Promise Keepers evangelical group welcomes women for first time; conference starts in July

Associated Press/April 20, 2009

Denver - The evangelical men's organization Promise Keepers waived conference admission fees and brought in standup comics trying to recapture its mid-1990s influence. The unprecedented move it's trying now: opening an event to women.

After 20 years of men-only events, Denver-based Promise Keepers is urging men to bring "the women in their lives" to a July 31-Aug. 1 conference marking the group's anniversary.

"It's time for Promise Keepers men to step up and honor women," Raleigh Washington, the group's president, said Monday. "We're going to heal the gender divide that exists in America.

"What better way to challenge a man than nose to nose with his wife, his mother, his sister?" he said.

Promise Keepers filled football stadiums and boasted a $117 million budget in the mid-1990s, but has struggled to find an identity since. Revenues declined for several years to about $10.9 million in 2007, according to its tax forms. This year's budget is $7.5 million, Washington said.

During the group's peak, critics such as the National Organization of Women accused Promise Keepers of undermining women's rights and promoting male superiority by calling for wives to submit to their husbands.

Washington said it hasn't been decided whether women will be welcome at future events. The event at the University of Colorado replaces what has been a multi-city tour. That format will return next year, Washington said.

The group is making another attempt to reinvent itself. Last September, Promise Keepers co-founder Bill McCartney, a former University of Colorado football coach, returned as chairman and chief executive officer.

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