How thin of a line exists between violent word and thought, and violent action and deed? That’s a question answered plenty of times before, from Christian Crusades and Inquisitions of ages past to the modern day of radical Islamic terrorism. But, it is a question yet to be answered in Charlotte, N.C., where I believe there is a potentially dangerous and violent threat ramping up its efforts to counter the annual LGBT event, Pride Charlotte.
In times of great social change, there are often two opposing extremes: One path seeks to change society through violent and militant means. The other seeks change in the spirit of non-violence, a practice of living — in thought, word and deed — modeled most famously by Jesus Christ, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In Charlotte, it seems some religious leaders have chosen the former path, preaching and teaching with violent and militant theology and rhetoric, painting the social conflict over LGBT equality as a “battle” and a “war.”
This InterstateQ.com Special Report and commentary briefly examines Dr. Michael L. Brown, his group Coalition of Conscience and its God Has a Better Way rally, as well as preacher and spiritual leader Lou Engle and his involvement in the rally.
But, first, this must be understood: I do not believe Brown or most of his followers would ever act in any overt, physically violent manner. I recognize that the First Amendment guarantees Brown’s freedom of speech and freedom of religion; he can pretty much say and preach anything he wishes. At the same time, the First Amendment allows me to express my own informed opinions, and to share those opinions with others. As such, I feel it is absolutely necessary to discuss, explore and expose the spiritual and religious, mental and verbal militancy underpinning the ministries and “outreach” efforts of Brown and the Coalition of Conscience.
History has proven that only a short, sometimes unforeseeable, gap exists between the violent rhetoric of a movement’s leaders and the violent actions of its followers. History has also shown us that those who employ verbal and religious violence as a tool of thought and instruction are inevitably the root cause of real and lasting mental and physical injury and death.
This commentary will show that Brown’s message, with its violent imagery and allegory, are a threat to LGBT people, even if he and his organization are not. As I’ve said before, and as I will say time and time again, there is a thin line between violent thoughts and words, and violent actions and deeds. I believe it is this precariously thin line Brown seems to disregard, to the potential detriment of not only the LGBT community but also to himself and his ministries.
There is no doubt Michael Brown has a powerful, spiritual testimony. He says he “found the Lord” as a “sixteen year-old, heroin-shooting, LSD-using Jewish rock drummer.” Since then, he has immersed himself in religious scholarship and ministry.
Brown is the founder of ICN Ministries, a group “devoted to taking the message of repentance and revival to Israel, the Church, and the Nations.”
Brown helped to birth the Brownsville Revival and founded the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry in Pensacola, Fla.
After what is described as a dispute over denominational accountability, Brown was dismissed as president of the Brownsville School of Ministry in December 2000. In response, he and eight others founded the FIRE School of Ministry. Currently, the school, the FIRE International ministry and FIRE Church are based in Concord, N.C., a suburb of Charlotte. “FIRE” is an acronym for “Fellowship for International Revival and Evangelism.”
Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University, and has several published works. He is also the host of a TV program and radio show and is a regular speaker at the Focus on the Family ex-gay conferences, “Love Won Out.” Brown serves on the advisory board of Engle’s “TheCall” movement.
The Coalition of Conscience
For years now, the Coalition of Conscience and other organizations have organized forums, rallies, protests and “outreach” to oppose various LGBT-related activities in Charlotte and across the Tar Heel State.
Many LGBT community members might be familiar with the Rev. Flip Benham and his street preaching group Operation Save America, but many less are familiar with Brown and his seemingly less confrontational Coalition of Conscience.
“We live to do His will, period. If His will can be accomplished most fully through our living, so be it. If His will can be accomplished most fully through our dying, so be it. That should be our normal expression of faith.”
Working with local and regional churches and ministries, as well as national organizations like Focus on the Family and Exodus International, Brown and his Coalition, church and school of ministry have become regular opponents of LGBT equality in Charlotte.
According to the organization’s website, the Coalition is a “network of church and ministry leaders, business and education leaders, and Christians from every walk of life, based in the greater Charlotte area, working together for moral and cultural change through the gospel.”
