The Denver Post (16/Dec/97) reports that among the recipients in Colorado of Esquire magazine's Dubious Achievement Awards (Bill Husted's column on page 2A) was the well-deserved recognition of the Promise Keepers as 'Cult of the Year.'


Confronting the agenda of ''Godly Men" -- Questions and answers about the Promise Keepers Movement

This weekend, hundreds of thousands of members of the Promise Keepers movement will descend on Washington, D.C. for a "Solemn Assembly." The group's founder, former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney says that, "Almighty God has called us here to repent," adding that the organization is "not coming with any other agenda. We are coming to ask God to forgive us."

But is that really the whole story?

Many people, while they have heard of the Promise Keepers, are unfamiliar with the organization's origins, leadership, and links to hard-line religious rights groups. Some wonder why American Atheists, National Organization for Women and other movements have called for protests this weekend against the Promise Keepers. And critics say that beneath the veneer of calling upon men to "repent" and reform their lives, there is a dangerous social and political agenda.

Some of the following information comes from the list of "Talking Points" being used this weekend by American Atheists at its "DEFENDING THE WALL... NO SUBMISSION" Conference on state-church separation, also taking place in Washington, D.C. Another source is a series of articles which appeared in the Spring, 1997 issue of AMERICAN ATHEIST MAGAZINE. The latter is available for browsing at the magazine web site, http://www.AmericanAtheist.org.



Founded in 1990 by popular football coach Bill McCartney, the Promise Keepers is a Christian mens' group with the explicit goal of reconstructing nuclear, heterosexual families under the leadership of "godly men," and fostering an evangelical religious movement throughout society. The group has become noted for holding mass prayer rallies in stadiums, arenas and other athletic venues; indeed, much of the group's rhetoric employs sports-oriented metaphors and slogans. Along with telling men to "honor Jesus Christ and learn more about becoming men of integrity," Promise Keepers are exhorted to "reach the goal line" and "carry the ball for Jesus." PK rallies usually last several hours, and involve spirited singing, hugging, outbursts of public emotion, evangelical revival-style preaching, and "altar calls" where men are urged to "turn your life over" to god.

The Promise Keepers is possibly the nation's fastest growing religious movement. It's rallies have attracted over one million men in the last year; and this weekend's "Solemn Assembly" is being compared to Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March.


Indeed they, and every other group, should have full freedom of expression. A number of groups will be protesting the Promise Keepers event; and American Atheists does not question or oppose the right of the PK to assemble and express their views. We would hope that these "godly men" would take a similar stance in defense of OUR right to peaceable gather.

We are demonstrating in order to prompt a critical and reasoned discussion on just what exactly this movement wants. Promise Keepers have made a number of brash and dogmatic claims, and they offer society a "solution" to personal and cultural problems. Is this really true? We're asking -- whether you agree with American Atheists or not on other points -- for people, including rank-and-file Promise Keepers members, to step back and examine this movement.


For starters, we think the public -- and the members of PK as well -- need to check out information about the origins and leadership of this movement. Promise Keepers grew out of the "Latter Rain" evangelical movement which embraces extreme and even bizarre and cult- like religious practices -- speaking in tongues (glossolalia), direct revelation, and even components of the authoritarian "Shepherding- Discipleship" tradition which teaches a dangerous, manipulative follower-leader relationship.

Promise Keepers "huddles" or chapters are often invasive. Journalist Russ Bellant, for instance, notes that members are probed by other participants and compelled to "confess" and reveal highly personal and intimate facts about their life. We suspect that many PK men would be surprised to learn about these more bizarre and strange origins of their movement.

After seeing the destructive influence of cults like Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, or the Koresh sect and other groups which preach unquestioning obedience and submission to dogmatic leaders, shouldn't everyone be caution in endorsing a group like the Promise Keepers?

