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Brownsville Revival Report

by the
Pensacola News Journal (1 of 4)

(Published 16th Nov 1997)

Leaders shield finances, make many false claims

By J. Lowe Davis
Assistant managing editor

PENSACOLA - The numbers are amazing: Millions of visitors, millions of dollars, thousands of souls. The claims are heart-warming: crime curtailed, addiction overcome, sickness healed. The leaders are captivating: An ex-convict-junkie converted to evangelism; a visionary and prophet dedicated to revival.

But how true is it all? Is Pensacola's Brownsville Revival all that its leaders say it is? Are the leaders who and what they say they are?

The News Journal sought to answer those questions in a four-month investigation into the 2 1/2 year-old revival. The investigation focused on the revenue and the spending, the leaders' backgrounds and lifestyles, the revival's methods and messages, and the revival's claims about healings, crime reduction and charity.

Much about the Brownsville Revival is unquestionable: Millions of people from far and near have attended the four-nights-a-week revival Many have had an emotionally and spiritually stimulating experience there.Many have been baptized. Many have made a commitment to change their ways and live closer to God.

But much about the revival, as a business and a community influence, is questionable, and the answers cast it in a far different light.

Among the News Journal findings: --The revival did not begin the way Pastor John Kilpatrick and evangelist Steve Hill say it did. They say it was a spontaneous and overwhelming move of God and that everyone there felt it. But a videotape of the first service, plus the accounts from members who were there, reveal otherwise and indicate the revival was well-planned and orchestrated to become a large and long-running enterprise.

  • Money is flowing, information is not. Brownsville leaders refuse to disclose revenue and spending details, beyond an abbreviated, generalized financial statement that shows the church taking in $6.6 million in 1996. Not even members of the congregation are allowed to look at the books.
  • Revival leaders are generating fortunes. The top four ministers have set up their own nonprofit corporations selling their own revival-related merchandise, such as books, tapes, T-shirts and bumper stickers. The merchandise is sold both inside the church and via mail order. Only one of the corporations is paying sales tax.
  • Hill's autobiography and oft-told stories about his outlaw past are contradicted by facts and by police records. He admitted to the News Journal that he fictionalized parts of his book for "impact."
  • Hill's claims that most of his ministry's revenue from the revival goes to missions and charities is contradicted in his ministry's financial statement and Internal Revenue Service return. His assertions that his financial books are open are untrue; he would not share key information with the News Journal and sought to discourage questions.
  • Kilpatrick has retreated from close contact with his flock while rapidly moving up into a luxurious lifestyle outside Pensacola. His new home, at an Alabama location he tried to keep secret, has barbed wire, a security guard and a metal gate. Months before an injury that kept him at home for weeks, Kilpatrick had ceased to keep office hours and had delegated his pastoring duties to assistants.
  • Hill and Kilpatrick both have taken advantage of opportunities to conceal financial information. Both put "$10 and other good and valuable consideration" on their deeds as the price they paid for their new properties; Alabama allows people to do that if they wish to avoid public disclosure of the purchase price.
  • The revival service's spiritual messages and methods have distressed many devout Pentecostals and given rise to much criticism among theologians and Bible scholars.
  • Kilpatrick has sought to silence dissent and criticism by prophesying -- announcing he is voicing God's own predictions -- that the critics would die or suffer.
  • The revival's benefits to the Pensacola community are either overstated or untrue. For example: Top law enforcement officers cite data disputing the revival leaders' statements that the revival has reduced crime. Social service agencies report having to serve a large influx of impoverished people who were drawn to Pensacola for the revival but who have been turned away by the church. Drug treatment centers report drug problems are on the rise, not dropping. Mental health centers report treating more out-of-town people than ever before, and most of them are people who came to Pensacola for the revival. Residents and businesses in the impoverished parts of the Brownsville community report that the church has done nothing for the area and refuses requests for help.
  • The revival's claims about healing are unsubstantiated by medical documentation. The revival touts cases in general but does not provide names or specifics. The News Journal found people who said they had been cured and healed, but none had medical proof from doctors.

