What Does it Mean to Be a Man? Biblically Battling the Destruction of Masculinity Promise Keepers President Ken Harrison
What does it mean to be a man? Masculinity is under fire and with the continual skew of gender roles, the is a greater need for a revival in understanding the role of men and their purpose in life. Promise Keepers, once the largest movement of men in the history of the church filling major league stadiums with men in the 1990s, is re-launching with Ken Harrison leading the way. Harrison is tackling the lies, cracking down on the lack of accountability and providing tools to help get men where they need to be. His new book Rise of the Servant King released just in time for Father’s Day as many reflect on their relationships with their dad, and in turn dads take note of what kind of husband and parent they have become. Risen caught up with Harrison to learn more about his journey from police officer to Promise Keepers President, the destruction of masculinity and the legacy being left.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Let’s start off with your journey. Share how you went from being a beat cop to the president of Promise Keepers.
Ken Harrison: Let me give thirty years worth of history in two minutes. My dad and uncle were really famous Los Angeles cops. My dad was shot in the Watts Riots, and then retired our family up to Oregon where I grew up. My uncle stayed on the Los Angeles Police Department and became a well-known captain. I followed in my dad and uncle’s footsteps.
Then it just became the perfect storm. The gang wars were going on at full height and then Rodney King [excessive force and beating case that led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots] happened. At that time, I had just become a well-known police officer and set the record two months in a row for taking guns off the street. But after Rodney King, the federal government came in and did an investigation creating a list of super aggressive police officers — which really meant the list was of [police officers] that put a lot of bad guys in jail. I got identified as one of those guys and my Uncle gave the advice that the whole department was going to change and even though nothing I did was wrong, it would be smarter to use my talents elsewhere and “run a company or something.” So I did, I left.
I had gotten married to my high school sweetheart while I was in the Police Department and we moved back to Oregon. I really didn’t know what to do with my life because I always thought I’d be an L.A. cop. I ended up hitting my knees [in prayer] and asking the Lord for wisdom, claiming the promise of James 1:5, [paraphrasing] if any of you who lacks wisdom, you should ask your Father in Heaven who gives generously, and I did. And God just all of a sudden supernaturally zapped me with wisdom. It was weird, I mean I had zero clue, and all of a sudden, I just understood. I went out, networked, got a job – for a third of the pay I was making as a cop – as a commercial real estate appraisal trainee. And, within five years I was a partner in the biggest independent company in America.
We later moved to San Diego where I built the office to be so successful that essentially all the other partners made me the CEO. And then I sold that whole business to Colliers International and stayed to run the commercial real estate appraisal business. I did that until 2012 and then I really retired at the age of 45. I made enough money, not to be rich, but to not have to worry about money. I was tired, it had been a long productive life. But one fighting a lot of battles. I mean bringing a global company through the real estate meltdown of 2008 was a lot of work. And we had done really well, I tell a little bit about that in the last chapter of my book. God really supernaturally came in and rescued us and made us super profitable – all Him and not me – but I got the credit, and made the money that came with it.
I think that is the biggest cancer that’s eroding the souls of men is a lack of accountability.
So I retired in 2012, I coached my sons’ football teams, I was there for my kids the whole time, which was really neat. And I was very happy. I was skiing and hiking every day, and reading all the books that you always wish you could read but you don’t have time. I was able to sit and enjoy the view of the mountains and in 2015, I was praying on my knees, in my closet (not that I normally pray in my closet but for some reason I was in my closet) the lights off and God just came to me in the most vivid way He’s ever come to me, and He said out of the blue, “Ken I didn’t put you through everything I put you through and teach you what I taught you so that you could ski and hike for the rest of your life.” And I said, “Lord what do you want me to do?” And He said, “Are you willing to be as ambitious for My kingdom as you were for your kingdom?” I said, “I don’t know.” When He asked the question it came with a real stern warning, like be very careful of your answer and count the costs, because it’s going to cost you. I literally wrestled with Him for a long time on my knees and just said, in fact I remember saying, “God, I don’t want to work that hard anymore. I’m tired, I stay up until four in the morning for my kingdom.” And the betrayal and the backstabbing and the lawsuits and I just don’t want to do it anymore. And the Lord in his grace just said, “That’s okay, but you’ll miss my full blessing.”
