Promise Keepers' march motivated by fundamentalist beliefs

This op-ed piece was syndicated by the Progressive Media Project and carried on the Knight-Ridder news service wire. Please do not copy or repost this text.

By Frederick Clarkson

The Promise Keepers' Oct. 4 million man march on Washington, D.C., is about more than guys hugging, weeping and pledging to be better husbands and fathers.        

The Promise Keepers seek the advent of a Christian nation, and possibly the fulfillment of the biblically prophesied end of the world -- something they believe could begin at this rally.        

Promise Keepers envision moving beyond a fundamentalist take on gender roles to a fundamentalist take-over. At a Promise Keepers rally at his Liberty University, the Rev. Jerry Falwell said: "It appears that America's anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and it is possibly being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement."        

Former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, who convened the first Promise Keepers gathering in 1990, told the group's clergy rally in 1995 that "whoever stands with the Messiah will rule with him." He urged them to "take this nation for Jesus Christ!" At another rally, McCartney said, "Whenever the truth is at risk, in the schools or legislature, we are going to contend for it. We will win!"        

Win what? Promise Keepers backer Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ believes the United States was founded as and must be restored as a " Christian nation." At Promise Keepers events, a popular book on sale is his "The Coming Revival" (New Life Publications, 1995). In this book, Bright insists that Christians must "[be]come actively involved in restoring every facet of society, including government, to the biblical values of our Founding Fathers." Bright would turn the nation over "to God from the top down, where our laws are made" in order to enact "permanent change."        

While the rise of a theocratic, Christian nationalist movement is disturbing enough, there's more. Bright and others involved in Promise Keepers see themselves as central players in an end-of-the-world scenario. The Rev. James Ryle -- who is McCartney's personal pastor and a Promise Keepers board member -- believes the group is the fulfillment of a biblically prophesied army destined to destroy sinners and unbelievers in the end-times. "Never have 300,000 men come together throughout human history," he told journalist Russ Bellant, "except for the purposes of war."        

The name given to the Washington, D.C., march -- "Stand in the Gap: A Sacred Assembly of Men" -- derives from the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel. God, angry at a society that had fallen away from his laws, looked for a man who would "stand before me in the in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not destroy it, but I found none."        

Promise Keepers leaders believe that the failure of fundamentalist men to take charge in the home, in the church and in society has led to abortion, homosexuality, crime, drugs and natural disasters -- which they take to be warning signs of God's displeasure. The purpose of the march is to repent these failures and to raise an army to stay God's hand, lest America go the way of Sodom and Gomorrah.        

What this army does next is a matter of conjecture, but it would be wrong to dismiss its seriousness of purpose. Doc Reed, a Promise Keepers national staffer, told a July rally in Worcester, Mass., that the march was not "our idea." Attendance is "a matter of obedience."        

The Promise Keepers' experience in mounting dynamic stage presentations with music, sets and lights suggests they are capable of putting on the best-produced, most dramatic march on Washington in history. This should not, however, distract us from the theocratic and apocalyptic ideology that drives the founders and leaders of the Promise Keepers.

Frederick Clarkson is the author of "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy" (Common Courage Press, 1997). For information on newspaper or magazine print rights:

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©1997 Frederick Clarkson
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