Sadness, fear fill members who left Brownsville

Worship turned bizarre, frightening

The Pensacola News Journal/November 17, 1997
By Alice Crann

Pensacola -- Hundreds of longtime Brownsville Assembly of God members have left their church since the revival began.

They don't know the numbers -- though they believe it is about 800 -- because most left quietly and kept their reasons to themselves.

But as each day passes, the exiles learn about others who have mustered the courage to leave.

They say that when Pastor John Kilpatrick first brought revival to the church, they were like sheep, attending night after night on his promise that the Holy Spirit was waiting inside -- and because of his threat that if they didn't hurry to heed the call, they would be doomed.

But everything just became more confusing, they say. The Word, the very basis of their religion, was no longer the way.

The leaders kept telling the prayer teams and church members to pay more attention to what they, the leaders, were saying than to what the Bible said. And evangelist Steve Hill's repetitious screaming of "Fire! Fire! Fire!" superseded worship as they had known it.

The dissenters say they loved and trusted Kilpatrick, but religion at Brownsville turned bizarre.

The pastor's response to their concerns was quick and harsh, they say. He told them they would "dry up and wither spiritually."

Kilpatrick had established that uncompromising tone when he set the stage for the revival. Several months before the revival began, he informed his congregation that if they did not go along with him, he would leave and find a church that would do what he wanted.

The church members decided to give Kilpatrick and his revival a chance.

Result: Hill and Kilpatrick turned the place of worship into a carnival, the dissenters say.

Questions arose, from inside and outside the church.

Result: Kilpatrick declared that demons were trying to destroy God's work.

Criticism of the revival's tactics circulated among Christian leaders around the country.

Result: Kilpatrick issued prophesies -- the Lord's words, he said -- that the critics would suffer.

Ultimately, many devout Pentecostal church-goers now want nothing more to do with the Assemblies of God denomination because it has failed to denounce the revival.

They say they are happy in their new churches, but they grieve for the loss of their beloved home church. And they are profoundly fearful of Kilpatrick's followers. They believe that if they are publicly identified as critics of the revival, they will be persecuted. They say they fear for their and their families' personal safety, their businesses and their property.

These are some of their stories:

Couple A

They are quiet and very still, so close together on the parlor sofa they leave no doubt that they are of one mind.

They are heartsick, and they speak painfully of what happened at Brownsville, like parents grieving the loss of a child.

It has taken more than two years for them to be able to talk about the revival, to review those days of bewilderment, depression, alienation and fear.

"Church members are intimidated and even excommunicated for speaking out against this move," Mrs. A says. "You don't know the beating we have taken -- we have been totally shunned.

"What hurt the most when we left was the absolute silence from people in that church who we believed were our friends.

"We were called blasphemers."

Just saying that last word hurts. She is a devout, born-again Christian, firm in her spiritual convictions.

Mrs. A says that when she saw and heard what Kilpatrick and Hill were doing and saying she urged others in the church to turn to the Bible because their actions and sermon messages did not line up with Scripture.

"They seldom preach the word of God at the revival -- it is mostly badgering and condemnation. But our friends did not want to hear this."

She says she is astounded by the number of people who are "still being deceived."

"I can't believe they say that the revival just happened -- that blows my mind. Everybody knows what happened on Father's Day. Just look at the video."

The church members know the revival was planned for months, she says.

But in the early days of the revival, Mrs. A succumbed to what she describes as Kilpatrick's "manipulation and peer pressure."

And worst of all, she confesses, she even pretended to be "slain in the spirit."

"I'm so embarrassed because I faked it. But all I could think of at the time was: 'What if I'm wrong? What if this is a move of God?'"

A week after she faked the manifestation, her husband fell to the floor during the revival and stayed down for 45 minutes.

Was he, too, pretending?

"I felt total confusion that day," Mr. A recalls. "I was overwhelmed by my own submission. Today, I know it was emotional sensationalism brought on by the power of suggestion."

He fell, he says, because he wanted to be a part of the movement -- the movement Kilpatrick was screaming in favor of from the pulpit.

"The pastor I loved and respected was doing this."