So after wrestling I said, “Yeah Lord, I will.” And He said, “Well I’ll tell you what I have for you when you’re ready.” Some time went by and to cut off a whole bunch of interesting stuff that’s just too much for this but I started teaching discipleship groups in Denver and Raleigh Washington, the C.E.O. of Promise Keepers, came to my discipleship group and said, “Hey I’m Raleigh Washington, C.E.O. of Promise Keepers,” and I said, “That’s still a thing?” He said, “Yeah we’re struggling right now.” He asked me to be on his board a few times, and I actually said I’m not interested in being on the board of a dead organization, no thanks. And then he came to me and said, “I need personal help, I want to retire and head back to Jacksonville and I can’t unless I get someone,” and I said, “Well I’ll come to a board meeting or two and get you help, but then I’m out.”
When I went to the board and I saw the state of Promise Keepers, really because of an inactive board, it wasn’t Raleigh’s fault at all, it was the board’s fault. I just hit the ceiling and had a long discussion with the board, at which point they voted me chairman.So I didn’t know what to do with this thing, I didn’t want anything to do with bringing back Promise Keepers. But after that, the Lord made it very clear that was His intention. He has given supernatural favor to us [Promise Keepers] in the most amazing of ways. Always bringing the perfect person at the perfect time, we’ve never wanted for anything. I don’t even know what to ask for, it seems like He answers the requests I have before I even know I have them.
I never saw this as my where I’d be so I sort of taken to John 3:8 as a life verse because it’s truth is something that has become so clear. Where Jesus says to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it pleases, you hear a sound but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. So it is of everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
RM: How do we fight a battle when the enemy’s always at the gate? How do we get the win? How do you keep the motivation and energy up to do so?
KH: The answers are pretty simple. First, you have to understand what your role is. Who am I? Satan does an amazing job of lying to us, because we don’t even know who we are as men right now. So what is my role? You have several roles, I have several roles. I’ll give you an example. I never found it hard to fire people when I was a CEO, and one year I fired 80 people.Because what is my role as a CEO? My role is to return a profit to the shareholders, period.So you as an employee, whether you’re my best friend or someone I don’t know, it makes no difference. Either you are helping me to get to my, accomplish my goal or you’re not. And if you’re not, you’re fired. And there’s no emotion involved, there’s nothing, sounds cold.
We have to know who we are. Now who am I as my wife’s husband? What are her expectations of me? First thing is I need to ask her. One of the biggest meltdowns in marriages is that we’re trying to provide something that our wife didn’t ask for. We’ve decided what her husband should look like, instead of asking her what her husband should look like. So we’ve, you hear this all the time from those husbands, “My job is to provide for the family, I’ve always provided for the family.” Well maybe that’s not what she was looking for, or maybe you weren’t providing what she was looking for. To provide, we need money, and sometimes we define that by what I want, instead of what my wife wants.
What does my wife want from me? As a young man maybe your wife would want you to make a good living because you’re trying to buy your first house, etc., But later in life, as an empty nester maybe she needs a husband who’s there for her, spending a lot of time with her because she just spent her whole life raising kids who are now all gone, her identity is hurting, and she may need support. So first question, what’s my role? Who am I in this place? And in this position?
The second thing is, what’s victory? What does winning look like? If we’re going to be in a fight, the first question is what’s my role in this army? And the second is, what does winning look like? One of my friends who played in the NFL put it really well, he said, “I hated playing in the NFL. It wasn’t nearly as fun as college.” Why? He said, “Because in college you’re actually playing football. The play develops and you’re making things happen. But in the NFL, everything happens so fast the only thing you have to do is to take care of your role.” He was a tight end and he would say, “Man it was, take three steps, turn, block the linebacker and then the play’s over. And either you did your job or you didn’t, and if you didn’t, the play got blown up and nothing happened. If you did your job, along with the other 10 guys, then the play was successful and everything happened.” It was do your assignment, period. Don’t worry about anybody else.
What does victory look like? We need to get back to understanding that Christians will be judged based on what they’re doing with their lives. Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, to be judged for the deeds done while in the body, whether good or worthless.” Not bad, because the bad was forgiven, worthless. And then Jesus goes through quite a lot of effort, at the end of Matthew, Matthew 24 & 25 to tell all these parables. But they come down to the same thing. He talks about three slaves… two of them God gave gifts. They went out and used their gifts. The third one buried his [gift] and he comes back and he says, Jesus I didn’t do anything with what you gave me, and by the way, it’s your fault. And what does Jesus say? You wicked, lazy slave. Throw him in the outer darkness where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth, with the hypocrites.
