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Promise Keepers: Christian Men's Movement Making a Comeback?

The Promise Keepers -- a conservative men's group -- is focusing on women, the poor and Jews.

If it seems like it was another century, that’s because it was: almost twelve years ago Promise Keepers – then the most visible and audacious of Christian men’s organization – brought nearly one million men to Washington, D.C. to a rally called “Stand in the Gap.” The organization was hotter than the Jonas Brothers are today; okay, well maybe not that hot. The more men – and we are not talking “girly men” here – the Denver, Colorado-based Promise Keepers brought out to football stadiums and sports arenas around the country, the more buzz-worthy it became. And the more buzz-worthy it became, the more the mainstream media glommed onto its every move. The more the mainstream media publicized its work, the more its leadership crowed about its successes.

However, not long after unveiling ambitious plans for growing its operations, the organization imploded; leaders left – including PK founder, former University of Colorado head football coach, Bill McCartney -- staff was laid off, events were cancelled, and the organization’s ambitious goals were deeply downsized. While in 1996, more than 1.1 million men participated in events at stadiums across the country, by 2006, only 132,000 attended 18 conferences.

According to the Associated Press, “Tax forms … show[ed] steadily declining gifts, grants and contributions … - from $15 million in 2002 to $9 million in 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available.”

For some, the only visible evidence that the organization actually existed was a Promise Keepers mug or key chain buried in a trunk in the garage. Or, perhaps one might be able to hustle up a dog-eared copy of New Man, the group’s flagship publication.

Promise Keeper makeover?

"It's not about changing Promise Keepers. We're just calling men to rally around the righteous as the days get more difficult." – Bill McCartney

In September of last year, AP reported that Coach McCartney had returned to the organization as chief executive officer and chairman of the ministry. The group also announced that former Promise Keepers executive Raleigh Washington would serve as the organization’s president. During his time away from PK, McCartney founded an organization called “The Road to Jerusalem,” whose purpose, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2006, was “to hasten the end times.” “The Bible says Jews will be brought to jealousy when they see Christians and Jewish believers together as one — they’ll want to be a part of that. That’s going to signal Jesus’ return,” he pointed out.

Now, twenty years after its founding, Promise Keepers is gearing up for a 20th anniversary celebration scheduled for July 31- August 1 at Folsom Field on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder. According to its website, Promise Keepers will be “returning to its roots,” by holding a one-time-only day-and-a-half conference titled “A Time to Honor.”

And, “For the first time, men and women are invited.”

“This year we are calling men to bring the women in their lives. To celebrate our 20th year of ministry, we are called to do three things: honor our wives, daughters, and sisters, be a tangible blessing to the poor and oppressed, and embrace our Messianic Jewish brothers as our spiritual fathers in the faith.” Although the price of the event is $59.00, PK announced its intention not to turn anyone away, making registrations available for “what you can afford.”

In a letter to supporters, McCartney pointed out “that God has called PK on an extraordinary journey of change in 2009. … [during which] we'll see the beginnings of the greatest move of God in our lifetimes -- a move God showed me recently after a five year pursuit to learn his will.” According to McCartney, the goal is “to revisit three key priorities embraced by the first century church. These priorities are also embraced in the Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper”:

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