Writer Matt Comer performed an excellent and difficult task for LGBT North Carolinians last week when he exposed a pattern of hate and incitement to violence by antigay activist Michael Brown.
Brown, who is a rising star on the ex-gay and antigay conference circuit, has organized a Christianist rally of 1,000 people to surround gay North Carolinians during pride celebrations this weekend.
Please listen to Comer’s appearance online July 23 on Michael Brown’s Christian radio talk show, appropriately titled “Line of Fire.” [Audio link updated July 24.]
Comer wrote last week:
…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’ 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’ 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’ 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.
Brown partners with the Rev. Flip Benham, who vows to “push the radical homosexual agenda all the way into the grave and leave no marker for it.” In 2005, Brown gathered 100 red-shirted Christianists, several of whom proceeded to harass attendees — both gay and straight — at a pride festival. According to Comer:
…More than 100 people wearing red shirts ‚Äî many of whom were students at Brown’ FIRE School of Ministry ‚Äî descended on the festival in Uptown Charlotte’ Marshall Park. Benham’ 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’ 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’ 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’ slick and seemingly benevolent tactics lead to long-lasting spiritual and emotional distress.
Brown has since launched an online initiative titled “God Has A Better Way,” in which Brown claims that his agenda is “Spirit-birthed” — a statement of sheer, unapologetic blasphemy.
Brown also partners with Lou Engle, an influential participant in Joel’s Army, a Christianist movement that the Southern Poverty Law Center says is potentially violent:
“Despite their overt militancy, there’ no evidence Joel’ Army followers have committed any acts of violence,” the Center’ Casey Sanchez writes in the group’ 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’ avenging army.”
Comer cites an example of Engle’s incendiary rhetoric:
“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’ an Elijah generation that’ 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.”
Engle also said the LGBT community’ fight for equality was a bigger threat than Islamic terrorism. Engle asked, “Are there any warriors in Charlotte who want to go to battle?”
Brown invited Engle to help lead events for God Has A Better Way — because Brown’s own rhetoric is similar. Comer writes:
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).
The SPLC wrote in 2007 of Brown’s appearance at an Exodus International conference:
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 2000, Brown appealed to his supporters to martyr themselves in a war against gay Americans:
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.”
Comer’s article documents many more examples of Brown’s appeals to violent antigay impulses and his cozy relationship with Exodus, Focus on the Family, and other Christianist organizations.
Brown asks supporters to make a commitment to non-violence:
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, as Comer notes in detail, Brown has already broken compliance with a true spirit of non-violence.