Keeping their promise Huge religious rally: Politics wasn't emphasized, but could be affected by participants.

October 09, 1997

LIKE THE MILLION MAN MARCH that preceded it, the greatest impact of Saturday's Promise Keepers rally in Washington will occur with individual acts of goodness. Life-changing experiences motivated hundreds of thousands of men to attend the Christian event; others found spiritual awakening while there. Families and communities will be better if these men fulfill their professed commitment to be more responsible.

If there is any group action of lasting relevance, it may be political. Promise Keepers' leaders insist politics has never been a motivation for the 62 all-male rallies they have held since 1990. They cannot deny, however, that recruited Promise Keepers who become politically active are more likely to join the party that comes closest to sharing their moral viewpoint.

Bill McCartney may not have had it in mind when he founded Promise Keepers seven years ago, but his group could add to the Republican Party's strength. There was a 1.7 million increase in the number of black men who voted in the 1996 presidential election, the bulk of them as Democrats. Political observers give some credit for the voter surge to the appeal for greater responsibility made during the 1995 Million Man March.

There are Republican strategists who have considered Promise Keepers' potential impact on politics. But nonetheless it would be just as wrong to write off Promise Keepers as politically inspired as it would be to view the Million Man March only as a self-promotion vehicle for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

In each case, participants were motivated by genuine concern that the world is worse because they have not been living right. Even those who have criticized these single-faith, gender-exclusive gatherings have agreed that men need to change their behavior, particularly toward women and people of another race.

Promise Keepers say the answer to becoming better men can be found in the Bible. But their fundamentalist message is similar to those heard today in Judaism and Islam.

The next big event for Promise Keepers in the U.S. is staging separate rallies in all 50 state capitals on Jan. 1 , 2000. By then we may know if these huge, emotional religious gatherings have more than passing impact on people's lives and on society.

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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