Et tu, Bill McCartney?
Religion Dispatches: Promise Keepers 2.0: Women and Jews Invited
Whatever happened to Promise Keepers? PK was one of the most visible and controversial religious movements of the 1990s. It burst onto the scene in the early years of that decade, determined to change men’s hearts and transform them into “warriors for Christ.” The spectacular stadium rallies, held in many cities throughout the US, drew upwards of 50,000 men for a weekend of preaching, teaching, singing, praying and swaying, and tears and hugs. But by the turn of the millennium, the movement had dropped off the radar.
Well, Coach Mac is back!
On Friday and Saturday of last week, Coach Bill McCartney, who founded Promise Keepers nearly twenty years ago, brought thousands of guys back to Folsom Field at the University of Colorado in Boulder, site of the first stadium rally in 1992. Back then, the event’s motto was, “What Makes a Man?” The question set the stage for years of ministry targeted exclusively to men – grandfathers, dads, their sons, single men. But things were different for “Ignite and Unite,” the rollout of PK 2.0. This time, the ladies were invited too, a sign of the movement’s reinvention. Promise Keepers will remain a men’s ministry, but it has placed “reconciliation between men and women” at the 50-yard line.
Another major change was the prominence of Messianic Jewish speakers and entertainers at the rally.
On Friday evening July 31st, Promise Keeper President Raleigh Washington offered a welcome to those he called “our special guests, Jewish believers.”
“Shabbat Shalom!” he yelled, and the crowd gave it up with gusto. Over the course of the two-day event, a parade of Messianic Jewish speakers and entertainers joined veteran movement personalities – Coach Mac, Raleigh Washington, and Tony Evans – on the stage before the largely white, middle-aged (and presumably Gentile) audience. They included Rabbis Jonathan Bernis (1) and Joel Chernoff, Dan Juster, and musicians Paul Wilbur and Marty Goetz.
This ain’t your daddy’s Jews for Jesus, the rally seemed to be saying.
“This is going to re-launch Promise Keepers, and go across this nation like nothing before,” a revved-up Washington had promised in a promo video distributed months in advance of the weekend rally. “It is for America!” he added.
The reconciliation of the sexes was (also) a theme. Back in the 90s, PK had a kind of ladies auxiliary, the “Promise Reapers,” who cheered the men on as they arrived for the stadium rallies. But on Friday night Jane Hansen Hoyt, the President of Aglow International, the influential evangelical women’s ministry, became the first woman ever to speak at a PK event. And what a powerful speech it was, delivered in a driving rainstorm.
“Have you ever wondered why there is such hatred and violence against women?” Hoyt asked. “One out of every three women experience verbal or sexual abuse from those who profess to love them,” she declared, and then chided the Church for its complicity in women’s oppression. She denounced the fiction that women are inferior, and called this “a time to honor each other.”
Hoyt’s stirring ethical appeal included the most blatant expression of the rally’s ideological subtext – Dominion theology.
In a promo video distributed in advance of the rally, Hoyt called the PK re-launch a “strategic event.” “The relationship between male and female must be fully restored for the Church to fulfill its destiny and exercise its heavenly authority in the world,” Hoyt said, in terms that reflect her understanding of spiritual warfare. To the crowd at Folsom Field on Friday night, she thundered, “Let them rule!” (Leaving me to wonder, of course, who is them?)
The Galatians 3:28 theme that played most consistently (and insistently) throughout was the need for reconciliation between Gentiles and Jews.
The Messianic Jewish movement focuses on the conversion of Jews to Christianity, yet it also encourages Jews to maintain their cultural and religious identities, including their observance of Mosaic laws.
You could see some evidence of this impulse in the audience at Folsom Field – the Israeli folk dancers, the shofar blowers, the men (and even some women) wearing kippot and tallitot, arms upraised, singing the praises of Yeshua. “God loves diversity,” Rabbi Jonathan Bernis of Jewish Voice Ministries declared on Friday night.
During the altar call, Bernis told Jews to remember that “if you are Jewish and you have converted, you are still Jewish.”
