Promise Keepers

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Promise Keepers
Promise Keepers Logo.jpg
Promise Keepers logo.
Founded1990 (1990)
FounderBill McCartney
Area served
Key people
Judge Vance Day, President

Promise Keepers is an Evangelical Christian parachurch organization for men. While it originated in the United States, independent branches are established in Canada and New Zealand.

Promise Keepers is self-described as "a Christ-centered organization dedicated to introducing men to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, helping them to grow as Christians".[1] Promise Keepers is a non-profit organization, not affiliated with any Christian church or denomination, which opposes same-sex marriage and champions chastity and marital fidelity and the man as being head of the household. Their most widely publicized events tend to be mass rallies held at football stadiums and similar venues. They also sell a variety of promotional products to "help men keep their promises," including clothing, books, and music. Bruce Wilkinson developed the widely used video curriculum, Personal Holiness in Times of Temptation, as a part of "The Biblical Manhood" series for Promise Keepers. Their organizational model has been mimicked by other religious movements.


Promise Keepers was founded in 1990 by Bill McCartney, then the head football coach at the University of Colorado Boulder.[2][3]

According to the PK website, McCartney got the inspiration for Promise Keepers on March 20, 1990, after converting from Catholicism during a conversation with Dave Wardell, while both were attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet in Pueblo, Colorado. He envisioned his home stadium, Boulder's Folsom Field, would be used as a gathering "for training and teaching on what it means to be godly men".

In July 1990, 72 men met at Boulder Valley Christian Church in Boulder to organize what would be Promise Keepers' first event at University of Colorado's Event Center. From that point, the Promise Keepers' membership gradually grew. By the time of the first official PK conference in July 1991, approximately 4200 attended. The organization was incorporated as a nonprofit in the state of Colorado in December 1990.

What Makes a Man?, Promise Keepers' first hardbound book written for the organization, was published by The Navigators' Navpress publishing arm in 1992 for its first Folsom Field gathering in June of that year. James Dobson had McCartney on his Focus on the Family nationwide radio program that same month. McCartney resigned his coaching position in 1994 in order to focus his attention on the organization.

Promise Keepers' most notable event was its Stand in the Gap: A Sacred Assembly of Men open-air gathering at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on October 4, 1997. C-SPAN carried the event live in its entirety. Attendance figures vary but have been estimated to be between 600,000 and 800,000. This was probably its peak, with the organisation halving its office staff four months later due to financial problems and the admission fee of $60 for regional rallies dropped in a number of regions. Rally attendance and finances continued to suffer and a planned millennial march to take part at the capital of every state was cancelled.[4]

Promise Keepers has at the same time extended its organisation outside the United States, setting up Promise Keepers International which holds "Summit Meetings" in at least seven languages and has set up chapters in other countries.[4]

McCartney resigned as president on October 1, 2003 after a personal leave of absence to take care of his ailing wife, who had a severe respiratory illness.[5] Thomas Fortson, previously the group's executive vice president for administration and operations since 1996, became the group's president and CEO the same day.

Feminism, manhood, and race[edit]


The National Organization for Women (NOW), an American feminist organization, has expressed the view that the Promise Keepers pose a threat to women's rights. NOW alleges that the group encourages inequality within marriages and teaches a doctrine of male superiority.[6]

According to Amy Schindler, "the discourse of masculinity found within conservative religious movements, such as the Promise Keepers and the Victorian era movement 'muscular Christianity,' is inherently political. Any masculinity project aimed at restoring or reclaiming a 'traditional' male role for privileged white, heterosexual males has a political impact within the tapestry of class, race, and gender power."[7] Academic Browyn Kara Conrad argues that the organization reproduces problematic sexual scripts such as the Madonna/whore view of female sexuality and a view of the male sex drive as uncontrollable.[8] Other scholars argue that, despite their initial appearance to be pro-feminist, the Promise Keepers build upon patriarchal assumptions, including having the man as the actor in the family, church, and world, and that they expect women to be passively dependent.[9]

The group was also criticized for doctrinal compromises and inconsistent doctrines. Raymond Hartwig, a former president of the South Dakota District of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, commented: "They use the Bible in a very simplistic form, as a springboard to jump into the law."[10]