Church budget is $6.6 million; 2% devoted to assist missions

By Amie K. Streater
staff writer

The Brownsville Revival is known the world over for leading sinners to God. But the 2 1/2-year phenomenon is not only making Christians out of gang members and drug users, it is making millions of dollars. But for whom?

Revival leaders talk at length about the souls they have saved, but they rarely talk about the money they have made. They tell expansive stories about the impact of the revival, but they downplay the expensive lifestyles the revival is underwriting.

A four-month News Journal investigation has revealed spending practices that sharply differ from the activities worshipers are asked to finance. About 15 percent of the church's $6.6 million budget -$1,019,406 - goes to salaries and benefits for 107 church employees, according to a brief and nondetailed financial statement the Brownsville Assembly of God released to the News Journal.

The church will not release specific information about the salaries and perquisites -- including housing allowances -- for the revival leaders. The revival leadership makes an unabashed call for money: "Reach into your wallets and pull out the biggest thing you can find," Associate Pastor Carey Robertson urges, suggesting that $100 is an acceptable figure.

Robertson and other leaders assure the audience that most of the money goes to missions -- organizations working to spread Christianity. Yet after evangelist Steve Hill takes his share -- the Friday night offering each week goes to Hill's Together in the Harvest Ministries -- the Brownsville church's donations to missions amounts to 2 percent of the church's annual budget. Church leaders call for money to cover the "tremendous" expense of keeping the church and revival going. Yet 14 percent of the budget goes to cover such costs.

By comparison, the revival pumps substantial money -- $1.2 million, or more than 18 percent of the budget --into activities that gross big returns: pastors' conferences, videotapes and music tapes to sell to revival-goers.

The church tells the revival audience that "our finances are in order" and "everything is open," but the leadership refuses to make full disclosure of the budget details.

"It's nobody's business but ours," Robertson said. "We are not accountable to the people who come to revival because they are our guests. They are making a free-will offering and therefore should not expect an audit or an accounting.

"If you wonder where the money is going, then don't give. Obviously, we can't spend money the way people want us to, but once it becomes a gift, it is ours to use. It is nobody's business how we use it."

That goes for the Brownsville flock as well. The church's membership gets an annual one-page statement, listing revenues and expenditures in general categories. Robertson and church treasurer R.L. Berry say detailed accountings are provided only to the church's eight-member board of directors.

No other church member can get financial answers without getting a two-thirds majority vote from the congregation authorizing release of the information. By contrast, large churches in the other major denominations in the Pensacola community make full financial disclosure. What is most clear about the Brownsville Revival money picture is that the leaders have found many ways to keep the money coming in. For example:

  • The church videotapes the four-nights-a-week revival services and sells tapes by the thousands, at $15 and $10.
  • Each of the four major revival leaders started his own individual ministry corporation to sell revival-generated materials and memorabilia.
  • The revival leaders have published autobiographies and other books sold through the individual ministry's corporation.
  • The four top revival leaders have created an unofficial joint venture, Awake America, along with the Brownsville church. Using it as the umbrella organization, they go to big cities around the country to hold stadium revivals and share the proceeds. A recent two-night revival at The Pyramid, a large arena in Memphis, grossed $123,500.
  • During the revival, sinners are coaxed to get rid of "articles of affection" --rings, bracelets, watches and other jewelry they received in adulterous affairs. Church leaders will not give specifics about how many such items show up in the offerings.
  • The revival has given birth to a Bible college that in one year has brought in about $604,500. The church rents classroom space in a defunct Bible school on U.S. 98 in west Pensacola and charges its 507 students an instructional fee of $975 a semester, which includes books, but not room and board, for the 120 students who live on campus.

    The students are mainly young people who tell revival audiences that they were floundering through life before they found salvation at the revival.