Saturday afternoon brought Messianic Jewish themes, with performances by Paul Wilbur, the man who pioneered Messianic praise music, Joel Chernoff, and Marty Goetz. (Wilbur’s band anchored the music throughout the 2-day event). There was an Israeli folk dancing troupe and a shofar team, whose heralds included even a few Deborahs blowing their ram’s horns.
The afternoon’s “Did You Know?” PowerPoint slideshow proclaimed the Jewish people as “the fathers of the faith,” firmly embraced the Jewish roots of Christianity, and soundly rejected Christian supercessionism.
God had not abandoned his covenant with Abraham, the voice over declared, and the Jews are still God’s chosen people.
The slideshow also offered an explicit apology for the Church’s complicity in supporting and sustaining anti-Semitism. (In the Webcast’s chatroom, Stanley from West Lafayette, IN typed, “Please forgive us Lord Jesus for not honoring and respecting our Jewish family.”) Then to great applause in the stadium, the narrator declared, “The Jewish people are coming to Christ in record numbers.”
The goal of some Christian Zionist and Messianic Jewish groups is the repatriation of all Jews to Israel, and the conversion of all Jews to Christ. Saturday afternoon’s sermons reflected those hopes.
Coach Mac appeared on stage to speak about what sparked his interest in Jewish-Christian reconciliation, and to introduce material from his new book, Two Minute Warning, where McCartney calls reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles “the biblical pathway to worldwide revival.”
In a dramatic moment, he also vowed to protect Jewish people “to the death.”
The most explicit naming of the endgame came from Daniel Juster of Tikkun Ministries International (TMI). “We are both the Jewish part of the Body of Christ, and the saved remnant of Israel,” he said, referring to Messianic Jews. The conversion of Israel is a necessary precondition for ushering in the Messianic age.
Coach Mac’s interest in this kind of reconciliation reflects a decade of his deepening interest in the role that Jews and the nation of Israel play in the unfolding drama of the end times.
PK’s rhetoric of reconciliation gave McCartney and Washington a way to conceptualize one missing piece of their Christian multicultural mosaic. Yes, white Christians have oppressed black and brown people, the logic of this thinking goes, but there is a rift even more ancient – the divide between Jewish and Gentile believers.
That divide is holding the Church back from its achieving its rightful destiny – dominion over the earth.
After leaving Promise Keepers in 2003, Coach Mac, along with Washington, started up another ministry, the Road to Jerusalem. They have forged deep ties to other Christian Zionist leaders and their organizations…
But this doesn’t mean the game is over for Coach’s dreams, which may be more widely shared than some might think. PK’s reinvention, even if it falls flat, tells us a lot about the reach of Christian Zionism, philo-Semitism, and Messianic Judaism within some quarters of evangelical America.
Some of the signs – all abundantly in evidence at Folsom Field – might appear quaint, even sweet in a multi-culti kind of way: Jewish melodies in contemporary Christian music, Israeli folk dancing, the sprinkling of Hebrew words in sermons and media productions – “Shalom!”, “Boker tov!”, “Behold the kavod of the Lord!”
Yet Christian Zionism, in many of its forms, carries not only significant theological implications but political ones as well, and that is worthy of attention — especially at a time when the prophecy clocks tick louder and louder to those with ears to hear.
One indication of the apocalyptic energies in the PK event was the militant language of spiritual warfare that characterized the promotional blitz leading up to the PK 2.0 launch.
Much of Christian Zionism, including McCartney’s Road to Jerusalem, reflects the preoccupations of many politically conservative evangelicals in the post-9/11 period – in particular, the hope that a new Judeo-Christian alliance might be the bulwark that saves the West against the threat of “radical Islam.”..
- From the Promise Keepers website:
(August 1, 2009 – Boulder, Colo.) Promise Keepers, in its 20th year of ministry, made a dramatic statement of solidarity with the Jewish people at large, and the many Messianic Jews in attendance at “A Time to Honor.”
