Rodney Morgan Howard Browne
June 12, 1961
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
|Spouse(s)||Adonica Howard-Browne (nee Weyers)|
|Website||Revival Ministries International|
Rodney (Morgan) Howard-Browne (born June 12, 1961) is a South African-born American Christian evangelist and conspiracy theorist. He has resided in Tampa, Florida since the mid-1990s and is pastor of The River Church in Tampa Bay. The River is considered both Pentecostal and Charismatic with revival meetings, led by Howard-Browne, known for those in the audience breaking into "holy laughter". Howard-Browne is the head of Revival Ministries International, a group he and his wife founded in 1997.
Howard-Browne and his three brothers (Mervyn, Bazil, and Gil) were raised in a Pentecostal family in the cities of Port Elizabeth and East London, South Africa. His father, Frank Mervyn Derric Howard-Browne (1924–2005), was a cleric. Howard-Browne became a Christian at age five. In 1981, he met and married his wife Adonica (née Weyers). In the 1980s, he volunteered to work for Youth for Christ before doing a teaching stint with Rhema Bible School in Johannesburg.
In December 1989, the family emigrated from South Africa to the United States, Howard-Browne opened his first U.S. church in Clifton Park, New York, in April 1989. In 1991, he moved to Louisville, Kentucky where he began holding revival meetings. The Rodney Howard-Browne Evangelistic Association was incorporated in November 1993 and the family moved to the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1994. Rodney's eldest brother Gil went on to operate Times of Refreshing Ministries, an online evangelical ministry. Likewise, his youngest brother Bazil established an eponymous evangelical ministry on 1 January 1994 with the professed aim of people achieving financial freedom through the special anointing of God. Prior to this he had worked alongside his brother Rodney for a year.
In 1996, Howard-Browne founded a church he named "The River" at Tampa Bay Church in Tampa, Florida, serving as its pastor ever since. Howard-Browne and his wife also founded Revival Ministries International in 1997, as well as River Bible Institute and River School of Worship.
Howard-Browne's services are characterized by laying on of hands with worshipers giggling in apparent spiritual drunkenness, speaking in tongues, emitting animal noises, breaking into uncontrollable holy laughter, shaking, dancing in the aisles, or falling to the ground. He refers to himself as "God's bartender" and the "holy ghost bartender".
Howard-Browne is credited with introducing holy laughter to Carpenter's Home Church in Lakeland, Florida during a series of revival services with Karl Strader in 1993. The holy laughter revivals later spread to nearby churches in Melbourne, Titusville, Stuart and Vero Beach, Florida. Howard-Browne is credited with bringing holy laughter to the charismatic Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (soon after expelled by its parent Vineyard Church) at a 1994 revival in Toronto, Canada with evangelist Randy Clark, known as the “Toronto Blessing," and then a year later, to Assemblies of God (AOG) Brownsville Church in Pensacola, Florida with evangelist Steve Hill. The event became known in Christian circles as the Brownsville Revival. Howard-Browne also ministered under pastor Mike Rose at the Juneau Christian Center (formerly known as the Bethel Assembly of God) in Juneau, Alaska, an AOG church that Sarah Palin later attended after becoming governor of Alaska.
Howard-Browne first came to national prominence in the US in 1999 when his Revival Ministries organization rented Madison Square Garden in New York City for six weeks. The event, called Good News New York, was described as “an effort to achieve a Billy Graham-style faith uprising”, but was “derided in local media as a giant flop”. It was estimated to cost up to $10 million but only 3,000 people were counted in attendance at the 19,000-seat arena. Investigative journalists in his home town of Tampa reported at the time that since arriving from South Africa almost penniless in December 1989, his sudden wealth included a boat, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, a home in one of Tampa's exclusive gated communities and access to a private jet; however, they were unable to find evidence of financial wrongdoing.
Howard-Browne's daughter Kelly died of cystic fibrosis on Christmas Day 2002, at the age of 18. He then vowed that “since the devil has taken their daughter with this dreaded disease, he would pay with one million souls over the next ten years”.
