Brown is arguably the most influential evangelical in Nebraska. He is routinely asked to speak at churches because people look up to him and love him. This is true inside and outside the church. As a veteran local sage at the Omaha World-Herald noted, Brown has a track record of public engagement on moral issues.
Brown has been consistent in his convictions and beliefs for the 20-some years I've covered him, and gotten to know him. He's been speaking out and attending so many meetings, for so many years, quoting the good book and suggesting how folks should live their lives, that he's become a bit of a caricature of himself.
Why would the writer say this? Brown has a reputation for boldly speaking out on moral issues, and we have come to expect it.
Why is this a concern? Because many, like this columnist, hear a list of "do's" and "don'ts" in his soundbites and statements. This is where we all should be listening to those who listen to us. Are they hearing gospel or moralism? Are we preaching the gospel of what Jesus did or what we need to do/not do?
D. A. Carson has helpfully said, "It is easy to sound prophetic from the margins, what we need is to be prophetic from the center." That is, preaching against issues that flow out of a rejection of the gospel (sexual sin, abortion, etc) are peripheral and must be addressed by means of the core gospel, that which is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-5).
I asked Brown about the danger of his message being reduced merely to moralism. Brown pounced on this like an open-field tackle:
I do not want to see a moral Nebraska. I want to see a Nebraska and a country transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why I do all of this. Everything is about getting the truth of Jesus Christ out.
Brown's view of homosexuals does not emerge clearly in this media dust-up. Many have argued that he is hateful towards gays. He told me:
That's not true. It is not all about seeing homosexuals become hetereosexuals. This is not the message of the gospel. The gospel is about all types of sinners (like me) who are unbelievers becoming believers. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not discriminatory, it is all inclusive: we are all sinners. I am pretty consistent in talking to all types of people about Christ. This is the thing that encourages me in this whole thing: the gospel of Christ is being presented. God will forgive people. He will give a clean-slate to all who turn from sin and trust in Jesus.
As you listen to Brown talk about his burden for the gospel to take root, and then you re-read the soundbites, you feel the burden of Carson's words all the more: we must be prophetic from the center. They will hear what we are passionate about. We have to keep hitting those gospel notes, because it is a strange sound to people who do not yet recognize the tune.