructionist-oriented Coalition On Revival.
It is not surprising that men run _New_Man_ magazine and control its
editorial content. Women, however, make up the entire production staff
and sell all the advertising. Sexism, and sex, are big issues with the
Promise Keepers. Sexism is in, while sex is out, except between a
legally married man and woman.
_Seven_Promises_of_a_Promise_Keeper_ is the group's manifesto. Published
by Focus on the Family, the book is marketed to help eager men reassert
their manhood over women. Co-editor, evangelist Tony Evans, explains,
"Don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. I'm not suggesting that you
ask for your role back. I'm urging you to take it back. Unfortunately,
there can be no compromise...Treat the lady gently and lovingly. But
lead...[And] to you ladies who may be reading this: Give it back! For
the sake of your family and the survival of our culture, let your man
be a man — if he's willing."
While officially apolitical, no one believes that, except, perhaps, those
attending the rallies. The group's leaders and speakers exert political
influence by the strong and vocal positions they take on political issues.
Promise Keepers co-founder Dave Wardell told _The_Denver_Post_, "We're
drawing a line in the sand here.... There has already been controversy
about abortion and homosexuality. I hope there won't be physical
confrontation, but look at Amendment 2 and the Act Up people and the
foreign religions coming in here."
_The_Los_Angeles_Times_ reported: "Randy Phillips, Promise Keepers'
president, acknowledges that political involvement is possible. But so
is serving the poor or working for racial reconciliation." Phillips
told _The_Times_, "Our focus is changing men's hearts. When they're
changed, they change a family, and a family can change a community,
and a community can change a nation."
McCartney told _The_Rocky_Mountain_News_ that political activism may
very well be one result of Promise Keepers' motivation. "If a guy is
inspired to run for the local school board," he said, "it'll be
between him and the Lord."
At a 1993 Boulder rally, McCartney called on his all-male audience
of 50,000 to join him in a spiritual war, saying, "We are going to war
as of tonight. We will not retreat anymore. We have divine power. That
is our weapon."
According to researcher Russ Bellant, "McCartney's pastor is the Rev.
James Ryle, of the Boulder Valley Vineyard, who McCartney says is a
major influence in his life. Ryle conducts a 'prophetic' ministry
and participates in conferences with men who claim to be prophets in
the 1st-century sense of the term. Ryle believes Promise Keepers, of
which he is a board member, is the fulfillment of the Biblically
prophesied end-time army described in the Book of Joel a terrifying
army from which there is no escape."
At a recent Promise Keepers rally in Dallas, evangelist Tony Evans
called homosexuality "immorality in the name of hell." And founder
McCartney is on the advisory board of the virulently anti-gay Colorado
For Family Values, the group that sponsored Amendment 2, a measure
to overturn civil rights laws that protect gays and lesbians from
According to published reports, McCartney said that "homosexuality is
an abomination against Almighty God," and gay people are "a group of
people who don't reproduce, yet want to be compared to people who do
reproduce." McCartney has called gay people "stark raving mad."
Various speakers at Promise Keepers rallies have railed against
abortion. McCartney equates a woman's right to choose an abortion
with "taking a life."
Last April, _Christian_American_, the newspaper of the Christian
Coalition, featured the Promise Keepers in a full-page article.
Religious Right leaders such as the Reverends Jerry Falwell and D.
James Kennedy also back the Promise Keepers.
By next year, well over a million men will have been swayed by the
Promise Keepers. The temptation to exploit a million highly charged men
to further the political agenda of the Radical Religious Right is great.
In fact, plans are shaping up to bring one million men to a 1997
Promise Keepers rally at the Washington Mall in the nation's capitol.
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