After an afternoon of experiencing Jewish music and dance, and hearing about ancient and recent Messianic Jewish history, co-author of Two Minute Warning Rabbi Aaron Fruh (Knollwood Church, Mobile, Ala.) told the story of Jewish persecution in Nazi Europe.
Dramatically, Fruh asked Promise Keepers founder and chairman Coach Bill McCartney if he would “wear the yellow star” as a statement of solidarity with Jews.
With voice cracking under the emotion, Coach McCartney replied: “I say to Rabbi Aaron Fruh and to every Jew, I will wear the yellow star. I will wear it with great humility, and with great resolve. I’ll wear it like a warrior. I understand the times, I know what to do about it, and it’s in my heart to stand with God’s chosen people.”
Thousands followed McCartney, and voluntarily received yellow stars of Jewish solidarity on the floor of Folsom Stadium in Boulder, Colo.
“A Time to Honor” hosted close to 10,000 people, with thousands more participating via the Daystar television network, Denver Christian radio KPOF AM91, and globally on the Internet.
Women were welcomed and honored at the historically male-dominated event. Finishing the rain-shortened Friday night session, family expert Gary Smalley opened the Saturday conference by explaining that the practice of honoring women comes down to patience, kindness, and generosity. “God’s love is the true transformative power,” said Smalley.
Phoenix pastor Tommy Barnett and Dallas pastor Tony Evans anchored the second “plank” of the conference, honoring the poor. Barnett said, “God grows churches, people, and pastors when they minister honestly to folk’s needs.” Rather than shutting people out of our little circle, Barnett said, “we should not turn our back on sinners, the hungry, the homeless.”
Dr. Tony Evans challenged the audience to rethink how we address the issue of poverty. “The content of the Gospel is narrow. The scope of the Gospel is wide.” Evans added, “Let men see your good works.”
SPIRITUAL FATHERS OF THE FAITH
Saturday afternoon at Promise Keepers celebrated the Messianic Jewish experience with modern praise music from R2J, Jewish vocal group Kol Simcha, Messianic music pioneer Joel Chernoff, the dance team Unit E, and a blast from authentic ram’s horns (called “shofars”).
Promise Keepers president Dr. Raleigh Washington, long known for his ministry of reconciliation, called peace between Jewish and Gentile believers “the top button on God’s shirt of reconciliation.”
Rabbi David Chernoff of Congregation Beth Yeshua in Philadelphia implored the many Christians to accept a measure of diversity. “God is not calling us to be uniform. But He is calling us to be united. Christians, you have become spiritually Jewish, and we are on that olive tree together and equal.”
“As Messianic Jews, we found out that we are completed in the Yeshua (Jesus), not converted. And more born-again believers are standing with us.”
The meeting closed with the Aaronic blessing, sung from the Book of Numbers chapter six.
(1) Rabbi Jonathan Bernis, President and CEO of Jewish Voice Ministries International. Goal: proclaim the Gospel to the Jew first, and also to the Nations (Romans 1:16), and equip the Church to reach the Jewish People; providing education about the Hebraic Roots of Christianity, the Church’s responsibility to Israel.
On PK’s new direction:
“I suspect McCartney isn’t so much trying to restart the Christian men’s movement but, rather, trying to mimic what New Apostolic Reformation leaders such as Lou Engle are doing. McCartney has participated in Engle’s TheCall events and my guess is that he’s trying to copy elements of Engle’s winning formula, I think Bill McCartney is trying to catch the new wave…
“What we see in McCartney’s eschatology is a move out of classic Dispensationalism. According to his brand of Christian Zionism, Christians can try to move the hands of the prophetic clock, to hasten the end time.” (Bruce Wilson, Talk2Action)
- In a letter to supporters, McCartney pointed out:
” God has called PK on an extraordinary journey of change in 2009. … [during which] we’ll see the beginnings of the greatest move of God in our lifetimes — a move God showed me recently after a five year pursuit to learn his will. The goal is to revisit three key priorities embraced by the first century church. These priorities are also embraced in the Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper”:
* 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.