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60,000 naked men

"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."

Lamb has stalked the press center of Texas Stadium, proving himself to be a constant if rather poker-faced jokester. ("Well, if it isn't Spunky," he says, answering the telephone call of another Promise Keepers staffer. "Where's your gang?" Lamb obviously gets a confused reply, because he quickly corrects himself: "I meant Spanky. Spanky and the Gang. From Our Gang.")

The 6-year-old Promise Keepers movement forcefully declares its mantra that American society hasn't let down men; men have let down society--their families, their communities, their churches. This is not exactly the mantra of right-wing pundits who, especially since the election of Bill Clinton, have loudly declared that popular culture and political movements like feminism and gay rights have stigmatized heterosexual masculinity. But then Promise Keepers, whose general philosophy can certainly be said to fit comfortably within the cultural entity known as the Religious Right, hasn't exactly found its place by blind conformism. The manhood you see on display at this rally is drenched in tears, softly broken with voices full of sadness and awe, and above all not afraid to receive another man's comforting touch.

There are, of course, strictly observed mainstream masculine conventions to keep the specter of homoeroticism in check. Speaker after speaker at the Promise Keepers rally--nationally acclaimed preachers, motivational lecturers, a decorated war veteran, a college football coach--constantly invoke a series of macho metaphors in their exhortations of the ticket buyers to do right by Christ, their women, and other men. You hear more football analogies here than at a Jack Kemp rally, and the striped green-and-white, short-sleeved collared shirts worn by every speaker clearly have been modeled on a referee's uniform. Colonel Tom Hemingway, a retired Marine whose service in Vietnam was the pinnacle of a 30-year military career, sternly describes the assembled masses as "soldiers in training," men who will "march to battle for Christ." Perhaps the traditional masculine ritual that surprises me most at Promise Keepers is beer-drinking; suds are selling briskly for $2.50 a cup at the stadium concession stands (and wine coolers are on hand for $4 a pop).

Still, the emotionalism drowns out every stroke of machismo. It's not just weeping, either; men in their 60s in sport shirts and polyester slacks raise their hands heavenward, even cry out in joy when the urge to praise Jesus Christ overcomes them. There is, indeed, such a torrent of ecstasy and sorrow during the conference that it brings to mind the image of steam geysers bursting from kettles that have been left to simmer too long.

Here lies the greatest misunderstanding of Promise Keepers by the secular press, which tends to blur the subtle but important distinctions among fundamentalists, charismatics, and Pentecostals. All three exist under the broad umbrella of Christian evangelicalism, but historically have had strained relationships with each other based partly on their divergent styles of worship. The majority of the men who attend this PK rally are evangelicals, but even within that community, they're the type scorned as "Jesus freaks," "holy rollers," and "Bible thumpers." They are the ones who make a scene in church, something the parched propriety of America's Anglo-Protestant tradition has never cottoned to. These childlike expressions aren't just a relaxation of rigid male roles; they're the catharsis of individuals who can suddenly, joyfully, publicly worship without shame.

In keeping with this environment of vulnerability, women are strictly verboten--although the 1996 Dallas rally does feature an intriguing first, as one of the speakers invited his wife onstage for a startling demonstration. Organizers say that the presence of women would only cause these men to clam up, withhold themselves emotionally, and curtail their honesty for fear of being perceived as weak. Besides, organizers insist, women are perhaps the primary reason for the conference. They may be absent in body, but their spirit is invoked constantly as speaker after speaker confronts each ticket buyer with an anguished rap sheet of sins against the fairer sex--infidelity, domestic violence, career obsession, pornography.

Promise Keepers leaders are just as unsparing when they discuss the transgressions committed by the white man against his darker-skinned brothers, citing everything from a monolithic history of blatant discrimination and persecution by Caucasians to racially insensitive, offhand comments made every day in the American workplace. PK founder and driving influence Bill McCartney, the former head coach of the University of Colorado's top-ranked football team, has made it his mission to heal the rift between races; or, specifically, between the two groups he refers to as "Anglos and men of color." The logo for the 1996 Promise Keepers season is "Breaking Down the Walls," and it features, against a backdrop of jagged bricks, a red man, a brown man, and a white man brandishing trumpets like a trio of Gabriels.

