Promise Keepers fill Washington's Mall with prayer
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
"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:
|who the Promise Keepers are
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what the Promise Keepers believe in
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free admission to Promise Keepers events
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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
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,
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
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
"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 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
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