Albany -- Halfway through his motivational speech, the Rev. Noel Castellanos asked the crowd at the Pepsi Arena a question. "When you come home and your wife says, 'Honey, we need to talk,' do you A: Quickly figure out what you did wrong so you can come up with a good explanation, or B: Wait to see what she has to say so you can really deal with the problem?" he asked.
The question elicited a round of groans and nervous laughter from the audience at a conference Saturday of the Promise Keepers, an evangelical Christian group aimed at men.
"Everyone in this room will have to confess that they don't do a good job of caring for the emotional needs of their wives and children," said Castellanos.
The goal of Promise Keepers, founded 13 years ago by Bill McCartney, a former head football coach at the University of Colorado, is to change that. And, at a weekend conference at the Pepsi, nearly 9,000 turned out to meet the challenge. In fact, the Challenge is the name of the Promise Keepers' 18-city tour which will end in Las Vegas this fall.
McCartney "had a vision of seeing men joined together in stadiums across the nation with the main message of being better men, better fathers and better husbands by pointing them to biblical principles," said Harold Velasquez, vice president of the Denver-based Promise Keepers. "Men today are really having problems coming to terms with their masculinity. The media portrays us as idiots, needing a wife as a mother."
Today, more than 5 million men have attended Promise Keepers events, including a Stand in the Gap meeting in Washington, D.C., that drew 1.2 million men, according to Velasquez.
Bill Seaburg of Rensselaer said he knew what he should do as a husband before coming to the Promise Keepers conference, but that it still helped him improve his relationships.
"I am trying to live in God's way, the way he wanted it to be. Our wives are a gift from God," said Seaburg. "It's like you knew it, but you didn't really practice it. With all the men here together, it motivates you more."
Although many of the men attending this weekend's event were from the Capital Region, others were on the Promise Keepers tour, traveling from city to city to participate as many times as possible.
"It really charges your batteries," said Frank Watson, who traveled from Bristol, R.I., with several male members of his family.
Lorelei Faulkner of Kinderhook volunteered at the weekend event. She said that after her husband, Tom, returned from a Promise Keepers function in 1997, their marriage became much stronger.
"Although we had a strong marriage and a good marriage, he came back a changed man," said 48-year-old Faulkner, who married Tom 20 years ago this Wednesday. "He has become more dimensional."
Yet some of the views espoused by the Promise Keepers have created controversy. About two dozen protesters, including members of the National Organization for Women, stood across the street from the Pepsi, holding up signs that read "Keep Abortion Legal" "Lesbian Rights" and "Stop Racism Now."
But another group of women, from the Saratoga Abundant Life Church, showed support for the Promise Keepers by cheering the men as they walked out of the arena during a lunch break. Shortly afterward, the NOW protesters got into a shouting match with some of the men.
"They are promoting the submission of women. One of the things that we want people to know is that this organization is founded by right-wing, fundamentalist men," said Marcia Pappas, a former national board member of NOW. "They are all anti-choice, anti-women people who feel the need to subjugate women."
Faulkner said she was undaunted by the protesters.
"I have a fairly strong personality. We have our own business, and I've been on school boards," she said. "I have always been challenged by Tom to do what I want. I will submit to Tom if it is something he feels strongly about. If this is submission, it's a joy."