800,000 American confess sins and promise to keep faith


Hundreds of thousands of men prayed, confessed sins and sang hymns for six hours on the historic Mall in one of the biggest gatherings ever seen in the United States capital.

Unofficial estimates of the size of the all-male Promise Keepers' rally ranged as high as 800,000. On a perfect autumn day, the crowds stretched from in front of the Capitol building for over a mile past the Washington Monument and spilled over on to the Ellipse in front of the White House.

President Clinton paid tribute to the gathering in his weekly radio address, saying: "No one can question the sincerity of the hundreds of thousands of men who have filled football stadiums across our country and who are willing to reassume their responsibilities to their families and to their children and, therefore, to our future."

Religious representatives from 56 countries, ranging from Argentina to Zimbabwe, attended the rally called "Stand in the Gap: A Sacred Assembly of Men". Northern Ireland was on the list provided by the organisers, but not Ireland.

During the rally, the men pledged publicly to keep the movement's seven promises. These include honouring Jesus Christ through worship and prayer; practising "spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity"; a commitment to "building strong marriages and families"; and "reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers".

For the founder of Promise Keepers, former football coach Mr Bill McCartney (57), the enormous attendance was a personal triumph. Attendance at rallies earlier this year around the US had shown a falling off in numbers. The Washington rally cost an estimated $10 million and although there was no entry charge, participants were asked to contribute generously in envelopes at the back of the one million free Bibles handed out to everybody.

Mr McCartney said: "We are going to ask each guy to go back to his own local church and to make a stronger commitment inside that church". He said later that he was disappointed there was not a greater attendance of Catholic men at the rally. He had been a practising Catholic for most of his life but changed to an Evangelical church before he founded Promise Keepers in 1990 in Boulder, Colorado.