Among the largest of the Coalition’s church partners is First Baptist Church in Uptown Charlotte. The church’s pastor, Mark Harris, has attended several Coalition events and spoken with Brown at Coalition press conferences. Harris’ church, sitting in a corner of Uptown Charlotte’s Marshall Park across from the city/county government center, will serve as the meeting and starting point for the God Has a Better Way rally and march.
While his friend and colleague Benham screams condemnation through loudspeakers and waves signs, Brown works through his Coalition, with the help of well-liked area pastors, to sneak his dangerous rhetoric into the active subconscious of the greater Charlotte area’s Christian community. But, just like Benham — who works to “push the radical homosexual agenda all the way into the grave and leave no marker for it” — the result of Brown’s verbal, spiritual and theological violence will be to silence and strip all LGBT people of their legal, civil and social equality, freedom and liberty, effectively creating a theocracy governed by the principles they believe are set forward in both Old Testament and New Testament law.
Charlotte Pride 2005
Although Brown’s Coalition has held many other events, including forums and debates, the group and its leader are, perhaps, most known for their mass “outreach” at the 2005 Charlotte Pride festival, a predecessor of the Pride Charlotte events now produced each year.
During the event, more than 100 people wearing red shirts — many of whom were students at Brown’s FIRE School of Ministry — descended on the festival in Uptown Charlotte’s Marshall Park. Benham’s Operation Save America stood at the edge of the park, setting up their large scale models of the Ten Commandments, brandishing anti-gay placards and preaching through a sound system and speakers.
Brown once described the counter-demonstration as a “compassionate, one-on-one outreach” to members of Charlotte’s LGBT community. But at least one former Charlotte Pride volunteer vividly remembers the counter-demonstration differently.
“The whole experience was horrible,” she 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.”
The former volunteer believes Brown’s slick and seemingly benevolent tactics lead to long-lasting spiritual and emotional distress.
“His tactics are sinister, really they are,” the volunteer said of Brown. “They are converging en masse on these events, trying to scare people away. It is terrorism in its finest form — the sneaky, underhanded kind, not the kind that blows up buildings. This is the lasting, mental kind of terrorism.”
The volunteer says Brown knew exactly how to take advantage of the Charlotte Pride event in 2005. She fears Brown’s God Has a Better Way rally will be a larger repeat of 2005. “They still know what to do now, and they will take advantage of it again,” she said.
God Has a Better Way
On July 25, in what will likely be his largest anti-LGBT action yet, Brown plans to amass a group of 1,000 or more “worshipers, intercessors, musicians, soul-winners, walkers, talkers, and believers of every age, color, and size” who will “stand together as a prophetic witness to our society” in a worship and prayer rally and march he is calling “God Has a Better Way.” He has enlisted the help and welcomed the “inspiration” of radical preacher and spiritual leader Lou Engle, of TheCall.
In a video invitation to the event, Brown tells listeners the “hour is urgent,” that Christians must stand together to “turn back the tide of homosexual activism” and that rally participants will “surround” the Pride festival with worship, prayer and intercession.
“Nothing like this has ever been done in conjunction with a gay pride event in any city before, and those who join together on this day will be part of history in the making,” the event’s website says.
From a Q-Notes article:
“What we hope to accomplish is to send another message to the city and to the lesbian and gay community, in conjunction with the gay pride event, that is really a message of God’s love and God’s goodness,” Brown told Q-Notes.
Brown said his group doesn’t plan on doing any public preaching, as has been the case with past anti-gay protests of Pride Charlotte and other LGBT events.
“We plan to be engaging primarily in worship and prayer,” he said. “We do not plan on being disruptive of the event itself. The goal is to send a message that God does have a better way and to surround the event with an atmosphere of worship and God’s presence.”
Although the group doesn’t plan on any “public preaching,” they will have outreach and intercession teams. If past Coalition events, such as the “outreach” at the 2005 Charlotte Pride festival, are to be of any indication of events to come, it won’t be a surprise to see rally participants attempt to speak with, harass or intimidate Pride Charlotte festival-goers.
Who is Lou Engle?
Lou Engle is a founder of the International House of Prayer movement and leads TheCall, a national prayer movement.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an internationally renowned group tracking and recording activities of hate groups across the nation, Engle has been connected to the Joel’s Army movement, a group the Center cites as potentially violent.
