November/December, 1997 Volume XII Number 9

Keeping Promises . . . D.C. Style

by Paul deParrie

Washington, D.C. -- While hundreds of thousands came to Washington, D.C. to make promises; pro-life activists came to keep a promise -- a promise to protect the unborn from chemical attack within the Church.

Promise Keepers -- the group

It was a warm Saturday morning as a van load of pro-life activists inched its way past the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium heading toward the Mall in the middle of the Nation's capitol city. The van "inched" almost literally as row upon row -- a reported eight miles long -- of motorcycles bearing Christian bikers and lines of busses and cars sought to fill the stadium parking lot.
The stadium, located several miles from the Mall where the Promise Keepers were to meet, oozed lines of men and boys walking toward the Mall or to Metro stations where subway trains would deposit them near the Mall.
Promise Keepers. The name brings up warm fuzzy feelings to some, and anger from others. The seven-year-old group is a Christian organization devoted to teaching men to take responsibility for their God-given roles as believers, husbands, and fathers. Men are to form "accountability" relationships with other men to insure that they succeed.
National Organization for Women (NOW) claims that PK has a hidden political agenda to resurrect "the Patriarchy." (Some say "Amen!" to that.) NOW also says that PK wives are "oppressed." They cite no examples.
The basis of the group's principles can be found in the Seven Promises of the Promise Keeper (see sidebar). These men come to Washington to make these promises under the aegis of a solemn assembly entitled, Stand in the Gap.
The pro-lifers in the van come to keep a promise already made.

Pro-life promise keepers

The pro-life ac tivists in the van represent Advocates for Life Ministries (AFLM) and the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA). Last year, these two groups promised to make half of their efforts to save babies in the area of warning the Church about abortifacient birth control.
This would be the largest attempt to date for the two groups to accomplish this goal. Other groups with similar concerns, such as Missionaries to the Preborn (MTP) out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.'s own Street Preachers Alliance, joined the effort.
More than half of the 100,000 pieces of literature printed by AFLM was distributed to activists the night before. The remaining boxes are off loaded at 7th and Independence near the front of the Mall where PK will meet. Andrew Burnett, AFLM's director, goes to meet any other volunteers on the Supreme Court steps.
The literature is specially designed for the occasion. It's title is keyed to the Promise Keepers' fourth promise -- the one about protecting one's family.
Immediately, the activists from the van grab bags of the leaflets and head out into the thronging masses of men. There are yet several hours before the PK event is to begin and it is already hard to wade through the crowds. Passing out literature is like trying to give water to herds of buffalo with a paper cup.
Park police tell ACLA's David Crane that he cannot leave the literature boxes on the Mall. He moves them out of their sight, but they remain at 7th and Jefferson -- in the Mall.

PK "security" and park police

Both the sun and the temperature continue to rise. It reaches the mid-80s with a slight breeze. The humidity is not bad.
I stand on the corner across the street and hand out literature almost as fast as I can grab a piece from the stack I hold. This continues for well over an hour until two men in dark blue T-shirts with PK logos ask me to stop. I tell them that I believe that I can continue to pass out literature there -- but I am actually unsure of the laws here. I tell them that they may send the police if they wish.
Washington, D.C. has three separate police departments and three sets of ordinances. There are the federal police, the city police, and the park police. Jurisdictions are apparently drawn at whim and one never knows whose ordinances one is under. Police are fond of bluffing in order to get rid of irritants. I have become an irritant.
Soon a Park Police officer comes over and insists that only authorized "vendors" may be on the Mall during events where the Mall has been reserved. I'm not ready to call his bluff, so I move back out to Independence Avenue -- temporarily.
I come back a little later to find Jim Rudd of Street Preachers Alliance giving out our leaflets undisturbed.
He says, "Yeah, they always try that stuff with me, but I live around here. I come here all the time and I know better."
I point out the officer who told me to leave and Rudd goes over and gives him a pamphlet and begins passing them out right in front of him. The officer does nothing.
Rudd goes back to where I had formerly stationed myself. Soon another couple of PK "security" come and ask him to stop.
Rudd hands the man his card and introduces himself. He asks the PK security man, "Would you please tell me your name, because when you have the police officer arrest me, I'll want to have both of your names for the lawsuit."
The PK security men abruptly turn and walk away. Neither they nor any police officer returns.
However, most of the 45 activists were not asked to leave. They were well received by participants in Stand in the Gap.

Help from all over

Jim McIntyre, who flew in from Washington State to help pass out the leaflets, comes back to the boxes repeatedly -- as do others -- to replenish their supplies. Jean Dove from Arizona is off with Cathy Ramey of AFLM. There are about ten from Milwaukee, several from Virginia, others are from Ohio.
All told, there are about 45 who are attempting to pass out 100,000 brochures. In the end they are not enough for the whole job. After the PK event starts, it becomes increasingly difficult to pass out literature because the participants are focused on the speakers who are being shown on huge television screens lined up down the Mall at one-block intervals.
The activists get more than 75,000 pieces passed out. The rest will be used at churches and at other Christian events.
One of the main speakers, a black Dallas, Texas pastor, mentions abortion as an evil for the men to resist. While the reference passes quickly, Tony Evans, it is a first at any PK rally. Evans is notorious for his opposition to birth control and his support for large families.

The measure of success

For many, the success of the PK rally could be measured in numbers. PK leadership, however, refused to play that game. The Park Service, which formerly gave official crowd estimates, has quit that business as well. They did so after all the criticism it has received over various "counts" -- especially the Million Man March. However, one source numbered the PK event at between 800,000 and 1.2 million.
On the flight home, Andrew Burnett tells me that the next few weeks will tell whether the AFLM literature operation was a success. He pointed to the Life Advocate web site address and the post office box address and said, "If we get a lot of response through these, then it will show that we've accomplished something."
On the day following the PK event, the Life Advocate web site registered double the normal number of visits. The trend continues. E-mail messages indicate that there are some who are repenting for using the Pill.
This last will be the final test. Will the pro-life efforts at the PK event cause more Christian men to "stand in the gap" for their children, or will Stand in the Gap just be another Christian slogan. Only time will tell, but the first indicators are encouraging.

Copyright © 1997 AFLM