July 20th, 2009
Charlotte (N.C.) Pride this year falls on July 25. In response, two prominent Pentecostal evangelists plan to confront Pride attendees by surrounding the park with more than 1,000 “worshipers, intercessors, musicians, soul-winners, walkers, talkers, and believers of every age, color, and size” there to “stand together as a prophetic witness to our society.” One of the organizers of the anti-gay confrontation predicts that the day will represent a “flash point” in turning back the so-called “homosexual agenda.” Local LGBT advocates fear that the presence of such a large amp-ed up contingent of anti-gay extremists at the properly-permitted celebration could become a flash point of a very different kind.
In 2006, Charlotte-based pastor Michael Brown organized a group of red-shirted students to surround Charlotte Pride. Volunteers describe that encounter as frightening, intimidating, and an act that instilled terror in some who attended:
“The whole experience was horrible,” [one volunteer] told InterstateQ.com, speaking under the condition of anonymity. “I saw a lot of people trying to get away from the red-shirted people, and they just wouldn\’t leave people alone.”
The volunteer describes several people, visibly shaken and emotionally distraught, who came to her for assistance. “I had people coming up to me in tears asking, ‘Please do something about these people,\'” she said.
Many of those who complained, the volunteer said, were parents and children who were confronted by the members of Brown\’s counter-demonstration. “They were going after the children of gay and lesbian parents. They were after the little kids, telling them that their mommies and daddies were going to hell and were sinners.”
Now Brown is at it again, except this time he is joining forces with Lou Engle of The Call. This year’s anti-gay rally, called “God Has A Better Way,” intends to surround the Pride festival not with a hundred volunteers, but a thousand. Local Pride organizers, who have obtained proper permits to hold the celebration in downtown Charlotte, are worried.
There’s reason for concern. Brown and Engle are both known for their fiery rhetoric filled with militant imagery of warfare against dark and evil forces. Acting on what he calls a “prophetic word,” Engle chose Charlotte “to raise up a contending house of prayer, that contends not with people, but with spiritual principalities and powers” He intends for this action to “be the high watermark, so to speak, of the homosexual agenda. It stops here.”
Brown predicts that the event will be “history in the making.” Whatever their predictions, it doesn’t take a prophet to know that tensions will be high in Charlotte next weekend if these men have their way.
“Whether By Life Or By Death!”
I first encountered Michael Brown’s life-and-death rhetoric when I attended his lecture at a plenary session of the Exodus Freedom Conference in Irvine, California in 2007. I had attended the conference to get a first-hand look at the pre-eminent annual gathering of people who were “struggling with their homosexuality” and were trying to change. The struggle was a personal struggle against forces which would tempt them from their chosen path of pursuing heterosexuality. Those forces, of course, were often described in evil undertones, but the speakers rarely used that word or characterization directly.
Brown wasn’t nearly that coy. He was there to exhort the crowd to fight against “a pitched attack from hell,” but the attack he was talking about wasn’t an attack on an individual’s sense of sexual righteousness. Instead, Brown was talking about an evil attack on the moral fabric of the culture at large. To counter that attack, his talk centered on developing a “revolutionary mentality,” which he summed up as, “Life as it is is not worth living, but the cause is worth dying for.”
Citing such revolutionaries as Elaine Brown of the Black Panthers (“Even the notion of dying for something bigger than you was far more powerful than living out a life of quiet desperation.”), he said “the key to overcoming the forces of hell” was the willingness to embrace martyrdom. While he said that the Elaine Brown’s quote represented a negative example, he also said that for Christians it was compatible with Luke 17:33 (“Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”).
Now, it’s important to note that he didn’t use the word of “martyrdom” anywhere in his talk that I can recall. But it certainly describes what he was talking. Take, for instance, his quoting of James B. Taylor: “The world may frown — Satan may rage — but go on! Live for God. May I die in the field of battle.” Or when Brown recounted a tale of another dedicated Christian who was being held up at gunpoint by a robber demanding “your money or your life.” According to Brown, the Christian exclaimed “You’re going to send me to meet Jesus?” and began rejoicing, prompting the robber to flee. Brown also claimed that his own life was in danger because of his confrontations against the LGBT community. All of this to drive home the message that a Christian should value the cause more than his own life:
Listen, God promises us long life and health as blessings in Scripture, and he wants to bless many with families and kids and grandkids and all that. That’s wonderful. But we should have this warrior mentality. Come on, we’ve been addressed as warriors. We should have this revolutionary mentality that says the purpose of my life is to glorify God. And I would rather die glorifying God than live to be ninety and not make an impact.
He then closed that plenary session with a prayer:
I ask you (Jesus) to hold back nothing from me. Here I am. Change me. Fill me. Use me. Send me out to be a world changer to glorify Jesus, to be a holy revolutionary whether by life or by death!
