Since the early 1990s, Promise Keepers has drawn more than 2 million men nationwide to its massive Christian men's gatherings. And its momentum shows little sign of waning: Its 1997 schedule is maintaining a brisk pace, with an ambitious gathering planned for Oct. 4 on the Capitol Mall in Washington.
The group, the creation of former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, was founded with the explicit goal of helping men become better husbands and fathers through deepening their spiritual commitments.
While the group is known primarily for its large gatherings, it also fosters small groups in which local, church-going men come together for Bible study, worship, and accountability in keeping their promises to the organization.
The Promise Keeper statement of faith includes one God in three persons, the infallibility of the Bible, the deity of Jesus, and the removal of sin through salvation made possible by Jesus death.
The promises of a Promise Keeper commit him to:
1. Honor Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, and obedience.
2. Pursue vital relationships with a few men, understanding the need for brothers to help him keep his promises.
3. Practice spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.
4. Build strong marriages and families through love, protection, and biblical values.
5. Support his local church through prayer and participation.
6. Overcome racial and denominational barriers to show the power of biblical unity.
7. Influence the world, in accordance with Mark 12:30-31 and Matthew 28: 19-20.
Jack Bergman, a Promise Keeper from Santa Clarita, Calif., brought his 5-1/2-month-old son, Josiah, to the recent Chosen Women rally to show support for his wife, Nydia. He puts a face on the movement in a representative style. "Men are here to lead and protect women, but not dominate them," he explains as he gestures to the side of his chest, adding, "God took them out of our ribs not to crush them, but to support them."
Mrs. Bergman, who attended the conference at her husband's urging, nods. But Mr. Bergman adds, "It's time to break down the walls between men and women. It's time for women to get strong."
While the group has been accused of anti-gay and racist rhetoric, it points to commitment No. 6 as evidence that individual views expressed in the context of a Promise Keeper meeting don't represent the organization.
Stephen Davis, a professor of philosophy and religion at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., says that Promise Keepers has a perception gap. "Many people think that the group is saying insidious racist or homophobic things in code. I don't think so."
He attributes the suspicions to a societal mistrust of conservative views in general, adding that observers have underestimated the need men feel to be spiritually connected to their wives and each other. He notes, "Promise Keepers has obviously tapped into something very deep in men."