There are other disturbing aspects of the movement as well. Despite lip service about "being worthy of women," Promise Keepers are urged to "take back" governance of the family. Biblical passages ("Women, remain silent in the churches. Men are the head of the household as Christ is the head of the church...") are often used as doctrinal points. "Coach" McCartney and other PK leaders define a "godly man" as one who obeys the church and is involved in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship within the confines of sanctioned marriage. These sorts of teachings -- and McCartney's own endorsement of anti-gay initiatives in Colorado -- have disturbed civil libertarians, womens' groups and gay-lesbian organizations.


The Promise Keepers record concerning blacks is highly problematic. PK seems to distinguish between what they term "reconciliation" and a more pronounced call for true equality. Black men (and others) are "godly" only if they fit into the PK lifestyle template. In addition, it should be noted that a number of the black evangelists show cased by the Promise Keepers are Christian Reconstructionists. This extreme movement teaches that society should be "reconstructed" along Biblical, Old Testament lines; it proscribes the death penalty for a number of transgressions, including blasphemy, homosexuality, adultery, "witchcraft" and even disrespect to parents.

These sorts of extreme associations are not known to most of the rank- and-file men caught up in the enthusiasm of the Promise Keepers prayer rallies.


It may be. Promise Keepers grew out of an extreme charismatic religious tendency, and "Coach" McCartney -- while undergoing traumatic personal upheaval in his own life, later documented in his autobiography -- fell under the extreme influences of men like Rev. James Ryle, and "power evangelist" James Wimber of the cult-like Vineyard movement.

Theologically, the group's roots are apocalyptic -- an integral component of the "Latter Rain" tendency which talked about impending Armageddon, and gathering groups of men into what they call "Joel's Army" to combat transgressors and sinners, and prepare the way for "Kingdom" at the end of the world.

Many mainstream religions shun this sort of rhetoric, and see these Biblical references in historical or symbolic terms.

Ironically, many churches are guarded about endorsing the Promise Keepers movement. PK sees itself as a "para-church," or "movement within the church."

Men in the Promise Keepers movement are provided with a steady stream of literature and teachings, most of it based on emotionally evocative but vague slogans. The constant use of sports metaphors -- "going the extra mile for Jesus" or "carrying the ball" -- appears to be employed in an effort to "hook" or appeal to contemporary males; this discourse, however, is the religious equivalent of advertising cliches or contemporary psycho-babble.

Phrases like "godly men" and "submitting your life to Jesus" assume an almost hypnotic quality where rational analysis and questioning is not encouraged.

The PK "huddles" serve to reinforce this process through peer pressure -- not rational persuasion and discourse. The world is portrayed in Manichean terms. In "Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper," for instance, McCartney declares, "We're in a war, men, whether we acknowledge it or not. The enemy is real, and he doesn't like to see men of God take a stand for Jesus Christ and contest his lies."

We suggest that any dispassionate examination of twentieth century political and social movements would suggest a red flag about any organization which bases so much on emotional outburst, demonstrations of frenzied angst and sloganeering. Promise Keepers literature (including the publication "New Man" which until recently was their official journal) is remarkably devoid of substantive material. The stories are often folksy, anecdotal and make widespread generalizations about how miserable men are prior to "turning their lives over to the Lord." Shouldn't we be skeptical of any group, cause or ideology which makes such a request of its members?

Finally, Promise Keepers should also be scrutinized for another reason; it offers simplistic solutions to complex personal and social problems. The world simply isn't like that.


Promise Keepers representatives increasingly face that question; "Coach" McCartney insists that the aims of the group are spiritual, not political, and that the movement is designed to change hearts, not voting patterns.

But there are concerns. Many Promise Keepers statements, especially those regarding women and gays, have serious political implications. In addition, the leadership and key figures behind the Promise Keepers movement reads like a who's-who of the religious right. We identify a number of them in the Spring issue of AMERICAN ATHEIST MAGAZINE, including James Dobson (Focus on the Family), E. Peb Jackson, Bill Bright, Ronald Blue and Billy Kim.

