Magazine article The Christian Century

Standing in the Mall

Magazine article The Christian Century

Standing in the Mall

Article excerpt

A fired-up Bill McCartney, founder of the evangelical men's movement Promise Keepers, on October 4 spoke to one of the largest crowds ever to gather on the National Mall, telling those assembled that they must become a unified "brotherhood of believers" to make the world right with God. "The reason there is great momentum and optimism is because we have been divided and a house divided cannot stand," McCartney told several hundred thousand men jammed together on the Mall. "But now we are being reunited . . . this is unity with diversity, this is diversity without dissension.

The rally, three years in the making, drew men--young and old, black and white, as well as Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans--from across the country and around the world for six hours of prayer, praise, confession and rejoicing aimed at re-establishing male responsibility in the family and overcoming racial and sectarian divides. "We're going to spend all eternity together," McCartney told the vast throng of men, "but [when] we get up there we want to testify that we did it together. Can't no guy leave out of here a lone ranger."

In perhaps one of McCartney's more controversial remarks on a day largely free of controversy, the former University of Colorado football coach told the hundreds of thousands of men that each of them should "return home and submit to the authority of a local shepherd, a pastor." The idea of shepherding, popular in some charismatic circles, raises hackles in other evangelical communities, where it is believed to have the potential for developing cultlike mentalities. But McCartney, citing Hebrews 13:17, said of the issue, "It's not negotiable."

McCartney also challenged the gathered men to meet on the steps of state capitols on January 1, 2000, to show evidence of having created "vibrant men's ministries" and to demonstrate their commitment to denominational and racial reconciliation. "I look to the year 2000 . . . to mark the end of racism inside the church of Jesus Christ, and then it will have a dynamic impact on society," he said.

The mood of the unabashedly theologically conservative Christian rally, estimated to have cost the seven-year-old evangelical men's ministry some $9 million, moved back and forth from festive rejoicing to somber repentance and confession of sins, to praise and prayer as the throngs sang old hymns and contemporary Christian choruses or clasped hands in prayerful fellowship.

The "Stand in the Gap" assembly takes its name from the biblical Book of Ezekiel, the visionary and apocalyptic prophet whose message was directed at the Israelite exiles in Babylon: "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none" (Ezek. 22:30). Speakers chastised the assembled men for putting their personal ambitions and pleasures before God and their families. In one of the most dramatic moments of the afternoon, men were asked to take pictures of their families from their wallets and hold them as they prayed for forgiveness.

After the ceremonial opening with the blowing of the shofar, representing, officials said, the heritage of Messianic Jews--those Jews who believe in Jesus--and an American Indian chant, organizers structured the day around confession and prayer focusing on men's failures before God and their families and for their contributions to religious sectarianism and racism. …

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