THE GREEN RIVER OF BROWNSVILLE
LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND NOT-SO FAMOUS

A lot of things get counted at the Brownsville Assembly of God. It is the site of some fantastic claims and what has been called “the largest local church revival in the history of America.”

Since the inception of the so-called “Pensacola Outpouring” on Father’s Day 1995, grandiose claims have been made about the revival services hosted four nights a week, 48 weeks a year for the past three years. More than 2.5 million people reportedly have attended these services. The number of “decisions for Christ” is claimed to top 133,000.

All sorts of figures abound as a result of this purported “last days” revival and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But these figures are quite selective and ambiguous. For example, the attendance total and number of decisions, in many cases, reflect the same person making repeated visits and decisions.

What is more disturbing is what is not being reported. Throughout the revival’s public relations campaign, little, if any, coverage has been devoted to the large amount of cash being funneled into the church’s coffers and into the key leaders’ independent ministries through donations and by way of the sale of videotapes, literature and revival paraphernalia. Once Pensacola’s local newspaper got involved, the public learned how lucrative the revival business is.

Beginning in the fall 1997, following several months of exceptional investigative work, the Pensacola News Journal released a series of award-winning articles challenging the questionable practices of the leadership of the Brownsville Assembly of God church. The paper revealed a carefully planned and orchestrated revival by the church’s leadership — the antithesis of the claimed spontaneous move of God — and has shown how some claims have been fabricated to enhance the revival’s reputation.

The Brownsville leadership’s financial benefits have become a focal point for the newspaper’s ongoing reports. PFO has long contended that the revival was more commodities and merchandising than biblical sanctification. (See “The Murky River of Brownsville,” The Quarterly Journal, April-June 1997.) The News Journal information only sustained in greater detail what PFO had already discerned.

For 1997, the newspaper estimated “the total revival revenue was between $4.3 million and $5.4 million for that one year.” These figures were based upon on-site donations and contributions, sales of books, tapes and other literature, and funds from two ministers’ conferences sponsored by the revival.

Offerings from the Friday night revival services are given directly to evangelist Stephen Hill. According to tax records secured by the newspaper, the Friday weekly evening offering averaged in excess of $20,000, and in 1996 (the first full year of the revival) these donations gave Hill’s ministry, “Together in the Harvest,” nearly $1 million. Some pastors do not receive $20,000 a year, let alone $20,000 a week! A representative for the church estimated that the average collection during each of the week’s other three services is $12,500 nightly.

Indeed, revival has been very, very profitable for the men overseeing this purported move of the Holy Spirit. Three of the revival’s principal leaders have all acquired large tracts of land by way of their independent ministries and have built or are currently building opulent homes.

The newspaper disclosed that “Feast of Fire,” the ministry of church pastor John Kilpatrick, bought “16 acres in Seminole, Ala., and constructed a combination bus barn, guest house and office.” The barn was built to accommodate the $310,000 deluxe motor coach (literally an apartment on wheels) to chauffeur the pastor on his revival-related travels. Also on the property, Kilpatrick has built a $340,000 luxury home. All of this comes despite the pastor’s hollow declaration that: “I have always strived to set an example by not living above the means of my people.” Kilpatrick’s salary from his ministry in 1996 was $100,000 (for which the newspaper claimed he worked 20 hours a week) and he received a $73,600 annual salary from the church.

Evangelist Hill’s ministry has also flourished since the revival’s inception. “Together in the Harvest” reported an increase in its land assets from no property in 1994 to over a half million dollars’ worth two years later. In 1996, it bought 40 acres of land in Lillian, Ala., and, according to the newspaper’s account, has subsequently paid to “refurbish a house for Hill and his family, remodel an existing barn into living quarters and build a distribution center, duplex house and an office building” on the property just across the Florida state line. The cost of the Alabama parcel was listed at $887,931.

While Hill’s ministry did use nearly 10 percent of its 1996 income for “specific assistance to individuals,” a sizable percentage went to those directly connected with the revival or with Hill, including Kilpatrick, theologian Michael Brown, singer Charity James and others.

Hill has also told revival attendees about an orphanage in rural Argentina that “Together in the Harvest” has supported. Following assistance from the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, the Pensacola newspaper located the orphanage. The paper stated, “A spokesperson at the orphanage said Hill had been in a mission group that helped build the orphanage in the 1980s. But she also said the orphanage had not heard from Hill for about 10 years, and she asked the News Journal for Hill’s address so the director could write Hill and ask for a donation.”

Michael Brown, theologian for the revival and president of the Brownsville Revival School Ministry, has followed the lead of Kilpatrick and Hill and is also moving west. Brown’s organization, “ICN Ministries Inc.,” recently purchased an 11-acre tract in Alabama. The paper reported that “Brown and his wife are building a house, which their building permit estimates at $727,360 construction cost, on a portion of the land that his ministry ICN purchased.” Brown was quick to point out that “ICN is not paying for construction of any house anywhere,” the newspaper said. Brown, in a letter to the editor, challenged the paper’s report and said that “My wife and I are not building a home valued at $727,000. ... Actually, the official appraisal sets the value of the house and its three surrounding acres of property at less than $425,000, equal to the value of our home in Pace [Fla.].”

