After a standing ovation, the stadium quiets to a whisper, waiting to hear from the man who started this movement, the man whose vision has drawn them to the stadium to hear speeches that mix sports, war, and religious metaphors. “My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter,” he begins. “In boundless love as a Christian and as a man, I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in his might and seized the scourge to drive out of the temple the brood of vipers and adders.”
Transitioning to the present, he continues, “Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion, I recognize more profoundly than ever before, that it was for this that he had to shed his blood on the Cross. As a Christian ... I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.”
He is an expert at creating rousing, emotional stadium events, and by the end of his speech the men are on their feet, arms in the air, all vowing to “take back” the nation. But this speech wasn’t delivered at a Promise Keepers event. The year was 1922, and the speaker was Adolph Hitler.
A startling similarity exists between the techniques of the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Promise Keepers. They all use group rallies with Christian religious content to create an overwhelmingly emotional experience in their primarily male audience. They then link that religious experience with their underlying political agenda. Even the themes are consistent: You have abdicated your responsibility. You have allowed others — weaker, less intelligent, or less pure than yourselves — to gain positions of leadership and that is now threatening our very way of life. We are the chosen people. They are somehow inferior. We must take back our rightful place as their leaders. We must take back the nation. God has ordained it to be so.
Or so they would have us believe. But who are “they” behind the Promise Keepers?
The founder of the Promise Keepers is “Coach” Bill McCartney. When McCartney was the football coach for the University of Colorado, he ended up in a legal battle with the ACLU due to his insistence on praying with the team before every game. He began his public speaking career in 1989, when he addressed the violent anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, calling the fight over abortion rights “a second civil war.” He used his status at the University to bolster support for the infamous Colorado Amendment 2, which restricted the rights of gays to seek legal protection from discrimination. The amendment was so radical it was later thrown out by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
From the beginning, PK has been funded and supported by the radical religious right. Jerry Falwell of Moral Majority fame, Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition, Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, and Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, all helped launch Promise Keepers financially. They have lent the organization hundreds of staff members, and continue to host and speak at PK rallies.
Numerous PK speakers, including the four prominent black speakers at last year’s Washington D.C. rally, are members of the Coalition on Revival (COR), noted for its Christian Reconstructionist ideals. Wellington Boone, a black PK speaker and COR member, even justifies slavery by saying that, “I believe that slavery, and the understanding of it when you see it God’s way, was redemptive.”
Reconstructionists believe that it is the duty of Christians to reestablish biblical law in the U.S. They promote the death penalty as prescribed in the bible, for “crimes” like homosexuality, witchcraft, adultery, and abortion, as well as for children who disobey their parents.
Tolerance for other’s points of view is seen as a sin in this organization. “It is up to us, as the protectors and providers of our family, to rescue our children from a culture that would drown them in tolerance,” said PK speaker Dennis Rainey. Randall Terry, also a past member of COR, is best known for urging his followers to “just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good ... Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty; we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.”
While most people would find Terry’s rhetoric appalling, PK host and speaker Jerry Falwell apparently agrees with Terry’s message. He paid $10,000 of a fine imposed on Terry resulting from his violent siege of a women’s health clinic.
It is the underlying Christian Nation agenda that is most frighteningand dangerous about the group. PK speaker Bill Bright, who provided 85full-time staff to PK, insists that Christians must become “actively involved in restoring every facet of society, including government, to the biblical values of our Founding Fathers.” (Bright conveniently overlooks Article VI of the Constitution which forbids all religious tests for public office, and was approved unanimously by the framers of the Constitution.) Bright goes on to denounce the teaching of evolution in the schools, and wants government sponsored prayer brought back into the classroom.
Jay Grimstead, the head of the Coalition on Revival, wrote of his group’s support for “... those involved in various cities [who] are seeking to identify leaders who could join together around the large dream of Christianizing their own city and state.”
James Dobson, a PK speaker whose money kept PK fulfillment in its early stages, asks participants in his Community Impact Seminars “What do we as Christians have to do to take control of our society?” “There are reasons to believe that the Christian religion is true and that Christian morals work best for all,” Dobson says in his seminars. “Christians are not just another special interest group; we are an ‘everyone’s best interest group’” he declares.
All this talk could be dismissed as wishful theological thinking, but that would force one to overlook the almost constant military and war references used by PK speakers. The Rev. James Ryle, McCartney’s personal pastor and a PK board member and speaker, sees PK as the recruiting arm of the religious right, leading to the fulfillment of the biblically prophesied “Army of God” which will be brought together to destroy sinners and unbelievers in the period preceding Armageddon. “Never have 300,000 men come together throughout human history except for the purposes of war,” Ryle told journalist Russ Bellant.
The Promise Keepers has direct ties, both financially and philosophically, to the most dangerous and radical of the religious right groups. They wish to impose their version of religious law on this country. They believe tolerance of other views is “un-Christian.” Their bigotry toward gays and their degrading beliefs about women are unacceptable in a community that honors diversity and gender equality. They believe they own the truth, and feel God-ordained to impose that truth on everyone else, even if it takes a “second civil war.” They represent a fanatical fringe element that is a significant threat to democracy and religious freedom in this country.
This is not an issue of liberal vs. conservative values. Listen to what no less of a conservative than Senator Barry Goldwater had to say about the threat of religious right politics: “The specter of single-issue religious groups is growing over our land. In the past couple [of] years, I have seen many news items that referred to the Moral Majority, pro-life and other religious groups as ‘the new right’ and the ‘new conservatism’ ... I can say with conviction that the religious issues of these groups have little or nothing to do with conservative or liberal politics. The uncompromising position of these groups is a divisive element that could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength.”
The lights in the stadium dim. Solitary spotlights accent the flowing banners with images of muscular forearms clutching bibles and pickaxes, ready to go forth and remake the nation. The speaker steps into a circle of light coming from above. “What you are about to hear is God’s word to the men of this nation,” he declares. “We are going to War ... We have divine power; that is our weapon. We will not compromise. Wherever truth is at risk, in the schools or the legislature, we are going to contend for it. We will win.”
The men are on their feet again, arms in the air, cheering, crying. But the year is 1993, and Bill McCartney smiles back at the cheering men, knowing he has them right where he wants them.