So we’re going to be judged because God has a plan for you that you can fulfill if you’re following Him. I think that the weeping and gnashing of teeth will be this intense remorse that comes from a wasted life when we see what we could’ve done had we obeyed God. Victory for you and victory for me, is to walk in the present in God’s plan. Then we’ll find great victory, and with great victory comes great joy and reward in this life and the next.
When God’s plan for your life is revealed to you, you don’t want it to be where you kicked and screamed and tried to shove the hot potato off to somebody else. God will reveal, this is what I’ve had for you. I’ve been training for you for this moment. And this is just this moment. Five years later I may have another moment, and then go back to skiing and hiking for a while until God gives me my next assignment. Who knows?
RM: With the #MeToo movement, toxic masculinity classes taught at Brown University, androgynous sexuality, and where we’re headed today in syncretism within the church, talk about the four stages of the destruction of masculinity.
KH: That’s a big question. Let’s tear it all down to what is masculinity and what is femininity. God gives us his template for creation, for the very operation of the world, in Genesis 1-3; He gives the creation story twice. He tells us about creating man, and then He goes back and gives us more detail about it. When God takes the rib from Adam and says He created male and female in His image, we know that male and female together are the representation of the nature of God; who He is. So male on his own is not a representation, and same with female. If you take a fully masculine man and a fully feminine woman together in a marriage, now you have the image of God. Satan is a great liar – that is his biggest tool – and he really desperately wants to get us away from who God is.
Before we had this an outlook [as a society of this] completely all male god who was very angry, and he was going to spank you hard if you got out of line. Now it’s shifted to this effeminized god who’s filled with grace, sitting on the throne, saying, Gosh I hope Ken goes to church this Sunday, I just love him so much. Neither of those represent the way god is depicted in scripture. We can easily forget that the god of the Old Testament is God, He didn’t change. The same god who when the Israelites made a golden calf and Moses comes running down the mountain, He says to Moses, “Who is going to stand up for my name?” And Moses yells that out to the people and the Levites go and kill 3,000 people and God says, “Now I’m happy.”
God hasn’t changed but rather our relationship to Him changed when Jesus died for our sins. His hatred of sin didn’t change. He is the same God who hates sin. We’ve taken these little cliches like, love the sinner, hate the sin, but God’s not going to throw the sin into hell forever, he’s going to throw the sinner into hell forever. This is just our way of kidding ourselves so we feel okay being passive. So we don’t have to go out and witness to people, be courageous and risk being disliked or sued, or whatever else. Because we understand that those who die without the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ are going to be separated from Him forever.
So we tell ourselves lies like that and we listen to Satan because it makes us feel better about ourselves when we’re not doing anything. To go rescue people from Satan and their misery and tell them about Jesus Christ and His grace and His love for us, that comes with a loathing, a deep loathing. So we realize now that Satan is attacking masculinity, really he’s attacking the nature of god. And by the way, he’s also attacking femininity. While he’s attacking the man we don’t notice he’s been attacking the woman for a while too. Because in this country we don’t value strong women as women. We value strong women who are imitation men. We see the epitome of a strong woman, it’s always in some masculine role. Is there anything stronger than a woman that gives birth? The sleepless nights and the trips to the emergency room, and the pouring out to raise a kid. We don’t elevate femininity, we actually eviscerate femininity and we say that the only really strong woman is a woman who is an imitation man. So we’re confused.
The nature of God is confused in His church, and so we need to call men back to: what is masculinity? What does that look like? A man is a person who’s in love with Jesus Christ and is epitomized by humility. The outward expression of humility in masculine, in a man it’s through courage and generosity. Courage because when you are humble, when you don’t see yourself as the most important person in the room, then you will always stand up for the poor and the oppressed. You will always stand up for truth. You will witness to people who are in need.
God says in Isaiah 1, I’m looking for men who will stand up for justice, care for the poor and the oppressed and be jealous for my name. That’s a man, he’s a man of god by the way, he’s epitomized by humility, the outward expression of which is courage and generosity. And then we know that women need to get back to femininity and that’s not my thing, I never thought that through enough. But a man needs to be as a leader, provide space for his wife to be a woman, and all of the things that that means.