The organization places particular emphasis on godly manhood, with an emphasis on fatherhood. John Bartkowski sees Promise Keepers' leadership evoking two types of manhood: first, is an essentialist appeal to gender difference advocated by Edwin Louis Cole that emphasizes aggression, strength, and rationality; second, is Gary Oliver's "expressive manhood," which says that all of the traits now traditionally attributed to women were practiced by Jesus, and that men should re-connect with their sensitive side.[11] According to a Yeshiva University study, when it comes to fatherhood, the organization tends to be more conservative, still supporting heterosexist, male predominance in the family.[12]


Patrick Glynn notes that the Promise Keepers succeed in racial reconciliation where politics has seemed to fail.[13] Scholar Siphiwe Dude notes that the organization has open discussions of race that promote racial reconciliation.[14] L. Dean Allen finds that while the organizations' leaders primarily claim that Satan is responsible for fostering racism in individuals and that the best way to counter racism is for people to personally repent and go to confession, PK participants see racism as a more multifaceted issue, citing historical animosity, economic differences, and racial fear. Further, while both leaders and participants see forming relationships with members of other races as important to battling racism, participants do not see PK events as valuable in developing these relationships.[15] Andrea Smith also notes that race relations between Promise Keepers and Native communities is more open.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Promise Keepers' Core Values". Archived from the original on 2007-02-08. Retrieved 2007-02-10.
  2. ^ Randall Herbert Balmer, Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, Westminster John Knox Press, USA, 2002, p. 561
  3. ^ Barry Hankins, American Evangelicals: A Contemporary History of a Mainstream Religious Movement, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, USA, 2009, p. 129
  4. ^ a b Bartkowski, John P. (2004). The Promise Keepers: Servants, Soldiers, and Godly Men. Rutgers University Press. pp. 2–4, 7. ISBN 978-0813533360. Archived from the original on 2016-03-06. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  5. ^ Gorski, Ed (10 September 2003). "Promise Keepers head to step down". Denver Post. Archived from the original on 2016-06-01. Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  6. ^ "Viewpoint:Promise Keepers Pose A Real Threat" Archived 2006-11-20 at the Wayback Machine. National Organization for Women. Retrieved on February 29, 2012.
  7. ^ Schindler, Amy. 1998. "Power, Patriarchy, and the Promise Keepers: The Pleasure of Religious Ecstasy." Paper, annual meeting, American Sociological Association, Toronto.
  8. ^ Conrad, Browyn Kara (2006). "Neo-Institutionalism, Social Movements, and the Cultural Reproducation of a Mentalité: Promise Keepers Reconstruct the Madonna/Whore Complex". The Sociological Quarterly. 47 (2): 305–331. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.2006.00047.x.
  9. ^ Eldén, Sara (2002). "Gender politics in conservative men's movements: Beyond complexity, ambiguity and pragmatism". Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research. 10: 38–48. doi:10.1080/080387402317533871.
  10. ^ "Promise Keepers (PK), Pro and Con: PART 1". "Some Christian Fundamentalists have criticized PK for being too ecumenical, too New Age and too 'sissified.' 4 PK has been criticized for its 'unionism', 'anti-denominationalism' and 'watering down of doctrine.'" - Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
  11. ^ Bartkowski, John (2000). "Breaking Walls, Raising Fences: Masculinity, Intimacy, and Accountability among the Promise Keepers". Sociology of Religion. 61 (1): 33–53. doi:10.2307/3712089. JSTOR 3712089.
  12. ^ Silverstein, Louise B.; Auerbach, Carl F.; Grieco, Loretta; Dunkel, Faith (1999). "Do Promise Keepers Dream of Feminist Sheep?". Sex Roles. 40 (9/10): 665–688. doi:10.1023/a:1018852500604.
  13. ^ Glynn, Patrick (1998). "Racial Reconciliation: Can Religion Work Where Politics Has Failed?". American Behavioral Scientist. 41 (6): 834–841. doi:10.1177/0002764298041006005.
  14. ^ Dube, Siphiwe (2016). "Race, whiteness and transformation in the Promise Keepers America and the Mighty Men Conference: A comparative analysis". HTS Teologiese Studies. 72. doi:10.4102/hts.v72i1.3476.
  15. ^ Allen, L. Dean (2000). "Promise Keepers and Racism: Frame Resonance as an Indicator of Organizational Vitality". Sociology of Religion. 61 (1): 55–72. doi:10.2307/3712090. JSTOR 3712090.
  16. ^ Smith, Andrea (2006). "The One Who Did Not Break His Promises: Native Americans in the Evangelical Race Reconciliation Movement". American Behavioral Scientist. 50 (4): 478–509. doi:10.1177/0002764206294058.

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