Several are linked to the Christian Reconstructionist group known as Coalition on Revival; they include "Bishop" Wellington Boone, John Perkins, E.V. Hill and Joseph Garlington. In addition, Promise Keepers has received boosting from savvy religious right politicos such as Pat Robertson of Christian Broadcasting Network, and former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed. We consider the Promise Keepers movement to be a fertile recruiting ground for more overt religious right political groups, and a "spiritual boot camp" for those same interests.


Ignored in most of the general media commentary about this movement is the fact that Promise Keepers is a component in a larger cultural- religious revolt against modernity, especially with its emphasis on asserting patriarchal authority based on Old Testament models. The group's lexicon suggests an agenda of self-abnegation and debasement before Jesus, god, the "huddle" and other men, and admission to self and others that one is "unworthy."

The group is also remarkable for its irrationalism. All religious groups, in that they accept faith and some form of revelational knowledge, are to varying degrees irrationalist or non-rationalist.

Promise Keepers, with its roots in extreme charismatic, evangelical ideology, however, could even be described as an anti-rationalist movement. PK events are held in sports venues -- no accident here, since spectator sports play a multifaceted role in modern culture. They are orchestrated to be highly evocative, not on the basis of calm, reasoned arguments, but through the use of literally hours of verbal pounding, repetitive use of content-void slogans (often employing a sports vocabulary), group reinforcement and heightened states of emotional excitement even bordering on the hysterical .

The latter may account for the "Jesus waves" of joyous weeping, crying, public praying and other emotional displays. It exploits doubts in men about being "worthy" -- sort of the religious equivalent of asking, "Is your penis of sufficient size?" -- and then caters to fantasies of "taking charge" and "being heads of the household."


We should certainly oppose the agenda of the group, but still have a degree of sympathy and understanding for at least some of the men who are drawn into the Promise Keepers movement. Many men are legitimately confused and upset with the convulsive changes taking place in the world today.

As secularists, we need to emphasize the positive aspects of many of these changes, though; equality, diversity, rights for women and others. We should also note that many women are under stress as well. The average American worker is expected to have seven careers in a lifetime. Earning power for many is stagnant. Vacations are shorter, and there are new stresses and dislocations in the work place. There are, indeed, legitimate sociological problems facing everyone, and legitimate questions to raise.

But is Promise Keepers, or any other religious right movement, an answer? Too often, we look for scapegoats to explain a sense of personal powerlessness; unfortunately, some men perceive women as competition in the marketplace or elsewhere. They get "mixed signals" pitting old stereotypes against a new reality; they feel alienated, stressed out -- and sometimes can become "easy picking" for religious hucksters who offer a well packaged program which requires little thinking or scrutiny. Promise Keepers pays, and it PREYS on the discontents of modern society, specifically, the way those discontents often manifest themselves in men.

PK members of often mostly unaware of the backgrounds and agendas of the leadership of this group.

Finally, we all need to ask -- at a time in our history when men and women, straight and gay, Anglos and others -- are scrambling to cope with unprecedented economic and social upheaval, is constant rhetoric about being "unworthy," or confession, or submission really appropriate? Is it genuinely self-empowering? The Promise Keepers lexicon is both inherently authoritarian and self-debasing. It is not the language of reason and personal empowerment. Its textual character betrays an inherently irrationalist, authoritarian component where one is "moved by the spirit" to "submit" to Jesus -- or his self-announced representatives. Again, there are plenty of legitimate problems in society; but as secularists, we need to point out that Jesus, religion, churches and the Promise Keepers are not the solution. We should also beware of any group which insists that it has all of the answers -- and the only answers!


That's true, and the claim concerning arrogance is often linked to the group's stance on the social and theological role to be assigned to women. It's certainly true that some women do want men to become more involved in domestic relationships. But not all women opt for that; presuming that all or even most women want the sort of monogamous, marital situation within the nuclear family which PK leaders say they should, is both arrogant and presumptive.

