60,000 naked men

When the Promise Keepers revival rolls into town, every soul in sight gets exposed

"Pornography," Randy replies.
It is rather more than I expect to hear, having interviewed a half-dozen men on the floor of Texas Stadium during the Promise Keepers rally. Dallas is the latest stop on the Promise Keepers tour, a traveling stadium revival that has allowed Christian men to make a very public expiation of their shortcomings as sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, and--in the organization's latest crusade--bigots. Apologizing for Anglo domination ranks at the top of the Promise Keepers agenda.

I'm walking through rows of fold-out chairs, interviewing the men who socialize energetically during a lull between speakers. Every man I speak to offers a generic list of crimes against wives and girlfriends. For the most part, the injustices boil down to two themes: "I have ignored her feelings" and "I don't spend enough time with her."

But Randy, a skinny, suntanned Lubbock resident in his late 20s who wears a T-shirt that reads "JESUS--THE '85 SAVIOR TOUR," gets specific about the way he has failed his wife.

"I take my attraction away from her and devote it to pornography," he says plainly. "We talk about it all the time, but the problem keeps creeping up. I'm ready to hand it over to Jesus."

That he is clutching the small, pale hand of his 8-year-old son during this confession seems to embarrass him and his son far less than me, since I wasn't expecting such a personal revelation after the other bland confessions I'd heard. Both father and son sport navy-blue Promise Keepers caps.

"Do you think Promise Keepers has helped you with the problem?" I ask sheepishly.

"I'm handing it over to Jesus," the father repeats, meeting me full in the eyes with an expression I can only describe as naked.

I glance anxiously at the boy. The kid seems oblivious to his dad's answers. He stretches his white, skinny neck to stare at the stage a couple of hundred feet in front of him. A big screen is perched above the stage alternating images of the crowd and a keyboardist feverishly pounding out a hymn. The boy's eyes are hungrily processing the spectacle around him like a rock 'n' roll fan who, after years of listening to music on his bedroom speakers, has finally gained entrance to his first concert.

It's almost 9 a.m. on a drizzly Saturday, and Norman Lamb sits at the top of Texas Stadium excitedly giving an interview to a Dallas Christian radio station.

Lamb, a media coordinator and national spokesman for the Christian evangelical movement known as Promise Keepers, peers through glass at an arena full of more than 60,000 men of every age and income level:There are baggy-pants-wearing 10-year-olds, golden-agers in overalls, twentysomethings in shorts and baseball caps, and well-groomed guys in stone-washed jeans and starched white T-shirts--professionals who can't escape the suit-and-tie mentality even when they leave the suit and tie behind.

"Can you hear that?" the 60ish, gray, bespectacled Lamb says into his phone receiver, simultaneously broadcasting his voice throughout North Texas with the strength of KVTT-FM, 91.7, 100,000-watt capabilities. KVTT, a Christian station, committed to broadcasting a live simulcast Friday night and all day today--a combined 16 hours plus--of the Promise Keepers' 22nd rally, the last one of 1996. That includes speakers, live worship music, prayer, and even a little bit of live testimony from a few of the diverse men who paid $60 apiece for the little blue wristbands that gain them entrance to this deeply personal event.

Right now, those 60,000 men stand perfectly still across the wide curves of Texas Stadium. Those wearing caps have removed them; groups of men throughout the arena hold hands or huddle arm over shoulder in prayer circles with their heads bowed and voices raised to the overcast sky peering down into the stadium. They are solemnly singing that old Protestant standard "Holy, Holy, Holy" under the musical direction of Isaac Canales, the band leader and official master of ceremonies for Promise Keepers' Dallas rally. His round, shaggy-haired face, intense with reverence, fills the video screens that sit atop the huge stage on the floor of the stadium, and on three different screens above the heads of the top balcony. He is leading a chorus made up of tens of thousands of strangers.

"Can you hear that?" Norman Lamb insists again into the phone to radio listeners. "If 60,000 men singing doesn't turn you on, then you better find out if you still have a switch." He pauses for a few seconds to let the voices swell through the Plexiglas windows of the press box and onto the airwaves. Then he jiggles a piece of paper in front of him and begins to read for listeners a stunning laundry list of media assembled to cover the October 25 and 26 rally in Dallas:

"Nightline is here to tape an episode on us that's supposed to air sometime next week. We have camera and radio crews from Russian stations on site. There's a crew here from Irish National Television, which I've just learned reaches a potential audience of 200 million people. Spanish speakers are getting a translation of the conference [on radio], and we've got live translations running in several cities in Mexico."

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