 

Conservative Christians atoning for their insensitivity to women in a public spectacle that easily outstrips the exhibitionistic displays of most daytime talk shows? White participants publicly agreeing, as McCartney insists again and again, that "all Anglos carry an attitude of racial superiority that harms their brothers of color?" Promise Keepers is the most fascinating grassroots political movement in America today precisely because its mix of Anglo male guilt and masculine authoritarianism cannot be easily categorized. In the Promise Keepers universe, what has previously been excoriated as the "political correctness" of liberals fuses with a bedrock scriptural philosophy that shares much with the Christian Coalition and other fundamentalist groups. Just when you think you've detected a litmus test for what it takes to qualify as a member of Promise Keepers, a speaker or attendant from the group wriggles out from the description you've imposed on the organization.

Yet Promise Keepers adamantly insists it's not a political group. Top brass like Bill McCartney and PK president Randy Phillips, McCartney's pastor from Denver, point to the fact that the group's podium strictly forbids campaign speeches or even off-the-cuff references to either of the major political parties. True to their word, this latest Promise Keepers rally features not a single mention of words like "Republican," "Dole," "Clinton," or even right-fired phrases like "family values" and "race-based quotas."

"Please, whatever baggage you may have brought in with you," Phillips implores the assembled media at a Friday evening press conference, "don't just let this news conference dictate your story. Go out and talk to the men about their experiences. This is really about them, not us."

Any reporter who takes even one stroll through the stadium can see that Phillips is right; the faces there glow with a range of emotions that flip by faster than images in a film projector. But even Phillips acknowledges that he is in awe of the numbers to which Promise Keepers has ministered--1.1 million men this year alone. The question that neither he, nor Bill McCartney, nor any other PK leader can answer is, where is all this headed? And it's a question that has become increasingly difficult to dodge, as Promise Keepers has expanded the range of its penitent muse from sexuality to race.

Those two subjects pretty much canvass the field of issues Americans are passionate about. Promise Keepers never stoops to endorse a political candidate; its traditional-family rhetoric seems to make such an explicit gesture unnecessary, although Buchanan Republicans would hardly seem comfortable with the group's "hug a black man for Jesus" position. Promise Keepers may indeed be at the vanguard of a new conservative philosophy, one that identifies the sins of racism and sexism inside an American subculture that has traditionally kept mute on those subjects. But the question on the minds of the rest of the world is, how long can the group be coy about its stands on political issues related to those troubles?

As it turns out, probably just another year. Fall 1997 is when Promise Keepers will launch its march on Washington, D.C. The world will be watching and listening.

One thing is undeniable: The majority of people involved with Promise Keepers, from Joe Blow ticket buyer to the upper echelon of spokesmen, are nice. Really nice. Friendly, generous, helpful, supportive.

I discover this both Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, when I have to maneuver my rickety Dodge Omni into a long line of cars and buses, the latter bearing congregation names from as far away as Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Missouri. The instant I slow down and flip on my signal, someone stops to let me in ahead of him.

During Friday evening and night, trying to negotiate the infrastructure of Texas Stadium--a place I haven't been to since I was a small child--I have a hell of a time finding my way. The distance between the press box and the stadium floor feels like a few million light years, yet there are always blue-shirted Promise Keepers volunteers with tags around their necks who are eager to point me in the right direction. I get touched a lot--on the shoulder, the arm, the back--during these instructions.

This is not altogether remarkable, considering I wear a press badge the whole time. Promise Keepers is nothing if not generous to the people who attain press clearance. Once I find my way to the PK media center at Texas Stadium, the hospitality doesn't stop. All reporters are provided with a press packet in a green folder (silver-stamped "Promise Keepers--Men of Integrity") that includes clips, biographies of top organization members, attendance numbers from throughout the group's existence (the 1996 figures reveal a serious flux by geography, from a high of 70,490 attendants at Missouri's Pontiac Silverdome in May to 8,397 in Syracuse's Carrier Dome just a month later), and a minute-by-minute breakdown of speakers, topics, and worship at the October 25 and 26 Dallas rally.

 

Saturday at 8 a.m., reporters are greeted with a press release detailing Friday night's official attendance figure (62,846) and highlighted quotes from Friday's top speakers, including Bill McCartney. We also get photocopies of articles printed the previous day and that morning in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News.

Promise Keepers has earned acres of coverage from Christian periodicals like Christianity Today and Christian Century. The secular press has been less extensive in its coverage, but interest has snowballed in the past year. Time ran its first story about Promise Keepers last November (its reporter attended the 1995 Dallas rally, also in Texas Stadium), but the article's photos were larger than its text, which tended to assess the group's impact only within the Christian community. Ms. sent a lesbian writer, Pulitzer finalist Donna Minkowitz, in male drag to a St. Petersburg conference. What is intriguing about all the accounts is the unexpected places criticism and empathy arise.

