Promise Keepers March on Washington (1997)
It was on this date, October 4, 1997, that a group calling themselves the Promise Keepers gathered on the Mall in Washington DC. Promise Keepers calls itself “a Christ-centered organization dedicated to introducing men to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord; and then helping them to grow as Christians.” This is achieved through a vow to keep seven promises, among which are: to obey God’s word; to practice purity; to protect marriage by enforcing biblical values; to obey your pastor and fund your church; and to evangelize.*
Founded in 1990 by (then) 50-year-old football coach Bill McCartney, Promise Keepers has been led by the same man through most of its existence. Its public face mainstreams the message of male-only self-improvement, and that has been how the news media reported on the group, even during their million-man march on Washington DC, at which something less than a million men gathered. McCartney, a convert from a Campus Crusade for Christ, is a charismatic speaker, and why not? He cut his political teeth speaking at rallies of the violent anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.
The Promise Keepers’ opposition to religious “denominationalism,” and an alleged promotion of racial “reconciliation,” mask an extreme right-wing agenda that is particularly opposed to equal rights for women. Indeed, Promise Keepers is a male backlash organization and believes not only that feminism is the root of all social evils in the US, but that male dominated-households and bible-based legal reform are the remedy. When the PK speaks of “taking responsibility” in a marriage, what they mean is taking control. Promise Keepers openly calls for wives to “submit” to their husbands. As Promise Keeper Tony Evans says, “I am not suggesting that you ask for your role back, I am urging you to take it back. There can be no compromise here.”
There are also conspicuous ties to other religious right organizations, such as Focus on the Family, Campus Crusade, and even Operation Rescue, the militant anti-abortion group. It may go without saying that this bible-based organization is homophobic: its founder considers homosexual behavior “an abomination of Almighty God.”
“Take the nation for Jesus Christ,” McCartney directed his followers in 1992. The next year he said, “What you are about to hear is God’s word to the men of this nation. We are going to war as of tonight. We have divine power; that is our weapon. We will not compromise. Wherever truth is at risk, in the schools or legislature, we are going to contend for it. We will win.” There is no doubt that PK is engaged in a war of good against evil – as they define these undefinable terms.
After 13 years of leading the organization he founded, Bill McCartney announced that he would depart the organization to spent time with his ailing wife as of 1 October 2003. He said, “God has assigned me to be a husband and a grandfather.” But McCartney said, “The ministry of Promise Keepers is not finished; it is needed now more than ever. I am confident that the Lord will direct and empower the ministry to move forward in strength and support – the opportunities for PK are limitless.”
McCartney’s parting words should sound as a warning to those who believe laws should be secular and inclusive, rather than theocratic and divisive, and that women deserve an equal share in the leadership of and the benefits from society. Promise Keepers is not a new idea – it is the same old idea: keep some people down (women, gays, non-believers) and you’ll keep yourself up. All it takes is a reversal of legal, social and civil rights gains!
The PK leadership claims the organization is religious rather than political, but choosing the Mall in the nation’s capital for a gathering-place seems to belie that claim. And Promise Keepers leader Raleigh Washington has said, “There is no way this group can restrict itself when it comes to public policy. We are producing leaders in this organization. They will enter the political sphere.”
* The Seven Promises are:
1. A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.
3. A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.
4. A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values.
5. A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of his church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources.
6. A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.
7. A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20 ).
Mark 12:30-31 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. (NIV)
Matthew 28:19-20 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (NIV)
Originally published October 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.