Shepherding the Christian Fascists: Promise Keepers and the U.S. Military

Revolutionary Worker #941, January 25, 1998

Leaders of the Promise Keepers put a lot of effort into recruitment after they hold mass stadium events. The rallies are seen as a "non-threatening entry point" for men to get drawn into a structure of local "accountability groups" made up of anywhere from two to 12 men. PK claims to have 16,000 of these small groups around the country. They meet weekly or bi-weekly under the supervision of a PK leader and are responsible for inculcating PK values among members.

The small groups that PK men are organized into are modeled on the "shepherding/discipleship groups" formed by right-wing Christian groups in the early 1970s. One of the key centers for developing the doctrine and practice of "shepherding" was the Catholic Word of God (WOG) community in Ann Arbor.

The act of submission was at the core of this shepherding movement. Members were required to bring matters concerning all aspects of their lives under the scrutiny of their "head" shepherd for review and approval. And being dependent and subordinate to the group was promoted and seen as a way to foster a member's religious growth and "maturity."

According to an article in PK Watch, "Leaders claiming they received direct messages from God were telling members of the need to build a layered structure of authority, that they were to play their role as the Elect to be God's army on earth, and of the need for secrecy in everything they did. Shepherding leaders did not just focus on a member's intimate life, but taught `sheep' that the outside world--both Christian and secular--is evil and threatening. This helped justify a right-wing social agenda and totalitarian controls internally. Members who questioned this structure of authority were judged to be filled with `demonic spirits' and often put through traumatic exorcisms. Women were told their role was to be one of deep submission to their husbands, if married, or to WOG structures if single. Men were told to submit to other men. The `spiritually mature,' called `shepherds,' guided the spiritually undeveloped. Their shepherds were submitted to higher shepherds who in turn were submitted to the highest shepherds. Control was intimate and all was kept secret from the outside world."

This shepherding movement had a profound influence on Bill McCartney, the man who founded the Promise Keepers. While an assistant football coach in Ann Arbor, McCartney was recruited by the WOG into a shepherding group. And today, McCartney says that one of the two most influential persons in his life is Jim Berlucci, one of WOG's top shepherds.

In fact, PK small groups are patterned after the "shepherding groups" of the 1970s. Men who join the Promise Keepers are told that the key to "man's growth in Christ," to becoming "spiritually mature," is to submit to a PK "accountability group," which is watched over by a "PK mentor." These groups demand that "no secrets be kept" and they assume authority to monitor all aspects of a member's life, including business practices, family life, sexual activity, personal thoughts and financial affairs. PK men are also told that the relationships they create with other men in these groups are "for a lifetime" and that members do not have a choice later to walk away from them without "violating the will of God."

PK manuals are used to direct the structure and functioning of these small groups. PK leaders see these groups as a key to generating future PK leaders. And those in charge of "accountability groups" are carefully chosen by the PK's national leadership.

This fascistic structure of the Promise Keepers is based on a military rhetoric of "spiritual warfare." In 1996, at a rally of 39,000 clergy in Atlanta, McCartney screamed from the podium, "Many of you feel like you have been in a war for a long time, yet the fiercest fighting is just ahead. God has brought us here to prepare us. Let's proceed. It's wartime!" And for PK leaders, such talk of "war" is not just a figure of speech. McCartney's personal pastor and a founding director of PK, the Rev. Jim Ryle, has said that his group will fulfill the Bible's prophecy of a great force that will destroy sinners and infidels in the period preceding Armageddon.

In fact, many of the key figures in the PK have a military and government background. And on every level, PK has an active relationship with the military--for both recruitment purposes and to draw on the military experience of discipline and male-bonding in small groups:

  • Tom Hemingway, who spoke at a PK rally in Miami, is on the staff of Officers Christian Fellowship--a group Oliver North was a member of during the 1980s at the height of the U.S./Contra War in Nicaragua. Hemingway, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, is a Vietnam veteran with 30 years in the military. He is an instructor for the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and has been a guest speaker for the FBI Academy's Terrorist Research Management Section. He is also the National Director for Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) ministries.

  • PK's state-of-the-art worldwide web site was designed and is maintained by Didax Inc.--a company whose bylaws state it is a "religious corporation" where senior officers and directors must subscribe to its fundamentalist Christian statement of faith. Didax was founded by William H. Bowers, the former branch division chief of the CIA for new technology assessment.

    Didax donated at least $211,000 of internal system maintenance, software, and certain web development services to PK at no charge, and donated 40,000 shares of its corporate stock to PK. Didax has also provided internet services to other right-wing Christian groups, including Gary Bauer's Family Research Council, Paul Lindstrom's Christian Liberty Academy, Watergate felon Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship, Christianity Today, Ted Engstrom's World Vision, and Learn@Home, a coalition of Christian home-schooling organizations.

  • General Alonzo E. Short Jr. is a member of PK's board of directors. Short is the former commanding general at the U.S. Army Information Systems Command at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona.

  • At a 1996 Atlanta Clergy Conference PK announced that it was working closely with the Military Ministry of Bill Bright's $300 million a year Campus Crusade for Christ. CCC provided 85 full-time staff to PK to help it get started and their senior staff wrote the indoctrination manuals for the PK "accountability groups."

    A special luncheon for military chaplains was addressed by the CCC Military Ministry national director, retired Air Force brigadier general Richard Abel, who had served as former "chief of the Combat News Division in the Directorate of Information" in Vietnam and was later "director of public affairs in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force."

    Chuck Stecker, a retired Special Forces lieutenant colonel who headed PK's South Central Region, also spoke at this luncheon. He articulated the "military principles" behind PK's small group accountability cells, saying:

    "I believe with all of my heart that the military structure that we know and love so well is perfect for the accountable relationships that God is calling us to in Promise Keepers. That same structure, whether it be at the squad level for the Army and right up or whether it be at the detachment level, squadron level and so forth, is exactly what we need. I believe that accountable relationships build readiness, quite frankly, and having served in a Ranger battalion, if a squad leader did not know where his soldiers were, his Rangers, he wasn't doing his job. And in order to be able to know those things he had to be in accountable relationships with them in order to develop that. We have to carry this a step further so that our lives, if you will, reflect Jesus Christ."

  • Fifteen military chaplains from Ft. Bragg attended the Atlanta conference. Shortly after this, hundreds of active-duty soldiers attended a "wake-up call" meeting held at Fort Bragg. Jim Pack, a retired 20-year veteran Green Beret colonel, who had trained and specialized in psychological warfare at Ft. Bragg, led the event. Pack is now PK's state manager in Texas.

  • PK's publication, New Man, consciously promotes the military, high-tech image of the Promise Keepers. One ad for the magazine featured a man hoisting a semi-automatic weapon and a dog tag etched with the words "Blood Type: Jesus Christian."
  • PK Watch, a publication of the PK Watch Project of the Center for Democratic Studies, provided much of the information in this article.

    This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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