If we could pray that God would teach us to see people through His eyes, that will affect everything we do, and that is how we’re going to leave a legacy
RM: Growing up, my parents were great and something my mom would say stood out, “For years we have asked men to move out of the way, step down and be quiet. And then when they do, we turn around and ask where have all the men gone?” I don’t want to say that she is right, but seeing what I am today I think she is. How do men make a comeback or if that’s too strong, how do we start reestablishing ourselves? Publicly, politically, spiritually, as sons, brothers, husbands, fathers….
KH: Wow, that’s a really good question. We’ve covered a little bit of this but first we need to understand what it means to be a man. Men need their identity to come from being a son of God, because of the grace of Jesus Christ first, before anything else. Before they’re Italian, or a black man, or a Harvard graduate, or a police officer, or a teacher, or whatever they may be. They need to be a humble son of God, only because of the grace of Jesus Christ. The second is to understand that God has called every man to be a leader in his sphere, period. So if I am a single man, then I’m the leader of myself – self-restraint, accountability to those in my charge, to stand up for justice and the poor and the repressed, be a respecter of all people, especially women and children in my presence. Make sure that I care for needs, and I never exploit anybody. As a married man, I am responsible for my wife. I’m not to blame when she does things wrong, but it is my responsibility to make sure that my wife understands God’s Word. To teach her and to have us going to a proper God-fearing church. If we have kids, I must understand that my kids are my responsibility. They’re the responsibility of both parents, but ultimately as the leader of this family they’re mine. I can’t outsource their education to public schools and to churches which may or may not be teaching them. When they come home from that public school, what are they learning? How well do I know scripture that I can talk them through the things that they learned in school so that when they’re leaving my charge to go off to college or trade school when they’re 18, they are grounded in scripture, and they know God’s Word, and they know who they are in the Lord. If we just did that as men, we’d change the world. If we just took care of our families – not looking at the guy over there or wish he would do that with his kids – just paying attention to my family, then when we’re taking care of our basic things, and we can get to James 5. James 5, depending on how you interpret the Greek, talks about correcting a brother in his sin and saving him from hell and a multitude of sins. Then we can begin to sharpen our brothers, not out of judgment, not out of competition, but to say hey let’s come alongside each other and make each other stronger. We can now go beyond our families and really make a difference in the world.
RM: Talking about establishing self-discipline practices and accountability, what is the most crucial in insuring success or progress in this effort?
KH: I think that is the biggest cancer that’s eroding the souls of men is a lack of accountability. I would just say to you that when a man understands who he is, and what his role is, and what victory is and that he’s accountable to make that happen, he stops making excuses and whining. Not looking around for someone to blame, like his father (we’ve gone too far with this dad ound issue or whatever you want to call it) that will massively change that guy, he doesn’t need to look beyond that.
RM: We’ve covered a lot but lastly, I’d like to look at legacy. Especially when it comes to our family, when we look at strengthening our kids and getting them ready to go out into the world, how can we ensure they can stand firm on their own two feet in their faith?
KH: To kind of put it in a sentence or two, it would be staying relentless focused, and I would use that phrase “relentlessly focused” on presenting them to God as servants of His. That will dictate how we relate to our wives too. Asking the question, what is my role view? Will affect what my legacy is? The best thing I can give my daughter, outside of scripture, is self-esteem. I want to make sure she sees herself as a precious daughter of God, and holds onto her purity. I can’t give her that if I’m looking at pornography. I can’t give her that if I have a lustful mind that looks at every other woman who isn’t related to me as an object for my gratification. In order to leave a legacy, we have to have a pure heart. We have to repent of our sins. Stop lusting after other women, stop lusting for the Mercedes that the neighbor has, on and on and on, and be content where God has us. We don’t want to get to the point of self-obsession. We have to realize that when it comes to leaving a legacy, then having a relationship with God and having an active prayer life with death to self, are crucial. Death to this world, death to all the nonsense that goes with it too because all those things pull us away from truly being able to have a legacy. When we’re not obsessed with making more money to have a bigger house we begin to have a completely different view. If we could pray that God would teach us to see people through His eyes, that will affect everything we do, and that is how we’re going to leave a legacy. When we begin to see everybody as equally a son or daughter of God, or someone who is a son or daughter of Satan and on their way to hell – we see the world as it is.