An estimated 65,000 men from throughout the Northwest traveled to Seattle’s Kingdome this weekend for a sold-out Promise Keepers conference.
Spokane men arrived early Friday afternoon, traveling in caravan by the busload, in minivans, and in the case of Spokane’s own Soul Patrol, on Harley-Davidsons.
Some, prepared to spend the night camped out in Seattle churches, brought knapsacks and bedrolls. Some brought Bibles, and even their fathers or sons. All brought their faith.
“It’s just so exciting,” said Dick Wright of Spokane, who traveled to the event with four busloads of men from Spokane-area churches.
Every sidewalk leading to the Kingdome streamed with men headed to the conference hours before it began. There were executive types and oldsters, young boys in baseball caps and baggy jeans, teenagers, pony-tailed hipsters and middle-aged guys in golf shirts. No women, of course, other than event staff and volunteers, and few people of color.
Stung by criticism about lack of diversity, Promise Keepers is making an effort to reach out to all races and denominations, challenging the national movement’s followers to break down barriers.
During the conference some hymns were sung in both English and Spanish and different styles of music were included, from salsa to traditional.
But Promise Keepers remains exclusively and unabashedly by, for, and about men. The national, Christ-centered, evangelistic movement is dedicated to helping men answer fundamental ques tions: Why are they here? What is the purpose of their life? And how do they live it as a Godly man?
Promise Keepers is tapping something deep: The crowd packed the stadium to the rafters and spilled out onto the floor. Nothing has brought more men to the Kingdome, not the Seahawks, not the Mariners, not tractor pulls or boat shows.
The crowd roared its welcome as the event kicked off, and even before, crying out “We love Jesus, yes we do! We love Jesus, how about you!”
Believe it: You haven’t heard loud until 65,000 men roar with joy in a concretedomed stadium.
Outside the stadium, business was brisk at booths selling most anything imaginable with a Promise Keepers logo, from tank tops to jackets and car cups. There were Promise Keeper tapes, books, and CDs for sale, and booths offering answers on everything from improving marriage to becoming a better father, or being “delivered” from homosexuality.
Signature gatherers seeking to put initiatives before the Legislature blocking gay rights and outlawing affirmative action also did a brisk business.
The theme of the conference was “raise the standard” - of what it means for men to be promise keepers, not just promise makers; to be men of integrity, and above all, men of God.
They promised to become better fathers and husbands and be spiritually, morally and sexually pure. In one thundering voice, they promised to turn to each other once they got back home, forming small support groups with other men and hold each other to their promises to God and their families.
Changing their hearts can ultimately change society, said Greg Casey, a Spokane attorney who attended with more than 140 men from Harvest Christian Fellowship. They hung a purple and gold banner for all in the Kingdome to see.
“You can have all the laws you want. But changing hearts is what will make the difference.”
Change takes courage, which the men were challenged to find in God.
“This is not a wimp session here tonight. We are men of courage. We are men of God,” Rev. Bob Morehead of Overlake Christian Church in Kirkland told the crowd Friday.
“It takes a man who has guts and courage to say I have broken your law, I have sinned.”
He exhorted men to approach the stage, and give their lives over to God. “Have guts enough to be a real man tonight … to do something that will affect your life for billions of years ahead on into eternity.
“Men, your marriage may depend on it, the respect of your children may depend on it … Give your life to Jesus Christ right now.”
And men did, by the hundreds. They walked to the stage arm in arm, some weeping, forming a swelling crowd of men seeking redemption as tens of thousands stood to honor their decision, applauding.
Then the Kingdome filled with the whisper of prayer, as men on every deck of the stadium huddled, heads bowed in devotion. Next came a deafening cheer as the crowd welcomed the new faithful.
Guys in biker shirts, middle-aged dads and teenage boys slapped high fives, hugged, and shared whoops of joy.
There were quiet moments, just as moving: men, invited to “turn to another guy, and pray with him,” filled the massive stadium with a quiet rush of prayer.
Men turned to their neighbors, sometimes linking arms, hands, or embracing. They confided their troubles, and called on God for help.
By helping them find and know God, some men said, Promise Keepers helped them define what it means to be a man for the first time.
“I had been down so many roads, trying to understand and fulfill my role as a man,” said Kevin Humphreys of Spokane. “I followed all the usual cultural models. The sports players, the Miller Lite guys, the Marlboro man, I emulated those things.
“I’ve done it all. The toys, the golf games, the hunting. And no one says you have to give those up. But when they become your identity, when your identity is your car, or whatever it might be, they are all dead ends.”
It’s the life of the spirit that rewards, Humphreys said, and inspires true leadership.
“Men have held onto wanting to lead, but had no idea what their responsibilities are. It’s to serve and honor God and their wife and family.
“Christians are not dictators or someone who stands up and give orders. They come to serve. That’s totally opposite from what most men understand leadership to be, but to me, it’s much more fulfilling.”
David Fitts, manager of Christian radio station KSTL in Spokane, said Promise Keepers also helped him open up.
“I’ve always been one of those guys who didn’t want to share my deep, dark secrets.
“Guys can talk about fishing and boating and motorcycles but they don’t know how to communicate with their wife.
“This has made it more easy for me to share my feelings with other men and my family.”
Reached by phone, some Spokane women said they are delighted their husbands discovered Promise Keepers.
“If men attend Promise Keepers they are on fire for the Lord,” said Bev Wright of Spokane, married to Dick Wright for 30 years. “I’ve heard women say, ‘Why is it only for men?’ But my answer is: It isn’t, because their wives and children reap the benefits.
“When he picks up a Bible it soothes him, and then he doesn’t bring those frustrations home. I see him at peace with himself,” she said of her husband.
Not only that: “You know what I’ve seen my husband do? I’ve seen him cry. I’ve seen him hug other men. He was raised that you don’t do that. Some men are afraid for their maleism. Or that someone will make fun of them. But I don’t know anyone that makes fun of my husband.
“He is admired in our church.”
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