Promises, promises

Once The Lord had taken just about as much idol-making, bribe-taking and wife-swapping as he could stomach, He told Ezekiel that unless He could find a man to "build up the wall and stand before me in the gap," then He would lay waste to the City of Jerusalem. ;;Last Saturday, Christian conservatives decided the time had come for American men to atone for the same sorts of sins. And so it was that a half-million Promise Keepers descended on the District of Columbia. ;;Taking its name from Ezekiel 22:30, Saturday's "Stand in the Gap" rally was one of the largest gatherings ever in the nation's capital -- as large or larger than last year's Million Man March. The event marks the beginning of a new phase for the Promise Keepers, whose leaders pledged this would be the last of the current campaign of large-city rallies. The Promise Keepers plan to abandon stadium admissions as the primary source of their $96 million annual operating budget in order to build a membership base of individuals and corporate donors.;;Critics of the seven-year-old evangelical group cited this change in strategy as proof that the Promise Keepers are girding their considerable loins for political action. Promise Keepers have already forged alliances with such conservative Christian leaders as Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition. But Promise Keeper leaders and participants alike denied that the group has political ambitions. ;;"We come not as protesters to profess our rights," PK board member Jack Hayford told the crowd. "We come as sinners to confess our wrongs." Hayford, who serves as pastor to Pat Boone, claimed to know a few things about wrong.;;Likewise, the overwhelmingly middle-class and middle-aged crowd was overtly apolitical. They cheered and sang their way through the six-hour assembly. They prostrated themselves during a mass prayer of repentance. The resulting sea of raised rear ends resembled a scene from Mecca, albeit one punctuated by a dozen giant Jumbotron TVs.;;A field survey of 882 participants by The Washington Post found them to be mostly Republican and conservative; one quarter identified themselves as members of the Religious Right; more than half from the Deep South. Only 14 percent were African-Americans, according to the Post poll. Though the racial mix was representative of the nation as a whole, it was a far lower black turnout that the group's leaders had hoped for. ;;Also on hand was the National Organization for Women. "They check their wives and their daughters at the door like coats," said NOW President Patricia Ireland. Among the roughly 300 who protested the rally were four self-proclaimed "Lesbian Avengers" who yanked off their shirts and waded bare breasted into the sea of men. ;;Dozens of Promise Keepers responded by chuckling and shielding their faces with Bibles. But one ran to a nearby U.S. Park Police major and demanded action. The officer reportedly informed the out-of-towner that bare breasts alone were not sufficient grounds for arrest in the District of Columbia.;;Like The Lord before him, the young Promise Keeper could find no man to stand in the gap.
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