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10/6/97 Men confess sin, seek reconciliation at Promise Keepers’ ‘sacred assembly’

WASHINGTON (BP)–Hundreds of thousands of men, constituting possibly the largest religious gathering in American history, confessed their sins for much of six hours Oct. 4 on the national mall and were challenged to return to their communities to practice denominational and racial reconciliation.
Men from all 50 states and at least 56 countries filled more than a mile of the country’s most famous mass meeting site for six hours of repentance, prayer and singing at Promise Keepers’ “Stand in the Gap: A Sacred Assembly of Men.” Half of the afternoon meeting was spent in confessing the sins of forsaking God, failing families, dividing the body of Christ and racism. Sometimes, men lay face down or knelt in the grass and dirt on the sunny, 80-degree day to acknowledge their sins.
No official estimate of the crowd’s size was made. Promise Keepers kept its promise not to provide a figure, and the U.S. Park Service no longer makes estimates. Guesses by sociologists and veteran observers of mall events ranged from 480,000 to a million or more.
Near the conclusion of the meeting, Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney outlined a plan for bringing Christian unity in local communities and announced the ministry would not charge a fee for its 1998 and ’99 conferences and would become international in 2000.
The event marked the high point of Promise Keepers’ seven-year history. The ministry, founded in 1990 by McCartney, then the University of Colorado football coach, has become best known for its popular two-day stadium events, which have been attended by 2.6 million men in the ensuing years. It also has sought to establish men’s groups in local churches.
Many Southern Baptist pastors and other men have attended the stadium events and embraced the Promise Keepers ministry. Ronnie Floyd, a pastor and former chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, was the only recognizable Southern Baptist to speak at the Washington event. Other well-known Southern Baptists, such as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R.-Miss., and three-time SBC President Adrian Rogers, attended. Undoubtedly, a sizable portion of the crowd was from Southern Baptist churches. A Promise Keepers survey had shown that more than 30 percent of its conference attendees were Baptists.
Though critics had attacked Promise Keepers as an opponent of women’s rights and as a tool of the religious right, ministry leaders sought to allay such fears before and during the meeting. No politician spoke or was introduced. In the opening minutes of the meeting, P.K. President Randy Phillips asked men to set aside any political agenda.
“Would you suspend today your appeals before men and would you unite with us in appealing in prayer before a righteous and just God?” Phillips said. “Is he not able to move in our land above and beyond what we could ask or think?
“We have not come to exalt our agenda as males. We have come to exalt the man Jesus Christ, who is Savior, who is Lord, who is God,” he said as cheers rose from the crowd.
Five hours later, McCartney presented a challenge and unveiled the ministry’s plans for the next three years. He told the men their partners are “anyone who names the name of Jesus.”
Nobody should leave as a “lone ranger,” he said. Every man should be “connected to a church” and every church “connected to one another,” McCartney said.
“You’ve got to go to your local church and you’ve got to say to your pastor, ‘How far, how high, how much?'” he said.
He asked pastors to meet once a week with other pastors to pray and share the needs of the community, then share those needs with the men of their churches. He challenged the pastors to preach and live racial and denominational reconciliation.
To help with this plan, Promise Keepers will hold one-day conferences in nine different cities during the first three months of 1998. He called each pastor to bring the men of the church to the steps of their state capitol on Jan. 1, 2000, to acknowledge the church has vital men’s and prayer ministries and it is racially reconciled.
“And when that happens, the church of Jesus Christ is going to be able to stand up and say, ‘We can testify that the giant of racism is dead inside the church of Jesus Christ,'” McCartney said.
When the crowd was called upon to deal with racism, John Dawson, international director of urban missions for Youth With A Mission, knelt on the stage and called himself and other whites an “arrogant people” who project superiority “even unconsciously, the way we stand, the way we talk, the way we think about ourselves.”
African American author and ministry leader John Perkins knelt beside Dawson and placed his hand on his shoulder and said he accepted his confession. Perkins asked God to forgive him for his reaction to racism. In the crowd, white men could be seen placing their hands on the shoulders of black men as they prayed. Other minority leaders on stage then expressed forgiveness and repentance.
Raleigh Washington, a Chicago pastor and Promise Keepers’ vice president of reconciliation, told the crowd, “Instead of 11 a.m. (Sunday) being the most segregated hour, it can become the most integrated hour.”
While Promise Keepers has made racial reconciliation one of its main goals and minority attendance at its 1997 stadium events increased to about 15 percent, the Washington crowd remained overwhelmingly white. The speakers included not only whites and blacks but Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Messianic Jews.
No portion of the event may have had more impact than when men were called to confess their sins regarding their wives and children.
Bruce Fong, professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, said in regard to the family, “No more abuse, no more abandonment.”
Joseph Garlington, a Pittsburgh pastor and co-emcee with California pastor Jack Hayford, said to men who had supported abortion for their wives or girlfriends, “Some of you need to deal with the abuse of the unborn. That’s the ultimate abuse.”
Isaac Canales, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, asked the men to take off their caps, take out a photo of someone they have abused in some form and get as low as they can to confess their sin.
Dallas pastor Tony Evans told the men to say to their children, “There won’t be any divorce. We won’t use that word.”
The men were urged to return to their first love for God and to turn from prayerlessness, disobedience to the Bible and sexual immorality.
They need to be “holy men of God,” Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church, Springdale, Ark., told the throng. “The number one problem in America is the condition of the church … especially the spiritual condition of the men of our churches.
“What is Jesus saying to you today? He is saying, ‘Men, wake up.’ We’re in a special season, and we need to wake up to our spiritual sluggishness. We need to wake up to our spiritual callousness. The alarm clock is going off in this nation, and it’s no time for the men of this nation to push the snooze button.”
In introducing the time of repentance for disunity among Christians, Hayford said it was “not a quest for one church. We have been taught to suspect those that are not of us.”
Popular author and Church of Christ pastor Max Lucado said Christians are guilty of “sectarianism” and of “jealousy of the church across the street, across town rather than jealousy for Christ.”
“The world will be won for Christ when we are one in Christ,” he said.
The national mall, which stretches from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, was filled from the stage, which backed up to Third Street, to 14th Street, with tens of thousands more gathered on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Others sat on the ellipse, just south of the White House, and around the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial.