To go more than 50 years thinking the initials "PK" meant "preacher's kid," which I was, and then to discover it has a vastly new meaning in the late 1990s, calls for some severe mental gear-shifting. But then, the whole Promise Keepers phenomenon is calling for serious gear-shifting by a lot of people on a lot of different fronts.
No one is asking me right now to make a quick choice between being totally pro-Promise Keepers or totally anti-Promise Keepers. But if someone did, the old saw that you can size somebody up pretty well by looking at his enemies would be wonderfully helpful: Promise Keepers has the right list of detractors.
If Promise Keepers hadn't done anything else right in its brief seven-year history, it would still get enormous credit for this: The more PK has grown in size and influence, the more modest and humble its leaders have sounded. That goes distinctly against the evangelical grain.
For example, PK officials absolutely refused during their big Washington rally a couple of weeks ago to get into the crowd-counting game so many organizational leaders and media people like so much. "We aren't going to do any counting ourselves-and we're not going to argue with anybody who does count," the PK people said in advance of the rally. It was a wonderfully disarming stance, keeping the focus on the real issues.
Promise Keepers critics came from at least three groups-some of them predictable. The National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation would have been better served just to keep saying, "No comment." Instead, they carped incessantly about male domination. NOW's Patricia Ireland called PK "dangerous," accusing the group of fanaticism and intolerance.
Reporters too showed again how desperately hard they find the assignment of telling a story straight. Across the country, writers and interviewers seemed chained to concepts like "domination" and "control" as the primary factors driving the PK movement. There was some nuanced and sensitive reporting-but it wasn't the norm.
But the most embarrassing flak Promise Keepers took over the last few weeks came from evangelical Christians. Periodicals, books, and even websites have reacted to the big men's movement as if it were a major threat to the kingdom of God. One evangelical writer refers regularly to PK as the newest of the cults.
To be sure, WORLD doesn't endorse every jot and tittle of the PK agenda or practice (they hardly need our endorsement, and have never asked for it). Again in this issue, WORLD notes what could be serious gaps in PK's armor. In the past, PK has allowed some exceedingly dumb things to be said under its big umbrella-including the propagation of some pop psychology that we understand has since been at least partially repudiated. The movement is especially vulnerable when it (or the people who speak for it) start making light of doctrinal and denominational distinctives. PK would help its own cause enormously by zipping its organizational lips about such matters.
Yet it is precisely at such a point that an important distinction should be made. When emergencies hit, you don't always have time to find exactly the right tool for the repairs that are called for. You might well have to settle for a pipe wrench when what you wanted was a precisely adjustable crescent. I've even had to use a pipe wrench as a hammer.
The early 1990s brought with them an undeniable crisis of major proportions. The families of our society-including evangelical families-were in serious disrepair. And the regular toolbox for dealing with that disrepair seemed itself to need some attention. Not much was working.
Then a man whose own family and personal life were also in disrepair did a courageous thing. Football coach Bill McCartney admitted passionately that he needed help. Nor was it just a general statement of personal inadequacy. His plea was one through which he cast himself on the mercy of God, specifically seeking the righteousness of Christ in place of his own. He said he wanted to call Jesus Lord.
If theological precision is what's called for, Bill McCartney may be more a pipe wrench than a finely machined tool. He's not the fellow I'd choose to instruct the pastoral staff in my church or the faculty of the school where I send my children. He's rough-hewn in the style of, say, a fisherman called Peter-who also had a hard time getting some theological fine points right the first few times around.
What Bill McCartney has gotten right are two profound issues: the right basic posture of a man toward his Lord, and the right posture of a man toward his wife and family. If our culture could join him on those two matters, a lot of other issues would take care of themselves.
In the history of God's dealings with his people, he has often chosen unusual tools to do his work.