On the road: Pleas for money intensify
Revival leaders go big time with Awake America

By Amie K. Streater
staff writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn - Within the dazzling steel walls of The Pyramid, the arena that dominates the Memphis cityscape, evangelist Steve Hill was shining.

The 6,000 people who flocked each night to the Oct. 6-7 revival got the Hill they've read and heard about, the fiery, feisty, flamboyant man who glistens with sweat as he shouts, stomps and shakes his fist at their sin. Many came expecting nothing short of a miracle.

Hill and the other leaders of the Pensacola Brownsville Revival are finding ways to reach even more than the thousands every week at the Brownsville Assembly of God, where the 2 1/2-year-old religious phenomenon is conducted four nights a week.

Memphis was the most recent stadium revival, or "outpouring," the Brownsville leaders have produced in big cities under the name "Awake America." In the last year they have gone to Anaheim, Calif.; Dallas; St. Louis; Toledo, Ohio; and Birmingham, Ala. Hill says Awake America has barely been able to break even.

At The Pyramid, Hill told the audience: "I don't want to leave here with a deficit. It's never happened before, and it's not going to happen here."

Hill and the Memphis pastor handling the collection, the Rev. Randel McCarty, cited different figures at different times -- from $50,000 to $130,000 -- for the amount needed to cover expenses.

McCarty, pastor of Cathedral of Praise, a Pentecostal church in Memphis and one of the hosts, urged the first-night audience to give enough to raise the $50,000 cost of the two-day Memphis event. He said that was the total needed for the Pyramid rental fee and for the transportation and lodging for the revivalists.

The next night, Hill announced that $60,000 was needed, and he scolded the audience, many of whom were return visitors, for being stingy the night before. "Last night didn't cut it, folks," Hill said.

Filling the buckets

When Hill moved on to his message, which is his term for his sermon, ushers loaded white buckets of money onto dollies and pushed them into a separate room, where they began tallying the collection.

As Hill was wrapping up his sermon and gearing up for the altar call, he got the news: The collection was not enough. He stopped everything and renewed his money plea. The ushers moved into the audience again with the buckets. Hill began the anointings as the second counting got under way. He was working his way through the audience, laying on hands and praying for people when an usher gave him the word that the collection had still fallen short of the goal. Hill stopped praying and anointing and exhorted people to give again.

By the time the event was ending, McCarty reported that $130,000 was the amount needed to cover expenses and the collection fell $6,500 short -- meaning they raised $123,500 in two nights.

He did not explain why those figures differed from the $50,000 he stated the first night and the $60,000 Hill stated on the second night. Hill says he does not have exact figures, but he does not think the Memphis event was profitable.

"Memphis was so-so," Hill said in an interview a couple of weeks after the trip. Awake Americas, they're not money-makers. There was a time, I think in Anaheim, we sold $13,000 in books, which was wonderful, but there's not a whole lot of money to be made."

Awake America is an informal joint venture, according to Hill's attorney, Walter Chandler. It consists of Hill, Brownsville Assembly of God Pastor John Kilpatrick, Brownsville School of Ministry President Michael Brown and Brownsville Music Minister Lindell Cooley, plus the Brownsville church.

Kilpatrick's attorney, Larry Morris, said that before the ministers go out on another big-city crusade, he wants to make sure they get incorporated.

Money is secret

Awake America's finances are handled by the crusade coordinator, Jeff Gardner, who works in Steve Hill's office. Hill declined to release to the News Journal any financial information about the crusades without consulting his attorney, and Chandler refused without explanation.

Pyramid officials would not say how much Awake America paid to rent the arena, but they did say that the starting rate is about $5,000 a night. The final rental figure depends on how much extra service, such as ticket-takers, security, technicians and other support staff The Pyramid has to provide.

The top figure, according to The Pyramid management office, could be about $11,000 for an event such as Awake America's. If the Brownsville team members failed to raise the amount they wanted, it wasn't for lack of planning. In anticipation of the event, they papered churches across the region with fliers and posters. For five days, Memphis television stations carried commericals touting the event.