“Despite their overt militancy, there’s no evidence Joel’s Army followers have committed any acts of violence,” the Center’s Casey Sanchez writes in the group’s quarterly journal Intelligence Report. “But critics warn that actual bloodletting may only be a matter of time for a movement that casts itself as God’s avenging army.”
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.”
How is Engle involved with God Has a Better Way?
Invited to a special speaking engagement at Brown’s FIRE Church on July 5, Engle was present to pray with and prepare church members for their activities at the God Has a Better Way rally. As a Christian, I find Engle’s violent rhetoric nothing less than shocking.
In a prayer before beginning his message, Engle asked God to “forgive us for slumbering in the days of great battle.”
“There’s power in that kind of prayer,” Engle exclaimed. “That’s a prayer,” he said, making machine gun sounds and adding, “Shoot everything!”
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, lazer 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!”
Relating his message to a group of teenagers before the election, Engle said he told them they were like the Royal Air Force.
“I told those kids … you are the R.A.F., the Royal Air Force,” he said. “[You are] the guys who won the battle of the heavens over England when Germany would have swept that land if they hadn’t won the skies back … Prayer must be raised up with that kind of mentality.”
Addressing the LGBT community, Engle compared the equality movement to a giant in need of defeat.
“Giants were meant to fall, not to taunt,” he said. “This homosexual agenda has been taunting the church and the church has been silent hiding caves until a Jonathan with an armor bearer comes and says were gonna go up the hill. Once a person moves from the offensive to the defensive, then God begins to back them.”
Engle also said the LGBT community’s fight for civil and social equality was a bigger threat than Islamic terrorism:
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 distruct inwardly as a people.
In his closing, Engle asked, “Are there any warriors in Charlotte who want to go to battle?” He prayed:
I know the battle. If Charlotte is going to win this battle, you’re not going to win it with an ideological struggle. The church has got to get on a hill above the hill. Holy Spirit, come into this place and cause men to come out of fighting small battles. When they were meant to go to war, they attack themselves when they live in a time of peace … Men it is time to go to war!
Engle’s closing (approximately 5 minutes) can be listened to below, or downloaded here:
Engle believes that he and his prayer movement will “become the welcoming party for the second coming of Jesus” and that they are engaged in a battle with “unseen beings,” “demons” and “evil spirits” in an “unseen realm full of unseen beings.”
Despite the extremist language, Engle, like Brown, claims his fight isn’t physical and it isn’t against people. In a July 16 interview with Brown’s Voice of Revolution blog, Engle says:
Jesus Himself used .. the rhetoric of violence. He said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” He’s not talking about human weapons, but a spiritual intensity and violence against ideologies and unseen forces and powers of darkness. Jesus said, “if I by the finger of God drive out demons, the Kingdom of God has come upon you,” and he talks about attacking the spiritual strongman, which is a spirit being, attacking and overcoming them, and taking the spoil. That means that you break through the ideology, and the demonic spirit that rules that ideology, you actually see people liberated out of that ideology, homosexuals can come to Christ, be freed from their issues, be liberated, and it is a spiritual battle for the souls of the people. But never have we ever said “take up [physical] violence” and used rhetoric that Jesus uses, “I’ve not come to bring peace but a sword”.
It isn’t clear what level of involvement Engle will continue to have with the God Has a Better Way rally or if he will be present for it on July 25, but, at least in my mind, there is no doubt Engle’s violent and militant version of Christianity is serving as an inspiration to those planning to counter the Pride Charlotte festival.
Brown’s militant theology
Like Engle, Brown is a master of employing what strikes me as often violent and militant rhetoric, words he uses to paint pictures of great “spiritual battles,” especially as it concerns LGBT people.
After being fired as director of the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry, Brown wrote he was founding the new FIRE School of Ministry and vowed to “continue to pursue the vision that has burned in my heart for many years: to raise up a holy army of uncompromising, Spirit-filled radicals who will shake an entire generation with the gospel of Jesus-by life or by death” (emphasis added).
In response to Brown’s statement following his firing, the Brownsville School board of directors described as a “battle cry” Brown’s proposal to start a new school of ministry.
