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Promise Keepers is a Christian organization for men. While it originated in the United States, independent branches are established in Canada and New Zealand. It 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". Promise Keepers is a non-profit organization, not affiliated with any Christian church or denomination. 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. Dr. 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.
The core beliefs of the Promise Keepers, outlined in the Seven Promises, consist of the following:
Promise Keepers was founded in 1990 by Bill McCartney, then the head football coach at the University of Colorado Boulder. According to the group's website, McCartney got the inspiration for Promise Keepers on March 20, 1990, while he was attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet in Pueblo, Colorado, during a conversation with Dave Wardell, who was also in attendance at the event. 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. Dr. 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. It was reported at the time to be the largest gathering of men in American history, surpassing even the Million Man March. Attendance at regional rallies where the admission can cost $60 USD has caused some numbers to drop as many men opted to attend the free Washington rallies instead.
McCartney resigned as president on October 1, 2003 after a personal leave of absence. 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.
On September 10, 2008 McCartney came out of five years retirement to become Promise Keepers CEO/Chairman. Along with McCartney's placement, Raleigh Washington, former Promise Keepers vice president of ministry advancement and McCartney's Road To Jerusalem ministry collaborative partner, was named president of Promise Keepers.
Promise Keepers has continued to grow world wide, some of this is attributed to their non allegiance to any particular denomination, in fact welcoming men from all church and non church walks. This makes it one of the largest combined male church groups in the world
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.
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." 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.
The group was also criticized for doctrinal compromises and inconsistent doctrines. Dr. Raymond Hartwig, 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.'"