Promise Keepers head to step down

Denver Post/September 10, 2003
By Eric Gorski

Bill McCartney, the former University of Colorado football coach whose Promise Keepers rallies launched a hugely popular and often criticized Christian men's movement, announced Tuesday he will resign as president of the group he founded 13 years ago.

McCartney, who revealed his decision during a quarterly board of directors meeting, said he wants to care for his ill wife and spend more time with his family.

McCartney, 63, had been on a leave of absence from the Denver- based evangelical Christian ministry since March to tend to his wife, Lyndi, who has a severe respiratory illness.

"The ministry of Promise Keepers is not finished; it is needed now more than ever," McCartney said in a statement. His resignation is effective Oct. 1.

Since its founding, Promise Keepers has experienced highs and lows. The group's rise was capped in 1997 with "Stand in the Gap," a rally that drew an estimated 1 million men to the National Mall in Washington.

But down times came in layoffs and declining attendance that grew in part out of a failed experiment at offering free admission to rallies. Promise Keepers, which will bring an 18-city tour to the Pepsi Center on Sept. 26 and 27, continues to try to regroup and reposition itself as a cultural force.

The ministry's messages of male bonding, racial reconciliation and taking charge of the household have resonated strongly with evangelical Christian men. But Promise Keepers has been criticized by groups such as the National Organization for Women, which claims the group is sexist and clings to outdated gender roles.

At the center of it all has been McCartney, or "Coach Mac" to friends and allies. Now, the organization faces the challenge of moving forward without its best-known and most charismatic figure.

"Certainly, Coach McCartney is one of the most intense, motivating, captivating, dedicated men I've ever known," said Jerry Rutledge, a longtime friend from Colorado Springs. "He has a great charisma. He attracted men to having a desire to be Godly men."

Retired Army Gen. Alonzo Short, chairman of the Promise Keepers board, will serve as interim president, a role he has filled since McCartney went on sabbatical. The group expects to name a permanent successor by the time McCartney steps down, said Harold Velasquez, a Promise Keepers vice president.

Velasquez said McCartney leaves the ministry in solid shape.

He said this conference season has been successful, with several sellouts. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who drew fame for his failed fight to keep a Ten Commandments monument in a courthouse rotunda, spoke at a recent Atlanta rally.

The Denver event is about 75 percent full, Velasquez said. Another 17 cities are planned for 2004.

But as with other Christian and secular nonprofits, the struggling economy has taken a toll, Velasquez said. He said Promise Keepers, which has a $27 million annual budget, cut its staff since the start of the year from about 100 to 75 employees. At one point, Promise Keepers had a staff of about 450.

Velasquez said the ministry will thrive even without McCartney, whose decision to leave he praised.

"Coach Mac is, in my opinion, the epitome of a true Promise Keeper - he made a promise to his wife," Velasquez said.

In his statement, McCartney said eventually he will pursue "other ministry interests."

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