In 2012, it was reported that Howard-Browne's River Church had hosted political meetings for the Florida chapter of the Republican Party during the preceding two years, including a rally for then presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, at which Howard-Browne called for a national "rising" of Christian Americans "that will not sit idly by and allow the killing of unborn babies and allow Islam to take over this country". At the same event, he described Mormonism as a "cult" that, in the 19th century, "had death squads that would go around killing everybody that was not a Mormon". He later recanted, saying Mormons were "honourable people".
Howard-Browne published The Killing of Uncle Sam: The Demise of the United States of America, which was scheduled to be released in May 2018, and announced that proceeds from sales of the book would go to the River School of Government, a degree granting program, operated by Howard-Browne and his wife under the auspices of Revival Ministries, that funds training for people seeking to run for political office.
Howard-Browne's evangelical movement has been rejected as cult-like by many mainstream Christian organisations, and it has been described as "a combination of brimstone and fire about God’s power, sprinkled with hipster references and a conviction that church—like Disneyland—should be 'the happiest place on earth'." The Christian Research Institute labelled his operation a “cult” and called the him "a good stage hypnotist" who has made millions from vulnerable believers. According to The Tampa Tribune, critics have described him as "a manipulator leading followers into a cult; a circus ring leader making a good living."
Statements and controversies
Diploma mill doctorate
Howard-Browne claimed to have earned a "doctorate of ministry degree" in 1992 from "The School of Bible Theology", a non-accredited Pentecostal correspondence school in San Jacinto, California that has been described as a "diploma mill".
Howard-Browne and his wife Adonica were top-ranking (“Black Diamond executive level”) distributors for Monavie, a multi-level marketing company that sold acai berry juice-based beverages until folding in 2014 subsequent to a $182 million loan default and allegations of pyramid scheming, fraudulent advertising, and patent infringement. As of 2016, Howard-Browne also served as a "North America Emerald Director" for the multi-level marketing company Jeunesse.
Allegation of plot to attack Donald Trump
In July 2017, Howard-Browne was one of 17 evangelical pastors who visited the White House to pray for and lay hands on President Donald Trump. In a video several days later, Howard-Browne stated that “there is a planned attack on our president and that’s all I can tell you about right now; I know what I’m talking about, I’ve spoken to high-ranking people in the government". Howard-Browne later said that the Secret Service met with him to discover which congressman told him about the plot but he refused to say, citing pastoral privilege. Howard-Browne praised God for giving America a 'Rambo'.
In March 2016, Howard-Browne wrote a Facebook post titled “Donald Trump Is the New World Order’s Worst Nightmare,” where he detailed his choice to back Trump in the election as a check against a global conspiracy to destroy America.
In September 2017, Howard-Browne received media attention after referring to Hurricane Irma—a category 4 storm that caused the death of fifty people in the U.S. and Caribbean and resulted in power outages affecting 5.5 million people in Florida—as a "nothingburger". He further stated that "prayer took the teeth out of the storm".
Alleging human sacrifice
In an October 2017 sermon at The River at Tampa Bay church, Howard-Browne alleged that "They sacrifice children at the highest levels in Hollywood. They drink blood of young kids. This is a fact", continuing, "The human sacrifice and the cannibalism has been going on for years" in Hollywood and Washington, D.C.
Arming of the River at Tampa Bay church
Howard-Browne drew attention for a social media post in November 2017, two days after the Sutherland Springs church shooting, stating that his church was not a gun-free zone and that he and the church's pastors “are all heavily armed” and would use “deadly force”.
Conspiracy theories on InfoWars
In March 2018, Howard-Browne made an appearance on Alex Jones' InfoWars program during which he claimed: that a string of bombings in Austin, Texas were being used by "anarchist terrorists" in an attempt to bring "everything under control"; that churches and religious groups were being censored in the U.S.; and that "globalist gremlins" were attempting to thwart Donald Trump.
Christchurch Mosque shootings
Shortly after the Christchurch mosque shootings in March 2019, Howard-Browne tweeted his opinion that it was a 'false flag' operation: "There is no doubt that what happened in New Zealand as horrific as it is, is a false flag that will be blamed on conservatives when it’s all said and done! Only a total nutjob lunatic, insane demonized freak goes into a building and kills people, it’s unacceptable on every level!"
