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One Friday night this past June the Indianapolis Hoosier Dome was packed; outside, thousands had been turned away. A rock concert? World Cup soccer? No, a gathering of Christians— all men. Sixty-eight thousand of them, part of a growing movement called Promise Keepers.
The men came with the purpose of committing themselves to the following promises:
• “To honor Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, and obedience to His Word. . . .
• “To practice spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity. . . .
• “To build strong marriages and families through love, protection, and biblical values. All men, whether married or not, can further the work of God by honoring women and supporting families. . . .
• “To support the mission of his church, by honoring and praying for his pastor and by actively giving his time and resources. . . .
• “To reach beyond racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity. . . .
• “To influence his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (Mk. 12:30–31) and the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19–20). His desire is to contend for the truth of Jesus Christ without shame for the Gospel. Willing to allow his walk with the Lord to demonstrate itself daily, he reaches out to the needy with compassion and love. . . .
• “To pursue vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs his brothers to help keep his promises. He agrees to meet with a small group of men two to four times each month. Each man willingly grants the others the right to inquire about his relationship to God, his commitment to his family, his sexuality, and his financial dealings. . . .”
This movement comes at a time of crisis in our families and should be welcomed as a promising renewal movement among Christian men. All of the reports so far have been positive, though it is inevitable that Promise Keepers will have its detractors. The most likely detractors may react strongly to the second and third promises, which have to do with “spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity,” and building “strong marriages and families through love, protection, and biblical values.” There is an assumption here of a commitment to traditional Christian morality as the norm that should be upheld and practiced. Most of the men come from traditionally-oriented evangelical churches and inevitably will be labeled by the media as another part of the “Religious Right” that is so ominous in the eyes of the media right now.
This movement also will receive criticism within some churches, especially from those that are in the process of abandoning the clear moral teachings of the Scriptures. This abandonment comes under the guise of redefinition and is excused as necessary because of a reassessment of the biblical texts themselves. The latest reassessment is the peculiar goal of radical feminists, who argue that Christianity is the product of a male-dominated society that sought to define God, religion, and morality in male terms, for male advantage over women.
But, if that were the case, those men got it wrong, especially in the area of sexual ethics. If it were up to men to devise a standard of behavior that favors men, is it likely that they would require only one wife (monogamous marriage) and forbid sex before marriage (fornication) and sex outside of marriage (adultery) and divorce?
Many men have a problem with Christian morality. Christ clearly warns men about the adultery of the heart committed whenever one even looks with lust at a woman. According to the Bible, men are to be restrained and to be faithful husbands and fathers. Even more striking is the standard set for the man’s relationship with his wife: the very love of Christ for the Church. Is it likely that this fabric of restrictive moral teaching was woven by the hands of men seeking to oppress women?
All this irony, though, is not apparent to the hard-line feminist. How they can still believe that men created a biblical morality to suit their male fancies puzzled me—until someone pointed out that one stumbling block for them was that biblical morality is against sex between women. Yes, that is a big problem—the Christian espousal of heterosexual marriage is seen as a limitation imposed by men.
Also, for those not so radical, there are corollaries to the traditional Christian view of marriage that are felt to be anti-women: the consistent condemnation among the early Christians of abortion, the expectation of child-bearing, with the natural result of child-rearing. They are seen as locking women into difficult and inflexible situations—anyone who has raised children understands this. It would seem that as restrictive as Christian morality may be on men, the restrictions on women, defined and reinforced by biology, are more acutely felt. It is easy to understand why this arrangement might be viewed as the product of men: while it doesn’t overtly give men license to do whatever they want, it still favors them in the sense that women seem to labor under a heavier burden than they.
Perhaps that is exactly why the men joining Promise Keepers are making that third promise: to build “strong marriages and families through love, protection, and biblical values.” They are committing themselves to being much more supportive in the home. If the vigorous support shown by many women for Promise Keepers is any indication, this is surely the case. According to some who have attended, women often have taken the initiative to get their husbands to go. (One man said that his wife called his boss to make certain he would have the time off work!)
That third promise comes at a time when many women have been abandoned by men. It also comes during an age in which a revolution in living and working patterns have severely disrupted family life. Men have come to work farther and farther from the home, and this situation has surely aggravated the natural proclivities of men to be less responsible. But the culprit is not traditional biblical morality, but acquiescence to the temptations of modern life, temptations that the Promise Keepers are now promising to resist.
Will Promise Keepers have a lasting impact? The movement has a short history and its future is unknown. But mark well: last year they met in Denver and 50,000 men attended. This year six meetings have been planned. At the first, 56,000 men packed Anaheim Stadium in California; at the second they packed the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. And more meetings are being planned for next year.
Regardless of the future of Promise Keepers, we should look to biblical morality as a permanent standard to which Christians are called because it is, after all, the enduring Word of God and not subject to redefinition. All Christians are called to be promise keepers, even if that commitment flies in the face of the latest trends in redefining the family.
That thousands of Christian men are pledging fidelity to moral purity and strengthening the family should be applauded. In so doing, they are not reasserting a destructive dominance over the family, but placing themselves under the dominion of the Lord who calls men, women, and children to live in peace, righteousness, and holiness in the household of God.
—James M. Kushiner