with a woman in his prayer line. (He would lay on hands, pray, and they would walk away healed, allegedly.)
If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always had an answer. If you asked again in ten minutes, it would be a different one. I wanted to be a figure skater, detective, veterinarian, zoologist, writer, astronaut and archaeologist – and not just one at a time. When I went outdoors to play, I climbed rocks and saw them as mountains. When I jumped over streams, I bravely bridged rivers. With stuffed animals as my companions, I sailed pirate ships and submarines and narrowly escaped devastating wars through wit and determination. I harboured refugees and defeated tyrants. In the house, I turned huge cardboard boxes into storefronts and sold pets to imaginary customers. The bar in the basement was converted to a restaurant where I served gourmet meals to my four-footed friends and ran a lucrative business.
And so it came as an utter shock when I began to talk to my friends at church about the future. “What do you want to be?” I’d ask them, dreaming of sailing off to Europe in a wooden ship and forging a new life from grit and grease.
“Oh,” they would say, “a mom, of course.” Genuine surprise crossed their faces at the consideration of anything else. They told me how many baby boys and girls they wanted and what their names would be. They told me about their future houses and the music that would play at their weddings. Their words rattled against my ears, lifeless.
I stared at them in defeat, and wandered off toward the woods where the boys were playing with sticks fashioned into swords. If there was anything I didn’t want to be, it was a mother. The church made motherhood look like a living death. It meant confinement to the house, a constantly bulging belly, eternally wiping up spittle and piss and listening to the grating wail of infants. It meant serving perfect meals to a man who couldn’t make toast. I watched my own father as he concluded his meals with a barked, “Coffee, woman!” and was aghast to see my mother scurry to put water in the coffeepot. As soon as I was old enough to learn, I began to set up the coffeepot in advance and discretely plug it in before he had finished eating, desperate to stave off that disgraceful command. It didn’t work. When I moved to help my mother with the dishes and lessen her load, it drew comments that boiled my blood.
“Look at my two women in the kitchen, just the way it should be.”
I’m not your woman, I seethed inwardly. I may be your daughter, but I belong to me.
My mother began to answer back less and less when my father levied demands. According to St. Paul, a wife was to submit to her husband in everything, unless, of course, he asked her to sin. My father sank his teeth into this doctrine, only half-joking as he insisted that he was the head of the house and his word was law. As the years passed, my mother dished back his attitude less and less frequently, and the half-joke soon was not a joke at all.
The problem with the world today, Pastor Jacob explained soberly over the makeshift pine box of a pulpit, was domineering women. The spirit of Jezebel was in the land, infecting women with the sinful urge to cut off their long hair, a sign of submission to the heads of their families: their husbands. Women who talked back, who made decisions without asking permission, who wore makeup, who held jobs outside the home… these were all under the influence of Jezebel’s evil spirit, and would be rounded up like chaff and burned when Christ returned to judge the world.
“They done an evil thing done in this country,” the pastor read aloud from a sermon preached in 1960, “they have permitted women to vote. This is a woman’s nation, and she will pollute this nation as Eve did Eden. … I got, THUS SAITH THE LORD. In her voting she will elect the wrong person.” This wrong president was, by direct prophecy, to usher in a nuclear war that would end the world: the fulfilment of the Tribulation period mentioned in the Book of Revelations. The antichrist would be given power by rebellious, worldly women.
I learned that the Laodicean, “lukewarm” Church Age in which we lived was destined for a duel of two Biblical spirits returning to the earth. Christ had sent the last prophet mentioned in the Old Testament, Elijah of Malachi 4:5, to His Bride to make her ready for His return, the Rapture, and the Marriage of the Lamb. This prophet was born in 1905, and possessed the spirit of Elijah, ready and willing to fight against the return of that wicked Jezebel spirit. Just as Elijah in the Old Testament had cried out against the idolatry of Ahab’s wife and her domineering spirit, so William Branham was sent to condemn the rebellion of modern America. He was to forerun the second coming of Christ just as John the Baptist had forerun the first.
