The fear of falling apart

During his altar calls, William Branham liked to tell a story about a young deacon’s daughter who rejected the voice of the Lord for the last time. It was a popular story, and unsurprisingly so, for it was based around the chilling words of the girl herself.* It was the perfect example of the sin and destruction that awaited those who left the Message. If we left, we could rest assured, without the Message we would fall apart.

This version of the story is taken from The Sin of Unbelief, May 17, 1958:

Sometime ago, I was speaking to a girl. I felt led just to say something to her. And I said, “Sister,” after the service was over, I said, “Would you come to Christ?”
She said, “I belong to church, and if I wanted somebody to speak to me I’d get a pastor that had some sense.” Said, “Don’t you try to ever embarrass me.”
Said, “Very well, I’m sorry. No one knows this but you and I. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I only asked you because I said I felt led,” standing by side of a little old rose bush by a Baptist church down Nashville, Tennessee. Never forget the night: the wind blowing, moon shining. And she turned her little painted lips up and her little nose and snickled away, met up with a bunch of boys.
About a year later, I passed through the same city, was down there having a campaign. And as I was walking down the street, I seen a young lady walking down the street with her skirts terrible. I looked at her and I thought, “Surely that’s not her.” And I turned and started following her. She looked at me as they passed. I caught up with her. She said, “Hello, preacher.”
I said, “How do you do. Aren’t you the…”
And she said, “I am.” She stopped and reached in her pocketbook, pulled out a cigarette, said, “Have one.”
I said, “Shame on you.”
She said, “Well maybe you’d take a little drink out of my bottle.”
I said, “Does your father know this?” a deacon at the church.
And she said, “I want to tell you something, preacher. You remember that night you spoke to me by that bush?”
I said, “I’ll never forget it.”
She said, “That was my last call.” And here’s the remark that that beautiful young woman made. She’d got in this modern teenage rock and roll stuff. And she said, “Preacher, my heart is so hard till I could see my mother’s soul fry in hell like a pancake and laugh at it.” Done crossed the line between mercy and judgment.

Branham used this story frequently as evidence of the urgency of every moment of the altar call. A hard heart could cause one to miss the voice of God, reaching out just one last time before mercy expired. In 1959, Branham prefaced the story with the warning:

How long will it be before your time’s up? You don’t know when. Don’t take a chance on this, friend. Oh, if you’re here, and you know you’re not right, have you grieved the Holy Spirit so many times from your heart, that He doesn’t deal with you no more? I’d burst with the faintest little call. You know, His Spirit won’t always strive with man. Someday It’s going to quit striving. And you can just… He can knock, tell you you’re wrong, knock, tell you you’re wrong, and you keep ward It away, after while, It won’t come at all no more.

And in 1964, the same warning:

Come on out of the balcony. We’ll wait for you. … This is–means your life.
What happens? Look at the earthquakes all over the earth, shaking the earth again. Look what’s happening everywhere. The time is at hand. And look, the door will be closed after while, and you’ll cry to get in and can’t.

This is closely related to my last post, as it promotes the image of an impatient God, anxious to rip the rug of forgiveness from under our feet before we’ve fully committed our hearts to Him. Not only does it induce panic, it also precludes one’s ability to make an honest commitment with one’s whole heart. The more cynical among us might even detect a hint of advertising. How many of us have been duped into buying something on sale that we really don’t want or need for fear that we’ll never see such a bargain again? “Salvation is available now for free! But hurry! Act now and give your heart to Christ!  This limited-time offer is about to expire! This is your last chance to get saved! Accept the Message now, before the service is over and Christ leaves the mercy seat!” Perhaps more importantly, how many of us have justified such hasty decisions after they’re made? Once in the Message, how many can fully reconsider their choice without fear of punishment?

The punishment for walking away from the Message is never left to the imagination. Not only is there the Great Tribulation, with its famines, wars, and diseases never before known to the human race, there’s the total depravity awaiting our earthly hearts, minds, and bodies. The young woman who had ignored Branham’s call was willing to watch her mother’s soul “fry in hell like a pancake” and “laugh.” This is a story of a good, innocent girl whose solitary act of neglect transformed her into a reprobate. All of the signs are present: cigarettes, alcohol, immodest clothing, implied promiscuity. To top it all off was her extreme bitterness of spirit.