A moving event

Both nights, people from across the mid-South began filing in around 5 p.m. for the 7 p.m. services in the 20,000-seat arena. Many were already veterans of the revival in Pensacola: They knew all the words to Cooley's toe-tapping tunes and knew just when to shout during "The Happy Song."

The newcomers learned quickly. One young mother with an infant in her arms got so caught up in the energetic, infectious music that she jumped up and down for several minutes, heedless to her son's head bouncing up and down on her shoulder. When another woman noticed and offered to hold the baby while the mother continued to leap and shout, the baby jerked dizzily for a few moments, spit up with force, then sobbed. His mother did not see that -- she had moved up to get closer to the stage, leaving her baby in the arms of strangers.

After the music, after the money call, after Hill's message came the altar call. As he does at Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Hill asked the people in the front rows to pick up their chairs and clear a large area.

The urgent lyrics of the altar-call anthem, "Mercy Seat," filled the arena as Hill shouted: "Hurry! Hurry! Get down on your knees before God! Hurry!" Hundreds made their way through the audience and knelt. Many more stood in the wings because their chairs had been taken away. Teen-agers who had been sitting on the floor in front of the stage just stayed put.

Hill and the ministry team moved around the arena floor and touched people on the head and prayed for them by chanting "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Fire, Fire, Fire! Now, now now!"

An overlooked believer

Hill promised to stay until everyone had been prayed for. "We didn't come here to sleep," he said. Yet Hill left both nights around 11:30, while hundreds remained waiting --some on their knees weeping.

On Monday night, one of those who waited in vain was Althea Catron, 41, of Memphis. After reading about the flamboyant evangelist in Charisma magazine, she was hopeful that Hill could help her son, Erkins Catron Jr., who has a brain tumor that prevents him from walking or otherwise functioning normally. He is 14 but is the size of a 5-year-old.

Believing that a touch from Hill would mean a touch from God -- and thus would bring healing -- she sat through the message and struggled to the front after the altar call, slowly steering her son's bulky wheelchair around crouched and sprawled bodies until she was close to the stage.

For about an hour, she stood there silently, staring straight ahead and tightly grasping the han dles of her son's wheelchair. Hill's ministers and prayer teams moved all around her, passing her time and again but never making eye contact or touching her or the boy. Several people nearby became upset that she was being ignored, and a woman grabbed a member of the prayer team who was passing by, tugging him over to the boy. He stopped and prayed and laid on hands. Hill never approached the boy.

Tuesday night, the mother and son were back. Hill passed her by again. She stood and waited a half-hour, attracting considerable notice, until Hill's staffers pulled him over to the wheelchair. Hill gave the boy an anointing touch and prayed for him.

Althea Catron was happy. Her son's condition did not change, but she said the prayer gives her hope. "I expect a miracle any time," she said.

Give at least $100, revival leaders urge: 'God knows how much you have'

By Amie K. Streater
staff writer

PENSACOLA - The Brownsville Revival is famous for fiery sermons by evangelist Steve Hill, who shouts to sinners to run to the altar, repent and beg for mercy.

But there is another message that's never videotaped, never photographed, never shown on television: Before you come down to the altar to be saved, reach into your wallet and give. Specifically, give $100.

That message is delivered so skillfully that Brownsville Assembly of God, with about 3,500 permanent members, has an annual revenue far exceeding any of Pensacola's other large churches. The church took in more than $6.5 million in 1996. Of that amount, $5.6 million, or 86 percent, came from the collection plate.

Among the givers are visiting pastors, who are urged to write big checks without waiting for permission from their church boards. Husbands are told to give generously and to forget about consulting with their wives. "You can get forgiveness a lot quicker than you can get permission," Associate Pastor Carey Robertson tells the audience.

Robertson has taken over the nightly collection speech while Pastor John Kilpatrick recovers from injuries he suffered in a fall. "God knows how much you have," Robertson says to the whole crowd in the plea, which can stretch for more than 20 minutes.

