The Curious Life and Death (?) of William Branham

 One of the reasons Pentecostalism is both academically fascinating and personally invigorating is because of its ability for religious innovation. Its pneumatic drive make it a daring mix of high tension piety and effervescence (thank you Emile Durkheim). Independent evangelists have had more of a hand in crafting their own brand of Pentecostalism since they tend to be free of the denominational structures imposed by hierarchies whose survival depends on securing the borders of orthodox belief and practice. William Branham was one of the most intriguing Pentecostals of the mid 20th century, and as always, depending on whose history and theology you buy–was either a charlatan, prophet, heretic, modern-day Elijah, trickster, or Messenger of the Seventh Age.

 

pilgrimage site for Branham’s followers

Every Easter, a group of Branham’s followers visit his grave in Jeffersonville, Indiana and await his resurrection, which will be the sign that Jesus’ Second Coming is at hand. Branham’s grave attracts hundreds of domestic and international visitors who believe, as Branham prophesied, that he was the messenger of the Last Days. This was not the only unusual view that Branham held. Branham believed that women were forbidden from holding any ministry position, and called women who wore make-up, “dog-meat.” With his prophecies of the Seven Ages, Branham contributed to a long-standing belief that the Roman Catholic church would have a negative role to play in the end-time schema, though depending on which Branhamite website you go to, the anti-Catholicism is more virulent on some–but it is there nevertheless. We will look at Branham’s Seven Age prophecies in a minute, first, a little background.

 Branham was born in a log cabin in Kentucky in 1909. The hagiographic re-telling of his life story begins with his infancy, where as Branham tells it, he had a glowing angelic presence aside him sincebirth. This presence later will be a constant in Branham’s ministry, he describes it as a guardian angel, his followers later change it to “Pillar of Fire,” perhaps because the use and role of angels in Pentecostalism has a mixed history, especially when claiming some kind of agency, these angels start to look–well–too Catholic. Branham’s angels walk around his various places of ministry, they tell him about people, their illnesses, their problems–in effect, they are the catalysts for what Pentecostals call “words of knowledge,” information gleaned from a divine source about people that one would not know otherwise. Branham was also a Oneness Pentecostal, attributing belief in the Trinity to unbiblical interpretation of particular texts. Branham’s followers seem to have continued that line of theological thinking, and in some cases, invoke the presence of ministering angels as Branham did, but more so outside the U.S.

angelic presence or Pillar of Fire

 

Belief in Branham is global. There are at least 6500 ministers worldwide who align themselves at least in part with Branham’s prophetic ministry, in total about 2 million followers, many in the 2/3 world. A quick look at where Branham’s ministry, the Voice of God, is located, Angola, Philippines, Argentina, Benin, Bolivia, India, Togo, and South Africa among dozens of other countries says much about what researchers have told us about global Pentecostalism. First, its more supernaturally inclined than U.S. variety–healing and prophecy being staples of Pentecostal practice. Second, its theological fluidity allows for the Oneness variety to be accepted more readily, mostly because Pentecostalism is popular because it is viewed as working for everyday needs.

Out of the 1100 sermons and messages that Branham left his followers (all searchable online), the few that have garnered most attention are his prophecies concerning the Seven Ages. Many of these prophecies have been prominent since the beginning of the bible prophecy movement of the late 19th/early 20th century. These prophecies reinforce the political and cultural roots out of which they are shaped and re-trained to appeal to like-minded theological allies. The first three prophecies: the invasion of Ethiopia by Mussolini, U.S. entanglement in a war with Germany, and the rise of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism–which eventually all become part of a global communism movement, are all fairly typical politically motivated prophecies, setting up what is most important for Branham’s followers, and indeed many contemporary Pentecostals who follow prophetic musings–that Communism is a part of the eternal struggle–so anything that smacks of it has to be resisted.

 

Branham prophesied that driverless egg-shaped cars were portents of the End

The next prophecies, technological advances such as an “egg-shaped” driverless car also marks the beginning of the end (truth be told, I don’t find Smart Cars theologically problematic as much as I find them annoying). This prophecy plays into the penchant that some Pentecostals have to eschew scientific and technological innovations as dangerous because they are created outside of God’s controlling power. ( In a few weeks, I will tell you about the co-worker who cautioned me not to use my ATM card fearing it would lead to the mark of the Beast–to which I replied I would not be using my card–because I was broke, she seemed relieved nevertheless).