When he got up from the church floor, Mr. A says, he cried. They were tears of bewilderment and loss.

Back at home, depression replaced the tears.

About a week later, when they returned to the church, reality cured the couple's confoundment, they say.

"We were up in the balcony looking down at the revival," Mrs. A recalls. "What I saw reminded me of Moses watching over the Israelites worshiping idols, dancing hysterically and Aaron making a golden calf."

She and her husband looked at each other and knew, right then and there, that they had lost their church and their minister.

They left and never returned.

The couple says God's word is sufficient for them.

"We who left Brownsville are a blessed people," Mrs. A says. "The Lord provided each of us with discernment that enabled us to see the truth in accordance to God's word and leave the teaching of unscriptural doctrine that prevailed at Brownsville."

Mrs. B

Her eyes and face say it all.


"I have always been very proud of my church, but this move is a threat to the very fiber of the Assemblies of God," she says.

"It is not OK what they are doing at Brownsville. I do not honor it by calling it a revival."

Mrs. B, a devout Assemblies of God member all her life, says Kilpatrick's sermon messages became alarming when he saw that faithful members were beginning to object to the revival and refusing to participate.

"When about 30 people left the church, there was a lot of criticism from the pulpit. Kilpatrick said awful things such as 'the judgment of God will fall on them.'

"Sunday after Sunday, he berated those people.

"It wasn't right. What he was saying was diametrically opposed to what he used to say. I didn't see him as a man of God anymore.

"I have seen Pentecostal experiences, and I have had such experiences. But none of what was happening at Brownsville fit in."

"The word of God was no longer a part of our church," Mrs. B says. "You could not worship there unless you worshiped like them, which was very structured and restrictive: You shook, or fell on the floor, or worshiped to the music."

She and her family left Brownsville, dazed and hurt.

"My son became very skeptical of church, and, I guess, of God. I felt so awful. I felt like the Assemblies of God had failed me. I was determined not to go to another AG church again.

"I wanted to find a church we could stay with until we died."

And so she has. It is a Southern Baptist church that has welcomed her and her family and has tried hard to help them heal their spiritual wounds.

But still she aches for the church she had to leave.

Couple C

Mr. and Mrs. C were happy and content for many years at Brownsville Assembly of God. Now they are anxious and fearful.

They seem to have to pull their thoughts away from concentration on solving a baffling puzzle.

"It's hard to analyze what has happened to our church -- it is possible that Kilpatrick is not the man we thought he was," Mr. C says, looking sadly over at his wife.

Mr. C says: "I really believe that they believe what they are doing is right. But that's what deception is."

Mr. and Mrs. C were so faithful to Kilpatrick and the church that they were chosen to serve on a revival prayer team. That lasted, however, only until they saw for certain what Kilpatrick and Hill were doing to the word of God.

They were putting Scripture "on the back burner," Mrs. C says.

The prayer teams -- who gather around people at the revival who request prayer -- were specifically prohibited from praying.

"We were instructed to not pray in Jesus's name or pray for people's needs," Mr. C says. "All we were allowed to do was yell: 'Fire! Fire! More! More!'"

Mrs. C says she turned in her prayer team badge because she could not, in all honesty, do any of that. "I was in absolute turmoil."

Mr. C says that when he was serving on the prayer team he just ignored the instructions and did what he knew was right: He prayed the word of Jesus and prayed for Jesus to answer people's needs.

Looking up from his tightly folded hands, his eyes sad, he says: "I should have gotten up and left on the day they told us to not pray in Jesus's name.

"I'm so embarrassed that I didn't leave then."

Couple D

They sit across from each other, she on the sofa, he in a straight-backed chair. Every time his wife gives what he considers too much information, Mr. D stops her.

"Remember what we talked about," he says. "We must be careful."

Mr. D is afraid for his family. He fears retribution from revival followers.

Mrs. D agrees. There is too much at stake.

But then she breaks the silence by recalling her last day at Brownsville.

"I prayed to God. I said: 'God. I have waited so long to be saved. If this is not you, get me out of here.'"

Mr. D says: "We left church that day and said we would never go back."

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