In the 1965 sermon “Marriage and Divorce,” Branham preached that Eve was to blame for original sin. God’s original creation was perfect, he claimed, and no creature in it could have sinned: but Eve wasn’t in the original creation. She was a “by-product” taken out of the side of Adam, with a shape designed by Satan to be alluring and to entice men to sinful thoughts. He spoke, in a stammering Kentucky accent,
“Notice, all nature runs in continuity. If He’d have made the woman in the same original creation, there’d have been no sin, because she couldn’t have done it, she couldn’t have done it. She is a perversion of the original creation. So is all sin a perversion of the original Truth! What is a lie? Is the Truth perverted. What is an adultery? Is the right act perverted. So there is the perverted creature, there is the perverted whole thing. And the whole thing is spelled s-i-n, laying right there. That’s why the question is so great. Only a piece, scrap, made of a man, to deceive him by; God made it, right here has proved it. That’s what she was made for. An immoral woman is the lowest thing that can be thought of, in the earth. Excuse this, young ladies. She is nothing but a human garbage can, a sex exposal. That’s all she is, an immoral woman, is a human sexual garbage can, a pollution, where filthy, dirty, ornery, low-down filth is disposed by her. What is she made this way for? For deception. Every sin that ever was on the earth was caused by a woman.”
I felt sick as I listened to the tinny voice crackling over the cassette tape. My mother listened to a new sermon every day, and there were over 1100 to choose from. But Marriage and Divorce was a cornerstone message, one upon which the whole doctrine of the original sin, the family, and ultimately the plan of God for redemption was based. I looked down at my defective female body and despised it as I listened. I’m a perversion of God’s original creation? I asked myself incredulously, staring at the freckled flesh in the mirror. My body was designed by Satan? When I reached the age of nine, my breasts began to bud and I quickly wrapped them in swaths of tight fabric, willing myself mightily to change sexes. What had I done, in that infinity of time before time, when God was planning His creation, to make him so hate me that he’d made me a girl? A girl, the physical embodiment of sin.
What could I hope for if I followed God’s plan? Was it possible to be anything more than a “human garbage can?” Yes, was Branham’s answer, but it brought little consolation. “Notice,” he continued, “now, the woman has got her place, and she is a jewel. Solomon, this man that had ten thousand wives… or had a thousand wives, rather, he said that, ‘A man that’s found a wife, has found a good thing.’ He said, ‘A good woman is a jewel in his crown,’ that’s an honor.”
But I didn’t want to be a jewel or a trash can. I wanted to be a human being. I wanted to explore the world and work hard and write a book that would change people’s hearts and minds. I wanted to wrap my arms around the earth and make it a better place by the time I was old enough to be forgotten. But none of this seemed to impress God very much: what he wanted wasn’t great ambition or skill. I had the wrong genitals for that. What he wanted was another woman to stay in the home, to give birth, to obey the man who chose her as his wife. He wanted a jewel, and if I wouldn’t be a jewel, I’d just have to be a trash can.
Had not God failed when he made me? If He didn’t want me to do great things, why was I not content to be a wife and mother? Why would He allow me to be born female, without also giving me feminine desires? Most people at my church would have cast a wary eye on my dreams if they knew I had them: surely I was simply rebellious, out of the will of God and defying His perfect plan for my life. Surely, they would say, I would be happier if I just surrendered to His will for me as a wife and mother, a woman’s highest calling. But when I searched my soul, I found not the slightest trace of desire to become the only thing God could possibly want me to be: a keeper at home.
What if I don’t marry? I thought desperately. Surely there must be something I can do on my own that won’t be wrong.
I gave up asking my female friends whether they wanted to do anything with their lives. It was obvious that they could not. As I sat down on the edge of the sandbox where Sven and his friend Jared were playing, Sven greeted me with a frown.
“Why don’t you go watch the babies with all the other girls and leave us alone?”
Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog The Unspoken Words: A Non-Prophet Message.