How thin of a line exists between violent word and thought, and violent action and deed?
That is the question I asked in my July 17 InterstateQ.com Special Report and commentary, "On the edge: Religious militancy in the Queen City." Years of interaction with North Carolina-based anti-LGBT religious organizations, months of conversation with Dr. Michael Brown, his church and organization, and more than a week spent writing culminated in an in-depth, 6,300-word exploration of verbal and theological violence, militancy and extremism directed toward the LGBT community.
A day prior to my report's publication, Bilerico published Patricia Nell Warren's piece on Lou Engle and a worship and prayer rally to take place on July 25 in Charlotte, N.C. Combined, her post and my report only scratch the surface of what I believe is a deeply entrenched ideology of violence underpinning the ministries of Charlotte's anti-LGBT religious movement.
As I say in my report, I don't believe Brown, Engle, the groups they lead or those with which they associate would participate in any direct, physical violence against LGBT people. But their words are dangerous and open the door to real threats of physical violence.
"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," I write in the report. "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."
Michael Brown has built his career around theological study and ministry. Currently, he leads the Coalition of Conscience, 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." His FIRE School of Ministry, FIRE Church and FIRE International ministry are based in Concord, N.C., a Charlotte suburb.
Lou Engle, likely already known to many readers here but introduced so well by Patricia last week, is the leader of TheCall and the International House of Prayer, national prayer movements. He has been connected to Joel's Army, a militant religious movement the Southern Poverty Law Center says is potentially violent. Brown serves on TheCall's advisory board. As noted by Patricia and in-depth in my report, Engle has been asked to help lead the growing extremist movement against LGBT equality in Charlotte.
What worries me so much is not the "God Has a Better Way" worship and prayer rally designed as a counter-demonstration against Charlotte's LGBT Pride festival this week, but rather the extremist and militant language and rhetoric Brown and Engle use to promote their movement.
Here are just a handful of examples documented in the report:
Michael Brown "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."
"Revelation demands participation ... Sometimes we use prophecies as toys instead of bombs to make war with in the Spirit."
"There's power in that kind of prayer," Engle exclaimed. "That's a prayer," he said, making machine gun sounds and adding, "Shoot everything!"
"Are there any warriors in Charlotte who want to go to battle?"
"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!"
The Southern Poverty Law Center's Mark Potok, editor of the group's quarterly news-magazine, Intelligence Report, warns that painting an entire group of people as "the enemy" can lead to severe, life threatening circumstances.
"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," Potok told me. "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."
Brown and Engle claim their movement is non-violent. They say their fight is with spiritual powers, not people. Regardless, the allegory and verbal instruction they use is in direct contradiction to the philosophy of non-violence and the "non-violent," "Jesus revolution" movement they lead.
"One cannot be non-violent when one is teaching, praying, speaking and leading from a violent, war-like and battle-ready theological perspective," I write in the report.
There are people who believe they are engaged in a "war," to see that LGBT people do not gain civil or social equality. Unfortunately, there are also people who are unable to distinguish between verbal rhetoric and allegory, and real physical calls to violence.
I encourage you to read the InterstateQ.com report.
This isn't an issue for only Charlotte or North Carolina. Brown and Engle are engaged in a national movement. You might not be seeing this movement in your city or town yet, but you will. Please take the time to read the report. Pass it along to your friends. Blog about it; twitter it; Facebook it.
Violence and religion never mix well. And it is time religious leaders like Brown and Engle are called on their offensive and outrageous use of religion in the name of violence.