Even within the context of a heterosexual marriage, women should rightfully be leery if their male partner suddenly "finds Jesus" and a new way of life. Isn't that the possible triumph of external form over substance?

And is there any evidence, other than the anecdotal accounts which populate PK literature, to suggest that followers of this movement really do become "better fathers and husbands"? How long do these changes last? It should also be noted that there are other alternatives to religious conversion which can help families cope, even in today's stressed-out environment.

Just as Promise Keepers literature, with its abundance of sports metaphors and catchy, yet amorphous slogans renders it difficult for participants to "get a handle" on, is manipulative, so is the role being played by the PK movement. As noted, many denominations are suspicious of the Promise Keepers anointed role as a "movement within the church," and the group is suspect for its trans-denominational character. What exactly is it they want? What exactly are they saying? Even certain religious groups are confused and wary. Worse yet, the PK leadership rarely announces its own extreme, bizarre theological and political agenda, relying instead on a flashy veneer of endless sloganeering.


Answering that question requires a cogent analysis of the objective social and cultural role played by the Promise Keepers and other religious right groups. PK is not overtly partisan and political in the same way which the Christian Coalition is. It is closer to the type of "renewal politics" one finds in kindred groups like Focus on the Family.

Promise Keepers ideology overlaps with that of other religious groups; again, the analogy to the PK being a sort of ideological boot camp for future religious social activists may be useful.

Atheists and other secularists should know that Promise Keepers is a Dominionist movement. Dominion theology attempts to integrate religious doctrines into a form of political conservatism. It should be noted, though, that Dominionists -- often found in groups like the Christian Coalition or the Coalition on Revival -- quickly part company with the more secular, laissez-faire teachings of secular conservatives and even libertarians found in groups like Cato Institute.

Simply put, Dominionist Theology teaches that Christians are commanded by god to occupy and govern all institutions in anticipation of the "final days" and the Second Coming. It holds that Biblical principles must be applied to every aspect of individual, social and political life. "Bible Law" must govern the person, families, neighborhoods, communities and governmental institutions. In a pure Dominionist culture, there is no separating of state and church; the police powers of the government are harnessed to ensure that Bible law is enforced.

You won't find the more hard line excrescences of Dominionist teaching in most of the Promise Keepers literature. That discourse is reserved for other doctrinal publications like the Reconstructionist journal Chalcedon. But Promise Keepers materials have referred to and promoted standard religious right works such as books by David Barton, author of the controversial and misleading 1989 book "The Myth of Separation."

Many Promise Keepers leaders have expressed agreement with Barton's claim that the "wall of separation" between church and state is myth, or "one-directional" and prevents only interference by government into the affairs of religious groups. This same refrain echoes from other religious activists like Ralph Reed, James Dobson and even Pat Buchanan.

Promise Keepers teachings often serve to reinforce the religious political agenda on a number of fronts, including laws against abortion rights, equal rights for gays, calls for censorship, and the demand for "special rights" for religious groups and believers.


American Atheists will be gathering on Constitution and Louisiana Avenues, north of the Capitol, for a peaceful demonstration on behalf of First Amendment rights, state-church separation, and opposition to the Promise Keepers agenda. For information, check out our web site at: http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/index.html and click on the appropriate icons. There, you will find more background, "rules of the road" for the demonstration, directions and talking points. We hope that you can join us!


FROM AMERICAN ATHEISTS, AANEWS #334, cg@atheists.org


Fresno mayor should repay taxpayers for Primise Keepers donation, national watchdog group says

October 15, 1997
Contact: Joseph Conn, Rob Boston

A national church-state watchdog group has urged Fresno Mayor James Patterson to reimburse the city's taxpayers, charging the mayor inappropriately arranged for the payment of $75,000 for a Promise Keepers rally.

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that Patterson's use of public funds to pay for the stadium rental for a Promise Keepers rally last June raises serious legal concerns. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the California State Constitution forbid the use of tax money to subsidize religion, he said.

