Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Promise Keepers

When I first heard about Promise Keepers I was living in the USA. I instantly felt very uncomfortable about the movement. Firstly it was a 'men only' movement, which immediately rang alarm bells, and secondly the name Promise Keepers sounded more like living under the law than living under grace.

It sounded like a reactionary movement rather than proactive. By that I mean it was reacting to an observable phenomena that there are less men in the church than women, so assumed that something 'manly' should be done to attract men. Secondly it was trying to contextualize the church to American macho.

Is it all bad?

Here are the 7 promises a Promise Keeper is supposed to keep:
  1. A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God's Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.

  2. A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.

  3. A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.

  4. A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values.

  5. A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of his church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources.

  6. A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.

  7. A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20).

When you first look at these promises your first reaction is they are all admirable attributes. However, these rules have exactly the same sort of problem that Purpose Driven has - that of rules. Keeping these promises guarantees nothing except a pharisee type attitude. Yes, our Father wants us to be pure, but not because we are gritting our teeth and keeping a promise but because we love Him and want Him to enjoy a relationship with us. Jesus came to do away with rule bound religion. For example, Colossians 2:20-23
20Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21"Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
and Galatians 3:2,3
2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
Seems to be clear to me that man-made rules or promises have an appearance of godliness, but cannot produce godliness.

Secondly, having a list of promises only creates the same thing that the 10 commandments does - that of showing us that we are sinners in need of God's grace. None of us can keep God's law and none of us can keep the 7 promises. Failing is inevitable. So we are setting ourselves up not to enjoy God's love and grace but to feel inadequate and far away from our Father.

Alongside this is a total misunderstanding of male-ness. I haven't read the book they promote The Masculine Journey: Understanding the Six Stages of Manhood by Robert Hicks and published by NavPress. The book was given away free to the 50,000 men who attended the 1993 conference. Their original endorsement went as follows:

"Promise Keepers desires to lead men into God's Word and to lift Jesus Christ up as our model through the resources that we develop or sponsor. In 1992, Dr. Hick's manuscript for `The Masculine Journey' was presented to NavPress and Promise Keepers as a candidate for inclusion in our line of books. What we discovered was a biblically-centered, frank and honest account of a man's journey with God. We were convinced that it would help men pursue Jesus Christ amidst the challenges of the twentieth century."

Since then it appears they have somewhat distanced themselves from it without admitting the book is off the rails.

If the quotes from other sites are anything to go by I am surprised and horrified that it was ever endorsed and even more horrified that NavPress published it. But, it no longer shows up on the NavPress website and although Robert Hicks' wife Cynthia shows up as an author on the NavPress site, he doesn't. However, he still has at least one article on the NavPress website still on the subject of men.

Here are some quotes from from the book other sites:

"We are called and addressed by God in terminology that describes who and what we are -- zakar, phallic males. Possessing a penis places unique requirements upon men before God in how they are to worship Him. We are called to worship God as phallic kinds of guys, not as some sort of androgynous, neutered non-males, or the feminized males so popular in many feminist-enlightened churches. We are told by God to worship Him in accordance with what we are, phallic men" (p. 49)

"Possessing a _____ places unique requirements upon men before God in how they are to worship Him." (p. 51)

"The phallus has always been the symbol of religious devotion and dedication." (p. 51)

I realise these are out of context and I am wondering whether to get a copy just to see what the author really intended. Reading like that sounds closer to pagan religion than a relationship with our Father through His Son. Of course... maybe now that will be twisted to be phallic, but that would be pure blasphemy.

What about this as a quote:

"Current Christianity cannot openly deal with or talk about the male phallus in its full sexual activity or fantasy." (p. 54) "As men, the phallus defines our identity." (p. 68) "I believe Jesus was phallic with all the inherent phallic passions we experience as men. But it was never recorded that Jesus had sexual relations with a woman. He may have thought about it as the movie The Last Temptation of Christ portrays, but even in the movie He did not give in to the temptation and remained true to His messianic course. If temptation means anything, it means Christ was tempted in every way as we are. That would mean not only heterosexual temptation but also homosexual temptation! I have found this insight to be very helpful for gay men struggling with their sexuality." (p. 181)

Oh no... surely not. I remember many years ago in a service the person running it was asking what were our two favourite things. My wife sitting beside me was really worried, she knew my answer 'Chocolate and sex, but not necessarily in that order' and was worried that I would actually say that in church. For both men and women our sexuality in some way defines us. God created us as we are. But to focus on the physical sexual is way off beam.

OK, so there appears to be study guide for leading 'Bible studies' alongside the book available from and published by NavPress... but maybe this is the book in question. How about this for a quote:

"Our culture has presented many initiation rites, or passages to manhood, that are associated with the phallus. Which ones have you experienced? Do you have a story to share with the other men about one such event? Some examples are: When were you potty trained and when did you stop wetting the bed? Pubic hair and growth. An unfortunate experience with pornography. My first dating experience. My first really embarrassing moment with a girl. The wedding night. Conceiving my first child."

I think I'll try that on our fellowship group that meets in our home on a Friday evening and see their reaction. Hmmm... second thoughts I don't think I shall. I think I know their reaction already.

I admit it, I hate men only meetings. Inevitably they get onto the most boring subject of all... sport. And Promise Keepers came out of a bunch of guys who were sports fanatics [professional American Football coaches]. So I am just biased because it didn't come out of a bunch of sailing fanatics? [Yes, you guessed what I do like.] No, I think there is enough substantive evidence to show the movement is off the rails and actively misleading men and women away from a real realtionship with Jesus.

Men and women are different: In our marriage it is me that enjoys shopping [I love time to go around a mall just browsing and will try to so so when I travel] and my wife hates it. Each man and woman are unique. We were created for mutual support. Taking women out of the picture creates something that God never intended. We don't need 'brothers to help us keep our promises' - that is empty religion. We need Eve not Steve as our helpmate. That's God's way.

One of the struggles I have is that most of the negative commentary on Promise Keepers comes from groups that I could not endorse either.


Steve Hayes said...

Were these the guys that said that good fathers should not let there sons play girly games like soccer, and that they should rather encourage them to play that American netball instead (which strikes me as a very girly game!)?

Richard said...

Interesting thought... hmmm... what's a girlie game? What's a manly game? Is American Football more or less masculine than Rugby Football? Or Basketball more or less then Netball?

When I lived in the USA, we had tensions about what was girlie and what was masculine. We'd never been to separate sex groups before and since that experience I reject them wholeheartedly.

I was born a man. Do I like being a man? Would I prefer to be a woman? I cannot tell because I cannot change what I was born. Even if I had a sex change that would change me now not what I was born.

Men and women are different... men more emotional, women more logical... ooops, that's my experience and many would have a different one. So... women and men were made for each other. Let's stop all this rubbish [sorry] about girlie or macho.

Paul said 'In Christ there is neither male nor female.' So, let's accept us as we are not what we want to be. And yes, that does mean I believe women can be in leadership in the body of Christ!

Steve Hayes said...

It was either you or Sue who told us about the girly games thing when you were in America, and I've never forgotten it, as it showed me how differently different cultures see things. For Americans soccer is a girly game, basketball a macho game, and the pastor at whichever church you were attending there urged fathers to encourage their sons to play macho games like basketball and not girly games like soccer.

Here, of course, soccer is a macho game, and netball is a girly game, but the even sillier thing was that he was concerned about the boys playing macho cames (the girls didn't seem to worry him). Did Jesus giver Adam the command "Be macho, and don't play girly games"? Cain was pretty macho, and look where it got him!