Racism and racial division remain a priority for Promise Keepers.
The newest iteration of the men’s movement is led by Ken Harrison, a former Los Angeles police officer and the CEO of the donor-advised fund WaterStone. Harrison told CT that in some ways, Promise Keepers will be different from the men’s movement that many may remember from stadium events in the 1990s. There will be more efforts, for example, to get men involved in local churches and men’s groups after events are over.
But in other ways, the mission is unchanged. Promise Keepers will gather men into stadiums “for worship that strengthens the soul, brotherhood that lasts a lifetime, and tools that empower you to be the man Christ intended you to be.”
The first in-person event for the relaunched organization will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, July 16–17. Speakers include pastors A. R. Bernard, Donald Burgs, and Robert Morris; Dallas Cowboys chaplain Jonathan Evans; Christian psychologist Les Parrott; and retired US Army general Jerry Boykin. Eighty thousand men are expected to attend.
Harrison spoke to CT about why the men’s movement continues to pursue racial reconciliation.
How important is racial reconciliation in the DNA of Promise Keepers?
It’s a core part of who we are. Promise Keepers really started racial reconciliation. I think they may have even coined the term, and yet they never get any credit for it. I don’t think it fits a lot of people’s narrative. Christians reaching out on race and reaching out for oneness, I don’t think that fits the narrative of a lot of people who don’t love Jesus, and they’ve tried to write that out of who we are.
What role does racial reconciliation play in the current mission of Promise Keepers?
I see it playing every bit as much of the same role as it did in the ’90s. I feel like we’re more divided on race than ever, as a people, and I feel like we’re divided on many other issues as well, and we really need to reach out on race but also on denominational issues and really start seeing people through the eyes of Christ, as Jesus sees them.
We’re working with Miles McPherson—he’s a close friend—who talks about the “third option,” which is, “Let’s concentrate on our similarities, because there are so many, rather than our differences, which are so few.”
We want to be unified in Christ. But if we’re all unified around who we are in Christ, and the fact that we’re all beggars telling other beggars where we found bread, then it becomes much easier to see everyone as my brother, and it’s unacceptable if my Black brother is suffering. It’s unacceptable if my brother doesn’t have the same opportunities that I do. It’s unacceptable if my brother’s kids get pulled over by police more often than my kids. What am I going to do about it?
We don’t want you to just feel sorry for your brother or to just apologize to your brother. We want you to be passionate to solve his issues.
Do you think that white Christians are more open or less open now to talking about racism in America?
I think that there is an openness. I think there’s a yearning in people to come together—more than there was in the ’90s. In the ’90s it was a new message, it was “Oh golly, I’ve never thought about racism before,” where now it’s dominating the news. And people are looking for godly leadership: What would God say about these things, what does Scripture say, and as a child of Christ, how should I behave in this context?
What we want to do is call people from apathy to being proactive, saying, “Well, what can I do?”
A lot of Christian men have had the ability to ignore the issue and think, Well there’s some problem for somebody somewhere but it doesn’t affect me. So I don’t care. Our message is, for men of Christ, we need to be proactive. So now you ask yourself, “What can I do? What can I do to create unity?”
Do you also see more pushback or backlash from white Christians who don’t want to talk about racism? There seem to be a lot of Christian men who think the real problem is critical race theory and talking about race is a trick to divide us, rather than a necessary step toward addressing systems that result in injustice.
There may be Christians who are saying, “It’s critical race theory so I’m not going to get involved,” but just because the world has a certain way of seeing things, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It may be the right issue, but the solution is wrong, because the solution is always Christ.
Part of the problem of the failure of the church is we often focus on cleaning up the outside or behaving by the correct set of rules so that they’re acceptable to us, rather than cleaning up the inside through repentance and the grace of Jesus Christ. I think if we try to solve this problem the world’s way, and try to make this problem go away in some other way that changing the hearts of people, then it will never last.
The new iteration of Promise Keepers is putting less emphasis on big catalytic events and more on small groups and continued discipleship. How will that impact the work on racial unity?
We want to have a strong emphasis on discipleship and partnerships with the local church. It’s one thing to have a nice talk and have people leave with really good intentions about getting involved in solving the issues of my community around race, but it’s a much different thing when you get together in small groups with people of a different race and start having real conversations.
I’ve had a lot of people talk to me about their experience with Promise Keepers. One of the guys who talked to me told me of an experience he had when he went to a Promise Keepers event in Chicago and it changed his life. He was hugging white men and he was so overjoyed to actually have real conversations. And he went again next year. Then again next year, and he started to realize, you know, I come from my community, which is Black, and these guys come from their communities, which are white. We have this great moment. And then we all go back to our communities and don’t talk to each other.”
What we want to do is effect real change this time, by really challenging men to go out and reach out to people who are different—different races, different denominations, different education, different classes.
It seems to me that in the 1990s, there might have been a tendency for white men to have that emotional moment at a Promise Keepers and then feel like they were done, they solved racism, at least for themselves. But that doesn’t translate into caring about policing policy, which is complicated and local, or decisions about where I live and where my kids go to school, or the other concrete, real-world places where inequality happens.
You’re dead on. We have to define what love is, and love isn’t warm fuzzy feelings and giving a guy a hug. Love is saying, “I will do what it takes to pour my life out to make your life better and bring you closer to Christ.”
It’s like it says in James, if someone comes to you in need and you say, “Go and be well fed and have a nice day,” what have you done?
I think Promise Keepers was really effective at what it did, but we’re excited for men to take that next step and ask what they can do.
In July, this will be your first Promise Keepers event?
Yeah! Isn’t that funny? I’ve never been. I’m excited to see what Promise Keepers is like.
What do you want people to know about this event?
I hope that what will come through is that everything we’re doing is about leading men to Christ. We’re saying to men, repent of your sins, throw yourself on the grace of Jesus Christ, become a son of his, identify as his, and then stand for what is right. You can’t tell men to be bold for Christ while they watch people be oppressed and do nothing. That’s true if we’re talking about the oppression of Black people or the scourge of abortion. If your stand for Christ happens to help the Democrats or Republicans—whatever. I’m going to stand with Christ.