Well, the Promise Keepers kept their promise: On Saturday the controversial Christian men’s group succeeded in turning Washington, D.C., into a veritable sanctuary of inspirational song and sermon, then went home to become better husbands, fathers, and citizens. Sunday must have been quite busy for these guys, what with rising early for morning church service, preparing a good home-cooked meal as a peace offering to neighbors previously snubbed because of their race, reading bedtime stories to their children and, of course, giving the wife a romantic candlelit massage before turning in for a blessedly peaceful sleep.
Or perhaps they spent Sunday like most other Americans–trying to stay awake during numbing press analysis of the event. Indeed, my cover story for Time was but a tiny fraction of the ink and air time devoted to Promise Keepers. Over the past few days at least, founder Bill McCartney came to replace Diana as the biggest news story. From Friday though Sunday, his face became a fixture on my television screen. I watched the guy take on Koppel, Donaldson, the editorial staff of USA Today, Meet the Press, and numerous others. And during each McCartney appearance, as well as the broadcast of the “Stand in the Gap” rally on C-SPAN, I waited patiently for any new revelations that might begin to validate suspicions that the group is dangerously political. It never really happened.
Trouble is, this is one of those stories that can’t be reduced to a tasty sound bite of scandal and conspiracy that gets folks riled up. Unlike Gore’s fund raising, or the Oklahoma City bombing, or paparazzi, or even Marv Albert’s sexcapades, Promise Keepers sorely lacks the formulaic villainous element of a lunatic or immoral celebrity that we can drag out to slaughter for an act most agree is wrong. In contrast, Promise Keepers is a fairly open movement of regular Joes engaged in the most universal of custom–prayer. We may question the intentions of their leaders, but we know most of the guys that make up Promise Keepers, and we pretty much like them. If they’re trying to become better people … more power to ‘em seemed to be the prevailing sentiment of people I talked to. Folks figure, heck, if their own wives aren’t pissed off, who are we to complain? NOW and other critics, of course, were trotted out for balance, but they wound up looking, for the most part, like crusty busybodies with way too much time on their hands.
In the end, I found coverage of the much-anticipated Promise Keepers rally to be discouragingly anticlimactic, and far less engaging than the movement itself. By Sunday morning, Sam Donaldson–flanked by a puzzled-looking Cokie Roberts and George Will–was narrowing his trademark bushy brow and asking McCartney softball questions like whether he believed Good or Evil was winning the battle for the world’s soul. That’s when I reached for my remote and cut off the tube. I’d had enough of the Promise Keepers. Besides, my wife was calling me.