John D. Spalding, writing for Christian Century, ended his generally skeptical March 1996 essay with a stern question: "I found it frustrating to listen to speaker after speaker blame men for their failure to act as the leaders 'God equipped them to be'...Isn't it possible the notion that 'men must run things' is in part to blame for the breakdown of marriages, families, and what it means to be a man?"

Several months earlier in Ms., Minkowitz wrote that she discovered a startling affinity for the group despite the fact that she considers herself an "unrepentant lesbian yid": "Like many of my fellow Promise Keepers, I've had a hard time leaving myself undefended, allowing people in. Opening to love in this way is not the same thing as 'opening myself to the love of Jesus,' but I'm willing to bet that as the men at this conference experience it, the two are pretty similar.'"

Promise Keepers, it seems, has befuddled left- and right-wingers alike with its unique hybrid of public confession and stern traditionalism. In the same breath that speaker Gary Rosberg, an author and Christian marriage counselor from Iowa, says, "Guys, it's all about serving your wives, not dominating them," he declares, "Satan tried to pierce my armor, but he couldn't stop me from protecting my little wife."

Rosberg commands the attention of the stadium more than most of the speakers, because he infuses his tale of family neglect--he ignored his wife and kids while completing his doctoral dissertation--with a fraternity humor whose light touch departs significantly from the somber thrust of the whole enterprise. He punctuates his speech with aw-shucks anecdotes like "I thought if I listened to my wife, I'd wake up with quiche on my breath," and "Once when I left town, my wife and daughters had our boy dog neutered, so when I got back, he didn't know what he was."

In hindsight, Rosberg's G-rated locker-room banter was defensive, an expression of masculine confidence before a startlingly subservient display. After he read from the New Testament about Jesus washing the feet of a disciple, Rosberg committed a Promise Keepers first--inviting his "little wife," Barbara, to a seat on the stage. While a Christian folkie strummed an acoustic guitar and sang an original composition called "When All Is Said and Done," Rosberg knelt and washed the bare feet of his wife in front of more than 60,000 men. A large percentage of them wept.

The whole time, Barbara looked appreciative if reserved, based on what I could see on the giant overhead screens. She stared down at the top of her husband's brown head, and reached down to touch his scalp, as he leaned forward with a convulsive shudder into her knees. What she was thinking and feeling remained a mystery, because she never addressed the stadium.

Promise Keepers is extremely defensive about the role of women in its organization. PK spokesperson Mark Chapman declares that a good 35 percent of the national staff are women, and that an unspecified number of those work at the management level. There are upward of 1,200 women working the Dallas rally, he insists. The vast majority are volunteers. These women help at the PK book tables outside the stadium, stand at the gates, help ticket buyers to their seats, and assist the media.

 

"Men are largely responsible for the failure of the American family," Randy Phillips declares to a roomful of media people. His hair and goatee are salt and pepper, his eyes simultaneously sad and childlike. In fact, he could easily pass as the younger brother of another, albeit secular professor of culpability--John Bradshaw, the inner-child guru. The resemblance is startling.

"At least 51 percent of the problems in every American household have been created by husbands. And I stress, at least..."

The speakers at a Promise Keepers rally address their sentiments to two kinds of men--those who are married and those who will be one day. Single fathers are, presumably, lumped in with the second category, although "divorce" is another word that is never mentioned on the PK podium. Marriage is the sacred ideal here, the lifesaver thrown to every stadium listener.

It's a utopian concept not lost on some of the ignored factions of Promise Keepers that are nonetheless present for the Dallas rally.

I walk outside the stadium to the huge ministry tent at the edge of one of the parking lots. Attendants at booths representing various Christian organizations hand out pamphlets and free advice--about Bible colleges, Christian life insurance, and Christmas vacation junkies. People wander slowly from table to table like ticket holders in the state fair's Food and Fiber Building.

"I hope to marry a woman someday," says Randy, the baby-faced 28-year-old behind the booth for Exodus International, the Christian organization that promises relief for gay men and lesbians who want to leave behind their "gay identity." Randy is actually the assistant director for Living Hope in Arlington, an ministry for ex-gays that spreads the Exodus International gospel in North Texas. ("I don't like the phrase 'ex-gay,'" Randy says, wrinkling his nose. "It's not like you can turn it on and off like a light switch.") Though neither group is affiliated with Promise Keepers, the missions of both Exodus International and Living Hope have been approved by PK officials.

