Book Review: Don't Call Me Brother
by Rich Brooks
November 7, 2004
[Don't Call Me Brother: A Ringmaster's Escape from the Pentecostal Church, Austin Miles; Edmund D. Cohen, Editor; Prometheus Books, 1989]
Attorney General John Ashcroft is perhaps the most prominent member of the charismatic Christian denomination known as the Assemblies of God, a fast-growing sect which appeals primarily to the "red state" booboisie and undoubtedly played a major role in Bush Jr.'s recent reelection. That such a crudely fundamentalist church could attract a fairly sophisticated show-business personality such as Austin Miles is a curiosity, but nonetheless a matter of record which the author here painfully presents in all its gory detail.
I was made aware of this autobiography by Alex Linder, who had come across this volume at a used book store in Salt Lake City during his recent trip there. In reading it, he had been stuck by the parallels and similarities between these Pentecostal Christians and certain segments of the White Nationalist movement. Backbiting, gossip and rumor mongering are pervasive in both these religious cults and the "new" cult-like National Alliance. Anyway, I was happy that Alex loaned me his copy of Don't Call Me Brother, if only because it provided me something which promised to be a good read during my long plane trip home from Missouri.
Due to a two-hour delay at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport (my favorite), it turned out that I finished this book long before my plane finally touched down. I mention this only to illustrate that what we have here is a very readable and fast-paced autobiography which is especially suitable for air travel. It is not a book which contains any surprises or shocks for any reasonably intelligent reader, as the excesses and outright fraud of the televangelist industry have been widely exposed and documented -- although perhaps they were not so widely known in 1989 when this book was first published.
Although Miles was associated with Jim and Tammy Bakker and their PTL ministries for many years, his indictment of the Pentecostal cult goes far beyond merely condemning the money-grubbing television preachers. Jim Bakker's homosexual liaisons have now become public record, but Miles makes a statement I found incredible. He estimated that perhaps 80 percent of the evangelical ministers he had known were practicing homosexuals, which is a much higher number than even those usually claimed by critics of the Catholic Church:
"I became increasingly aware of the astonishing prevalence of homosexuality among Assemblies of God ministers. 'Why couldn't the people see this?' I wondered! ... But the faithful accepted effiminate characteristics in ministers as examples of the gentleness and tenderness of Christ ...
I began to take special note of this kind of behavior in ministers as I went from church to church all over the United States and Canada. I recorded my impressions in my journal. Reviewing my journal, the proportion of ministers I have reason to suspect were homosexually inclined -- from whom there had come some sort of clear demonstration of lacivious attention to another male in my presence -- is a staggering eight out of ten. Eighty percent! And the great majority of them had what appeared to be good marriages."
If this is so - and I have no reason to doubt his claim - we are dealing here with a much greater level of hypocrisy than I had ever imagined. These are the yahoos, of course, who are constantly pontificating about the "sanctity of marriage" even as they practice a barnyard sexual morality themselves.
The information about an author's early life -- which for some reason is included in almost every autobiographical work -- is usually pretty boring unless the subject has an unusual or distinctive history. Don't Call Me Brother is no exception, so I skimmed over the first two or three chapters, not particularly interested in his early life with a single mother in Evansville, Indiana. At any rate, Miles ran away and joined the circus -- literally -- at the age of 14 and never looked back again at his unhappy childhood. He began his circus career as a clown, before finally becoming a successful, famous and well-paid ringmaster.
Somewhere along the line, Miles was influenced by one of his very persistent fellow performers to become a "born again" Christian. Ironically this "friend" who first brought him to Jeezus turned out to be one of the biggest hypocrites of the whole Assemblies of God bunch. This seems to me to be a generic problem with the whole ideology of "born again" Christianity, not merely a case of a few "bad apples in the barrel." According to their perverse theology, accepting Jesus and being "saved" is all that matters; any kind of immoral conduct after that can always be "forgiven." Hence a propensity to cover up any immorality while at the same time smearing the messenger who dares to expose the corruption. There does indeed seem to be a parallel between how the National Alliance leadership has tried to smear and ostracize Linder and the Assemblies of God's response to messenger-bearing-bad-news Miles.