Since Brown’s talk at that Exodus Freedom conference in 2007, he has become a regular speaker at the Love Won Out conference put on jointly by Exodus International and Focus On the Family.
Lou Engle and The Call
Lou Engle also echoes Brown’s embrace of martyrdom. Engle, whose own ministry is known as “The Call,” is closely aligned with a militant Christian Dominionist movement known as Joel’s Army. Casey Sanchez describes the relationship this way:
As even his critics note, Engle is a sweet, humble and gentle man whose persona is difficult to reconcile with his belief in an end-time army of invincible young Christian warriors. Yet while Engle is careful to avoid deploying explicit Joel\’s Army rhetoric at high-profile events like The Call, when he\’s speaking in smaller hyper-charismatic circles to avowed Joel\’s Army followers, he can venture into bloodlust.
This March, at a “Passion for Jesus” conference in Kansas City sponsored by the International House of Prayer, or IHOP, a ministry for teenagers from the heavy metal, punk and goth scenes, Engle called on his audience for vengeance.
“I believe we\’re headed to an Elijah/Jezebel showdown on the Earth, not just in America but all over the globe, and the main warriors will be the prophets of Baal versus the prophets of God, and there will be no middle ground,” said Engle. He was referring to the Baal of the Old Testament, a pagan idol whose followers were slaughtered under orders from the prophet Elijah.
“There\’s an Elijah generation that\’s going to be the forerunners for the coming of Jesus, a generation marked not by their niceness but by the intensity of their passion,” Engle continued. “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Such force demands an equal response, and Jesus is going to make war on everything that hinders love, with his eyes blazing fire.”
Joel\’s Army began in the 1940\’s, and was based on the preaching of Assembly of God pastor William Branham. The Assemblies of God has banned Joel\’s army as a heretical cult and disavows all association with the movement.
Lou Engle and the Kansas City Prophets
In order to understand where Brown and Engle are coming from with their calls to martyrdom, it’s important to understand where their theology comes from. And to do that, we need to rewind a bit, back to the early 1980’s with a group known as the The Kansas City Prophets. Chief among them was “Prophet” Bob Jones (unrelated to Bob Jones of Bob Jones University fame) who claimed to receive prophecies through visions and dreams. Lou Engle would become one of Prophet Jones’ devoted acolytes.
Among the hallmarks of the Kansas City Prophets were calls for long periods of fasting and prayer, a feature that Engle has made a centerpiece for The Call. In 1983, Jones called for a 21-day fast to usher “a massive move of God.” He also predicted that a drought would consume Kansas City in confirmation of his prophecy from June until August 23. Jones and his followers blithely overlooked the 6.5 inches of rain that fell in June (making that June wetter than average) and another inch or so that fell in July. But the traces of rain that fell around August 23 was enough to confirm his prophetic powers among his followers.
In 1991, Jones was removed from a ministry known as the Vineyard for sexual misconduct, where he allegedly used his “prophetic gift” to fondle women in the church. But that scandal didn’t discredit Jones’ “prophetic gifts” in the eyes of his acolyte, Lou Engle, who made it his mission to fulfill a 1993 prophecy by his mentor:
In 1993, Bob Jones prophesied, “The Houston Oilers would move to Nashville, and Nashville would build God a stadium. And 100,000 people, particularly youth, would gather for a great mobilization of the army of God.” With this prophecy in effect, I was praying about holding The Call in Titan Stadium in Nashville on 07-07-07.
Engle’s earlier incarnation of The Call had become relatively inactive by about 2002, but Engle relaunched it in 2006 with the help of Kansas-City based International House of Prayer to fulfill Jones’ 1993 prophecy. The International House of Prayer is led by Mike Bickle, another of the Kansas City Prophets, who is also listed as The Call’s vice president on their 2009 IRS 990 form. Three other former Kansas City Prophets, Stacey Campbell, Jim Goll, and Dutch Sheets, also sit on The Call’s board of directors, as does Bishop Harry Jackson of Washington, D.C. (or perhaps not of Washington, D.C., but that’s a completely different story.)
I’ve been corresponding to one young man who attended the relaunched The Call event in Nashville in 2007. Tyler (his last name is being withheld) remembers that day vividly — July 7, 2007 (07/07/07 was their “Holy Date”) — and wrote:
I went to Nashville and the day was a whole day of fasting and prayer to “turn the nation back to God.” Their tactics include, in my opinion, a lot of manipulation using emotionally-driven songs, yelling, dancing, and the like to get individuals charged up.