Brown’s militancy can be traced back as far as his involvement with the Brownsville Revival in Florida. In the years since, he has become more careful with what he says and where he says it. But Brown’s appeals to violence and militant extremism are still common occurrences.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Casey Sanchez again reports in a Winter 2007 article entitled “Straight Like Me”:
One of the featured speakers [at the Exodus International conference] was Michael L. Brown, author of “Revolution: The Call to Holy War” and a millennial Jew. On Exodus’ opening day, Brown made certain that his ex-gay audience understood that their lives were part of a religious and political battle. “You folks here, so many of you that have come out of homosexuality or are battling to come out, listen, you are right in the middle of the battle because if you exist, then this whole gay civil rights thing goes out the door,” Brown said to applause. “That is why there is a pitched attack from hell.” Five minutes later, Brown quoted from the Black Panthers and told the members of his audience that they need to develop a revolutionary mentality, including the maxim, ‘life as it is is not worth living, but the cause is worth dying for.”
In his book, “Revolution,” published in 2000, Brown writes:
“Yes, the battle lines have been drawn, the enemy is taking ground, and many of us hardly realize that the war is on.”
“Just think: We live in a time of moral madness and social uncertainty, a time when talk of a moral revolution should be everywhere. Instead, the best-selling ‘revolutionary’ books are books about new diets! What does this say for us as a people? When we need to be talking about the call to die for the gospel, we are talking instead about the call to diet for good looks. What a sad indictment!”
“We live to do His will, period. If His will can be accomplished most fully through our living, so be it. If His will can be accomplished most fully through our dying, so be it. That should be our normal expression of faith.”
In the “Jesus Manifesto,” a writing based on excerpts and adaptations from his book, Brown explains his new revolution:
But this revolution will be different than other revolutions – including the revolution that birthed our nation more than 200 years ago. This revolution will not be fought with earthly weapons of destruction – not with guns and knives and bullets and bombs. It will not be fought with hatred, anger, intimidation, or brute force. No. It will be fought with the message of the gospel, with the love of God, with the power of the Spirit, with radical holiness, with sacrifice, compassion, and courage. It will be a Jesus revolution, an intense clash between two spiritual kingdoms, a heavenly attack on the enemy’s strongholds, a no compromise stand for morality and truth. And it will impact society in a lasting way. It must!
Despite these claims of non-violence, Brown goes on to use the usual, militant and violent rhetoric we’ve come to expect from him, addressing readers and followers as “fellow-soldiers” and calling them to a life of martyrdom:
“Revolution means upheaval. Revolution means the overthrowing of the status quo. We dare not downplay the significance of the word. Revolution is a matter of life and death, and our revolution flows from the blood of the Savior to the blood of the martyr. We put down our sword and take up our cross, overcoming Satan by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of our testimony, and by not loving our lives so much as to shrink from death (Rev. 12:11).”
“Our revolution is fueled by the power of the gospel, and the gospel does violence to the forces of hell. We must recover the fullness of the gospel of Jesus! It is nothing less than a direct assault on the kingdom of Satan, a frontal attack on hostile, spiritual powers, a mortal confrontation of light against darkness. It brings about the ultimate counterculture conflict.”
“We’re in a war, and war means conflict, hardship, and sacrifice. As Leonard Ravenhill wrote, ‘When a nation calls its prime men to battle, homes are broken, weeping sweethearts say their good-byes, businesses are closed, college careers are wrecked, factories are refitted for wartime production, rationing and discomforts are accepted — all for war. Can we do less for the greatest fight that this world has ever known outside of the cross — this end-time siege on sanity, morality, and spirituality?'”
“Our society is deteriorating all around us and even non-believers sense that something is wrong. Why? It is because we, the people of God, the army of the Lord Jesus, the messengers of liberation, the ambassadors of reconciliation, have been sidetracked by the love of this world and distracted by the cares of this age.”
Brown claims his book, “Revolution,” and the “Jesus Manifesto” are the “widely used as foundational documents for this new Jesus Revolution.”
Through his book and other writings, Brown has inspired others to take up this “battle” and willingly lay down their lives for it. From my Jan. 26, 2008 Q-Notes “Editor’s Note” column:
A quick online scan of reader reviews shows that Brown’s call for death strikes a chord with some fanatics. One reader remarked, “As a result of reading this book, I have become more impassioned than ever to be a part of the army of revolutionaries that are willing to say, ‘By life or by death, we will serve the Lord!’”
