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Just Whose Promise Is Being Kept?

Thu., July 27, 1995

Q. I read what you had to say about the Promise Keepers in The Seattle Times and in The Spokesman-Review. I don’t agree with everything you said, but I appreciate that you tried to find a middle ground. I went to the Kingdome gathering. I prayed and rejoiced and hurt and healed with 65,000 other Christian men and boys. A group from our church went, including two young men, 17 and 18. Their lives were changed. I’m not exaggerating. This was a great event.

I wish more people from outside the Christian movement would come to these events and understand them the way I do. I get frustrated by how antagonistic people can be who don’t know. The reporters are the worst. They pick and choose so they can slant things against whoever they don’t like. Right now, the Promise Keepers are their target.

- Gary, Spokane

A. I’ve gotten a lot of calls and correspondence over the last month about the Promise Keepers (the Christian Men’s Movement). It began when someone - whose identity I still don’t know - put one of my articles about the Promise Keepers into the Internet. I had not realized the power and reach of the Internet before this!

What I’ve felt in the interviews and conversations is some of the frustration you feel, but I’m not sure you and I will come to the same conclusion. Like you, I am frustrated that some reporters have their minds made up before they start the interview. I am frustrated by the “us” vs. “them” stance that exists in anything political these days - and religion is about as political as things get anymore. Most of all, like you, I know what it’s like to believe in something deeply, and to be misunderstood.

At the same time, I hope Christians in general and the Promise Keepers in particular will not spend much time blaming reporters for misunderstandings. Whatever their method, and however they pick and choose details, reporters’ words spin enough of a web around a subject to hold it steady a moment so that readers can look at it. I have found that, in the end, reporters can do little damage to a movement the world needs.

The Promise Keepers seems to me a much needed movement in the evangelical Christian world. Beyond that, I’m not sure how needed it is. The Promise Keepers, because it is so evangelical in its intentions, will always incite fear in others who are not indoctrinated - non-Christians and other Christians alike. For those of us who do not believe in evangelism as a social ideal, the Promise Keepers will require great patience, tolerance and careful self-protection.

Whether we like it or not, America has chosen a non-evangelical course in its search for meaning. We require our leaders to be persons of spiritual character, but we don’t like them shoving any religion down our throats. We want them to be inclusive rather than exclusive. We want them to respond to needs of as many people as possible, not just one creedal group.

The Promise Keepers devalues and thus excludes gay men. This, for many people, is a doorway into the inner character of the movement. People cannot help but think, if it excludes gays as vehemently as it does, then who else does it exclude? As an evangelical movement, it excludes the rest of us. Unless I am a particular kind of Christian, how can I really feel like I belong? Leaders of the Promise Keepers, like Tony Evans, have preached an “us” vs. “them” attitude on women’s rights. When he says things like, “Take your role back - your wife may not like it, but don’t give in,” how can he not confuse the rest of us, who have fought hard for women’s equality? His words betray a philosophy toward women that debunks the important efforts of the last quarter century.

If you’ve read my articles you know I support Promise Keepers because in bringing men together toward sacred purpose, a great deal of good is coming. Men are defining a role, exploring meaning, building community. A million men without a sacred role in life is, I believe, more dangerous than a million men with a sacred role. That some of the secondary principles of that role trouble, even hurt me, is not enough of a reason for me to withdraw support.

In the end, however, I call on the Promise Keepers to stop lamenting whatever bad press they get and start, instead, the complex process of reaching out to all people. If they can’t do this, they’ll remain an evangelical movement, a powerful current in American life, but not as wise a movement as they want to be. Nor, ultimately, will they fulfill their claim to Jesus Christ as their model. Both biblical and nonbiblical history tell us that Jesus Christ reached out to all peoples. This, above all, was the guiding principle of His evangelism.


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