Tyler eventually left the group and came out as gay. But he found that leaving the group was difficult:
I just know that I was pretty “stuck” in that organization and by the time I left I felt like I was getting away from some hardcore brainwashing. It is tough because everyone involved is extremely friendly (they would definitely not pass as members of the Fred Phelps crew…they are too kind). Those involved tend to be young, 20-somethings, who all have a hip and fresh look about them (the Urban Outfitters or American Apparel kind of person). They seem to be open and accepting.
It was difficult for me to leave the group and this movement because I did find such a home there and developed such great friendships. I just couldn’t remain part of something that was so certain that who I am is wrong and I must change.
Since that Nashville gathering, The Call has sponsored additional gatherings in Cincinnati, Ohio; Montgomery, Alabama; Washington, D.C.; and San Diego, all in 2008. The San Diego event was called specifically to rally for the passage of California’s Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage.
The “Toronto Blessing,” Brownsville Revival, and Michael Brown
Prophet Jones also claims to have predicted the so-called “Toronto Blessing” revival of 1994, which was billed as a spontaneous and historic multi-year outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a congregation at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. Jones supposedly predicted the Toronto Blessing in 1984, exactly ten years earlier. But others see evidence of more direct involvement of the Kansas City Prophets in the Toronto Blessing aside from mere prophecy.
At any rate, the Toronto Blessing was immediately controversial, not only due to the theologies presented there which many mainstream Pentecostals believed were unbiblical, but also due to the odd ecstasies the Toronto Blessing became known for. Mainstream Pentecostal practices place an emphasis on a personal experience of the Holy Spirit, which can be manifested by such signs as speaking in tongues, dancing and being “slain in the Spirit.” To the uninitiated, these can be quite off-putting, but Pentecostal theologians point to scripture to defend certain specific ecstatic experiences.
But nothing prepared them for some of the new behaviors shown at the Toronto Blessing. That revival introduced some new and novel ecstasies never seen before, including uncontrollable “holy laughter;” barking, braying, and making other animal noises; being “drunk” in the spirit, and many other odd behaviors that many mainstream Pentecostals found both disturbing and unbiblical.
The Toronto Blessing spawned several other revivals, one notable one being a revival in the United Kingdom at Holy Trinity Brompton in London. In fact, it was the British press which dubbed the revival “The Toronto Blessing.” Abd that’s where an American Assemblies of God evangelist by the name of Steve Hill reportedly received “The Blessing” at Brompton. He moved to Pensacola, Florida, where he joined up with John Kilpatrick, pastor of the Brownsville Assembly of God. Kilpatrick’s wife had also attended a Toronto Blessing service along with several members of their congregation, so Kilpatrick was already familiar with the famous revival that was garnering a great deal of attention throughout the Charismatic Christian world. Together, Hill and Kilpatrick orchestrated a similar revival of their own in Pensacola, which came to be known as the Brownsville Revival or the Pensacola Outpouring. That revival would continue for at least the next five years. Hill and Kilpatrick were able to recreate the Toronto Blessing quite well — right down to the “holy laughter” and being “drunk in the spirit,” to the horror of other more tranditional-minded Pentecostal pastors and adherents:
“Yet in this Brownsville assembly there is not only violent shaking, but also shrieking and hyena-like laughter. And this is called ‘holy.’
“Another aspect of this so-called “revival,” “outpouring of God,” and “flow of the Spirit” is getting “drunk in the Spirit.” Pastor Kilpatrick of Brownsville admitted that he has been so “drunk in the Spirit” that he actually struck his youth pastor’s car with his own. He said that while driving he had hit many garbage cans sitting at the curb on several occasions, because he was so “drunk.” He added that his wife has been so drunk she couldn’t cook. Sometimes his drunken stupors are so severe that he has to be taken from the service in a wheel-chair, Kilpatrick reported.
That revival eventually died down amid financial scandals, tax evasion, fictitious biographies, theological squabbles with fellow pentecostal pastors, false claims of converting prominent public figures, hoax “cures,” failed prayers to raise the dead, crackdowns on dissenters, and accusations of turning away people in need. But among the many enduring products of the Brownsville Revival was none other than Michael Brown himself.
Michael Brown and the Brownsville Revival
It’s unclear how Michael Brown became involved with the Brownsville Revival, but we do know that he arrived in Pensacola in 1996 and quickly became a part of the Brownsville inner circle. According to the Pensacola New Journal, some who knew him say he waited for more than a decade for just such a major, long-running revival. Several people say he commanded a major role behind the scenes as the “brains” of the operation.
His official role with the Brownsville Revival centered on his founding of the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry in 1996. While at the helm, he reportedly engaged in crackdowns against dissent. The wife of a former employee says Brown threatened her family’s livelihood in order to force her to recant what Brown regarded as criticism of the revival. Others described him as a man “consumed by the desire to be in control.” Brown denied that, saying that because he had “strong moral convictions and have often taken clear stands on controversial issues,” it was “no surprise that some of those who differ with me might mistake confidence for arrogance.”