Another reviewer echoes the sentiment, “[This book] is about living and joining a cause so worthwhile that you would willingly lay down your life for it. As a Christian, our lives do not belong to us anyway. They belong to God.”
In letters to Q-Notes newspaper, responding to the January 2008 “Editor’s Note” column exploring his militancy, Brown insists his movement is one of peace, despite the use of his extreme and violent rhetoric. In one correspondence, Brown explains his use of the term “holy war”:
I abhor religious violence and would personally defend the GLBT community against it. Second, I have never called for a ‘holy war against homosexuals’ or urged people to fight them to the death. God forbid! Third, my book, Revolution: The Call to Holy War, which came out in 2000 and is over 300 pages, barely mentions homosexuality. Its whole purpose was to call Christians to follow Jesus’ non-violent example, putting down the swords of violence, anger and hatred and giving themselves to change the world. It called for a “holy war” of love, compassion, and truth. However, since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the radical Islamic use of the term “holy war,” I have not used this term, speaking instead of the need for a non-violent, compassionate, “Jesus revolution.”
Is it not logical to assume a person holding a doctorate degree in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University’s Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, a person who has spent decades preaching and studying religion, might understand the intricacies and possible pitfalls of using the term “holy war,” even as early as 2000?
Perhaps it is just as logical to deduce that Brown stopped using the term “holy war” not because of its sudden misuse by Islamic extremists (the concept of “holy war,” or “jihad,” had been established in Muslim faith as early as the 7th century), but rather because, after Sept. 11, 2001, most Americans became aware of the depth of the concept’s dark and violent extent?
Other examples of Brown’s violent theology and verbal and militant extremism
Describing an inspirational video entitled “Called to Die” and for sale on Brown’s ICN Ministries website, Brown writes (emphasis added):
This Pastors Conference teaching at the Brownsville Revival concluded with hundreds of pastors and leaders flocking to the altars and crying out to God with renewed vigor.
Dr. Brown goes through the entire New Testament highlighting the Lord’s call to lay down our lives to follow Him. The gospel message was unstoppable in the first and second century as Christians would stop at nothing to be a witness.
This message will bring a new perspective to following Jesus. So much of today’s so called wisdom is downright cowardice. The Lord is raising up an army of radical laborers. No matter the cost, no matter the consequences, let us be used of God in the last days.
The Master is Calling! Will you answer?
In his 2002 book, “Revolution in the Church: Challenging the Religious System with a Call for Radical Change,” Brown compares the church to the army:
What about the Army? What if the local officers and enlisted members met together once or twice a week and discussed military strategy, displayed the latest weaponry, watched inspirational war films and sang favorite battle songs?
And what if attending those meetings became known as “going to the Army”? What kind of Army would we have? How many battles would we win (if we ever made it to battle at all)?
The problem, of course, is the concept of “going to the Army” instead of “being the Army.” What a life-and-death difference lies between the two!
And what if the Army’s meeting place also became known as “the Army”? Confusion would reign, resulting in misguided and misplaced military efforts, since the focus would be on the meeting (not the results of the meeting) and the meeting place (as if a nice building could defeat an enemy).
From an interview with Brown in Charisma Magazine (Oct. 31, 2000):
“There’s a generation out there that is ready to be radical, ready to be crazy, ready to do anything, ready to break the rules,” he says. “And if we can take that zeal and channel it into holiness and passion and love for Jesus, then we can change society.”
In an Oct. 4, 2006 article entitled “It’s time to wake up,” Brown writes (emphasis added):
“On Friday night, September 22, the eve of the Feast of Trumpets, I spoke at a meeting in Moravian Falls, North Carolina, urging those in attendance to hear the trumpet call, to wake up to reality, to recognize that we are in a life and death struggle, to understand that we cannot reduce a concept like “revolution” to a popular religious cliche. We really are in a war!“
As in his several writings and letters regarding the general tones of his ministries, Brown now claims his God Has a Better Way rally will be non-violent in its tenor and style.
“Everything we do will be law-abiding, safe, and honoring to the Lord in spirit and in word,” the event website says.
