MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And now to Faith Matters. That's the part of the program where we talk about issues that touch on matters of faith and spirituality. Today, we take a closer look at the Promise Keepers. It's a Christian group ministry for men to support them in being better leaders, fathers and husbands. The organization became famous for filling stadiums for men-only worship services. But the Promise Keepers are about to turn 20, and things are changing. At the 2009 conference, which starts today in Boulder, Colorado, the Promise Keepers will include programs for both men and women. To talk about that, we're joined by Pastor Raleigh B. Washington. He's the president and the vice Chairman of the Promise Keepers organization. Welcome, thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. RALEIGH B. WASHINGTON (President, Vice Chairman, Promise Keepers): Michel, I'm very, very happy to be with you and especially glad to talk about Promise Keepers.
MARTIN: Well, thank you. And just for people who aren't as familiar with the group as some might be, the stated mission of the Promise Keepers is to quote, ignite and unite men to become warriors who will change their world through living out the seven promises to God, their families, their fellow man and community. I think a lot of people will remember the mass rally for the Promise Keepers in Washington, D.C., in 1997, where it's estimated that about a million men joined the spiritual gathering on the Mall. So if you could just talk a little bit about what the group does.
Mr. WASHINGTON: Absolutely. Promise Keepers is a catalytic ministry. We call men together in large numbers and catalyze them to make a difference in their life, their families, and in the world in which they live. We want men to be warriors, who will literally change their world through living out the seven promises of a Promise Keeper. To be good husbands, good fathers, who will set the standard, live the standard, and influence other men to be godly warriors for all days.
MARTIN: Why did you and Bill McCartney - coach McCartney, who is one of the founders, who I should mention is a former coach of the University of Colorado football team, feel that a men's organization was necessary? Many churchgoers will be familiar with, you know, a men's day or a women's day. But why did you and coach McCartney and some of the other group leaders feel like a men's organization is necessary, or has been necessary, over the years?
Mr. WASHINGTON: Well, coach McCartney is the consummate man's man. He's a coach. He likes to get nose-to-nose with men in the locker room and challenge them to really be the best they can be as a team, to make a difference and to win a ballgame. The excitement that he saw in the football stadiums or the football game - he was asked once by Dave Wordell(ph), as they were in a car together. He said, coach, if a - if you could do anything you want and money wasn't an object, what would you do? And he said, I would fill stadiums with men, crying out the name of Jesus instead of - for a football team. And they got excited about that, called some other men together, and called a meeting that had 4,400 men come together at CU campus. And that was the beginning of Promise Keepers.
MARTIN: Part of the group's mission, or ethos, is that many of our problems as a society arise from the fact that men have abdicated their leadership role, and that they need to rediscover their role in the family, their importance in the family. And of course, people can argue with the premise or not, but there's always been - there's on the one hand people certainly appreciate the goal of the Promise Keepers, which is just to help men be faithful and committed to their families. But people have always had this question of whether it's sexist to have this kind of male-only focus. What do you say to them?
Mr. WASHINGTON: Well, I think in the same way, Michel, that you see a lot of very effective women's organizations, women's - aglow, women of faith, who minister to women dealing with issues that are common to women, that same thing is true for men. In terms of sexist, there's nothing to be further away from the organization. Throughout out our history, we've been closely aligned with women. Frankly, we would always have 500, 600, 700 volunteers supporting us. Half of those volunteers were women, who would be praying and standing with us. And I can tell you this: Half of the men who showed up showed up because their wives bought a ticket and said, you're going to go, because they saw the difference in how that man expressed love to them, their families and their god when they came back from a Promise Keepers event.
MARTIN: And what about your message to women? Do you envision that the women who will come will mainly be married to men who are already in the organization, or is there an outreach beyond that?
Pastor WASHINGTON: We have specifically said we want men to bring the special women in their lives: their spouses, their mothers, their sisters, their daughters. But we have made a special call out to single women - single women, single moms because within the body of Christ, they're often kicked to the curb. They're often ignored. Many times, the church thinks about family and does not think about that single woman, especially if she's a mature single woman.
MARTIN: Are you at all concerned, though, that the inclusion of more women will change the dynamic of Promise Keepers? Because as I understand it, part of the appeal of the group for some men is that they can be more authentic with other men. They can be sort of more free to express their faith, the full range of their emotions, without the - kind of the burden of having to feel like they have to live up to a certain image. Are you at all concerned that including women in this way will change what was been, whether people like it or not, has been helpful for some men about the group?
Pastor WASHINGTON: I've talked with maybe a dozen men who felt that way, and when they finished talking with me, they all signed up. Will we minister to men only in the future? Absolutely, we will do that. We are still a men's ministry. We're challenging men. But even in this anniversary year, with the women present, we're going to challenge the socks off of the men to be a warrior, to protect his wife, to protect the women around him as a godly man.
MARTIN: And finally, not to parse words with you, Pastor, but there are those women who say that they don't want men to protect them; they want to share power with them. They want - you know, there's that saying, I'm sure you've heard it, which is, I don't want you walk ahead of me. I don't want to walk behind you. I want us to walk side by side.
Pastor WASHINGTON: I understand that clearly. My protection of my wife does not demean her value. My protection of my wife does not cause her vote in things that we talk about to be any less than mine. She is valued. She is an equal partner in the body of Christ. We serve women in a humble way. So protection doesn't mean that I lord it over her; it means that I honor her.
MARTIN: Pastor Raleigh B. Washington is the president and vice chair of the Promise Keepers. He is joining me from Boulder, where that group is celebrating its 20th year of ministry. Pastor Washington, thank you so much.
Pastor WASHINGTON: Thank you so much, Michel.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.