PENSACOLA -To this day, Mike and Vicky Conroy say they remain shaken by a November encounter with Michael Brown - an encounter that changed their lives and their livelihood.
The Conroys, who worked the Brownsville Revival faithfully for two years, had already left the revival because they had come to believe that it had a negative effect on people.
In their view, the revival had deviated from Scripture and was no longer teaching the word of God.
They are the first revival insiders to speak critically on the record about the revival and its leaders because of these concerns. Others at Brownsville have expressed similar concerns since the revival began in June 1995, the Conroys said, but many are afraid to speak out because they fear revival leaders lash out at dissenters.
The Conroys believe they were made an example of by Brown, who is president of the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry, and who was Mike Conroy's boss for six months.
"This was our experience and it was a very, very bad one," Vicky Conroy said.
While the Conroys hold deep convictions about the revival, they also have a responsibility as parents to provide for their 10 children.
Mike Conroy said his family is the reason he accepted a job offer in August 1997 to help set up the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry's cafeteria and serve as the school's food service director.
Mike Conroy said his work performance was not at issue that day 7Í months ago; instead, the Conroys said, the encounter was spurred by Brown's concern that they were not whole-hearted supporters or believers in the Brownsville Revival.
The tone and the outcome of the November meeting between the Conroys and Brown remains in dispute:
Brown says Mike Conroy was treated " ...quite graciously and with patience and gentleness."
The Conroys say they felt besieged, insulted and threatened.
Mike Conroy says shortly after this meeting, he left the school, believing he had been fired.
Brown says Mike Conroy resigned.
Brown declined to participate in a face-to-face interview without conditions, but he did respond to written questions from the News Journal.
Brown made this comment about the school's treatment of Mike Conroy:
"Mike Conroy, who headed up the school cafeteria, was not treated unfairly by the school and was never threatened in any way by me or the school. In point of fact, he was treated quite graciously and with patience and gentleness. Also, he was not dismissed but rather resigned on the spot when addressed by our administrator about work-related problems. Since we do, however, respect and love Mike as a fellow Christian, and since we do not want to cause him any undue embarrassment, we feel that it is improper to say anything further about the matter."
Mike and Vicky Conroy feel differently. This is how they describe that day:
Vicky Conroy, 44, recalls without hesitation what was said. As a mother of 10, and a woman who has spent her life battling for the rights of children, both unwanted and unborn, she said she felt threatened by what she heard Brown say.
She remembers the conversation specifically because the words hit her heart.
"He said, 'Now, how many children? Don't you all have nine children?' I said, 'No sir, we have 10 children.' "
Vicky Conroy said that Brown replied, "Well I know how difficult that would be financially if Mike were to lose his job."
Vicky Conroy said that she felt Brown was trying to punish her husband and her family because of her doubts to the validity of the revival and to send a message to doubters: "How dare anybody question. This is what will happen."
Before the Conroys left the revival and Brownsville Assembly of God, Vicky Conroy talked to Hank Hanegraaff about her concerns. Hanegraaff, a nationally syndicated religious radio host, has been a target of revival leaders for his critical stance on questionable religious movements such as Brownsville.
Some of his concerns were the same as hers, Vicky Conroy said.
In October 1997, Mike Conroy said he was called into Brown's office unexpectedly. Brown, he said, asked him why his wife was talking to "the enemy."
Mike Conroy said Brown told him he and Hanegraaff had discussed Vicky Conroy's conversation. Then Brown demanded a meeting.
On Nov. 7, 1997, Mike and Vicky Conroy entered Brown's office at the revival school on U.S. 98 West to find Michael Brown and his wife, Nancy, waiting.
Vicky Conroy said she was accused of "coming against the revival."
Mike Conroy said his wife was "ordered to repent or else."
Michael Brown, she said, told her and her husband that "he could not have someone working there that did not believe this was a bona fide move of God."
Vicky Conroy's face clouds in hurt and anger as she recalls the meeting with the Browns. Comments were made, she said, that she felt assaulted her deepest-held convictions about the sanctity of human life.
The Conroys are known nationwide for their dedication to the pro-life movement, but in her 20 years in the trenches opposing abortion, Vicky Conroy said she has never been called anything that hurt her more. She left the meeting believing that the Browns had committed "a wrong that can never be righted."
"I think they intended to come on the way they did, to bring fear and intimidation," Vicky Conroy said. "It was the most unpleasant, uncomfortable meeting I have ever had among another group of Christians."
Michael Brown gave her a deadline, she said. When Vicky Conroy refused to repent two months later in January, she feared she knew what would happen. "I felt in my heart I was giving my husband a death penalty," she says.
Mike Conroy says that on Feb. 11, a school administrator, not Brown, found fault with Mike Conroy's work, even though Brown had acknowledged in November that there was no problem with performance.
But now the administrator told Mike Conroy that the cafeteria employees were threatening to quit unless something was done.
Mike Conroy, believing that his job was in jeopardy, replied: "I guess you want my keys."
He handed them to the administrator and left the school. When Mike Conroy returned later that day to pick up his things, the administrator met him outside and gave him a check for one month's pay, he said.
"She said, 'I'm sorry it had to come to this,' " Mike Conroy recalls.
Mike Conroy had just started another business cleaning carpets, but the $24,000 food service position was his family's main income provider. It was the first time in seven years the Conroys' 10 children, ages 19 to 5, had had medical insurance, and the Conroys did not want to lose that.
But they also did not want to go against their conscience and lie about their feelings about the revival.
Vicky Conroy says that finally, she got angry.
She went to her pastor of 11 years, John Kilpatrick. She says he asked why she had not come to him sooner.
She told him, "because on about 10 or 15 different times, you said from the pulpit you didn't want to hear - that if anyone had a problem with this revival, they could hit the door."
He seemed sympathetic and shocked that his words had had such a chilling effect, so she poured out her concerns, she said.
She told Kilpatrick the church had compromised itself, that Kilpatrick was trusting people he did not know, that the money bothered her because no Christian should live "a lifestyle that is so pretentious."
"It's not just pastors, it's Christians in general," Vicky Conroy said. "I think there has got to be modesty in their living. I think to live otherwise gives the appearance that this is all about money."
Kilpatrick listened, she says, but he never offered to intervene with Brown.
Vicky Conroy does not fault him for that, she says, because she believes Kilpatrick is being led by Brown.
"I don't have a problem with John Kilpatrick to this day," Vicky Conroy said. "We pray for that man as a family."