Promise Keepers and Crossing Fingers

Written by Father Bill 3 Comments

Special promisesIn 1997, Promise Keepers fielded an event that was supposed to be epoch-making. Stand in the Gap brought together eight hundred thousand men (or one million men, according to PK accounts) to the National Mall in Washington on October 4 th, 1997 to recommit to marriage and family.And the aftermath? Within a few months, Promise Keepers had all but closed its main offices. The collapse of the movement was far more spectacular than the Washington event.

What happened?

David Usher provides a compelling analysis  of the movement’s catastrophic contraction in an article published in Men’s News Daily. Usher’s overview of Promise Keeper’s collapse begins with a widely read article by Bill McCartney on the eve of Stand in the Gap. Usher explains:

The collapse began with the widely-publicized article in the September-October 1997 issue of Policy Review, titled “Promise Makers”, which hit the newsstands just a few days before Stand in the Gap. This article received tremendous national attention.

Many conservatives were quietly expecting this watershed article would signal the beginnings of a real marriage movement. Instead, it was perhaps the most spectacular public display of self-deprecation witnessed in modern history.

The first few paragraphs of Bill McCartney’s Policy Review article were a shocking adoption of knuckle-dragging neanderthal feminist theory. It blamed men for all of society’s problems. In fact, it was so feminist I thought it could have been written by the National Organization of Women.”

Bait and Switch

Bait and SwitchIn the above-linked article by Usher, he demonstrates the radical feminist critique of American Christian manhood with copious quotations from McCartney’s article in Policy Review. I strongly urge you to read all of Usher’s critique as well as McCartney’s Policy Review article, available here online. Certainly McCartney’s article was read by thousands of men who understood it as a form of bait-and-switch. Promise Keepers held out the hope of reinvigorating a Christianity that was unashamedly masculine, that affirmed Christian manhood and sought to promote it. Instead, from its own founder, Promise Keepers became just one more mouthpiece for feminists (whether Christian or not) who viewed male headship in marriage, family, and church as a flaw to be fixed, a disease to be cured, a sin for men to repent of. No wonder Promise Keepers melted as quickly as a snowball in hell.

Since the contraction which Usher explains, Promise Keepers has continued to contract. A careful reading of their own history shows a declining number of men attending stadium or similar events since the 1997 Stand in the Gap and the contraction which followed. By their own testimony (laced with a generous dose of positive spin) they have continued to contract over the past decade. In fact, the contraction has gone far enough that McCartney now candidly speaks of an upcoming Promise Keepers event in Boulder, Colorado with these words  :

Our journey will begin with a stadium event in Boulder, CO, on July 31-August 1, 2009. We’ll celebrate our 20th anniversary as a ministry back where it all began–and where it will be re-launched–at Folsom Field.

Fish or Fowl?

Promise Keepers has always claimed it was a ministry to men. But with the relaunch, McCartney highlights three distinctives that will characterize the re-launched Promise Keepers. Claiming to take his cue for the relaunch from the First Century Church, McCartney claims that this church did three things:

Proverbs 31:31: They celebrated virtuous women at the city gates. We expect men to invite thousands of women to “A Time to Honor.” This will be powerful. We need to rally around women and raise the bar for what it is to be virtuous. The next generation must have a true model for womanhood.

Acts 2:43-48: They shared their resources equally. As the days get more difficult, the church that is truly anointed will be one that opens its arms to the less fortunate. We want to catalyze men to serve the poor, the oppressed and the needy through their local church.

I Corinthians 4:15: Honoring the Spiritual Fathers of the Faith. Paul said that though we may have countless teachers in the faith, we will not have many fathers. And he became our father through the Gospel. We want to honor the Jewish Believers who are the spiritual fathers of our faith.

Apostolic Christianity or Jewish Evangelism?

Concerning Spiritual Fathers: This sounds decidedly quixotic. It is one thing to argue in favor of evangelism of Jews, particulary based on Paul’s “to the Jew first, and then the Greek” statements. Two of PK’s Board members are involved in Jewish evangelism (Rabbi Jonathan Bernis) and encouraging “Gentile believers in Jesus Christ to embrace the Messianic Jewish community” (Dr.Raleigh Washington). But McCartney doesn’t even seem to have evangelism of Jewish unbelievers in view here, but rather “Jewish believers who are the spiritual fathers of our faith.”

It’s unclear who these “fathers” are. Paul evangelized the Corinthians and thus claims to be their father in the gospel. Is Paul, therefore, ipso facto the father of all believers today? Or, perhaps McCartney is referring to the Apostles who left us the New Testament. But, still, while some Christians have become believers by reading the New Testament alone, most have been evangelized by Gentile evangelists. Just what McCartney is talking about here awaits further developments.

Christian Welfare?

Concerning the sharing of resources: why is this agenda singled out as somehow unique, or distinctive? Yes, the sharing of resources marked the communal life of early Christians. But that has more or less been the case ever since. Today, there are scores of Christian aid agencies that are international in scope, alongside countless soup kitchens, second-hand clothing distribution networks, and single-mother ministries in churches across the land. Entire denominations have cast themselves as agents for social justice and aid to the oppressed. Why is this “new?”