Lynn noted Article XVI, Sec. 5 of the state constitution that states, "Neither the Legislature, nor any county, (nor) city 'shall ever make an appropriation of, or pay from any public fund whatever, or grant anything to or in aid of any religious sect, church, creed or sectarian purpose.'"

"One can interpret the efforts of the Promise Keepers in many ways, but their rallies are surely of a sectarian purpose,'" said Lynn. "As such, it would appear that by intentionally and publicly subsidizing an event where one religious faith is featured and celebrated, Mayor Patterson's office chose to make an appropriation to a religious group for a religious purpose, ignoring the constitutional law prohibiting him from doing so."

Lynn insisted that this irresponsible misuse of public funds embarrasses the city and threatens the public trust of those Patterson represents. He concluded that there is a single recourse for Patterson regarding this embarrassing ordeal.

"In light of this error, it appears the only responsible course of action is for you to reimburse the taxpayers of Fresno for their money that you inappropriately spent," Lynn said. "I urge you to begin to make amends for this breach of the public trust by paying back the taxpayers for the misuse of their money."

Americans United is a 50,000-member public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., that works to defend religious liberty by supporting the separation of church and state. Founded in 1947, the group this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State
1816 Jefferson Place, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
202.466.2587 fax
E-mail: americansunited@au.org
WWW site: http://www.au.org/

Distributed by charles.sumner@juno.com


Million Bigot March, Sun 19 Oct 97 1:02

The so-called "Million Bigot March" of the Promise Keepers on Washington this year failed to acquire the much-hoped-for million participants.

Some Promise Keeper bigots who "just knew" that there would be and spoke loudly about the fact prior to the event have fallen predictably silent after the fact.

One racist, homophobic, anti-woman bigot in the FidoNet HolySmoke echo named Jim Staal placed himself on record before the event and now there seems to be some difficulty with his echo mail feed. (For background, see the end of this segment for quotes from this lovely Promise Keeper.)

Your Conscience
It's me again. Remember your comments earlier this year about how the Promise Keepers march would be the "first million man" march? You were there... were there 1 million men? Estimates that I have heard range from 400 thousand to 700 thousand men. Remember your posts?

Date: 29 Dec 96 17:13:46
Subj: Oops, Caught Again

Richard Smith:
Have you heard the rumor that the Mormons, aided by the Promise Keepers, are planning on organizing another million man march on Washington?

Jim Staal:
No. That fact is, that Promise Keepers is organizing the first million man march on Washington.

Date: 12 Feb 97 13:38:40
Subj: Oops, Caught Again

Jim Staal:
No. That fact is, that Promise Keepers is organizing the first million man march on Washington.

Rod Swift:
Third, actually.

Jim Staal:
First, actually, Aussie boy.

Rod Swift:
Third "million-person assembly and march" moronic swamp-water sucker.

Jim Staal:
No, it will be the first. Not only the first actual one, but also the first documented one.

Date: 23 Feb 97 14:08:15
Subj: Oops, Caught Again

Jim Staal:
No, it will be the first. Not only the first actual one, but also the first documented one.

Sue Alexander:
OK... considering that the "official" counts of the previous ones were not up to 1 million, how can you be so sure that 1 million males will be in attendence at this event, considering it has not happened yet?

Jim Staal:
Because we're talking about dedicated Christians here. there will be more than a million. I am going. I have already signed up for it. This is not just a racial or political thing. we're talking about achristians here. :)

Your Conscience
Well Jim...in the face of these comments of nearly a year ago, do you have anything to say? I was a bit mistaken in my earlier post... I did not find where you said that God wanted it. I only found where you said that you were sure it would be done because of the "dedicated Christians." I hope you can pardon the understandable mistake.

