“Promise Keepers 1995 - Raise the Standard.”
It was the kind of Christian gathering I might have avoided a few years back, afraid of the inevitable collision with my own hypocrisy.
Besides, a bunch of men getting together to share personal experiences, cry, even hug one another - in Seattle’s venerable Kingdome, no less - just didn’t sound like a great weekend to me.
Who needed that “Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper” stuff, anyway? So as I entered that sports dome a month ago, I played the quiet skeptic. Journalists are funny that way, Christian or not.
Without a reporter’s notebook, I still had plenty of questions: How could so many men possibly draw closer to God in an arena where hot pretzels and Coca-Cola are sold as ministers preach from a giant television screen normally reserved for instant replays? How could I possibly expect to have a personal experience in the company of so many men, from so many faiths, all packed thigh-to-thigh on torturous aluminum bleachers for hours on end? Most men expected such a spiritual high, but surely it wouldn’t occur, or so I thought.
I was wrong.
A month after the conference, Promise Keepers still is making a difference.
The conference that drew 63,140 men to Seattle in July surprised me, both in the depth of its spiritual intimacy and lingering impact. The sociologists who would mark Christian men an endangered species might run from their own stupidity had they witnessed what I saw in the Kingdome. Attendance records don’t lie: God draws a bigger crowd than the Seattle Seahawks or the Mariners. That’s encouraging, something I recall every time I feel outnumbered.
Also indisputable, from my observatory in the nosebleed seats of that concrete stadium, is that Promise Keepers’ myriad critics are flat wrong: PK is not about excluding women, it’s about men being better husbands and fathers. That’s something my wife, sister and mother - all women - would applaud. Nor is Promise Keepers some violator of civil rights because it encourages men to take leadership roles in their families.
Jesus taught that true leaders are servants - those who help, encourage and minister to the needs of others. I’ve found room for improvement in that area. Maybe men are lacking as servants - true family leaders - because the very idea breaks the mold of machismo that so many of us fail to fit in, yet die trying.
So do these promises men made in Seattle really matter? The question is best answered by women and children who know Promise Keepers.
But the promises themselves merit public review. It may help answer the question so many women have: What are men doing at those meetings anyway? 1) A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, and obedience to His Word, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
If Promise Keepers, as a movement, is exclusive, it is in just one regard: It is strictly for those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
A man who has not accepted Christ as his personal savior may agree that the seven promises are laudable. But they’re just good ideas unless linked to a never-ending journey toward a stronger spiritual life. That’s the whole point. I strive to be more like Christ, in part, because my children - Jacob and Sarah - may someday strive to be like me. So much the better if they’ve chosen a model worthy of their mother’s love. I can’t be that model on my own - I’ve too many flaws.
2) A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.
That’s a tough one. Why does it seem women alone have figured out that having a few close friends to share life’s trials makes things easier?
A stereotype, perhaps, but one that holds up under a little scrutiny. My wife, Pam, weathers difficulties better than I do. I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t because she has close friends with whom she can confide, people other than me. However clumsily, Promise Keepers is trying something women discovered long ago: establishing meaningful friendships, not just mere acquaintances, with people of the same gender. Who better to hold a Promise Keeper accountable than a fellow Promise Keeper?
3) A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity.
I’ve got a new baseball cap now. I didn’t buy it in Seattle to hide a bad summer haircut, though it does accomplish that these days. The cap says Promise Keepers on the front and, in smaller letters on the back, the phrase “Men of Integrity.”
I feel awkward wearing the cap, because I worry I’ll see someone with a memory reaching not too far into my past - say, yesterday. That person may recall a time when I appeared decidedly lacking in integrity. Maybe that person is a co-worker, someone I went to school with, even a family member. (It’s occurred to me that the words appear on the back of the cap because other men have the same fear!)
In some ways, men who have failed - all of us - are like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. Frequently the deer dies, not because it made the mistake of walking onto the road, but because its horror at the error being discovered prevented the poor creature from getting out of the way.
That fear strikes at the heart of a Promise Keeper’s creed: Don’t be consumed by your own inadequacies, but instead God’s opportunities.
When past failures flash before your eyes, get out of the way. Move on. I’m still learning to do that.
4) A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values. It’s tough to argue that America’s experiment with moral relativism has worked well for the family. The belief that moral values are different for all people, therefore any behavior is somehow acceptable, is destroying family life. Today, four of every 10 kids live in a home without a father. And the numbers are growing. I’ll never forget the day my daughter was born. As I held her at the hospital, rocking her, another father was shown his own beautiful newborn. He declined to hold the child and quickly left to be with friends standing in the hallway. What kind of life will that child live?
Clearly, fatherless families can be vital, healthy places where children thrive. But it is not OK for a man with children to leave his family just because he wants to. Nor is it OK to leave or cheat on a wife, or let children play second-best to a job, sport or hobby.
As sure as the apple striking Newton’s head defined the law of gravity, our society’s problem with fatherless children shows that moral laws, too, cannot be broken without consequence.
5) A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of the church by honoring and praying for his pastor and by actively giving his time and resources.
I’m fortunate to count my pastor a friend, in a guy sort of way - meaning that we can chat a bit when he comes to borrow my lawn mower. Sad, isn’t it, that the clergy who help so many people eventually find themselves with no one to turn to when they need help? 6) A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.
How do Christians ever expect to win converts if they themselves are fighting because of racial and denominational differences? The Promise Keepers conference reiterated to me the importance of unity: God doesn’t care if you’re black, white, Southern Baptist, Methodist, or Episcopalian. Why do we?
7) A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
In other words, we’re trying to love others more than ourselves, sharing the message that a life walking with God is vital.
Will I fail these goals? Already have. But success and failure are never etched in stone. Whatever I do in life, good or bad, I can always strive to do better… to continually Raise the Standard.
That’s a promise worth keeping.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Staff illustration by A. Heitner
MEMO: Steve Massey is an assistant city editor at The Spokesman-Review.