Every man, woman and child is asked to think about how much they've spent on a television set, a car, a toy. They are reminded what a pair of Levis, a pair of Reeboks cost. They are asked to think about what they pay when they go out to eat with the family, and then give at least as much for the work of God.

Every Friday night, the collection goes to Hill for his ministry. The church makes a point of this and notes that is the only night Hill takes anything.

On Fridays, Hill adds a passionate explanation to Robertson's remarks . In a speech that extends at times to a half-hour, Hill cajoles the audience with descriptions of desperate missions and orphanages he helps -- though he gives few documentable details -- and he lavishes contempt on selfishness and stinginess.

"I've never been ashamed to give," he tells the audience. "I love giving. I love to give to the Lord."

Some of the people crammed into the pews are struggling financially, but they reach for their wallets without hesitation. A frail, aging widow who tries to get to the revival several times a week, scratches out a $50 check. Again. She sits primly, wearing the one good, navy-blue dress she owns, and says she is glad to give. In another pew, an elderly woman gives the revival all the money she's set aside to pay for her prescription medication. "God will provide," she says.

Some people see the offering as their chance to break away from sin: Heeding Hill's call to give up "articles of affection," they hand over the rings, bracelets, watches they received from their lovers in sinful or adulterous affairs.

Hill said his ministry has not received a lot of jewelry in the Friday night collections. It ranges from a $2,500 diamond ring to a not-so-impressive thin gold bracelet. He is willing to show the items to interviewers. He said he has not decided what his ministry will do with them.

Brownsville church leaders would not allow the News Journal to see any jewelry the church has found in the revival collections that go to the church. They would not give any details about it. "We might have 10 pieces of jewelry," church treasurer R. L. Berry said. "Most of it is not worth a dime. "You know, people get emotional," he said.

The church plans to sell any gold in the jewelry and put the proceeds into the building fund for the new family life center

Revival costly, but figures are vague

By Amie K. Streater
staff writer

PENSACOLA - The high cost of putting on the revival is always emphasized during the nightly call for $100 donations at the Pensacola Brownsville Revival.

But church leaders refuse to say exactly what those costs are.

An abbreviated 1996 financial statement the church released to the News Journal lists only $22,402 as revival expenses. It also lists a series of administrative costs that does not indicate whether any of those are attributable to the revival or whether these costs encompass any salaries:

  • Depreciation: $188,729.
  • Office: $168,345.
  • Utilities: $159,744
  • Maintenance: $149,217
  • Security: $112,291.
  • Janitorial: $42,609.
  • Building insurance: $27,522.
  • Distribution: $24,145.
  • Gasoline and travel: $12,033.
  • Advertising: $11,543.
  • Flowers: $8,586.
  • Photography and magazine: $8,004.
  • Lease: $8,001.
  • Kitchen: $4,983.
  • Building: $4,800.

Church officials just say the revival is costly. "It's unreal, the expenses," church business administrative assistant Rose Compton said. Administrative expenses amount to 14 percent of the Brownsville Assembly of God budget, and salaries and benefits amount to 15 percent.

Associate Pastor Carey Robertson said he thinks Brownsville's expenditures for salaries and administration are more conservative than what churches usually spend in these areas.

"Normally, churches break a budget up into three parts, 33 percent of their budget goes to operating expenses, which includes mortgage, utilites, maintenance, all those things, 33 percent goes to ministry and 33 percent into salaries," he said. "That's generally what the concept is.

Ministry fails to meet watchdog's guidelines

By J. Lowe Davis and Amie K. Streater
staff writers

PENSACOLA - Doctors, lawyers, teachers -- all have to pass tests to do their work. Colleges, hospitals, restaurants -- all have to undergo scrutiny by accrediting or inspecting agencies.

But who reviews religious organizations and evangelists? Who determines whether they deserve the public's trust?