Brown’s home in Pace was purchased in 1996 for $419,000 and is located at a gated subdivision on a golf course. Reporters from the newspaper told PFO that they stand by their original figures for Brown’s new home.

Despite the News Journal’s exposure of the dramatic upsurge of the revival leadership’s lifestyles, a lack of financial accountability remains. After three full years, the revival leaders still have not gained certification from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), although two of the three, Kilpatrick and Hill, have formally applied, Brown has not.

The vigorous pleas for donations continue unabated. “Let us give joyfully, for the need is so great” is an anthem heard as revival leaders sometimes spend as much as 20 minutes of the services asking for donations. The appeal for funds has also gone beyond the church walls. Hill’s “Together in the Harvest” ministry made a recent solicitation by way of a mass mailing from names acquired at the revival. The newspaper said that “Hill tells his letter recipients that Jesus has informed him that He is coming back in the near future, and He won’t tolerate sinners.”

Hill even pretends to have God speaking: “Let them know My warm season of grace and mercy will soon turn to a chilling winter of judgment and wrath. ... The warm days of My wooing will be exchanged for the fiery days of My vengeance,” he wrote in his funds appeal letter. To encourage the need for donations and their urgency, his accompanying newsletter said that the cost of saving souls was mounting. Evidently, so is property and its upkeep in Alabama.

As the fiscal fortunes realized in the past few months set the future standard for these men and their ministries, more time and energy will be devoted to the raising of funds. They will soon find, if they have not done so already, the ministry, its needs, and their lifestyle will take on an existence of its own. Expenses will be the machine that relentlessly drives them. During dialogue about the large sums of money being invested into the personal fortunes of these men, one Brownsville staff member recently asked PFO director G. Richard Fisher, “Does that offend you?” You bet it does, and it does because of the following.

The mounting greed has perhaps caused these men to be blinded to what they are doing to people — and if it is not their desire for fortune, then it may well be born out of an appetite for fame and power. Reports are now being heard that people have come to the revival services with dead babies — hoping and praying for the resurrection of the deceased children. The men responsible for the revival have long contended that the day is coming when raisings from the dead will be commonplace within the Church. And they have even claimed reports of resurrections. How appropriate Peter’s words apply here: “In their greed these [false] teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up” (2 Peter 2:3).

Peter also advised that elders not be in ministry for gain (1 Peter 5:2-3). Brownsville leaders are setting their faithful, gullible and desperate followers up for even bigger disappointments and horrendous grief.

Perhaps the money lust has inured the Brownsville leaders to the bizarre and pathetic. In July, they were featuring David Hogan, who claimed 300 raisings from the dead in Mexico. Of course, no evidence was offered and details were sketchy. An e-mail message to Brownsville from PFO produced no documentation, just a fax number for David Hogan. Brownsville leaders did not seem to want to stand by what goes out from their pulpit. They would offer no documentation or names and places for Hogan’s claims.

Two requests were sent to Hogan’s fax number asking for his credentials for ministry and the names and locations for the raisings. PFO’s request for the specifics have also gone unanswered by Hogan or his ministry.

Even more regrettable is how all of this has taken the revival even further away from the moorings of Scripture. The apostle Paul, in establishing the qualifications for Church elders and overseers, states that he should not be “a lover of money” and “not pursuing dishonest gain” (1 Timothy 3:3, 8). Temperance must be held by the Church leader in many areas of life, including his finances and material possessions. The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible notes: “The overseer must be respected for his behavior. He must open his life to others and be able to communicate God’s truth” (pg. 1105). No doubt the communication spoke of by the Commentary addresses not only oral expressions, but also a lifestyle which testifies to the Gospel.

Paul further writes to Timothy that an elder “must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1 Timothy 3:7). According to statements from the Pensacola News Journal’s writers to PFO, the reputation of the Brownsville leadership regretfully lacks the good standing in the community that Paul insisted on. They are viewed as money changers in the temple.

The revival leaders charged the newspaper’s reports contain “factual errors and distortions.” In spite of their reaction (laced with measures of intimidation), the News Journal cannot be so easily dismissed. A good degree of responsibility and a desire for change must be demonstrated by the Brownsville leaders. Certainly they cannot give an unequivocal “silver and gold have I none.”

If there is not serious change and repentance, the revival and its leadership will drift into even greater perversion. They may have fat bank accounts and fat wallets but in the end that does not impress God. The leadership in Brownsville has forgotten the words of the Savior: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth. ... but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20). When a river turns green, it means it’s polluted and in the end the green river of Brownsville may well be its downfall. Christ came to make us right, not rich.

—MKG

 

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