Monthly Archives: March 2009

Promise Keepers and Crossing Fingers

Special promisesIn 1997, Promise Keepers fielded an event that was supposed to be epoch-making. Stand in the Gap brought together eight hundred thousand men (or one million men, according to PK accounts) to the National Mall in Washington on October 4 th, 1997 to recommit to marriage and family.And the aftermath? Within a few months, Promise Keepers had all but closed its main offices. The collapse of the movement was far more spectacular than the Washington event.

What happened?

David Usher provides a compelling analysis  of the movement’s catastrophic contraction in an article published in Men’s News Daily. Usher’s overview of Promise Keeper’s collapse begins with a widely read article by Bill McCartney on the eve of Stand in the Gap. Usher explains:

The collapse began with the widely-publicized article in the September-October 1997 issue of Policy Review, titled “Promise Makers”, which hit the newsstands just a few days before Stand in the Gap. This article received tremendous national attention.

Many conservatives were quietly expecting this watershed article would signal the beginnings of a real marriage movement. Instead, it was perhaps the most spectacular public display of self-deprecation witnessed in modern history.

The first few paragraphs of Bill McCartney’s Policy Review article were a shocking adoption of knuckle-dragging neanderthal feminist theory. It blamed men for all of society’s problems. In fact, it was so feminist I thought it could have been written by the National Organization of Women.”

Bait and Switch

Bait and SwitchIn the above-linked article by Usher, he demonstrates the radical feminist critique of American Christian manhood with copious quotations from McCartney’s article in Policy Review. I strongly urge you to read all of Usher’s critique as well as McCartney’s Policy Review article, available here online. Certainly McCartney’s article was read by thousands of men who understood it as a form of bait-and-switch. Promise Keepers held out the hope of reinvigorating a Christianity that was unashamedly masculine, that affirmed Christian manhood and sought to promote it. Instead, from its own founder, Promise Keepers became just one more mouthpiece for feminists (whether Christian or not) who viewed male headship in marriage, family, and church as a flaw to be fixed, a disease to be cured, a sin for men to repent of. No wonder Promise Keepers melted as quickly as a snowball in hell.

Since the contraction which Usher explains, Promise Keepers has continued to contract. A careful reading of their own history shows a declining number of men attending stadium or similar events since the 1997 Stand in the Gap and the contraction which followed. By their own testimony (laced with a generous dose of positive spin) they have continued to contract over the past decade. In fact, the contraction has gone far enough that McCartney now candidly speaks of an upcoming Promise Keepers event in Boulder, Colorado with these words  :

Our journey will begin with a stadium event in Boulder, CO, on July 31-August 1, 2009. We’ll celebrate our 20th anniversary as a ministry back where it all began–and where it will be re-launched–at Folsom Field.

Fish or Fowl?

Promise Keepers has always claimed it was a ministry to men. But with the relaunch, McCartney highlights three distinctives that will characterize the re-launched Promise Keepers. Claiming to take his cue for the relaunch from the First Century Church, McCartney claims that this church did three things:

Proverbs 31:31: They celebrated virtuous women at the city gates. We expect men to invite thousands of women to “A Time to Honor.” This will be powerful. We need to rally around women and raise the bar for what it is to be virtuous. The next generation must have a true model for womanhood.

Acts 2:43-48: They shared their resources equally. As the days get more difficult, the church that is truly anointed will be one that opens its arms to the less fortunate. We want to catalyze men to serve the poor, the oppressed and the needy through their local church.

I Corinthians 4:15: Honoring the Spiritual Fathers of the Faith. Paul said that though we may have countless teachers in the faith, we will not have many fathers. And he became our father through the Gospel. We want to honor the Jewish Believers who are the spiritual fathers of our faith.

Apostolic Christianity or Jewish Evangelism?

Concerning Spiritual Fathers: This sounds decidedly quixotic. It is one thing to argue in favor of evangelism of Jews, particulary based on Paul’s “to the Jew first, and then the Greek” statements. Two of PK’s Board members are involved in Jewish evangelism (Rabbi Jonathan Bernis) and encouraging “Gentile believers in Jesus Christ to embrace the Messianic Jewish community” (Dr.Raleigh Washington). But McCartney doesn’t even seem to have evangelism of Jewish unbelievers in view here, but rather “Jewish believers who are the spiritual fathers of our faith.”

