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How I was Raised
Chapter One of My Memoir
When I was about five years old, I can distinctly remember telling my little friends that God had sent a prophet to us in America, that this prophet talked to angels, and had even met Jesus at one point. My friends were all raised in Christian homes, and had heard plenty of Bible stories, but they were very skeptical of my stories. I can remember my brother backing me up and telling them that these stories were true, and then that conversation would just die out.
Nowadays if you tell someone that God sent a prophet and he talked to an angel, people will assume that you are a Mormon, but we belonged to a far smaller group than the Mormons. Even at that early age, I knew my family’s beliefs were unusual, because I had never met anyone else who believed like we did, who didn’t go to our church. I remember hearing in church that we were the only people who had the truth. There were no other churches in the world that had the correct interpretation of the Bible- just this one small congregation in Moundville, Missouri.
The most prominent thing that made us different was that we, unlike every other family I knew outside my church, did not own a television. I was told that they were “of the devil,” and that they would “rot my brain.” We also were not allowed to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, and at Christmas we did not put up a tree, although we did exchange gifts. Other peculiarities were the fact that my mom and sister always wore long skirts or dresses and never cut their hair or wore makeup of any kind. All of these odd practices were because of things that our prophet had said.
The prophet’s name was William Branham and he was an evangelist in the highly religious 1950s. He had many prophecies and spiritual experiences and was a highly acclaimed faith healer. He died in 1965 but over eleven hundred of his sermons were recorded and available on both cassette and booklet form. I was taught that those sermons were more precious than the Bible, because on those tapes and in those books was “the fully revealed word of God.” Branham’s followers believed that he was the Prophet Elijah, sent to the end time generation to fulfill Malachi 4:5-6: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” Although Branham himself rarely made this claim, he insinuated it in many different, and not so subtle, ways.
Brother Branham, as his followers still call him, was a prominent fixture in our home. My parents had a painting of Jesus, a cross, and a portrait of Branham hanging in the living room along with an artistic depiction of what Branham called his Revelation of the Seven Church Ages (Revelations 1:11). I was taught that Brother Branham was almost as important as Jesus himself, and at a very young age I had developed a strong emotional attachment to this amazing man. This sort of enshrinement and level of dedication is very common in the lives of Branham’s followers. They refer to themselves as Believers of the Message of the Hour. This has gotten shortened into Message Believers, or just Believers, and the belief system has been shortened to The Message.
Many of my childhood memories are of listening to William Branham’s recorded sermons. I can remember watching my parents listening to the sermon and studiously following along in the book form of the tape. Branham’s southern voice and faltering grammar were familiar sounds in our household. I never one time thought it odd that we continually listened to the recordings of a man who had died fourteen years before I was born.
I would listen to this man on the tape telling stories of angelic visits and miraculous healings and was always mesmerized by them. I can remember Branham telling of the death of his wife and baby when he was a fairly young minister and feeling so sad that my Prophet had such a hard life. I also remember Branham telling the story of speaking squirrels into existence from thin air and of praying for a dead baby in Mexico City and it coming back to life.
I was raised to believe that everything he said was as if God had said it. The recorded voice of William Branham permeated my childhood, and by the age of seven I am certain I would have been able to recite most of Branham’s life story from memory. I have a distinct childhood memory of laying on the living room floor while my family listened to a cassette tape of one of Branham’s sermons and the prophet saying, “So when you see a woman wearing paint, you just say, ‘Good morning, Miss Dog Meat.’ That's exactly what it is. That's awful, isn't it? But that's what God thinks about it. She's just made common dog meat for wild dogs.” This was his teaching on the story of Jezebel in the Bible. Branham was not gentle on women who did not measure up to his standard of holiness or who wore “worldly” clothing. Women, who cut their hair, used makeup, or wore anything but the most old fashioned dresses and skirts were publically berated and called by terms such as “Human garbage can” or “Dog Meat.”
Branham also claimed that “every sin that ever was on the earth was caused by a woman” and that “ninety-eight percent of every crime that was ever did in any form in the United States, there was either a woman in it or behind it.” Branham even admitted that he used to believe that a woman who cheated on her husband was “not worth a good clean bullet to kill them with” but said that was before he was converted to Christianity.
He taught that if a woman cut her hair that she had no right to pray: “And women, when the Bible says it's an uncommon thing, or common thing, for a woman even to pray with her hair cut, she has no right to pray.” He was also vehemently opposed to women preaching: “Now listen to this about the women preachers. All right, first thing would be, I want the--the I Timothy 2:11. Now, listen what it says here. Let your women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, or to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. I'm not responsible for putting it in there. I'm responsible for telling you it's in there.” He also used the same verse to condemn the idea of women police officers and politicians, and he mentioned several times, with great disgust, that someday a woman would become president.
In fact, the only thing a woman was good for was housework and being a mother. In Branham’s own words: “When a woman gets out of the kitchen, she's out of her place. That's right. That's where she belongs. Outside of that, she has no place.”
Men weren’t entirely immune from Branham’s criticism, but they definitely were not subjected to such hateful terms. He did say that “If a man was caught running out with another man's wife, they should both be taken out in public and castrated right in public and turned loose.” As a boy, I was taught that men had to keep their hair cut, keep their face shaved, and always wear pants; shorts were not allowed. Obviously the burden on the males of this religion was significantly less.
