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Promise Keepers (PK), Pro and Con: PART 2

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This is a continuation of Part 1 of this essay

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Response of United Methodist Men

At their meeting in Nashville TN on 1997-SEP-27, the United Methodist Church's Commission on United Methodist Men gave a qualified endorsement of the Promise Keepers movement. 1 The commission noted some points of conflict between the two organizations in the following areas:

bullet"United Methodist broad theological diversity contrasted with Promise Keepers theological parameters;
bulletUnited Methodist affirmation of women in ministry and church leadership contrasted with Promise Keepers diversity of opinion;
bulletEmphasis of the United Methodist Church on global missions, evangelism and nurture contrasted to Promise Keepers emphasis as a 'catalytic ministry that motivates and trains men for men's ministry in the local church;
bulletUnited Methodist connectional structure contrasted with Promise Keepers predominate congregational nature."

They plan to work with Promise Keepers and other groups where goals and objectives are not in conflict.

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The 1997 Washington Rally

A record-breaking rally "Stand in the Gap: A Sacred Assembly of Men" was expected to include 700,000 men on 1997-OCT-4 in the National Mall of Washington DC. The rally was originally scheduled for 1996, but was delayed one year. Organizers were concerned that it would have been politicized by being associated with the 1996 elections. The name of the rally is taken from Ezekiel 22:30, in which God looks for a man who will "...stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it..." (NIV) One initial attendance estimate was that over 1 million men came - the largest gathering of men anywhere. (Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March attracted 400,000 to 870,000. A 1993 Mass conducted by Pope John Paul II in Denver CO attracted an estimated 600,000 people.) The Metro subway system reported that 702,000 people had passed through its turnstiles by 9 p.m. Ridership on a typical Saturday is about 200,000. Both Promise Keepers and the National Park Service did not make estimates of the crowd size, but most professional estimators gave figures in the range of 500,000 to 1 million. The crowd covered an area 300 yards wide and 1 mile long. The rally was covered live on the CSPAN cable network.

PK founder Bill McCartney called for rallies on 2000-JAN-1 at every state capitol to take "a roll call" for Jesus Christ. It is worth noting that these rallies will inevitably be interpreted as political because of the elections later that year. If the rallies were to be associated with the beginning of the new millennium, they would have been be scheduled for 2001-JAN-1. He urged "an end to racism inside the church of Jesus Christ" by the year 2000. He made no similar call for an end to sexism or homophobia. He promised 37 free events over the next two years. He expected to expand the ministry globally.

A group of pro-life activists has synchronized the start of their billboard campaign with the PK rally. They will be erecting large portable anti-abortion billboards across the US. One will show the remains of an aborted fetus beside pictures of lynched blacks and emaciated corpses from concentration camps. Another billboard consists of four large photographs of a (rare) second-trimester abortion in progress. A leader, Gregg Cunningham, said: "We have been systematically denied access to every forum. We can’t get onto television, we can’t get into newspapers, we can’t get onto billboards, [and] we can’t get into churches or classrooms or civic organizations. The last forum open to us is the public square." Helen Alvare, who played a major role in the anti-abortion campaign by US Catholic Bishops, predicted that the billboard campaign would probably alienate more people than it wins. 2

The Lesbian Avengers were there in full force. They had been told that they could not make a political statement, so they removed their shirts and went topless instead. The men generally averted their eyes; there were no whistles or catcalls. The Avengers said that the Promise Keepers are racist, homophobic and want a return to patriarchy. They offered seven of their own promises, including fighting this "perversion of Christianity." Katie Tobler, a young woman dressed only in shorts, said "Promise Keepers has an agenda to put women back in the kitchen, to have babies and stay at home. They are a fraud."

Laura Montgomery Rutt, Executive Director of the Alliance for Tolerance and Freedom attended the rally. She reported that The Family Research Council, a Religious Right political organization put on an advertising blitz to convince the rally attendees to join their group. They offered a free picture of the Mall in return for a name and address to add to their data base. In violation of the rules, PK solicited money at the Mall; they gave out Bbibles which included envelopes for donations. Ms. Rutt reported that: "They had minorities from many nationalities and races take the stand and 'absolve' them from their sins of bigotry, including Hispanic, African American, Native American...The Atheists held signs that said 'Real men don't pray'. NOW had a press rally." She attended a pre-event interfaith service that promoted inclusion and tolerance for all people.

Rally speakers concentrated on three weaknesses of Christian men: 3

bulletforsaking God by disregarding the Bible, failing in prayer and falling into sexual sins.
bulletEvading spiritual leadership by abusing and abandoning their families.
bulletFostering disunity in the body of Christ through racism and denominational pride.

These were combined into a single statement, called the "D.C. Covenant" which the crowd recited at the end of the rally. 4

Equal Partners in Faith is a "broad-based coalition of people of faith committed to equality among all people regardless of gender, race,or sexual orientation." They promote and celebrate diversity. The group organized a "Weekend of Witness" in Washington DC, as a response to the PK rally. They held a "Prayer Vigil for Unity and Equality" at the US Capitol on the Friday afternoon, and an "InterFaith Worship Service for Unity and Equality" on the Saturday morning of the PK rally.

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1998 Financial Crisis

Promise Keepers laid off its entire US staff of 345 employees, effective 1998-MAR-31, and become an all-volunteer agency. 200 of them are in their head office in Denver, CO. In their press release they commented that this "represents a transition of a magnitude unique in the history of nonprofit organizations."