Miles eventually quit his ringmaster's job and became a full-time minister, and was apparently a well-known figure in the evangelical movement due to his frequent televitz appearances with Jim and Tammy, among others. I wouldn't know, because I only watched the PTL show a couple times during the '80s for laughs: Tammy was a trip with that makeup job and her baby-doll voice.
Becoming a minister was a total disaster for Austin Miles. After spending more than ten years in service to God, he was rewarded with a broken marriage and an alienated daughter. His finances and his reputation were ruined by a relentless whispering campaign by these upright Christians jealous over their little pieces of turf. Eventually, the stark reality of his situation hit him, and he was forced to concede that his "faith" was severely misplaced.
Miles is bitter, and the tone of his book does nothing to try to sugarcoat his anger at those who led him down a garden path and then betrayed him. But he does go surprisingly easy on many of those in the evangelical movement he names by name, often bending over backwards to ascribe charitable motives to them. There are a few public figures he has no mercy in vilifying, however, and they include Pat Robertson and J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was at one time a poster boy for an Assemblies of God pamphlet, even though by all accounts he was a reprehensible human being. Miles had a personal run-in with the FBI in his early life, but he is somewhat cryptic in writing about this episode. Apparently it had to do with some personal knowledge he had about events surrounding the death of Marilyn Monroe, and I can understand his reluctance to reveal more details. It is evident, however, that he faced the same kind of harassment by the feds that White Nationalists see everyday.
I wish Miles had offered more factual detail about the kinds of un-Christlike behavior directed against him. Much of his narrative is conclusionary rather than evidentiary; I would have liked to have read in more detail about what these cretins actually did and not so much his feelings about it. On the other hand, this is a very personal story and retelling it must have been very painful for him at many points. Fortunately, he was able to put his life back together when he finally put Christianity behind him, but I'm sure there are many others who haven't been so lucky.
Yes, I can see definite implications for the White Nationalist movement in the types of characters revealed here. Any parallels stop, however, when we consider the overall success of the movement. Yes, it is loaded from top to bottom with charlatans, but as "The Salesman" never tires of pointing out, the evangelicals and their related ilk have been highly successful in peddling their wares. It seems that no amount of revealed scandal and corruption has been able to slow down the phenomenal growth of the "born-again" magicians and snake-handlers. We couldn't get 100 people to attend a rally in Topeka against the Brown decision, but a proven fraud like Benny Hinn can pack in 100,000 at a stadium any night of the week.
So maybe, Alex, the problem in White Nationalism is not the corruption itself, but in the fact that our corrupt leaders -- unlike those in the evangelical movement -- never seem to be on the same page. Perfect example is the longtime feud between Mark Weber and Willis Carto. I know none of the details behind this controversy (and don't want to know), but I like the things both men say and write. As nearly as I can tell, the issues are entirely personal, but it is tragic that we can't seem to set personal issues aside for the good of the movement and concentrate our fire on the enemy. The ADL just loves to report on these feuds within the White movement. In stark contrast, the evangelicals, as reported by Miles, work as a team to cover up any scandal and to control any damage if any should see the light of day. Example: if a minister is discovered to be a fag, the fact is hushed up and he is quietly transferred to another (and unsuspecting) congregation.
The bottom line is that Evangelical Christianity remains a powerful force in this country, a fact brought home to me recently not just by Bush Jr.'s re-election but also by the hundreds of churches I saw as I drove through the Missouri bible belt. It has been observed that these are mostly White people who should be on our side, but instead I saw only a slew of yellow ribbons pasted on the back of SUVs and minivans along with their Jesus fishes. Any book that can shed some light on the thought processes of these people is welcome, and indeed Austin Miles has given us some valuable insights.
One disconcerting note, however. You will note that the "editor" of this book is listed as Edmund D. Cohen. Miles states in his Acknowledgments page that Cohen's "sensitivity to the content and skillful surgery to the prose proved invaluable. The discipline and added dimension he contributed are manifest on every page." In other words, this book was ghost-written by a jew. Even though it has been in print for 15 years, Don't Call Me Brother is still available at amazon.com, but I think I would check my public library before I shelled out $25 or so for it.
Mr. Brooks edits whitealert.com .