On August 27, 2019, Howard-Browne delivered a sermon in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut as part of a 300-city tour. He preached for over an hour at an Iqaluit church to a mostly Inuit audience of more than 100 people. The event featured a call for donations, including a video of Howard-Browne claiming “God loves a generous giver,” which Nunatsiaq News criticized on the basis that poverty is widespread in the city and nearly half of Nunavut's population relies on social assistance amidst long-standing crises in food security and housing. The news outlet also noted that he “lashed out” at and “harangued” audience members who tried to leave before the end of the sermon. Commenting after the event, Anglican bishop for the Arctic, David Parsons, described Howard-Browne as an extremist.
Howard-Browne kept his church open during the COVID-19 pandemic and on March 15 told his congregants to continue shaking hands because they were “revivalists, not pansies”. He dedicated most of the sermon to mocking fears about the spread of the coronavirus and calling it a “phantom plague” designed to shut down churches and terrify people into receiving a vaccine that would cause mass deaths as a population control scheme, which he claimed was part of a plan laid out in a 2010 document “Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development” produced by The Rockefeller Foundation and Global Business Network. Several weeks prior, Howard-Browne claimed in a video that he would cure Florida of coronavirus, and in a 2019 video he had falsely claimed that he and other worshipers at his church had cleansed Florida of Zika virus.
On March 29, 2020, Howard-Browne's congregation received a visit from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office warning about his violations of the county's safer-at-home order, which limited public gatherings to 10 people. The next day, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced that he had issued an arrest warrant for unlawful assembly and for violating rules regarding public health emergencies after Howard-Browne continued to hold large church services in defiance of the public order. Chronister said he had no choice but to take action against Howard-Browne, stating "His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people from his congregation at risk and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week."
On March 30, 2020, Howard-Browne was arrested and jailed for unlawful assembly and for violating health and safety rules, with each charge carrying a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. He was released from jail after posting a $500 bond. On April 1, Howard-Browne said that he would not open his church the following weekend over fear of his congregation's safety and to protect them from “government tyranny." However, his lawyer, Mathew Staver of the law firm Liberty Counsel, said that Howard-Browne's arrest earlier in the week had led to the pastor's insurance policy being cancelled. Howard-Browne also claimed and that he had received death threats. The pastor held open the possibility that the church would be open for Easter services but then announced on April 9 that it would instead be closed. Prosecutors dropped the charges on May 15, deeming that Howard-Browne posed no ongoing risk to public health after he took steps to maintain responsible social distancing at the church.
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Through the summer of 1991, we held revival meetings in Louisville, Kentucky, and all over the surrounding…
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Howard-Browne also spoke in tongues, which he claimed was once understood in the obscure native dialect of a Papua New Guinea pastor
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There is a planned attack on our president," he said, “and that’s all I can tell you about right now; I know what I’m talking about, I’ve spoken to high-ranking people in the government and this is being planned by people that hate God, hate America, hate our president and we have to stop this, in Jesus name.”
Mantyla, Kyle (July 31, 2017). "Pastor Who Claimed His Prayers Averted Anti-Trump Attack Refuses To Provide Details To Secret Service Because It's 'Not My Problem'". Right Wing Watch. Right Wing Watch. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
Somebody reported me to the Secret Service, so they came over” he claimed. “Three guys, we sat and talked; very nice people and they wanted to know who the congressman was. I said, ‘I can’t tell you that, it was pastoral privilege.’ I said, ‘I prayed for him’ and he said, ‘So, it was like a confession?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I can’t tell you. I’m not going to tell you, I can’t tell you, it’s impossible.'” “If the Secret Service in Washington, D.C., don’t know what’s coming down, then why should somebody from Tampa?” Howard-Browne added. “This is a senior member of Congress. If he actually knew anything, he would inform the Secret Service himself. It’s not my problem.
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They sacrifice children at the highest levels in Hollywood. They drink blood of young kids. This is a fact. That's why the next thing to be exposed will be all the pedophilia that is going to come out of Hollywood and come out of Washington, D.C. The human sacrifice and the cannibalism has been going on for years
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