It’s unclear who these “fathers” are. Paul evangelized the Corinthians and thus claims to be their father in the gospel. Is Paul, therefore, ipso facto the father of all believers today? Or, perhaps McCartney is referring to the Apostles who left us the New Testament. But, still, while some Christians have become believers by reading the New Testament alone, most have been evangelized by Gentile evangelists. Just what McCartney is talking about here awaits further developments.

Christian Welfare?

Concerning the sharing of resources: why is this agenda singled out as somehow unique, or distinctive? Yes, the sharing of resources marked the communal life of early Christians. But that has more or less been the case ever since. Today, there are scores of Christian aid agencies that are international in scope, alongside countless soup kitchens, second-hand clothing distribution networks, and single-mother ministries in churches across the land. Entire denominations have cast themselves as agents for social justice and aid to the oppressed. Why is this “new?”

It’s Still About Women, Evidently

Thumbs Up But, the first distictive in McCartney’s list looks decidedly like a retread, and a confused one at that. Citing a verse from the poem on the Virtuous Women (who is obviously a member of the aristocracy during the Golden Age of Solomon) in Proverbs 31, McCartney claims that the early church “celebrated virtuous women at the city gates.” So far as I know, the Apostle Paul commends a number of women for their character and works of mercy. But, to say that Christians themselves were “celebrating virtuous women at the city gates” is almost certainly false.

Christians (Jewish and Gentile alike) were mocked and persecuted and schemed against in the city gates. Jews and Pagans alike, threatened by converts to Christianity, persecuted Christians. To imagine the Christians themselves “celebrating” (what, exactly, is this supposed to mean???) in the city gates … it’s a preposterous fiction forced onto the NT and the early writings of the post-Apostolic fathers.

But, this is the 21st Century. The Evangelical Church is now feminist. And, if a ministry to men is going to have a snowball’s chance in hell, it’s going to need to bring the women in. Here’s how the PK website puts it :

1) Why are we inviting women?

The time for Proverbs 31:31 is long overdue! It’s time to bring our wives and daughters so that we can honor them together. They need to stand side by side with us as warriors of the faith.

Hmmmm. Evidently, Christian men don’t praise virtuous women in the gates (hence, it’s long overdue). I’m not sure why the burgeoning population of women in evangelical seminaries doesn’t count here. In another generation, evangelical pulpits will have as many or more women in them than men. Count on it — the seminaries’ Forward Looking Committees have it all figured out. The next generation of evangelical leaders are in today’s evangelical seminary classrooms. Count the division of the sexes and know the future!

I wish PK had been a less foggy about that warrior thing.

Do they mean this: “They need to stand side by side with us men who as men are warriors for the faith?”

Or do they mean this: “They need to stand side by side with us men, joining us to be warriors for the faith?”

You know, in the current climate there’s whole organization of women led by Carolyn Custis James who claims that the Bible calls women to be warriors. Women now populate all the armed forces, including combat units, so it’s a sure thing they can claim to be warriors for the United States. Is PK conforming to popular feminist and egalitarian notions about the warrior-ness of women? Looks like it to me.

Down with Male Headship

seenoevilMeanwhile, the entire, long, and tedious battle for the past 25 years has been whether or not men are heads of their marriages, families, and churches. On that issue, PK is quite clear :

What does PK think the role of women should be?

The role of women is not a topic we address at our events; however, we do believe husbands are called to love their wives just as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25).

I do not know how more studiously Promise Keepers can ignore the Scriptures than this. Paul has a lot of very clear things to say about the role of women in Ephesians 5. On one hand PK urges us to honor our spiritual fathers in the faith — including the Apostle Paul, for crying out loud — and at the same time refuses to quote the Apostle when he gives an answer to a question they themselves acknowledge is “out there.”

Promise Keepers makes a big deal out of integrity and courage. They would be a lot more convincing if they showed more integrity in how they handle the Bible, and less cowardice when facing the spirit of the age.

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The Church thru Egalitarian Eyes

two-thumbsThe blog sponsored by Christians for Biblical Equality can be counted on for showing us the cutting edge of egalitarian thinking, the sort of stuff that egalitarian leaders in academe look for in order to know where to place themselves so they’re at the head of the popular mob.