 

Prophecy number five we will bracket till next time when we re-visit Pentecostal dress codes, in particular, all the things women do that drive Pentecostal men crazy—yes, we are going to talk about hairstyles and make-up, something my daughter will be thrilled about. Suffice to say, one of the marks of the end-times is the “fast moral decay of women, [where] she soon began to wear clothes that were too revealing, she bobbed her hair and and adopted the clothing of men.” More next time.

 Prophecy Six and Seven have the U.S. at the center, which, if you are curious, is always a good sign that the prophecy is made in the USA–since we are always the center of our own universe, even in bible prophecy. Prophecy Six relates the loss of U.S. power to the whore of Babylon, (Roman Catholic Church), and presumably the loss of Protestant America means that the U.S. has given up any legitimate right to theological supremacy. With that prophecy seven ends with the destruction of the U.S. in a nuclear attack (Russia always figures prominently here somehow).

from one of the dozens of websites that track Branham’s prophecies

 

Branham had another divergent view, called the “serpent’s seed” view of Genesis, where Eve has sexual relations with the serpent, thus giving rise to a race of inferior and cursed human beings–that historically this view has been used to promote white supremacy and African American inferiority, (through British Israelism for example), is a theology that is refuted with regularity by Branham’s detractors. Even his followers do not like to make the nexus between the theology and its racial implications, but others have already done so–for centuries. That this view, or the prophecies, or the views about women, and yes, even the (non)resurrection of Branham do not affect his popularity perhaps says much about how people structure their belief.

 People’s plausibility structures are stretched out to the max–people are willing to suspend their own disappointment, entertain divergent views, accept the anti Trinitarian, anti-Catholic, anti-women views–simply because they want to believe. According to sociologists who study prophetic movements, people predisposed to prophecy have created ingenious ways of moving the yardsticks of what constitutes prophecy, proof, and belief because it is necessary for the effervescence of the movement to continue to motivate them to promoting Branham’s life as nearly divine and their spiritual lives as meaningful.

 Next time–Hair and Make-Up Tips from the Pentecostal Subcutlure

 

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  • David C

    Branham wasn’t perfect but he was better than what passes for Protestantism today–Believe the Sign is a joke–just another run of the mill Christian site-they-think they have all the answers.

  • David C

    The author is trying to sympathize with William Branham? Did you read the article? He was sarcastic and making fun of Branham and his views.

    • Rothstein

      To write off Branham is at the apex of spiritual insanity

      • Joseph Terrell

        If the things the author says are true concerning Branham, then he was not of God. I have family in that movement and I can say, that, at least for some of them, Branham is an idol. One scarcely hears anything of Christ…it’s all about “Bro. Branham.”

      • Philosophizer4Truth

        Even w/o knowing anything else about this man, his claim of an anti-Triune God is utterly unbiblical, unChristian, and goes against scripture.. I do not even need to go further, waste any more time on him, as that tells me enough on its own.. As it should for any honest individual. Now, if the author is inaccurate (and from a quick check on this point, it appears he is being honest of Branham being a Oneness), please point out said inaccuracies.

        Being anti-Catholic is another issue, to be anti-Catholic (true Catholicism, under the Seat of Peter), is to be anti-Jesus- though he may be innocently ignorant of this, but it would then show that either these angels he claims were not real or not of God..

  • Ndumiso Mavuso

    If I had to live my life a thound times over, I will be nothing else but an avid believer of the message of GOD brought through WMB. If I lived my life based on popular opinion, I wouldn’t be a Christian today. If I followed a Word that is popular with the world, that would be contrary to anything that GOD has ever done. People should do themselves a big favour: seek GOD by faith and not by what makes you feel comfortable and makes you more accepted by the masses.

    • Philosophizer4Truth

      PLEASE read the Early Church Father!!! PLEASE. One the Oneness view alone he is absolutely inaccurate. His anti-Catholic is a major issue showing that either he did not have the gift to see angels OR the angels were not of God. Read St. Ignatius of Antioch, Augustine, Benedict, Aquinas, etc.. All of their work is available free online. G.K. Chesterton, C.S.Lewis, Peter Kreeft are more recent, but excellent apologists and very knowledgeable of Church History.. WMB is either a wolf in sheep clothing or was mentally ill.

