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Promise Keepers fill Washington's Mall with prayer

McCartney October 4, 1997
Web posted at: 9:10 p.m. EDT (0110 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hundreds of thousands of men prayed, sang and shared messages of spiritual unity on Washington's Mall Saturday in a day-long revival service sponsored by the evangelical Christian men's group, Promise Keepers.

The group's founder, former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, called on the men gathered in Washington to take the spirit of unity displayed Saturday back home into their communities.

"We're going to spend all eternity together. When we get up there, we want to be able to testify that we did it together," he said. "Our destination is brotherhood in concert -- true biblical oneness."

McCartney also announced that the group would work in the next two years on "racial reconciliation." On January 1, 2000, he said, Promise Keepers would sponsor rallies on the steps of every state capitol at which pastors would testify as to what they've done to heal racial divisions in their communities.

vxtreme Bill McCartney, Promise Keepers founder, addresses the crowd.

"They are going to be able to say, 'Yes, we teach, preach, model and live racial reconciliation.' And when that happens, the church of Jesus Christ is going to be able to stand up and say we can testify that the giant of racism is dead inside the church of Jesus Christ," McCartney said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Crowd stretches more than a mile

Bill McCartney on:
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  • what the Promise Keepers believe in
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  • The massive crowd, which gathered under clear sunny skies, stretched more than a mile along the Mall, from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.

    The National Park Service, stung by past disputes over its crowd estimates during other mass rallies in Washington, declined to give an estimate as to how many men had gathered. The Promise Keepers organization also declined to estimate how many men attended.

    The only estimate of any kind came from Washington's Metro subway system, which reported that by the mid-point of the rally, at 3 p.m., 350,000 people had passed through its turnstiles. On a normal Saturday, ridership for a full day is about 200,000.

    the Mall

    Though Promise Keepers emphasizes racial diversity -- promoting racial reconciliation is one of the "promises" members are called on to keep -- the crowd was mostly white.

    NOW leader: Group led by 'extremists'

    The group, started seven years ago by McCartney, advocates that men rededicate themselves to God and recommit themselves to their families. The group insists its agenda is spiritual, not political.

    But the group's ties to prominent religious conservatives, such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson, and its assertions that men should take charge and be the leaders of their families make some feminists and liberals uneasy about the group's intent.

    McCartney singing

    McCartney has been an outspoken opponent of abortion and has campaigned in favor of a Colorado ballot measure that would have repealed gay rights laws enacted by Denver and other cities.

    "Most of the Promise Keepers' leaders in fact are the same old pantheon of religious-political extremists we've been fighting for decades," said Patricia Ireland, the president of the National Organization for Women, which held a counter demonstration at the rally.

    On Saturday in Washington's predominately gay DuPont Circle neighborhood, a group called Equal Partners in Faith sponsored an alternative religious service, attended by about 40 people. They called on Promise Keepers to widen their reach to include women, minorities and gays and lesbians.

    Attendees camped out overnight

    Many of those attending the Promise Keepers rally spent the night on the Mall to secure a good spot. Others spent the night in churches, because they couldn't find a hotel room. By sunrise, the best Mall locations were gone.

    the gathering early Sunday morning

    The crowd picked up copies of the Bible, which were handed out for free. They gazed at three large video screens displaying passages from the Bible. Others took sanctuary in teepees, scattered across the Mall, that were intended for private prayer and reflection.

    "At our age, it's a lot easier to prevent a mistake than fix one," said 21-year-old Shane Tucker, a Christian education major at Taylor University in Indiana. "Now is the time to give ourselves to Christ and focus on making relationships with our families, with other men. The world needs that."

    "I came here for the worship and the unity," another young student said.

    Throngs of men arrived by cars, planes and chartered buses from across the United States and more than 50 countries, according to Promise Keepers officials, who described the day as one of atonement during which men will commit themselves to God and their families and communities.

    One group even arrived by foot -- making the trek from Santa Monica, California, with a 12-foot wooden cross. After walking since August 2, the group celebrated their arrival by pushing the cross for seven laps around the Mall.

    Correspondents Kathleen Koch and Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.


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