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a nationwide watchdog group formed in 1979 by Billy Graham and several other evangelists, exists specifically to oversee religious organizations' financial dealings. The ECFA coaches its 860 organization members into earning that trust by requiring that they follow a strict set of guidelines for handling donors' money ethically.

Organizations voluntarily participate in ECFA and must abide by strict rules. Nine organizations in the Pensacola area are in the ECFA: Globe Missionary Evangelism, Waterfront Rescue Mission, Arise and Shine Evangelistic Association, Globe Europe, Living Water Adopt-a-Child, Living Water Ministries, Manna Bible Institute, New Hope Home of Waterfront Rescue Mission, and Rhema Bible Institute.

None of the organizations involved in Pensacola's Brownsville Revival are members.

Brownsville Revival evangelist Steve Hill's organization, Together in the Harvest Ministries Inc., has a membership application pending. Paul Nelson, president of ECFA, said that to be accepted, a religious organization must meet these requirements:

Adopt a written statement affirming its commitment to the Christian faith and operate in a manner that reflects Biblical practices.

The statement Hill filed in Texas when he incorporated Together in the Harvest states that the organization was formed "to promote and perpetuate the doctrines of Christianity as a religion by going into all the world and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Set up a board of directors, the majority of which cannot be staff members or relatives.

Hill's organization has four directors: Hill, who is president. Jeff Gardner, who works in the Together in the Harvest office at Hill's home and handles Awake America, one of Hill's joint ventures. Gary Brady, former pastor of Faith Assembly of God in Tallahassee, where Hill also used to work. Ronald Ardt, a friend of Hill's who lives in Dallas.

Submit to an annual audit from an independent certified public accountant.

Hill said his friend, Jody Fauss of Lindale, Texas, handles his ministry's finances. Fauss, however, told the News Journal that he is not a certified public accountant, and that he does not do the audit for Together in the Harvest.

Exercise financial control to ensure resources are used as intended.

An informal financial statement Hill released to the News Journal listed 32.15 percent of the Together in the Harvest money goes to "other" and "uncategorized" expenditures. Hill did not provide details about those expenditures.

Provide copies of audited financial statements on request. Hill's attorney, Walter Chandler, refused to provide those. The ECFA would not tolerate that, according to Nelson. "If they were a member, that wouldn't fly," he said.

Conflicts of interest should be avoided by fully disclosing on audited financial statements any transactions between members.

Hill has not provided a list of Together in the Harvest staff. He has not provided an audited statement. He has not specified what role his wife, Jeri Hill, plays in the organization or how much she is paid. Her name appears with Steve Hill's on the Together in the Harvest letterhead.

Comply with ECFA's 12 standards of fund-raising, which include accurately describing the group's activities, avoiding giving potential donors any unrealistic expectations of what their gifts will accomplish, truthfulness in communication and providing, on request, detailed reports of a project for which it is soliciting gifts.

Hill provided an informal financial statement that said $900,000, or 75 percent, of his share of the Brownsville Revival offering goes to missions. Elsewhere in the statement, he indicates $789,000 goes for such giving. His lawyer's figure was $639,000 and Hill's IRS return indicates his ministry gave $102,212.

Despite repeated requests from the News Journal, neither Hill nor his lawyer identified specific missions and addresses, other than lists of countries and general identifications such as "Misc. - Central and South America and various countries."

Neither Hill nor his lawyer would provide copies of the IRS returns for the nonprofit organization, even though they are, by law, public information. The News Journal had to obtain copies through the IRS.

Revival for sale through merchandise;
Top ministers cash in with own products

By Amie K. Streater
staff writer

PENSACOLA - Brownsville Revival music stirs people to jump up and dance, filling the aisles and pews with swaying, clapping, bouncing, arm-waving, foot-pounding, head-bobbing worshipers.

When they leave for home, they don't have to leave the music behind. For 200 feet up and down the corridor that rings the main auditorium, tables are piled with music cassettes and CDs and that's just a fraction of the merchandise available for purchase.

The Brownsville Revival has generated a multi-million dollar retail industry, conducted within the walls of the church. Inside the church's double front doors, tapes, T-shirts and similar revival-generated products are offered for sale all during the day and until about an hour after the revival is under way at night.

The crowds that stand in line throughout the day to get good seats for the night-time revival are a steady source of customers. Even as the revival service is under way, people leave the pews to browse and buy. At times, the customers are so densely packed that people have to suck in their stomachs and step sideways to pass one another in the merchandise-laden corridor and lobby. The products are sold not only by the church but also by individual corporations created by the revival leaders.

Most profit figures are unclear. Revival musician Lindell Cooley's ministry, Music Missions International, has sold close to $500,000 in merchandise, mainly music tapes and CDs, since he established the corporation in March, said general manager Larry Day. The revival's evangelist, Steve Hill, told the News Journal that his books and tapes, sold through his corporation, Together in the Harvest, earned $224,675.

The church itself, which as a church does not have to make its finances public or pay taxes, says it lost money last year on revival merchandise, despite $625,166 in sales of books, music and video tapes.

An abbreviated 1996 financial statement that the church released to the News Journal indicates the church fell short $239,160 on the products.

Associate Pastor Carey Robertson, who oversees the church, blames that on an overload of inventory at year-end. The church had bought more products than it could sell before the end of its year, he said. The church's statement lists $864,324 in merchandise expenses:

  • Music $474,549
  • Cassettes, manuals, books $196,382
  • Videotapes $143,307
  • Audio tapes $50,086

The statement lists $625,166 in merchandise revenues:

  • Music $336,369
  • Videotapes $185,820
  • Tapes $62,122
  • Cassettes, manuals, books $40,855

Some products, especially the videotapes of nearly every revival service, are sold under the church's name. On the other hand, the popular revival music cassettes and CDs are sold under the name of Music Missions International Inc., headed by revival maestro Cooley. Many people buy two, three, even 10 videotapes, which cost $10 and $15. They gladly spend the money, saying they want to sustain "the anointing" by video viewing numerous different revival services.

They also load music cassettes, at $10 each, and CDs, at $15, into their shopping bags. Cooley's music is a big seller, but so is the altar-call anthem, "Mercy Seat," which is available on cassette and CD in three different keys advertised as "easy to sing" back at home.

The Brownsville Revival has yet another product, sold under the name "The Vision Speaks": kits containing materials to make one of the sequined, jewel-toned, multi-colored banners displayed at the revival. The kits sell for $125 for a small banner, or $200 for a large banner, the size Brownsville uses. The kit includes all the materials except glue, scissors and pins. The banner kits are not listed anywhere on the church's financial statement -- not as revenue, not as an expense.

Robertson's explanation: "We have a kit that tells people how to make banners, but we don't sell banners." He would not say how the financial statement accounts for the banner kits and he would not say how many have been sold. He also would not say how The Vision Speaks is connected to the church.

Some corporations selling revival-related merchandise in the church are independent of the church. They serve to market products for individual revival leaders. Buyers cannot make their purchases at the door, they have to pay -- by cash, check or credit card -- at the cash register set up to handle each minister's business.

Brownsville Assembly of God pastor John Kilpatrick sells his books and tapes through his newly created ministry, Feast of Fire. He says that his book royalties go to his ministry, but he refuses to disclose any information about the finances of his organization. As a nonprofit corporation, its IRS return is open to the public. But under IRS rules, nonprofits have five months and 15 days after the fiscal year to file, and Feast of Fire has not reached its first filing deadline.

Michael Brown, who heads the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry as well as his own nonprofit organization, ICN Ministries, does provide some figures about his revenues: He estimates his books and tapes bring in $50,000 a month. That amounts to $600,000 a year.

