Steve Bannon, the former Trump White House aide and self-styled impresario of far-right nationalist movements who was recently dubbed the “Insurrectionist-in-Chief” by The New Republic, is helping promote a revival of Promise Keepers, the patriarchal Christian “men’s ministry.”
As Mark Wingfield reported in Baptist News Wednesday, the 2021 version of Promise Keepers is promoting a hard-edged culture-war message similar to other religious-right ministries who warn that the United States is at war with itself. Promise Keepers’ current president Ken Harrison, a former Los Angeles police officer, promoted the organization and its upcoming event on the April 23 episode of Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, prompting Bannon to praise Promise Keepers for promoting the “warrior ideal of Christian men.”
Promise Keepers, founded by former football coach Bill McCartney, made a splash in the 1990s with gatherings in football stadiums and a huge 1997 rally on the National Mall dubbed “Stand in the Gap.” Following that model, for two days in July, Promise Keepers is planning to gather 80,000 Christian men at Dallas Cowboys stadium. Harrison said that his group will host “10,000 underprivileged boys” who “don’t have fathers,” adding that “this’ll be their first chance to see what men look like—real men.”
The public-facing ideology of the 1990s Promise Keepers might have been described, as it was by one journalist, as “Dad is still in charge, but he’s kinder, gentler, and a lot more spiritual.” But even then its leaders talked about engaging in spiritual war, which, as the late People For the American Way President Arthur Kropp noted in 1994, echoed the language of the “cultural war” waged by then-presidential hopeful and former White House aide Pat Buchanan. Right Wing Watch reported in 2015, as Promise Keepers celebrated its 25th year, “[t]he group’s current militarized language and imagery matches the increasingly violent rhetoric of resistance and revolution from the far right.”
That is certainly true today. Harrison told Bannon that the globalists and Chinse communists that Bannon constantly rails against are advancing their agenda by “destroying the identity of the American people.” Harrison warned that “passive Christian men” have not been “standing up for what’s right,” enabling the LGBTQ movement to advance beyond “homosexual marriage” to “men putting on dresses and being called women and playing on women’s basketball teams.”
“Where are the Christian men?” Harrison asked, asserting that the July stadium gathering will shake Christian men out of their “complacency.” Bannon asked Harrison how Christian men had become so complacent. “We taught cheap grace,” Harrison replied, adding that Jesus preached that people would be judged by what they did after they are saved.
Those who can’t get to Dallas to attend the event in-person will be able to watch online, Harrison informed listeners. He said that a Promise Keepers virtual event last year drew 1.2 million viewers, a number that provoked Bannon to jump in and exclaim, “This is what I keep telling everybody. We got the votes. We have the muscle. You just have to engage and be relentless about not backing down. You cannot back down one inch. We won this thing in November.”
Jonathan Evans, a former professional football player who serves as chaplain of the Dallas Cowboys and co-chaplain of the Dallas Mavericks is listed as a speaker at the July event. Other speakers include:
- Jerry Boykin, a retired lieutenant general who is the executive vice president of the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council and a member of the leadership council of the pro-Trump Pentecostal network POTUS Shield. While he was still on active duty, Boykin was rebuked by then-President George W. Bush for portraying U.S. military involvement in the Middle East as a religious war. Boykin has a record of strident anti-Muslim remarks; Boykin and his religious-right allies tried to portray criticism of Boykin’s extremism as anti-Christian persecution.
- James Robison, an anti-LGBTQ televangelist who was active in the founding era of the religious right 40 years ago, when he urged “God’s people to come out of the closet.” Robison is a huge fan of former President Donald Trump, who he said God was using to usher in “the greatest spiritual awakening in history.” Before the 2016 election, he said that conservative Christians could make “demons shudder” by voting politicians out of office.
- Samuel Rodriguez, an anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ-equality religious-right activist who heads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Rodriguez portrays himself as nonpartisan, but in truth he supports efforts by the Koch brothers and Republican political operatives to get more Latino voters to support right-wing candidates. In 2020, he claimed that Democrats were “hostile to our Christian worldview in every sense of the word” and promoted the religious-right narrative that his freedom to preach was at stake in the 2020 presidential election. (He said the same thing in 2016.)
Harrison told Bannon that he preached about Promise Keepers to a group of 150 Black pastors in Houston, Texas, just before the start of the pandemic, and claimed that they told him, “It’s about time a white man talked to Black people like you do,” claiming that most of the pastors told him they were voting for Trump but “they couldn’t let their congregations know because they’d be thrown out.”
“There’s such an undercurrent of people who are sick and tired of the evil in this country,” he said, adding that men who come to the stadium event will realize they are not alone and will “give themselves permission to stand up and lead and stand for the truth and stop putting up with all the nonsense that the leftists are trying to tell us—that we’re bad people, we’re racists, we’re misogynists, we’re porn addicts.”
“The global media’s going to be down there looking to attack us,” Harrison told Bannon. “And you’re right; they’re trying to blame everything on the evangelical right when actually we’re the solution, not the problem.”