Terms of involvement, to be completed by rally participants, are also available on the group’s website:
As a representative of the Lord Jesus and His Church at God Has a Better Way on July 25th, 2009, I make this commitment before God:
1) I will not engage in hate speech, name-calling, or angry rhetoric
2) I will speak the truth in love
3) I will seek to befriend those who oppose me
4) I will seek to overcome bad attitudes with good attitudes
5) I will seek to be a living example of Jesus
6) I will not compromise biblical standards or convictions
7) I will not violate the law
Despite these assurances, Brown has already broken compliance with a true spirit of non-violence.
The concept of non-violence as social change was made most famous by the work of Jesus Christ, and in the 20th century by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“My father pointed out that nonviolence means more than the absence of physical violence,” says Dexter Scott King, Dr. King’s son and chairman of the King Center in Atlanta. “It is a way of life reflected in thought and deed, a method of conducting yourself in all of your affairs.”
The work of Brown, Engle, the Coalition of Conscience and other groups with which these men associate bear no resemblance to the type of non-violent work modeled by Gandhi and King. Brown’s and Engle’s militant and violent language flies in the face of non-violence of thought, word and deed.
An appropriate question to ask: If one exhibits violence in thought and in word, what is it that keeps them from exhibiting the same violence in physical deed? In other words, does it not logically follow that physical actions might match what one is actively feeling, thinking and saying? Or, is it not possible a follower, misunderstanding the “allegory,” might think his physical actions should match the actively violent words and prayers of his movement’s leader?
The power to incite
Violent or militant religious rhetoric and thought is no laughing matter. Such language and extremism has the power to incite others to take up the allegorical pictures of violence and war speakers and leaders use as “teachable” principles.
In his book, “Brother Against Brother,” Dr. Ehud Sprinzak defines “verbal violence” as “the use of extreme language against an individual or group that either implies a direct threat that physical force will be used against them or is seen as an indirect call for others to use it. Verbal violence is often a substitute for real violence, for it helps excited leaders to vent their frustration in less than a violent manner.”
Sprinzak adds, “The problem of verbal violence is that it may incite followers who are incapable of distinguishing between real and verbal violence to engage in actual violence.”
‘The end justifies the means’
After reading Brown’s book, “Revolution: The Call to Holy War,” a Christian asks a Southern Pines, N.C., ministry leader to respond with his thoughts. Phil Enlow of Midnight Cry Ministries gives a critical review of the book. But it is the Christian individual who first asks of Enlow’s review providing the most common-sense insight:
“I felt that the book had militant overtones but not in a good way, as if the end justified the means,” the Christian says. “It put me in mind of the Crusades, particularly the Children’s Crusade which was supposedly an army for the Lord. To me the book portrayed a Pied Piper luring youngsters into his fantasy. Unfortunately many gullible & innocent people fall for this kind of thing. Wrap something with the Name of Christ & people jump on the bandwagon because there is no discernment.”
Further, Sprinzak defines the “ideology of violence,” as the “presence of a systematic body of political thinking that sees violence as a desired part of the group’s behavior, admits its necessity, and glorifies it.”
He adds, “An ideology of violence facilitates the path to actual violence by removing the sociopsychological barriers against the use of violence present in most societies.”
This “ideology of violence” mustn’t be limited to physical forms. Verbal violence can be a systematically ingrained part of a movement. It is only a matter of time before a follower becomes “incapable of distinguishing” between the allegorical verbal violence and the use of real, physical violence.
Jonathan Rick of the Liberal Institute writes that critics of hate-inspired speech say the language “is a form of social power, by which the historically dominant group … institutionally stigmatizes and harasses the Other. In this way, mere epithets can inflict acute anguish, so that certain words become inherently abusive, intimidating and persecutory.”
In his book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” historian Daniel Goldhagen explains that “verbal violence” should be viewed “as an assault in its own right, having been intended to produce profound damage — emotional, psychological, and social — to [one’s] dignity and honor.”
Consider it no coincidence the rate of physical violence targeted toward minorities often correlates with a rise in violent rhetoric.
Discussing an April 2006 report on the rise of anti-Latino violence, Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham H. Foxman said there is “a direct connection between the national policy debate and the atmosphere surrounding the daily lives of immigrants.”
Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report and director of the Center’s Intelligence Project, said the debate over immigration “has been critical to the growth of the hate movement.”
Two days before the Anti-Defamation League’s report was released, two white teenagers brutally beat and sodomized a Texas Latino teen.