Randy offered his homosexuality up to Christ five years ago, the same time when he decided the Bible was "inerrant." His lover had died of AIDS, and while praying Randy saw a vision of Christ weeping for the companions.

"Christ wasn't weeping for who we were," Randy says. "He was weeping for what we'd done. He loved us; it was what we did together he didn't like."

Without hesitation, Randy declares himself a member of Promise Keepers. He insists that he has walked among his fellow PK members and, while open about his past gay identity, never suffered a single insult. I press him about the controversial subjects with which Promise Keepers flirts yet never seems to fully address, and wonder how much longer the group can refrain from taking public stands on these issues. As far as any subliminal political agenda the group might proffer, Randy is pragmatic.

"They never stand up to endorse a candidate or a political party," he says. "But for most Promise Keepers, the choice is obvious. The choice is the Bible. That's their voter's guide."

Promise Keepers may hesitate to take official stands on hot-button cultural issues, but the group's founder, Bill McCartney, has not been so shy.

Since he created the group in 1991, McCartney has spoken vehemently against abortion at several Operation Rescue meetings. He was a vocal advocate for Colorado's anti-gay Amendment 2, which the Supreme Court recently declared unconstitutional. And he was forced, back in 1985, to cease the mandatory prayer sessions he conducted at practices and games when a member of the Colorado Buffaloes, the championship football team he coached, complained to the American Civil Liberties Union. (McCartney resigned from his coaching position last year; he cited personal reasons unrelated to that controversy and to his newfound high profile as a PK soldier.)

In addition, McCartney has appeared with other Promise Keepers officials on Pat Robertson's 700 Club (Robertson is a frequent cheerleader for the organization), and several of the group's books have been published by Focus on the Family--James Dobson's extremely influential, Christian Coalition-linked organization.

These are hardly the actions of an apolitical man. Still, none of these affiliations seems philosophically equipped to contain McCartney's latest goal--racial reconciliation.

McCartney mounts the stage on the floor of Texas stadium at just past 9 p.m. on Friday. He is a 50ish man with aviator glasses atop a prominent nose that points down like an arrowhead to his straight line of a mouth. He rarely smiles.

He is not a particularly dynamic speaker, especially when you compare him to some of the conference's roof raisers, like E.K. Bailey, pastor of Dallas' Concord Missionary Baptist Church. The African-American Bailey opened the evening with a fiery sermon on the tax collector who climbed a tree to watch Jesus speak; Bailey point-blank declared that some of the most financially successful men in the audience were "out on a limb" spiritually.

 

His voice sincere but uninflected, McCartney doesn't work particularly hard to top the opener; he doesn't have to. The audience hollers its approval almost straight through his 40-minute speech. His business isn't to flatter those who paid a hefty ticket price and, in some cases, traveled hundreds of miles to attend the rally. The Dallas audience is 86 percent Anglo--according to the group's own printed statistics--and the very color of that majority's skin is a collective blanket of guilt stretched across those audience members' bodies. McCartney's categorical comments about race, the sole topic of his address, wouldn't have sounded out of place in one of Louis Farrakhan's less inflammatory diatribes.

"I've never met a white person who didn't carry himself with an attitude of racial superiority," McCartney says. "And I've never met a person of color who didn't feel that oppression deep down in their very souls. It's time the church recognized and atoned for the massive injustice we have done and continue to do to our brothers of color. The onus is on us--the majority--to reach out."

The next afternoon at 12:30, McCartney repeats many of these sentiments verbatim at a press conference alongside Raleigh Washington, the Chicago minister who has been named vice president of Promise Keepers' reconciliation project, and Thom Claus, a Mohawk Indian and member of the Turtle Clan who heads CHIEF, a Native American Christian ministry. But there is an awkward moment of racial definition that contrasts with McCartney's more general speech the previous night, in which he exhorted the white men in Texas Stadium to admit their racism to Christ.

"White guys are task-oriented," the former coach explains, "and men of color are more heart-to-heart. White guys step into a project and just focus on the job--their way of getting it done. Men of color spend time making relationships--actually dealing with each other. We're like passing ships in the night."

"I love the white man and forgive him for his wrongs," Thom Claus tells the roomful of reporters brandishing tape recorders, video cameras, recorders, and notepads. "But there have been wrongs on both sides. It's time for my Indian brothers to admit historically they have also wronged the white man."