It is also a way to look at things ostensibly “Christian” through egalitarian glasses. An excellent example of this is found in Trevor’s analysis of how/why we have created “a church of gender division.”

His evidence includes the following:

  • We encourage separate men’s and women’s meetings, rallies, conferences etc.
  • We encourage separate men’s and women’s study Bibles and Bible helps.
  • We encourage the genre of exclusive male to male and female to female authors.

So what? Ministries targeted at women and men, ministries pursued by men in concert with men (and women with women) are hardly new, going back to the very beginning (cf. 1 Tim. 3, or Titus 2). And so it has been for about 2,000 years now. The underlying premise of ministries aimed at either sex is simply that men and women are different, and that this difference should be acknowledged and accomodated by church ministry.

Admitted, the advance of technology (printing, video, travel, etc.) makes the opportunities for such accomodation more frequent. Again, so what? If ministry to men alone facilitates such ministry, as with women (as commenters reluctantly acknowledge), why frustrate this ministry by cutting back on it?

  • We encourage male supremacy and primacy within marriage and family.
  • We encourage marital role separateness when we promote hierarchy as a marriage model.
  • We encourage the language of biological differentiation when we talk of his needs, her needs.
  • We encourage difference between the sexes through accepting the thesis of books like, “Men are from Mars – Women are from Venus.”

Again, such “observations” ignore what everyone has always easily known. Moreover, it ignores the Bible’s own mandate that men be heads of the marriage, family, and church. This mandate has been ground zero in Church conflict for several generations now, and evangelicalism seems to have pretty well settled into camps where compliance with Biblical norms are honored (a minority now), and those where these Biblical norms are flouted, ignored, or mocked (e.g. the so-called egalitarian church communities, whether they be congregations, denominations, or parachurch institutions).

What puzzles me is the “we have …” in these observations. It sounds as if this egalitarian is lamenting that the egalitarian agenda hasn’t been more comprehensively implemented in supposedly egalitarian churches.

We encourage segregation and individualism by all of the above which leads to dissatisfaction and the breakdown of balanced gender relationships, including marriage and family.

Flummery. American evangelicals are the “freest” Christians history has ever seen. Their ecclesiology (actually, their lack of an ecclesiology)  allows them to do what they routinely do as often as they change their socks: change churches to suit their tastes in virtually anything, including how the church handles ministry to men and women.

The NT scriptures are addressed to believers generally, not to genders specifically. While instructions are given to husbands, wives, children, slaves and slave owners these instructions are to be culturally considered.

Here we have egalitarian falsehood and egalitarian flummery in one sentence.

First, the OT and NT Scriptures are generally address specificially to the men, and when context indicates that the entire congregation is intended, it is the inclusive masculine gender that is used in the Biblical text. The Ten Commandments, for example, are addressed to men, because men are the heads of the various social units within Israel (marriage, family, tribe). But, no one ever questions that “Thou shalt not steal” is a commandment women are obliged to follow. Specifically, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife …” does not leave the women free to covet their neighbor’s husband. No specific prohibition directed at women is needed, because her moral duty is included in the moral duty of her head.

And, what about those Scriptures known to address specific — gender specific — groups, such as husbands (as opposed to wives) or wives (as opposed to husbands)? According to CBE’s blogger, these are to be “culturally considered!” That’s egalitarian code words for “ignored” or “dismissed.” On this score, the entire Book of Proverbs should be dismissed, because it is compiled by men for men as men. Its purpose is to equip young men to take their places in the gates as older, wiser men.

May women profit from The Proverbs? No one ever said otherwise. Does the Book of Proverbs contain exemplary models for women to emulate? Of course it does, primarily Lady Wisdom. Models of women to reject? Of course it does, primarily Woman Folly. But, even those passages are primarily crafted for the express instruction and development of men’s characters and wisdom. In this way, the Proverbs are typical of the Bible as a whole — addressed to the heads of the believing community for the benefit of all.

While some may disagree, it is my belief that many of our differences are culturally adapted rather than biblically mandated.

Yet that’s what the quarrel is all about! Egalitarians take the Bible’s mandates regarding the nature and relationship of the sexes and dismiss them out of hand in favor of some pansexual or asexual inclusiveness.

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Filed under Egalitarianism