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 Charisma.
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 discrimination.
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.