TIME Online Special Report: The Promise Keepers
Promise Keepers Pour Into The Nation's Capital
Critics say the group has a hidden, right-wing political agenda
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Oct. 3) -- The biggest-ever pilgrimage of the Promise Keepers has begun, as an estimated half-million men pour into the nation's capital from across the country for tomorrow's "Stand In The Gap" assembly on Washington's National Mall.
If Bibles are any indication, this event will be huge. Earlier this morning, one million copies of the New Testament were dropped off at the Mall. Each participant will be given a copy.
Thousands have already arrived in Washington, including a group of 3,000 who set out this morning to repair a local high school as part of the group's promise to better their communities.
Promise Keepers began in 1990, founded by Bill McCartney, who was then head football coach of the University of Colorado, the national champions that year. But in mid-life crisis, McCartney surprised everyone by quitting football and dedicating himself to preaching the Bible.
He first met with 72 men in a gym, gradually moving into bigger arenas as the gatherings grew. Last year, with a staff of 360 and a budget of $96 million, he attracted more than a million men to conferences across the United States.
There are seven promises they pledge to keep. In their simplest form they are to: Trust in Christ; form close friendships with a few men; practice moral and sexual purity; love your wife and children; support your church; overcome prejudice; and, encourage others to do the same.
Hidden Political Agenda?
Critics say that behind the Promise Keepers' message of faith lies a dangerous political agenda with close ties to the religious right.
The hidden spirit of the Promise Keepers, their critics say, is anti-women, anti-gay and anti-abortion.
National Organization of Women President Patricia Ireland, said, "The Promise Keepers is only the most recent and perhaps the hottest marketing tool for religious political extremists in this country."
But the group insists the "Stand in The Gap" assembly will prove they are strictly non-political.
Promise Keepers spokesman Mark DeMoss said his group is "going to pass up an opportunity this Saturday to parade congressman and senators in front of hundreds of thousands of men. So there is no evidence of this political connection."
Politicians aren't invited to speak at Promise Keepers events but that doesn't mean they won't be present at the assembly. Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said, "I think what it makes sense for political people to do is not to get on the stage, not issue press releases ... and not exploit it for political purposes, [but] simply put on a pair of blue jeans and a sweatshirt and go and be part of the crowd."
But Coats joined several other conservative members of Congress in sending out letters supportive of Promise Keepers.
Promise Keepers has garnered support from the Religious Right, including Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson. And DeMoss has also served for more than a decade as spokesman for Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority.
And McCartney is no stranger to politics. In 1992, he helped lead the campaign for an anti-gay rights ballot measure in Colorado.
Why do they gather like this?
The talk at Promise Keeper events centers on the spiritual -- not the political. And that may be one reason men turn out by the thousands.
Saturday's gathering of Promise Keepers on the Mall is just an extension of the rallies they stage at football stadiums across the country. These "conferences" have the power of old-fashioned evangelical Christian tent revivals, attracting 50,000 men at a time.
Computer salesman Michael Banker, attending one such rally with his son Nathan and his father-in-law Kurt Schleicher, explained why he attends. "It's helpful to go back every year and to be with 50,000 other men who say, 'I'm continuing to change.'"
What they want to change, says Banker, is the way they act as husbands, and fathers. His wife Denise agrees, saying, "There are times that the job just consumes him or other things consume him, and Promise Keepers brings him back into focus."
CNN's Stephen Frazier and Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.
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Friday Oct. 3, 1997
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