Raleigh Washington is a good deal less eager to share the blame. He picks up McCartney's baton and gently scolds white Christians for what he calls "little acts of racial insensitivity, the Achilles heel of any attempt at reconciliation." His only criticism of the African-American community is directed at those pastors and congregations who insist that Sunday morning services should remain essentially segregated affairs to preserve black and brown traditions.

"Let me ask God to grant me some civility when I discuss this topic," Washington says, drawing laughter from the press. "Those ministers, my brothers of color, who continue to insist that the church be divided along racial lines are not reconcilers in Christ. That's all I have to say. They're not reconcilers in Christ."

Then Washington and McCartney unfurl their first official reconciliation act, the Promise Keepers' pledge of $1 million to help rebuild some of the dozens of churches torched across the South during the past two years. Washington chairs the PK task force for church burnings and directs the organization to set up liaisons at the state level, where the needs of each homeless congregation will be addressed through questionnaires and on-site visits. Five Texas churches have each already received a seed grant of $5,000--and a couple of those churches, the PK brass is eager to point out, are Hispanic.

As Promise Keepers gallops valiantly into America's racial minefield, its identity as a force outside the Christian community becomes unique. The organization speaks effusively of whites extending the hand to blacks, browns, reds, and other "peoples of color," but refuses to declare support for affirmative action. It's difficult to know who PK would alienate more should it ever decide to make its minority support concrete with such an endorsement--the majority white PK audience whose median income is $46,000 a year, or other organizations within the Religious Right that have transformed race-based quota systems and the immigrant population into influential wedge issues. Then again, if it refuses to address the issue of affirmative action, can its tenuous relationship with various minority Christian leaders continue to develop?

For right now, Promise Keepers maintains a laserlike focus on healing the rift between men--who have accepted Christ as their personal savior but find themselves feeling frustrated and powerless as leaders--and those oft-cited, ever-absent women. And PK is determined to find ways to hammer down as many boundaries as possible, including language and geography, between heterosexual males. Although the races tend to remain segregated by choice in the stands of Texas Stadium, there is a good deal of gentle roughhousing among ethnic groups during the downtime--white men throwing their arms around the necks of their black, yellow, and red fellow members of Promise Keepers. I am astonished to see, as the gathering breaks for lunch outside the stadium on Saturday, that thousands of men leave unattended in their seats jackets, backpacks, umbrellas, and other personal items. This sense of harmony is bolstered by PK's concerted efforts to make its message available across language barriers. Spanish-speaking Promise Keepers rallies have been conducted in San Antonio and Miami. PK services have been electronically translated for Korean, French, and Navajo ears.

 

The group hopes to exhibit this kind of diversity when it puts out the call for a million men to march on the Mall in Washington, D.C., next fall. The only reason D.C. was chosen as the site of the group's national march, Randy Phillips insists, is because "it's the only city in America equipped securitywise to handle such a number."

"We're marching to display our poverty, not our power," Phillips announces. "This is not a demonstration to try to influence Congress, the president, or any other governing body. This is a display of our broken hearts. People try to project a political agenda onto Promise Keepers, but it never works. We're talking about issues that are a lot bigger than politics."

Talking a bit more directly to the subject of politics is Raleigh Washington, who clearly relishes attention from the press. After the 30-minute press conference ends, and Claus and McCartney are quickly escorted out by security men in blue PK shirts, Washington lingers at the table to answer the remaining questions of a trio of print reporters who stand around him.

I hang outside these stragglers, loitering near the door where Washington will make his exit. When the writers are satisfied and disperse, the Chicago preacher stops to form a prayer circle with two white PK volunteers who profess admiration for his stirring skills as an orator. The three stand solemnly, heads bowed to the floor, arms laced over shoulders, and raise their collective heart to Jesus.

Washington finally makes his way toward the exit, and I step up to ask my question: How is it that Promise Keepers can continue to talk about the leadership role of Christian men in the family, church, and community, yet not join the forceful ranks of Christian leaders in contemporary American politics?

Washington smiles benevolently and leans in so close I can feel his breath on my face. His watery brown eyes are full of the gentle authority that so awed the fans with whom he has just prayed.

"I think Promise Keepers will become the model organization for every Christian movement in the country," the pastor prophesies. "And to answer your question, there's no way the group can restrict itself when it comes to public policy. We are producing leaders in this organization. They will enter the political sphere.


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