All of the quotes I present here are not isolated statements that Branham’s followers obsessed over. The theme in these statements that I am sharing is repeated over and over, hundreds of times throughout the sermons of William Branham. These quotes are a representation of Branham’s dogma and the firmly held beliefs of his followers.
However, some of the lesser doctrines of his followers are not able to be directly tied to Branham however. Some examples of this include, the teaching that men should not have facial hair or that it is idolatry to have a Christmas tree. The idea that men were superior to women, though, was an inescapable doctrine, and it was taught to all the boys in our church. Men were stronger and smarter, and Satan could “deceive a woman a thousand times quicker than a man.” Women were supposed to be subject to men, and I can remember feeling proud to be male, as if I had some special powers that women would never understand. This sort of superiority complex caused me many problems later in life.
Some of the prophet’s teachings affected all of the children in my church equally. Branham made the statement, “But we understand by this that education, science, and civilization is of the Devil. That's right. It isn't of God. It is of the Devil.” Because of statements like this, and others where he mocked educated people for not being able to understand God’s Word, my oldest two siblings were forced to drop out of high school at sixteen, and my closest brother and I were taken out of school and homeschooled one year after it became legal to do so in the state of Missouri.
Branham’s teaching on a woman’s role in life, his strict dress code, and his political opinions were extreme but weren’t as odd as his doctrinal teachings. From the tent meetings and prayer lines of the 50s, Branham moved into a far more doctrinal ministry in the 60s. He brought forth many revelations that he claimed he received directly from God. He taught on “Marriage and Divorce,” claiming that a woman could never remarry once divorced and that men could only remarry under specific circumstances. The circumstances where a man could divorce his wife and remarry included situations like a woman refusing have a child for her husband or cutting her hair.
Another revelation that Branham claimed to have received directly from God was “The Revelation of the Seven Church Ages” that I mentioned before. In his book An Exposition on The Seven Church Ages, Branham taught that when the Bible referred to the seven churches in Asia they were not only literal churches but also distinct time periods with what he called “Church Age Messengers” that God had sent to each age. Conveniently, the messenger to the last age, called Laodicea, was supposed to be Elijah the prophet who- as I mentioned before- was William Branham.
The most predominate of Branham’s revelations, however, was “The Revelation of the Seven Seals.” Branham even claimed that he was caught up into a cloud of angels where God gave him the revelation that was hidden behind the seven seals that are mentioned in the book of Revelations. When he first talked about this event, he said “five to seven” angles but later changed it to seven. He then claimed that the seven Church Age Messengers were those same seven angles. The implication is, of course, that he met his own angelic form- a rare privilege for sure.
Both the Seven Church Ages and the Seven Seals are presented as mysteries that were only revealed to William Branham, but, in recent years new light has shined on the teachings of a man named Clarence Larkin. In 1918, Larkin wrote some of the exact same things that Branham claimed as his own. It is very evident to any unbiased examiner that Branham plagiarized Larkin. Branham even admitted to reading some of Larkin’s books but also said he just couldn’t “make it come out right.”
Of all of Branham’s unusual revelations, none are stranger than his doctrine on the original sin, a doctrine often referred to by Message Believers as “Serpent Seed.” Branham taught that the original sin was not that Eve at an apple, but that she had sex with the serpent, and Cain was the product of that interbreeding. “Now, notice. She, Eve, is Satan's queen. See, Satan, the serpent got to Eve before Adam got to her. That's right. So he beguiled her, so Satan, the serpent was the husband of Eve before Adam ever knew. See? He beguiled her. The Bible said he did, and she knowed she was naked then. See?” “Eve started this evil thing when she interbred there with this other thing that was near a man, that would mix the seed; 'cause the serpent had a seed that was continuely to bruise.”
According to Branham, this intercourse was possible because at the time of Eve’s seduction the serpent was an upright creature that God later cursed to slither on the ground and eat dust. Branham referred to this upright serpent as the “missing link” between chimpanzees and humans even though he didn’t ascribe to the theory of evolution.
Although these beliefs seem misogynistic, abusive, bizarre, disgusting, and sometimes downright creepy to people who were not raised in The Message, to me they were just a fact of life. I was taught to never question the Prophet or the Bible, and if one seemed to contradict the other, that was a lack of revelation on my part, not a failing of the Prophet. I can remember hearing ministers say things like “the Prophet said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Or, “I may not understand it but I believe it.” The idea that belief was preferred above understanding was prevalent and, as I grew older, often necessary to maintain my dedication to The Message.
I was an avid reader from a young age, and I loved history and science. Many times I would find something Branham said that directly contradicted one of these two disciplines. Just one example of this is when Branham mentioned Marshall Matt Dillon, the lead character in the hit TV series Gunsmoke. “And Matt Dillon was as yellow as a rabbit. He shot twenty-eight men in the back, innocent people, going outside of Dodge City and waiting in a bush.” The truth is that Matt Dillon was a completely fictitious character who only existed on television and radio programs. I knew that was the case and would just excuse what I now see was rank ignorance as mistaken identity. Brother Branham must have been thinking of a historical figure that Matt Dillon was loosely based on, I thought. I would often come across such discrepancies with reality, and I would always deal with them in a similar manner; the prophet was always right, even when he was wrong.