  • KONSIDINE_1

    YOUR CHURCH IS FULL OF MURDER AND PERSECUTION Some Huguenot preachers and congregants were attacked as they attempted to meet for worship.[16] The height of this persecution was the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre when 5,000 to 30,000 were killed, although there were also underlying political reasons for this as well, as some of the Huguenots were nobles trying to establish separate centers of power in southern France. Retaliating against the French Catholics, the Huguenots had their own militia.[17] THE THE POPE SOLD OUT THE IRISH TO THE ENGLISH AND IN SOUTH AMERICA THEY SOLD OUT THE INDIAN WHO WERE FREE FROM THE SPANISH TO THE PORTUGESE WHO MADE THEM SLAVES WILLIAM BRANHAM DID NOT MURDER MAKE SLAVES SELL OUT COUNTRIES THE LIST GO”S ON AND YOU SO SELF RIGHTEOUSLY BRING UP SOME THINGS LIKE SOME BOOKS OR STORIES BUT YOU GUYS INVENTED THE SPEAR OF DESTINY AND A WHOLE OTHER FABLES WHICH CANNOT BE PROVEN

    • Philosophizer4Truth

      Please do better research. The CHURCH did NOT orchestrate the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, not even close.. The uprising occurred due to persecution and rhetoric of the Calvinists. I do want to say that I am not claiming that every Catholic individual that took part was justified, nor that such behavior is ok (Church writing is pretty clear on what constitutes a just war, a just reason for taking a life (i.e. defense). But it is so simple (here is a link, please do verify from unbiased, 1st hand accounts, and respected historians- http://www.defendingthebride.com/hs/bartholomew.html#1 ).

      The Church did not sell the Irish, the Church is not in control of sovereign nations, Kings were. Though at times, the Church did have more say over such things, it did not have full authority over civil earthly govmts. Evident by the vicious persecution of Catholics by the English & Protestants. The anti-Catholic English persecuted the CATHOLIC Irish because they would not recognize the King’s self-appointed seat as head of Church.

      The Catholic Church did much to free slaves. Remember Squanto? Catholic! He had been bought by the Franciscans in Spain, w/ a few others on the same day that the Franciscans could afford, and freed. Squanto learned English via the Jesuits who helped him gain passage to England, and then back to North America. Do not confuse countries w/ the Church. It is NOT the same. The Pope wrote numerous times to many Catholic leaders opposing slavery; just as every Pope since the legalization of abortion has written out against abortion, and doing all possible to end abortion.

      I recommend starting from the beginning, and reading the Early Church Fathers, and how they describe the Church, Her beliefs, practices, etc, and then compare to today claimants of the ‘True Church’.. You will find that only the Catholic Church fits. Then, restudy History using trusted, non-biased, not full of propaganda, opinion, false teachings that have encroached into most of non-scholarly popular lore/ belief..

      • John Clare

        The Church did not orchestrate the Massacre of St Bartholomew, but the pope ordered a celebratory Te Deum to be sung in St Peter’s Rome because he was so pleased.

  • Optical8

    This man was the keynote to all that God was and is, the most brilliant revelation of God the last 2 k years have seen, the world isn’t applauding, because the world doesn’t see “behold a little while and the world sees me no more”
    Can you describe the Glory of God? you get without words, thus there are no words to describe these things, the lamb took the book from him that sat upon the throne, the next time this book was seen was in the possession of the mighty angel of Rev 10, the third time John takes it, THIS TRANSACTION TAKES PLACE NOW do you suppose it’s glory is confined to some argument whether he was a true prophet or not? is this “book” a gloomy message tradition? a lifestyle? a future promise of something? hear ye! the reason the third pull doesn’t get explained as it’s too great! THIS INHERITANCE DEFIES EXPLANATION will the taking of this book be just another religious experience? therein is the world the miserable group, therein is the message believer who settles for anything less and hasn’t taken possession of this book in misery. press on folks! the true bride of Christ is the manifestation of the eternal God who never had a beginning…no earthly drama or play or symphony parallels this glorious revelation of Jesus Christ. 

  • Philosophizer4Truth

    Even w/o knowing anything else about this man, his claim of an anti-Triune God is utterly unbiblical, unChristian, and goes against scripture.. I do not even need to go further, waste any more time on him, as that tells me enough on its own.. As it should for any honest individual.