It’s Still About Women, Evidently

Thumbs Up But, the first distictive in McCartney’s list looks decidedly like a retread, and a confused one at that. Citing a verse from the poem on the Virtuous Women (who is obviously a member of the aristocracy during the Golden Age of Solomon) in Proverbs 31, McCartney claims that the early church “celebrated virtuous women at the city gates.” So far as I know, the Apostle Paul commends a number of women for their character and works of mercy. But, to say that Christians themselves were “celebrating virtuous women at the city gates” is almost certainly false.

Christians (Jewish and Gentile alike) were mocked and persecuted and schemed against in the city gates. Jews and Pagans alike, threatened by converts to Christianity, persecuted Christians. To imagine the Christians themselves “celebrating” (what, exactly, is this supposed to mean???) in the city gates … it’s a preposterous fiction forced onto the NT and the early writings of the post-Apostolic fathers.

But, this is the 21st Century. The Evangelical Church is now feminist. And, if a ministry to men is going to have a snowball’s chance in hell, it’s going to need to bring the women in. Here’s how the PK website puts it :

1) Why are we inviting women?

The time for Proverbs 31:31 is long overdue! It’s time to bring our wives and daughters so that we can honor them together. They need to stand side by side with us as warriors of the faith.

Hmmmm. Evidently, Christian men don’t praise virtuous women in the gates (hence, it’s long overdue). I’m not sure why the burgeoning population of women in evangelical seminaries doesn’t count here. In another generation, evangelical pulpits will have as many or more women in them than men. Count on it — the seminaries’ Forward Looking Committees have it all figured out. The next generation of evangelical leaders are in today’s evangelical seminary classrooms. Count the division of the sexes and know the future!

I wish PK had been a less foggy about that warrior thing.

Do they mean this: “They need to stand side by side with us men who as men are warriors for the faith?”

Or do they mean this: “They need to stand side by side with us men, joining us to be warriors for the faith?”

You know, in the current climate there’s whole organization of women led by Carolyn Custis James who claims that the Bible calls women to be warriors. Women now populate all the armed forces, including combat units, so it’s a sure thing they can claim to be warriors for the United States. Is PK conforming to popular feminist and egalitarian notions about the warrior-ness of women? Looks like it to me.

Down with Male Headship

seenoevilMeanwhile, the entire, long, and tedious battle for the past 25 years has been whether or not men are heads of their marriages, families, and churches. On that issue, PK is quite clear :

What does PK think the role of women should be?

The role of women is not a topic we address at our events; however, we do believe husbands are called to love their wives just as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25).

I do not know how more studiously Promise Keepers can ignore the Scriptures than this. Paul has a lot of very clear things to say about the role of women in Ephesians 5. On one hand PK urges us to honor our spiritual fathers in the faith — including the Apostle Paul, for crying out loud — and at the same time refuses to quote the Apostle when he gives an answer to a question they themselves acknowledge is “out there.”

Promise Keepers makes a big deal out of integrity and courage. They would be a lot more convincing if they showed more integrity in how they handle the Bible, and less cowardice when facing the spirit of the age.


3 Comments

  1. Kamilla   |  Monday, 30 March 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Fr. Bill,

    Thanks for doing all this work. As you know, with my personal and local experience of PK, I am highly skeptical. They’ve been wet fishes on several fronts from the beginning. Not least of which is their theological confusion in selecting speakers (here T. D. Jakes comes to mind). There are also their “7 Promises of a PromiseKeeper” which, aside from a specific and minor reference or two — could easily apply to women as well.

    One thing I will note in their favor — I have *always* felt an odd sort of dark heaviness whenever I visit Boulder. One Saturday, fifteen or so years ago, I was there and that spirit was completely lifted. Only later did I find out that was the day one of the early PK rallies was meeting at Folsom field.

    Kamilla

  2. Michael McMillan   |  Tuesday, 31 March 2009 at 12:37 pm

    > Christian Welfare?

    Remember when PK had the big focus on race?

    Next it will be about Christian men leading in the Green movement.

    > Why is this “new?”

    They’re always a few laps behind.

    > Or do they mean this: “They need to stand side by side with us men, joining us to be warriors for the faith?”

    It unfortunately doesn’t sound ambiguous. It sounds like the woman are also warriors.

    > Is PK conforming to popular feminist and egalitarian notions about the warrior-ness of women? Looks like it to me.

    I’ll second that.

    > They would be a lot more convincing if they showed more integrity in how they handle the Bible, and less cowardice when facing the spirit of the age.

    So much for Standing in the Gap!

    –Michael

  3. Kamilla   |  Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Fr. Bill,

    I was just thinking about this and I came over here to check on the date, thinking it must have passed. Funny thing, I haven’t heard a peep about it from local news coverage – and, as you know, I’ve been somewhat housebound (and, consequently, watching more television than usual). This makes me curious, I think I’ll go do a little exploring!

    Kamilla

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