The financial difficulties apparently arose because attendance at 1997 regional rallies had dropped by about 50%. Many men did not go, preferring to attend the massive Washington DC meeting instead. Admission to regular meetings cost $60; the Washington rally was free. Another cause was the decision to lower admission fees in order to make it possible for more low income Christians to attend and to attract more non-Christian men.

The layoffs were announced at a staff meeting on FEB-18. They asked each church across the US to donate $1,000 to Promise Keepers. Founder Bill McCartney said "it's the will of God for churches to give this money...If the church fails to do this, they will have missed the heart of God If they're a small church, that doesn't let them off the hook. They need to ask a large church for the money." 5

Christianity Today (1998-MAY-18) announced that about 1,500 churches had given $1,000 or more; others gave smaller donations. Some 35,000 individuals contributed money, making the total receipts equal to 4 million dollars by APR-9. They recalled their employees; unfortunately 70 had already found alternative employment.

Their 1997 budget has been variously reported as $90 to 112 million; the 1998 budget will be $45 million

During 1998-OCT, they reduced their full time staff again, from 250 to 180. They are basing future conferences on the Billy Graham crusade model. That involves an invitation from a local churches, who will do much of the organizing.

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Promise Keepers in Canada

Canada has about 10% of the population of the US. Thus, one would expect to see the numbers of PK rallies and the total turnout to be 1/10 of the corresponding US figures. But the demographics, the religious makeup and social culture of the two countries are quite different; this makes comparisons difficult. PK Canada had 3 meetings in 1996 and 6 in 1997. (20) They had hoped to attract about 80,000 men to the 1997 meetings, but managed fewer than 30,000. Their most recent rally, in Edmonton AL, attracted 12,000 men. Their budget is less than $1 million; PK in the US has a budget more than 116 times larger.

Ken McGeorge, CEO of PK Canada said: "We have an uphill battle; we know that. This is definitely a more secular society."

There are major differences between the US and Canada:

bulletthe largest Protestant denominations are the Anglican Church and the United Church, both from the liberal wing of Christianity. 80% of Canadians belong to the Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, or United Churches.
bulletregular church attendance is about 20% of the adult population, much lower than in the US.
bulletthere are very few Evangelical Christian radio stations in Canada.
bulletthe percentage of Evangelical Christians is much lower than that in the US.
bulletthe people are more laid-back; homicide rates are much lower; gun controls are strict.
bulletabortion is freely available, although not always conveniently accessible. There are very few protests by pro-life groups.
bulletdiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is banned; sexual orientation is a protected class, similar to gender, age, nationality, etc.
bulletgay and lesbian partnerships are recognized in one province, British Columbia.

Earl Waugh, head of religious studies at the University of Alberta said that a major religious difference between the US and Canada relates to the ties between religion and the state. He reasons that religious organizations in Canada are less likely to criticize government policy or get involved in the political process compared with the US. "While we do not have a state church, we have a number of semi-state churches. They're less radical." Canadians have not followed the tradition of inter-denominational worship that is common in the US.

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Recent developmnets:

bulletAttendance at 1998 rallies: Promise Keepers reported a severe reduction in attendance in its 1998 rallies compared to previous years. In the 12 months ending 1998-OCT-10, 454,000 men attended 19 PK events. One year previously, attendees totaled 638,000 at 19 events in stadiums and arenas plus the 500,000 to 1 million men who attended the rally at the Washington DC mall. About 15 rallies are planned for 1999. 6
bulletCancellation of 2000-JAN rallies: Promise Keepers had planned to hold rallies at the capitol buildings of all 50 states in the U.S. on 2000-JAN-1. They have since canceled these plans because of concern over the Y2K problem. Many conservative Christian leaders had prophesied that computer program failures on that day will devastate the world. Neither the rallies nor the disasters happened.
bullet2000-FEB-7: PK has started a series of daily three-minute commentaries called "4th and Goal: Coaching for life's tough calls." It was originally broadcast over 145 stations in the U.S.
bullet2000-MAR layoffs: A news item dated as 2000-MAR-15 by the Calvary Contender, but received in MAR-6 stated that PK has undergone a major restructuring. This included staff layoffs and the closing of eight regional offices.
bullet2000-JUN: PK held its first rally of the year in Lynchburg, VA during JUN-3/4. Attendance was down compared to previous years. Fifteen more rallies are planned during 2000, starting with one at Pittsburgh on JUN-23/24.
bullet2001-DEC: PK conducted "Passage," an all-day conference in Columbus OH. An unknown number of teenage males, ages 13 to 17 were taught about "integrity, courage, humility and faith." They conducted conferences in 17 cities during 2001. 7

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References:

  1. Linda Green, "United Methodist Men's Commission clarifies relationship to Promise Keepers movement", United Methodist News Service, 1997-SEP-30 http://www.umc.org/umns/news97/sep/gumen.htm
  2. Ruth Padawer, "Anti-abortion guerrillas get graphic", MSNBC. Essay is at: http://www.msnbc.com/news/114731.asp
  3. "Promise Keepers make history with reconciliation rally in D.C.", Associated Baptist Press, 1997-OCT-5.
  4. The DC Covenant is available on-line at: http://www2.promisekeepers.org/manual/sitg/covenant.htm
  5. Article by Jennifer Dixon, Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI, 1998-FEB-19
  6. George Bullard, "How do we resolve the issue of homosexuality,?" The Detroit News, at: http://www.detnews.com/1998/religion/9810/24/10240034.htm
  7. "Promise Keepers Holds First-of-its-kind 'Passage' Youth Event," ReligionToday summaries, 2001-DEC-18.

Copyright 1998 to 2001 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2001-DEC-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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