Brown’s position in the Brownsville Revival proved lucrative. By 1998, he was reportedly building a home valued at $727,360 on 11 acres of land purchased for $165,000. (Brown disputed the figures.) Brown was fired from the school in 2000 for failure to agree on an “acceptable means of accountability” within the Assemblies of God. (Brown was not a member of the denomination and was therefore outside its lines of accountability.) He moved to Charlotte where he founded the FIRE School of Ministry, which appears to be a North Carolina recreation of Brown’s former school in Florida. FIRE is an acronym for “Fellowship for International Revival and Evangelism.”
Brown was joined in his new venture by several other BRSM faculty members and staff: Robert Gladstone, Josh Peters, Steve Alt, Scott Volk, S.J. Hill, and Tobi A. Peters. Five other FIRE faculty and staff members are BRSM graduates. Gladstone now serves as FIRE’s director. Brown himself reconciled with the Brownsville group in 2003.
A “Flash Point”
So as we can see, there is a direct line of theological and ministerial development from the Kansas City Prophets and Lou Engle, to the Toronto Blessing, and from there to the Brownsville Revival and Michael Brown. That line has become a complete circle, with Engle and Brown uniting for a showdown in Charlotte.
To prepare for this event, Engle and Brown have called for yet another 21-day fast in the days leading up to Charlotte Pride. And when Engle calls for a fast, he clearly intends something big. InterstateQ has posted audio of Lou Engle as he talked about an earlier fateful 21-day fast at a post-9/11 gathering of The Call in Boston:
It\’s time for the church to gain air supremacy again. When 9-11 happened, we were in the midst of a 21 day fast. The planes flew out of Boston … I didn\’t know what was coming down that day, but I wrote a devotional for that day it was this: We have lost air supremacy in America. I said the prophetic movie for this year is “Pearl Harbor,” when they said, “They\’re building bombs, we\’re building refrigerators. We don\’t even know there is a war going on.” I think something far worse than Islam is coming to America in the homosexual agenda. Islam is something that comes from without. When we begin to change the very foundational laws of creation … we begin to literally destruct inwardly as a people.
And so it should come as no surprise that Lou Engle would call for a 21-day fast now for Charlotte. Engle said this about the latest fast in an interview posted on Brown’s web site:
I believe with the 21 day fast, that we\’re calling, that breakthroughs could take place, in the community, people getting saved on that day, a divine favor shift in the high places of the government could take place, because in 21 days of fasting and prayer, because as you know with Daniel, everything shifted over the king of Persia, an archangel now had influence over the king of Persia, rather than the demonic prince of Persia. Why can\’t we believe for the same kind of shifts to take place in this season of time? So I think the 25th is a flash point, at the ending of 21 days.
And what might that flash point be? We don’t know. In the interview posted on Michael Brown’s web site, Engle and Brown believe that it will be a rising up of a new movement to put a halt to LGBT advocacy efforts. But Lou Engle’s earlier description, from his talk in Boston, cannot be dismissed:
Addressing a post-9/11 TheCall gathering in Boston, whose participants phoned Engle to say they were afraid of attending, Engle said he replied, “Since when can Muslims die better than Christians? … Esther said, ‘If I die, I die.\'”
In his message to FIRE Church, Engle said Christians needed to make “peace through war,” saying, “Revelation demands participation … Sometimes we use prophecies as toys instead of bombs to make war with in the Spirit.”
Describing his prayers to root out the “homosexual Jezebel spirit” in California, Engle said he prayed everyday with a “focused, laser beam.”
“There\’s power in that kind of prayer,” Engle exclaimed. “That\’s a prayer,” he said, making machine gun sounds and adding, “Shoot everything!”
Engle said, “If I die, I die” and “Shoot everything!” Compare that with Brown’s “Life as it is is not worth living, but the cause is worth dying for.” It’s no wonder these two found each other. In fact, Engle says he contacted Brown because he received a “prophetic word.” From the Kansas City Prophets, to the Toronto Blessing, to the Brownsville Revival, there is a consistent thread that runs through them.
We don’t believe that these leaders intend for any violence to take place at the Charlotte Pride festival. But we do know that they believe they are on a prophetic mission to confront the forces of evil, and that is the message they intend to share with their mob of 1,000 highly emotional protesters.
In a movement that places such value in the Word, there is little difference between word and deed. And that’s particularly true when the word is presented as prophecy. Engle says his prophecy is that the “homosexual agenda” will reach its high-water mark in Charlotte, and that because of their efforts, “it stops here.” Those hoped-for thousand will have fasted and prayed, and they will have heard the exhortations to value death more than life. Brown and Engle are playing with a very dangerous mix of emotion and religious fervor. Under those conditions, just about anything might happen.
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