But does life on the outside really look like this? Is this transformation inevitable? Even the secular media likes to suggest that it does. Both young women in Preacher’s Kid and Arranged encounter a world filled with danger: drugs, sexual treachery, betrayal, and above all, sin on every corner. When Rachel in Arranged seeks the help of her cousin to avoid being pressured into an arranged marriage by her Orthodox Jewish parents, the cousin invites her to a party filled with sensual dancing, smoke, intoxication, couples making out in the halls, and flirtation from a less than honorable young man. The cousin, raised Orthodox, has become a caricature of “worldliness” – wearing a midriff-baring shirt, doing drugs, and sleeping around. Indeed, Rachel exclaims in frustration later in the movie that her own arranged marriage should not be considered strange or oppressive when compared to “sleeping with a total stranger to find love.” But is that the only alternative? Surely not. Life is seldom so black and white.

When I left the Message, I faced the startling revelation that there were many kinds of “world” outside of it. There were immoderate drinkers, yes. There were hook-ups on my college campus. But it wasn’t everyone. In fact, it probably was a minority. And it certainly never was me.

The changes in my life have been both dramatic and mundane since leaving the Message, but of late I’ve especially been noticing the latter. It was dramatic when I realized that no longer attending church meant cutting off contact with everyone I’d ever known, including my best friend, the boy everyone expected me to marry. It felt dramatic the day I put on a pair of blue jeans and got my ears pierced. It was a miniature French revolution inside my head on the day I got my first haircut. I felt a rush of freedom like nothing I’d ever known before. Cutting my hair broke the last taboo – I felt like I could do anything in the whole world now, me and my split-free ends.

But did I turn to the predictable? Alcohol? Drugs? Sex? Am I constantly filling that nagging ache for God and the Message with the pleasures of the world? Am I debauched? Degraded?

Well, no.

  • Alcohol? I’ve been drunk once or twice, safely, among friends. I’ve found that I don’t like it much. Typically I limit myself to a drink or two, maybe once a month – enough to feel pleasantly warm and sleepy, but not enough to wander down the street with my underwear hanging out, offering sips to strange preachers. At my most drunk, I never felt the need to do anything more than giggle and sleep.
  • Drugs? I’ve had, to date, one very unpleasant puff of a cigarette. I don’t plan on a second – or anything else. Not for moral reasons, but because I care about my body and I like my mind to be clear.
  • Sex? Yes. But with one person: the love of my life, the man I’m going to marry. Not only that, but this took place after a year of dating, when we’d already decided we loved each other and were in it for the long haul. Just think, the average courtship is quicker than that!

What hasn’t changed in my life, other than window dressing and my mystical virginity (really, does having sex make me a different person? a less worthy person? funny, I feel the same!)? Very little. Little to nothing, in fact.

I still love baking and taking care of my home. I loved planting flowers outside and bringing home my baby kittens. I still like to read and write like I used to: in fact, now I do it for a living! When I need refreshment, I still like to go take walks in the woods and marvel at the beauty of nature.

There are more joys now in my life than there ever were in the Message. For instance, now I can go swimming without being dragged down under the weight of “modest” swimwear. I can feel the soft water and breeze on my skin and feel the sun warming my body, without the terror that somewhere, somehow, a man might be spying on and lusting after me.

I have the joy of listening to music that truly relates to my mood. If it’s soft and comforting I need, that’s what I listen to. If something has gone wrong and I’m angry, there’s angry music to make me feel less alone. I don’t constantly have to analyze every chord for the lurking anthem of Satan. I can simply listen, feel, and enjoy.

There’s nothing all that scary out here in my world. There’s nothing inevitable about falling into a cycle of alcoholism, drug abuse and promiscuity. There’s nothing about leaving the Message that needs to destroy you.

That said, there was a hurdle to cross. The single most difficult thing I had to face in walking away from the Message was the fear it had instilled in me that God would come after me with a metaphorical lightning rod. I was afraid that if I spoke one word against the prophet, I’d be struck down with cancer, or worse. And I kept my mouth shut. For years.

But as time went by, a funny thing happened… absolutely nothing. I began to realize that the fear itself was a relic of the Message. It no longer had any power over me. And suddenly I could speak. I was no longer a victim, because I had a voice. And better yet, I could help others realize that there’s nothing to fear. The outside is whatever you want it to be. Maybe you want a job, or an education, or just to wear a pair of jeans. That young lady in Branham’s story doesn’t have to be you; she didn’t have to be me. Maybe she never even existed. I don’t know.

But I do know this: there’s nothing to fear. Not even fear itself.

*I have not attempted to authenticate this story or identify the girl in question. Thus, as far as I know, it’s anyone’s word against Branham’s whether or not she actually said what he claims she did.

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