“We are shocked at the brutality of this attack, but we are not surprised that hatred could lead to such unbridled violence,” Anti-Defamation League Southwest regional director Martin Cominsky stated after the attack. “Hatred may begin with words, but unchecked, it can lead to attacks like this one.”
‘As a moral matter it is clear’
In an interview with InterstateQ.com, Potok said it was clear that hate speech often leads to many incidents of hate violence, and that the speech itself often serves as the impetus for such crimes.
“Typically, hate criminals are young men who think they are carrying out the wishes of their community,” Potok said. “It is a bit of a fallacy that hate criminals are generally the lowest of the low, street thugs who will beat up anything they see. Very often these people are high school football stars or honor roll students who feel they are carrying out the wishes of their community even if those wishes haven’t been explicitly stated. For these people, when a politician or a pundit or a preacher stands up and makes defamatory statements about a whole group of people, these young men often will take that as a kind of permission to act out in criminal violence.”
Those who employ dangerously violent rhetoric regarding large groups of people must take responsibility for their words, Potok said.
“When you characterize an entire group of people as the enemy, whether or not you mean that in terms of physical violence, you should not be surprised when impressionable young people see that as a call to violence,” he said. “These people all say they don’t intend to harm anyone else, but the reality is this kind of speech opens the door to criminal violence. It is taken as a kind of permission by hate criminals.
“You can’t simply defame huge groups of people, often with completely false propaganda, and sit back and act like an innocent when they are attacked. The reality is that they have had a hand in this. I’m not suggesting that they be prosecuted, but as a moral matter it is clear.”
This report began with a promise to “discuss, explore and expose the spiritual and religious, mental and verbal violence … of Brown and the Coalition of Conscience” — through lengthy excerpts and examples of Brown’s writings and statements, it has done just that.
Michael Brown claims his movement is non-violent, yet out of the other side of his mouth spews verbally violent extremism and militancy. One cannot be non-violent when one is teaching, praying, speaking and leading from a violent, war-like and battle-ready theological perspective.
Michael Brown once told me that if anyone were guilty of inspiring violence that it would be me, for my warnings of his extremism.
“Matt’s article actually could be the cause of violent confrontations, since if the GLBT community actually thinks that people are trying to kill them (or, willing to fight them to the death), as the editorial tragically alleges, an unstable person might decide to be the first to attack,” he wrote in response to my January 2008 Q-Notes editorial.
This time, Brown’s twisted logic won’t be enough to save him from his own words. The disturbed and maniacal history of his verbally violent, militant and extremist rhetoric serves as its own ironclad indictment. He can no longer hide or run from this history, and neither can he sweep it under the rug.
To me, the facts are clear, and it is time Brown faces them: His tragically chosen words and rhetoric are no different than the violent theologies and rhetoric at the root cause of most of humanity’s history of religious war and violence, and will inevitably open the door to physical violence against the LGBT community. It is high time Brown owns up to his misuse of religion in the name of violence.
As I’m sent more information following this report, I’ll post it here. Links to other stories are provided for information only; they weren’t written by me and they’ll have to be evaluated on their own merits.
- Patricia Nell Warren wrote a piece on July 16 entitled, “First the Abortionists, Then the ‘Homosexuals': TheCall Declares War,” at Bilerico. It includes a message from Engle’s TheCall regarding the God Has a Better Way Rally in Charlotte on July 25. (July 17, 9:40 a.m.)
- Jim Burroway at BoxTurtleBulletin.com posts another excellent take on Michael Brown, Lou Engle, TheCall and more: www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2009/07/20/13328 (July 20, 11:45 a.m.)
- Pam Spaulding’s post at PHB (July 20, 11:45 a.m.)
- My post at Bilerico.com: “Are there any warriors in Charlotte?” (July 20, 11:45 a.m.)
- Dr. Michael Brown addresses his use of violent rhetoric. I’ll be trying to get a response to his piece from one of my pastors. (July 20, 11:45 a.m.)
Live radio appearance — Listen Online
(Updated, July 24, 12:20 p.m.)
On Thursday, July 23, I appeared on Dr. Michael Brown’s “Line of Fire” radio show.
If you missed the live broadcast, I’ve got audio for you: