The sanctuary rocks with gospel music as multicolored spotlights play across the packed pews where thousands in the congregation stand, swaying, singing, clapping and waving their arms.
The animated preacher, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt open at the collar, bounds onto the brightly lit stage. He takes a seat at a grand piano. Backed by a 70-member choir, he pounds the keyboard and sings, sounding at times like a Pentecostal Neil Diamond.
It is Sunday morning at FaithWorld megachurch west of Maitland, and four video cameras are trained on Clint Brown. The nationally known recording artist soon trades the piano for a lectern. From there, the pastor urges members to give “sacrificially” so that their “blessings increase,” bringing them more money, job promotions, and new houses and cars. For anyone who needs reminding, videotapes of the service are $15 in the church lobby.
In his dual roles as FaithWorld’s music director and pastor, Brown is one part rock star and one part preacher. Those two competing and contradictory lifestyles frame the portrait of 41-year-old Clint Brown. In 12 years, the man who arrived in Orlando with no job, no flock and no guarantees has gained prominence and amassed the trappings of wealth.
Brown, his wife and two children occupy two parsonages in gated Central Florida communities, one purchased for $1 million in 2000 and the other for $500,000 in December. FaithWorld is paying for both.
Of the Browns’ seven cars, the church makes payments on two — a Mercedes sedan and a Mercedes sport utility vehicle — according to legal documents. The other vehicles include a third Mercedes, a Porsche and a Hummer.
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Taking a break?
In 2002, a lucrative year for Clint Brown’s music career, he and his family charged $242,256 on two American Express cards alone. The following year, they rang up $215,701 on the same cards. Some of the credit-card charges were paid for by the church, which is reviewing the bills.
Two developments have cast a spotlight on Brown and his 6,000-member church. A former congregation member filed a lawsuit claiming $200,000 she gave Brown in 1999 for a new church was a loan, and not a gift, as the church maintains. And Brown’s 38-year-old wife, Angela, filed for divorce last year in Seminole County.
Using details from the divorce file, news accounts provided a rare glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of the minister who runs the 25-acre FaithWorld complex, all the while nurturing a music career on the side.
Clint Brown has delivered his most public comments about these disclosures during sermons at his church west of Maitland. Though he said he has not read or watched any of the recent accounts about him, he told his congregation two Sundays ago that the devil was behind all the recent controversy.
“If they crucified Jesus,” he said, “they’re going to talk about me.”
Neither Clint Brown nor Angela Brown responded to repeated requests by the Sentinel for comment.
Seven FaithWorld members spoke to the Sentinel, and all steadfastly supported Brown.
“He’s just down-to-earth and for real,” said Chester Blanton, 56, of Orlando. “A lot of people in the congregation knew the things that were going on in his personal life, but we don’t have anything to do with that.
“Who are we to judge? Because we are not here to judge; we’re here to learn the word of God, and he’ll be the judge.”
‘He preached money’
Much of Clint Brown’s ministry focuses on money: giving it to the church and receiving heaven’s blessings accordingly.
In his past three Sundays in the pulpit, Brown’s first words to his Pentecostal congregation involved giving money to the church. Giving sacrificially will be rewarded manifold because it “opens up the window of heaven that pours out a blessing that we do not have enough room to contain,” he quoted from the Bible on Jan. 23.
This message has alienated at least one of Brown’s former followers.
Linda Devine, 51, left FaithWorld in 2001 because Brown “didn’t preach salvation. He didn’t preach the Gospel. . . . He preached money.” If you didn’t tithe, Devine said, the entire congregation would suffer.
“It’s a total guilt trip,” the Altamonte Springs telemarketer said.
Brown’s style of preaching, known as prosperity gospel, mirrors that of televangelist Benny Hinn, his predecessor at the congregation. Prosperity gospel is a strain of Pentecostalism that periodically cycles through American religion and is not confined to a single denomination, according to Leo Sandon, emeritus professor of religion at Florida State University.
“The whole idea is that there’s a mechanism whereby if you give to a church or a ministry, that gift comes back to you a hundredfold,” Sandon said. “It borders on magic rather than on traditional Christian theology.”
A national figure in the Charismatic-Pentecostal community, Brown is clearly identified with prosperity gospel, said Lee Grady, editor of Lake Mary-based Charisma, an independent Christian magazine.
“Your average observer would certainly put him in that category,” Grady said. “He certainly believes in prosperity.”
For experts who study the phenomenon, the prosperity gospel appeals to Americans’ materialism.
Its message “either justifies your lifestyle and justifies your wealth, or it gives a hope for achieving that wealth,” said Margaret Poloma, a sociology professor and author of Main Street Mystics: The Toronto Blessing and Reviving American Pentecostalism.
Clint Brown gets his wealth through a mix of salary and benefits from FaithWorld as well as from his musical career.
In 2002, his income topped $650,000, according to his wife’s divorce filing. Of that total, he only earned $142,432 in salary from FaithWorld, and a nontaxable housing allowance of more than $100,000. More than half of that year’s income came from music royalties, compact-disc sales and performances.
Though his church salary remained steady from 2000 to 2002, the most recent years included in the divorce file, outside revenue from his music career jumped from $48,000 to $380,000 during the same period.
The Browns spent accordingly.
From 2001 to 2004, Clint Brown set up credit accounts at Mayors Jewelers to buy four Rolex watches ranging from $23,000 to $40,900, according to loan documents filed with the state. In June 2001, the divorce file shows, Angela Brown rang up credit-card charges of $9,175 at the Escada boutique in Bal Harbour — and spent an additional $12,000 there the next month. In June 2003, Clint Brown charged $12,057 at St. John Boutique in Bal Harbour. On two Las Vegas trips, Clint Brown spent nearly $25,000 at shops such as the Fendi boutique, Versace Jeans Couture and Hyde Park jewelers.
In the divorce filing, Angela Brown says her husband purchased $70,000 worth of women’s clothing on one of the couple’s credit cards, but none of it went to her or her teenage daughter. She says in the divorce filing that FaithWorld paid for all those clothing purchases.
FaithWorld church attorney Mark Matthew O’Mara said he is reviewing all the bills submitted by the Browns to the church. He said an unknown number of the couple’s credit-card charges were approved by the church’s governing board, composed of the church’s staff management team — all of them paid employees of the congregation.
In Pentecostal circles, expensive gifts of clothing are common, said former FaithWorld member Wayne Pugh, a missionary based in Marietta, Ga.
“People that minister for us, we don’t just give them a check at the end of the night,” Pugh said. “We buy them a gift — a brand-new suit, ties, a box of chocolates. That’s common knowledge.”
So when prominent female ministers come through Orlando, Pugh said, it would be common for ministers such as Brown to lavish them with a $2,000 or $3,000 suit.
In the tiny towns of southwest Louisiana, where most boys eventually go to work in the oil fields or the chemical plants in nearby Lake Charles, Clint Brown had a quality that stood out, even as a teenager:
The power of persuasion.
In Iota, a town so small that it still has no stoplights, he was a young man known for his people skills.
“He was one of the more popular guys in high school,” recalled Kay Lynn Royer, a classmate at Iota High. “He was very cute, very sweet and a very nice person.”
A trumpet player, Brown became drum major of the band in his senior year. That’s when many band members began to see flashes of his future. When the football team began losing and fans quit attending games, Brown exhorted fellow band members to play with pride.
“He preached at us that we needed to have spirit, even though the stands were empty,” recalled Kayla Soileau, a band member and now editor of Iota’s weekly newspaper.
The ways of the church weren’t foreign to Brown. His father, Charles Brown, remembers him baptizing toy soldiers in the bathtub as a boy. Later, he frequently talked to other teens about the Pentecostal church he attended outside of town.
“He was always into church and encouraged his friends to go on youth trips with his church,” Soileau recalled. “He wasn’t pushy or overbearing, just persuasive.”
After graduating from high school, Brown wasn’t certain what to do. So Charles Brown got him a job with his employer, Coastal Corp., for which he worked as a mechanic on a natural-gas pipeline. After a year, Clint Brown was ready to move on.
“He came to me one day and said, ‘Daddy, this ain’t my line of work,’ ” recalled his father. ” ‘I appreciate what you’ve done for me, but I ain’t cut out for this. I just cannot see Clint Brown 30 years from now working on this pipeline.’ “
So he hit the road, performing Christian music and learning firsthand about race. Brown — who is white and attended a high school where fewer than 3 percent of the students were black — began performing with black musicians.
“It was at that point that I realized that God was ready to use me as a bridge between the white and black community,” he said in a 1999 Sentinel interview. These days, Brown’s FaithWorld congregation is predominantly black and Hispanic.
In Louisiana, Brown met a minister named Gerald Doggett. That association introduced him to Doggett’s teenage daughter, Angela, whom he married in 1984.
Performing at small churches throughout rural Louisiana didn’t pay the bills, said Charles Brown, so Clint Brown took a job in Lafayette as a youth minister. When traveling evangelist Mike Murdock saw Brown perform, he asked him to join his Texas-based team.
Clint Brown’s big break came in the late 1980s, Charles Brown said, when Murdock’s team visited Rod Parsley’s World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio. Parsley, whom Charisma magazine has described as “part warrior, part cheerleader — a good showman,” was taken with Brown’s performance — and asked him to become the megachurch’s music minister.
Parsley, who preaches the prosperity gospel, lives on an estate that includes his $1 million home and a second house worth $939,700, according to county auditor’s records in Fairfield County, Ohio. Parsley would not comment for this story.
During Brown’s five-year tenure at World Harvest, he blossomed as a musician and began to sense his preaching ability, Brown said in the 1999 interview.
Steadily improving fortunes
Although Brown did not “go to pastor school,” as he wrote in his book Make My Baby Jump, he had a desire to preach as well as sing. Those dual desires led him to leave Ohio in 1993 for an uncertain future in Central Florida.
During that 18-hour trip, his van’s windows were broken and his family’s possessions stolen, Brown wrote in his book That’s Not Good Enough. It was one in a series of “attacks from hell to try to steal the energy and enthusiasm for what God had called me to do,” Brown wrote.
Soon, however, his fortunes changed. Although new to Orlando, his first meeting at the Orlando Garden Club in Loch Haven Park drew 350 people — many of them eager to see Parsley’s former music man in action, Charles Brown said.
However, a year later, during a dispute about rent payments, the club’s officers asked Brown to leave. While discussing the situation with Brown, the officers said, he cursed at them.
“He used coarse language to me, eye to eye,” recalled Ginger Long, club treasurer. “I had little respect for the man before then, and I had none afterward.”
From the Garden Club, Brown moved from one rented location to another, his congregation growing steadily, until he landed in an Apopka shopping center.
“He developed a following from his music,” Grady said. “All of a sudden you had a white guy who could sing like a black guy, and his music had such a strong appeal with both white and black audiences.”
In 1999, Hinn, the Orlando evangelist, announced he was moving his World Outreach Center to Texas, and that his congregation would “merge” with Brown’s Apopka church. Both congregations would occupy Hinn’s complex on Forest City Road.
In July 2000, Brown’s FaithWorld bought that complex and a handful of nearby residential properties for $9.3 million from World Outreach Center, according to Orange County land records. After a series of first and second mortgages, lines of credit and refinancings, FaithWorld now has an $11.25 million mortgage with the Evangelical Christian Credit Union of Brea, Calif.
Certified public accountants who handle other churches’ finances said there could be several reasons FaithWorld’s debt has increased.
The church leadership may be taking advantage of Florida’s increasing land prices and property values — and merely borrowing against that, said Thomas Heaton, an Alpharetta, Ga., accountant who specializes in church financing.
“It sounds to me like the bank either has a great deal of confidence in the value of the property,” Heaton said, “or they place a great deal of value in the leadership of the church.”
Many sources of money
Cash comes into Brown’s ministry and FaithWorld from a variety of sources other than the white plastic buckets that serve as collection plates.
