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Warriors for Christ: Is Promise Keepers Making a Comeback?

Promise Keepers has repackaged its muscular Christianity and evangelical nationalism for a post-9/11 world.

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This past weekend, “slave nor free” was translated loosely as “the haves and the have-nots.” The reconciliation between the rich and poor didn’t play prominently, either in the event’s promos or at the stadium rally itself. PK did offer a “pay what you can afford” program to woo low-income rally-goers, and it also urged attendees to bring food donations for the Denver Rescue Mission.

At the rally itself, there was no sustained talk about the spiritual or political effects of the global financial crisis, but there was a call to support something called the Hatikvah Project, which works to alleviate poverty among Messianic Jews in Israel (who, we were told, are poor because their families and nation reject them as apostates). American Christians were exhorted to extend a helping hand.

“Let them rule!”

The reconciliation of the sexes was a headliner theme. Back in the ’90s, PK had a kind of ladies’ auxiliary, the “Promise Reapers,” who cheered the men on as they arrived for the stadium rallies. But on Friday night Jane Hansen Hoyt, president of Aglow International (the influential evangelical women’s ministry) became the first woman ever to speak at a PK event. And what a powerful speech it was, delivered in a driving rainstorm.

“Have you ever wondered why there is such hatred and violence against women?” Hoyt asked. “One out of every three women experience verbal or sexual abuse from those who profess to love them,” she declared, and then chided the Church for its complicity in women’s oppression. She denounced the fiction that women are inferior, and called this “a time to honor each other.” Hoyt’s stirring ethical appeal included the most blatant expression of the rally’s ideological subtext: Dominion theology.

In a promo video distributed in advance of the rally, Hoyt called the PK relaunch a “strategic event.” “The relationship between male and female must be fully restored for the Church to fulfill its destiny and exercise its heavenly authority in the world,” Hoyt said, in terms that reflect her understanding of spiritual warfare. To the crowd at Folsom Field on Friday night, she thundered, “Let them rule!” (Leaving me to wonder, of course, who is them?)

“The Jewish people are coming to Christ!”

The Galatians 3:28 theme that played most consistently (and insistently) throughout was the need for reconciliation between gentiles and “believing Jews.” The Messianic Jewish movement focuses on the conversion of Jews to Christianity, yet it also encourages Jews to maintain their cultural and religious identities, including their observance of Mosaic laws. You could see some evidence of this impulse in the audience at Folsom Field: the Israeli folk dancers, the shofar blowers, the men (and even some women) wearing kippot and tallitot, arms upraised, singing the praises of Yeshua. “God loves diversity,” Rabbi Jonathan Bernis of Jewish Voice Ministries declared on Friday night. During the altar call, Bernis told Jews to remember that “if you are Jewish and you have converted, you are still Jewish.”

Saturday afternoon brought the heaviest dose of Messianic Jewish themes, with performances by Paul Wilbur, the man who pioneered Messianic praise music, Joel Chernoff, and Marty Goetz. (Wilbur’s band anchored the music throughout the two-day event). There was an Israeli folk dancing troupe and a shofar team, whose heralds included even a few Deborahs blowing their ram’s horns.

The afternoon’s “Did You Know?” PowerPoint slideshow proclaimed the Jewish people as “the fathers of the faith,” firmly embraced the Jewish roots of Christianity, and soundly rejected Christian supercessionism. God had not abandoned his covenant with Abraham, the voiceover declared, and the Jews are still God’s chosen people. The slideshow also offered an explicit apology for the church’s complicity in supporting and sustaining anti-Semitism. (In the webcast’s chat room, Stanley from West Lafayette, Indiana, typed, “Please forgive us Lord Jesus for not honoring and respecting our Jewish family.”) Then to great applause in the stadium, the narrator declared, “The Jewish people are coming to Christ in record numbers.”