Here's some lovely quotes from this Promise Keeper:

  • I am condemning no one. The homosexual who sexually practices his homosexuality condemns himself. - Jim Staal

  • No, these things all happened because you shouted it out that you were gay. If you had kept it to yourself, these things would not have happened to you, now would they. - Jim Staal

  • So many of the others here with higher education are atheists that I have a tendency to discount higher education. - Jim Staal

  • Die and fry! You and your scum sucking in-bred brother, furd. - Jim Staal (Defending his Promise Keeper homophobia in HolySmoke)

  • I have less tolerance for pagan women because they seem to particularly lack respect for men and thereby depart from God even further than do pagan men. - Jim Staal

  • I must say you must live on a pink cloud to have let yourself been deluded by these women. Their general purpose here has been clear to me from the beginning: they hate men in general, and Christian men in particular. - Jim Staal (Promise Keeper) HolySmoke, December 1996

  • ...there is no life on other planets. If there were, the Bible would have mentioned it. - Jim Staal (he's serious, by the way)

  • Would that seem to say that a wife-beater and murderer is a better role model than a lesbian??? - Jim Staal, evil Christan bigot

  • The head of a newborn is about 3-4 inches at max. My dick is longer than that and I know I have never penetrated the cervix so the head (being the last thing to come out in a breeched birth) would be beyond the cervix. Get off it, lady. - Jim Staal telling us everything he knows about women.

  • When I am sick, I pray about it and then use the means God provides: the docs. - Jim Staal (Then credits his gods for the "cure")

  • May your lips be seared with hot coals, blasphemer! -- Jim Staal

  • I found *birth* to be disgusting. Shall I outlaw that? - Karen Davis
    The pro-choicers have already tried and suceeded in doing that. - Jim Staal (Homophobic, anti-woman bigot won't tell us about this "law.")

  • ...if a person claims to have no god, what then. Then Satan is his god. - Jim Staal (Giving atheists one of his gods)

  • Ban 'gay pride' parades. I find them to be discriminating and a source of social unrest and upheaval. - Jim Staal, homophobic bigot

  • Wrong. All pain, disease and suffering, evil are the result of sin in the world. Not God. - Jim Staal (Amazing, isn't he?)

  • You're the biggest gawdamn hypocrite in the U S of A, right along with Swaggart and Bakker. - Jan deBoer
    At least I am in good company. - Jim Staal (Homophobic bigot)

  • Gay marriages would affect me as I am an American and God (sic) will place one more judgement on my country for it. - Jim Staal

  • No dogma. I get my info right from scripture. - Jim Staal

  • Hey, I hit the gook food joints twice this week alone. - Jim Staal (Racist, homophobic, anti-woman bigot, July, 1997.)

  • Actually, I think that sexuality is determined by environment in %100 of the cases. - Idiot Jim Staal
    The high incidence of pedophilia amongst clergy and priests therefore indicates chrisitianity is a bad environement that causes sexual deviancy. Right, Jimbo? - Jan deBoer

  • WOP is Italian food (appologies to Quarrella if offended) and gook is Chinese (or any other Asian variety) - Idiot Jim Staal

  • BTW, how old were you when you were first accosted by some gay child predator? - Idiot Jim Staal (Homophobic bigot) to Rod Swift

  • These special rights only apply (specifically) to those who cannot legally marry. - Jim Staal, homophobic Promise Keeper

  • The only cheek I turn to you, bud, is the hind one so you can plant your ruby red lips against it. - Jim Staal (Homophobe)

  • You didn't. Ken did. Ken has clearly said that 13 year olds should be able to consent to sex. - Rod Swift
    You got a problem with that? - Jim Staal (Pedophile homophobic)

  • Are you ready for this, Jared? In Fred, you have met the embodiment of Satan, himself. - Jim Staal makes me a Christian god

  • I haven't killed any gays...yet. - Jim Staal (Homophobic bigot)


The views and opinions stated within this web page are those of the author or authors which wrote them and may not reflect the views and opinions of the ISP or account user which hosts the web page.

Return to The Skeptic Tank's main Index page.
Promise Keeper Cult: Defending the cult - Part 3

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank