That got a friend and me reminiscing about some of our experiences attending the conferences back in the ’90s. They were powerful, moving and deeply spiritual events that changed our lives. Promise Keepers impacted the lives of millions of people, not just the men who attended.
As Gary and I talked, my mind began to race back to the summer of 1996. While Gary talked about attending Promise Keepers (or PK for short) in Los Angeles with his son and how it changed their relationship, I felt myself drawn back to Denver. I had just moved back in with my parents after my first marriage fell apart in North Carolina.
My mother gave my brother and me tickets to the conference they were holding at old Mile High Stadium. I had only heard of Promise Keepers and knew nothing about it other than it was some religious organization started by former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney. Honestly, I was more interested in being back in the stadium and seeing McCartney than I was about hearing any message.
We got to the stadium and instinctively went to the seats my dad had as a Broncos season ticket holder. Why we didn’t try to get better seats than our old nose bleed seats I’ll never know. It just felt right. What happened over the course of the evening and the next day didn’t feel nearly as comfortable. It rocked my world. I wasn’t ready for what happened. I heard messages about being a good husband and father. I heard about racial reconciliation. I heard about being bold for Jesus. I heard more than my broken heart could handle.
I was in a state of shock for a few weeks while I tried to process everything. God hates divorce, yet I had just been dumped by my wife of nearly nine years. I was blindsided by it and deeply wounded. Clearly this was a message designed to teach me how to be a better man, save my marriage and restore my family. It just had to be. There was no other logic to it.
For the next three years I lived a contradiction. As I delved deeper into the men’s ministry and became more ingrained into the movement, my wife was pushing further away. I tried hard to change who I was and to live as a Godly man, but within three years it was over. Fortunately, it helped prepare me for my new life with my lovely wife and four children.
I snapped back from my thoughts when Gary asked me if I had gone to Stand In The Gap, the gathering of a million men on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Yeah, I was there. Right in the thick of it. Oct. 4, 1997, was one of the most memorable days of my life. It also marked the peak of Promise Keepers. After that, events that drew 60,000, 70,000 or more men to football stadiums dwindled to 20,000 to 30,000 men in basketball arenas. A few years later it became gatherings of hundreds in large churches, which is pretty much where it stands today.
Bill McCartney, who had become a friend, left the organization to care for his ill wife. Since her passing, he has been sidelined by Alzheimer’s disease. The impact he made and the legacy he will leave are undeniable and eternal. Even if the movement is just a crawl, it still forever changed the course of this country and more importantly, individual family trees for generations to come. I continually run into friends and strangers whose lives were turned around by Promise Keepers.
Yet I can’t help but wonder what has happened to this country since PK’s decline. Where we once had a strong voice calling men to be the courageous leaders God designed them to be we now have … man buns, rompers and lace shorts? Are you kidding me? Instead of strong, confident leaders, we have safe places and gender identity issues.
Where have all the real men gone? Is there no man of integrity left to stand up and lead?
I can’t help but think that we have pushed so hard for gender equality that we have not stopped to consider the consequences. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for equality in the workplace. We must, however, accept that men and women are not equal. We are not automatons that can be inserted seamlessly into any role in society. We are very different beings and therein lies our strength. Whether you believe in creation or evolution, the simple fact remains that men and women are different creatures mentally, emotionally and physically.
As women moved into the workplace, it seems no one bothered to ask who would be filling in the void at home. Women just assumed that men would step aside and share the load equally.
They just forgot to ask the men. Instead, men have been shamed and browbeaten into roles for which we were not designed. Men are internally engineered to slay dragons, win the heart of a woman and lead his kingdom. (A man’s home is his castle, right?) Women are wired to raise and nurture children and be the caretakers of the family.
Now, before the feminists start looking for rope to hang me with, please hear me out. I’m talking in terms of historical generalities. These are the roles that have defined men and women for thousands of years. The mass migration of women into the workplace is a relatively new phenomenon of less than 60 years.
My point is that while women have been stepping up and leading, men have taken to cowering in their “safe place” romper rooms. That was not supposed to happen. I’m all for men helping out and doing their fair share around the house, but the feminization of men is just plain wrong. Men need to be men and women need to stop expecting them to be anything less than that.
Of course this is a perception of Promise Keepers that feminists resisted throughout its run. They errantly believed that PK was teaching men to be domineering rulers and that’s simply not the case. PK was teaching us to be servant leaders in the home. They were teaching us to love and care for our wives and children and to take responsibility for the family. Unfortunately, as Promise Keepers becomes less influential, we see more men abdicating responsibility rather than embracing it. We need to reverse this trend. It’s going to take some work to figure out how best to balance work and home life for both men and women but it can and should be done without changing who we are intrinsically.
In the meantime, I will keep wearing my Promise Keepers polos and shunning man buns and rompers.