Inside the Promise Keepers
The third wave?
Q: Al, what prompted you to start PK Watch?
A: We started this in the context of some of the most important developments threatening our democratic system. In the past four years we have seen three ominous developments in the United States.
First was the institutionalization of armed paramilitary militia in nearly every state in the nation. Many of these militia identify justification for their organization in the gains for abortion rights. But their agenda includes a broad assault on our basic democratic values.
Second, in the past four years Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition became the effective grassroots base of the second most powerful party of the most powerful thermonuclear state in the world.
And third, Robertson's organization is now flanked on the right by what we call the Third Wave of the religious right, this organization called Promise Keepers (PK).
These three waves are not completely disconnected but mutually supportive, with a social base in what's usually called the Religious Right. The First Wave is generally identified with Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. The Second Wave is the Christian Coalition. The Third Wave is Promise Keepers.
Q: How do these organizations differ?
A: Each succeeding Wave is distinguished in its theological extremism, political extremism, organizational sophistication and mass base.
Q: What is more extremist about Promise Keepers than the Christian Coalition?
A: I'll take the three organizations in order. In terms of theology, Falwell is a fundamentalist. Robertson is not only fundamentalist, but Charismatic, with various implications in terms of his political agenda from his religious orientation. Promise Keepers is nondenominational Charismatic. Both Falwell and Robertson come from a Southern Baptist background. The leadership of Promise Keepers, on the other hand, is out of Vineyard Christian Fellowship.
Q: What is Vineyard Christian Fellowship?
A: Vineyard is one of the most important structures of the new wave nondenominational right-wing churches. VCF now claims over 550 churches across the U.S. and around the world.
Coach [Bill] McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers, and President of PK, Randy Phillips, plus board member James Ryle, are all members of Ryle's Vineyard church in Colorado. Their call for "breaking down the walls," while dressed in the cloak of ecumenical humanism, is in reality, a direct challenge to the mainline denominations which PK sees as "too conservative," which in PK-speak really means too liberal.
The leadership of this new movement has served up not only another political challenge but an important theological challenge to mainline denominations.
Q: That's how you were able to get all those mainline church representatives to a recent meeting in D.C.
A: Right. The mainline denominations are increasingly concerned about the inroads of the nondenominational charismatic churches which have a certain superficial appeal to young yuppies. The Sunday services are often serenaded by rock music, the pastor may preach wearing blue jeans, and it's a much more informal atmosphere. It's a seductive way to lure people into a political process which underlies these denominations.
Most of the new Third Wave churches are virulently opposed to reproductive rights and abortion, and buy into much of the agenda of the Religious Right.
PK has analyzed the prior two Waves and decided they have begun to max out in ability to recruit. So what they have done is develop a psychological map of the average American male. They figured out guilt points, whether you were a good father or a good husband, as useful access points for political manipulation. Using those two "fault lines" of American male psyche, they reached in deep and pulled men in to what is clearly a political movement.
Falwell had his Moral Majority, which was a relatively loosely structured organization with a clearly conservative agenda. Pat Robertson's group was exponentially beyond anything that Falwell could put together. The structure of the grassroots base and the clarity and extremism of the political agenda in the Christian Coalition went well beyond anything that Falwell was able to put together.
Promise Keepers, as the Third Wave, takes it one step beyond the Christian Coalition. Although PK is supported by the entire panoply of the leadership of the Religious Right, the key driving force behind Promise Keepers is really James Dobson of Focus on the Family, a $130 million operation based in Colorado Springs. Dobson has positioned himself to the right of the Christian Coalition.
When people go to PK meetings and buy their books, you will see the books are published under the imprimatur of Focus on the Family.
That's not coincidental.
Focus on the Family has also provided enormous logistical, financial and propaganda support giving a lot of publicity to PK on the Dobson radio broadcasts around the nation.
Last year alone, PK staged 24 football stadium rallies of almost exclusively white male Christian men with an explicit message that women should be in submission. They brought over a million men to these stadium events. Just the organizational infrastructure to stage something like that is awesome.
This article is reprinted from the May 1997 issue of Body Politic. It has been edited for space. To subscribe to PK Watch, contact the Center for Democracy Studies, 177 East 87th St., Suite 404, New York, NY 10128.