Rally Marked Start of Mission, Promise Keepers Say

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As Jeff Morris tells it, the experience of asking God to save him and the country in the company of hundreds of thousands of other men was one of almost indescribable intensity.

"It was gripping," said the 44-year-old Simi Valley resident, recounting the moments he spent prostrate along with more than 700,000 other praying men during the Promise Keepers' mass gathering in Washington, D.C., last Saturday.

"I and I think everyone else had this feeling of being so involved in God's presence and work, which made the day so incredible."

For Morris, the father of two girls and the manager of a car dealership, and the hundreds of other county men who made the 2,700-mile pilgrimage east, the Stand in the Gap gathering was much more than just a day of individual atonement.

To the Promise Keepers, it also marked the culmination of a growing spirituality and the beginning of a mission to repair America's damaged morality.

"This nation has gone to the dogs, and this just showed everybody that it's time for a change," said Promise Keeper Earl Stampley of Moorpark, who was in Washington for the gathering. "It really showed that we are willing to move forward, break down walls and shoot for the same goal."

Since its first meeting in 1990 drew just 72 men, Promise Keepers has mushroomed into a national operation organized through eight regional offices, which last year had a budget of more than $96 million.

*

And, Promise Keepers say, in less than a decade they have hosted more than 2.6 million men at revivalist rallies in stadiums like the Los Angeles Coliseum where participants come to sing, pray and pledge themselves to the teachings of Christ by remaining sexually pure and devoting themselves to their wives, children and community.

Through a blueprint rooted in the biblical tenets of Christian theology, all Promise Keepers hold themselves on a course to better understand their roles as men and embrace the responsibilities of being a good husband and father.

However, as the number of men involved with Promise Keepers has swelled, it has created a backlash from groups like the National Organization for Women, which fear the organization has a hidden social agenda and fear the political clout the group might someday wield.

"What makes this such a powerful movement and one that's provoked such controversy is that their message is one they say God has laid out and cannot be compromised on," said Cal Lutheran sociologist Charles Hall, who has studied the Christian Right for more than 10 years.

"But I think this criticism is somewhat overblown. . . . Yes, they want more leadership in the home, but they're looking for ways of achieving that without being an autocrat."

Hall added that the attraction of Promise Keepers hasn't been surprising, but rather was a logical reaction to the feminist movement of the 1970s that dramatically altered traditional gender stereotypes.

"It was a predictable backlash to feminism," Hall said. "As feminism changed the culture in enormously important ways, it kind of left men in the lurch. Promise Keepers is just a logical reaction to that void."

*

Promise Keepers themselves dismiss charges that they are rallying behind a platform of masculine zealotry that seeks to subjugate women to more submissive roles.

"The ones who are nervous are the ones who aren't listening," Stampley said. "One of the reasons I got involved with this was to be more conscious of my wife and making her life more comfortable."

Saundra Stampley concurred.

"I have a husband who doesn't stand behind or in front, but is right beside me and that's the ultimate liberation," said the 47-year-old mother of two and former business executive. "I know that I can make my own decisions and that he'll be right there to support me."

In addition to the social concerns that Promise Keepers have piqued among liberal and progressive critics, some also worry that the group, with its large numbers and message of societal redemption, may be forming a political agenda much like the Christian Coalition's.

Promise Keepers, however, dismiss those assertions, saying the organization is as devoutly apolitical as it is Christian.

"I think people have been crying wolf when there's nothing but sheep," Morris said. "We don't have a political agenda. This is about men coming together and doing God's work, nothing else."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°