Why are the Promise Keepers reaching out to women and Messianic Jews?

Religion, spirituality, and sacrilege.
Dec. 4 2009 9:32 AM

It's a Christian Man's World

The Promise Keepers, in an attempt to stage a comeback, are reaching out to women and Messianic Jews. But why?

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"Promise Keepers is not a men's ministry. It is a ministry for men," Raleigh Washington, the group's president, said in defense of their invitation to women. Women, many of them volunteers, have always attended rallies, but they've played a secondary role. Much has been made of the organization's overall stance toward women and its expectation, some argue, that women continually take a back seat. The Rev. Tony Evans advised men on how to reclaim their leadership roles: "The first thing you do is sit down with your wife and say something like this: 'Honey, I've made a terrible mistake. I've given you my role.' … Don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. I'm not suggesting that you ask for your role back, I'm urging you to take it back."

But as Bartkowski has noted, herein lies part of P.K.'s genius and one reason for the group's success. By mixing authoritarianism with a dash of gentleness, P.K. offered men—indeed, entire families—a combination of patriarchy and egalitarianism that is likely to continue even now that P.K. has made a formal invitation to women. The ministry plans to include women by focusing on what men should do in relation to them—honor them, respect them, etc. But the question is: What incentive will women have to hover by the football benches? To stand by their men?

The other group the Promise Keepers want to bring into the fold is Messianic Jews, whom McCartney also tried to reach out to as part of his organization Road to Jerusalem. Messianic Jews—cultural Jews who believe Christ is the Messiah—and evangelicals have something other than just Jesus in common: an interest in the preservation of Israel. But P.K. also uses Romans 11:11 as inspiration, arguing that the passage indicates that salvation to Christians came as a way of making all nonbelievers jealous. Part of P.K.'s mission, then, is to fill all non-Christians with envy, causing them to yearn for the zeal they have for Jesus. But, again, the question is, what's in it for the Messianic Jews? Messianic Jews already believe they have Jesus in their heart; they strive to be accepted by mainstream Jews and are likely to be wary of aligning themselves with an evangelical organization. Although they share a belief in Jesus, Messianic Jews want to be seen as authentic Jews, not evangelical Christians.

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In any case, the outreach to women and Jews won't really help the Promise Keepers once again pack stadiums with adoring men. To include women and Jews, even those who believe in Jesus Christ, will dilute the group's focus rather than expand its reach, says Bartkowski. Like a rock band that attempts to resurrect itself, getting the groove back is a daunting task. The concerts, the music, and the fans belong to a certain time; try as the group might, things will never quite be the same, as natural as it is for P.K. and leaders like McCartney to yearn for it to be so.

Why is P.K. trying to come back now? In the age of Obama, its flocks feel threatened. Although the organization has never claimed to be political, McCartney and many of the group's members take a strict pro-life, anti-gay stance. But if P.K. feels forced to reinvent itself continually to retain a large following, what's next? If the public continues to judge the success of P.K. based on numbers, will the ministry eventually, slowly, simply sell out, losing the original focus of the organization: men and Jesus?

Washington insists P.K. is about to see an explosion. He noted that the first rally attracted close to 9,000 people—double what the organization has become accustomed to seeing in recent years. Maybe he's right. But to see the kind of burst P.K. is hoping for, the organization needs to take the public by surprise as it did in the '90s. Reaching out to new groups is a valiant effort, but it's perplexing and seems not a little gimmicky. To make P.K.'s star shine as brightly as it once did, its leaders will first have to figure out what, exactly, is in it for the women and the Messianic Jews.

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