"I don't write the books to make money," Brown told the News Journal. "I have publishers asking me to write. I have to write what I feel burdened to write. Ethically I have a problem with personally getting rich through ministry. I'd be much more at home just with an ample salary." He would not disclose how his ministry spends the $600,000. The IRS said Brown's ministry has asked for two extensions and is not due to file until late this month.

Steve Hill's Together in the Harvest Ministries gave the News Journal an informal financial statement saying he took $30,000 in royalties, but it did not indicate what the sales were. His corporation's most recent IRS return showed he took $34,000 in royalties from sales of $141,592.

The News Journal asked the IRS for copies of the tax returns for all the ministers' corporations because all are registered as nonprofit organizations and thus their financial information and tax returns are public information. Hill's 1993, 1994 and 1996 returns were the only ones the IRS had on file.

3 top ministers fail to pay state sales tax

By J. Lowe Davis
staff writer

PENSACOLA - Florida taxpayers are getting almost no benefit from the millions of dollars of Brownsville Revival-related merchandise. Three of the revival's four top ministers are paying no sales tax to the state on the products they sell.

According to the Department of Revenue, the ministries of Steve Hill, John Kilpatrick and Lindell Cooley are in violation of the law. Brownsville Assembly of God also pays no tax on its large product line of videotapes, cassettes, T-shirts and other revival products it sells. State law exempts churches from having to pay sales tax when they buy products and supplies and from having to collect, and send to the state, county and city any taxes on the products they sell.

But the rules are different for the individual ministers' own nonprofit corporations -- even though they are selling their merchandise inside a church, according to a spokesman for the Department of Revenue. Unless they meet the state's narrow definition of a church -- holding regular worship services at a specific location -- nonprofits need two numbers for the state:

Consumer Exemption Certificate: This exempts them from paying tax when they buy things. But having this does not exempt them from the duty to collect sales tax when they sell something. When they sell, they are "dealers" and must have:

Sales Tax Registration: This is for collecting sales tax on things they sell. They have to send in the tax monies to the state.

Three of the nonprofit corporations handling revival merchandise do not have dealer registrations. They are pastor John Kilpatrick's Feast of Fire Ministries, evangelist Steve Hill's Together in the Harvest and Lindell Cooley's Music Missions International, Inc.

Chuck Springston, public information spokesman for the Department of Revenue, said none of the three are in the department's records, either for a consumer exemption certificate or dealer sales tax registration.

"Unless they registered under a name other than the one that is commonly known, they aren't registered," he said. Kilpatrick will not disclose any details about his ministry's sales.

He said in an interview with the News Journal three weeks ago that the ministry was paying sales tax. Receipts for items purchased from his ministry, Feast of Fire, do not show that sales tax was charged.

His attorney, Larry Morris said last week that he had just learned, via an opinion from an accounting firm, Feast of Fire must collect and pay sales tax. He said he was going to recommend to Kilpatrick that he "self-report" to the state and pay the taxes right away. Hill's ministry, Together in the Harvest, reported in its most recent IRS return that its sales totaled $141,592.

Hill said in an interview with the News Journal three weeks ago that the ministry was paying sales tax. Receipts for items purchased from his ministry do not show that sales tax was charged.

Lindell Cooley's MMI Ministries has not been charging tax on its products but has been setting aside 7 percent of its sales revenue in anticipation that the taxes might be due, said general manager Larry Day. He said that when the corporation formed, seven months ago, he asked the state about the taxes and had been trying to get a clarification ever since. On Nov. 7, Day said, he received an opinion from an accountant that MMI does have to charge tax.

Michael Brown's ICN Ministries has a dealer number, indicating it is collecting sales tax, Springston said. To protect taxpayer confidentiality, he said, he could not disclose how much sales tax ICN has paid. Some items are never taxable, either when the corporation buys them or sells them: Bibles, hymn books, prayer books, altar items, sacramental items, ceremonial raiment and equipment. A book of sermons, tapes of sermons and services and pastors' autobiographies do not fall within the state's specific merchandise exemptions, Springston said.