For the past nine years, Brown has sponsored his own conference, called Judah, at various Orlando locations. In July, senior pastors and music ministers will pay as much as $169 to register for the three-day conference of praise and worship at the upscale Peabody Hotel on International Drive.
Clint Brown’s CDs are produced on his own label, Tribe Music, and recorded at a studio in the church complex. The CDs are sold through Clint Brown Ministries, a nonprofit corporation also located at FaithWorld. When the congregation files into the sanctuary, a tape plays on three large, electronic screens. It advertises Brown’s latest CD, NBC: Nothing But Church, and a Clint Brown calendar, each for $5.
When he took over Hinn’s ministry, Brown moved the traditional Wednesday-evening service to Tuesday night. The change, he said then, would enable him to go on the road during the week to perform his music at megachurches and religious conferences.
Still, Brown has not become a major figure in gospel or contemporary Christian music. Only one album has approached the top of the charts. In 2002, his One Nation Under Praise reached No. 4 on Billboard‘s Christian Albums Chart, according to the magazine’s chart director, Wade Jessen. The album disappeared from the rankings a week later.
‘This is probably normal’
Some wonder why an entertainer such as Brown shouldn’t be able to live like a rock star just because his other job is pastor.
“Christian-music stars live very, very well,” said Charisma‘s Grady. “If they become a pastor, does that mean that they need to live in a duplex?”
The Browns’ 4,455-square-foot home in Alaqua Lakes in Seminole County is furnished with a $50,000 home entertainment center and a $5,000 pool table. Among their assets: $300,000 in jewelry, according to the divorce file.
“In his world, it may not be out of line,” said Martin Glickstein, a Maitland CPA who prepares clergy tax returns. “This guy is obviously very public, a performer. In his lifestyle this is probably normal.”
Regardless of the source of income, Brown’s lifestyle is unseemly, said Steve Harper; vice president and professor of spiritual formation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando.
“The Bible teaches that spiritual leaders are held to a higher standard, by the very public nature of our ministry,” Harper said. “We have to be careful about our image. . . . We simply cannot live without accountability as spiritual leaders.”
But supporters defend Brown and his spending, saying he routinely gives missionaries and other ministers money to start Pentecostal churches.
“He’s a giver; he’s very generous,” said former member Pugh. “I’ve been there to a service, and he’ll hand me $500 for a missions trip and a box of CDs.”
Even as a child, Brown’s father recalls, when Clint Brown went away to Pentecostal camp meetings with a suitcase full of new clothes, he often returned home with it half-empty.
Yet Charles Brown acknowledges that his son has developed a taste for the good life.
“I think Clint likes the finer things, I really do,” his father said. “I would say that he could cut back just a little. But I don’t think he’s going overboard.
“He wants to look nice, wants to have nice cars,” Charles Brown said. “He wants to be respected by the upper class of the city. He feels that he can stand right up there with the top people in Orlando and not be ashamed. He’s just as good as the rest of them.”
Jim Leusner, Darryl Owens, Aline Mendelsohn, Jim Abbott and Susan Thompson of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
From the divorce file
$1 million house in Alaqua Lakes in Seminole County *
$500,000 house in southwest Orange County *
Two 2003 Mercedes SL500 sedans **
2003 Mercedes G500 *
2003 Ford F-150
2002 Volkswagen New Beetle
(a sampling of charges made by Clint Brown or Angela Brown)
$4,659 at Bay Hill Jewelers, Orlando, Dec. 24, 2003
$8,800 at Diamond Quasar Jewelry of New York, Aug. 1, 2002
$8,035 at Giorgio’s of Palm Beach, March 15, 2003
$12,057 at St. John Boutique, Bal Harbour, June 26, 2003
$5,502 at Escada in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Feb. 7, 2004
$2,570 at Versace Jeans Couture in Dallas, Sept. 27, 2002
$5,245 at Escada in Bal Harbour, Sept. 7, 2002
* FaithWorld pays for
** FaithWorld pays for one of the sedans
SOURCE: Clint Brown and Angela Brown divorce file