Hardly anybody knows who William Branham was, much less that he has an active following in 2010. He appears only as a footnote in the history of the evangelical and fundamentalist movements. Joel Carpenter’s Revive Us Again (1999), which deals explicitly with the timeframe in which Branham came into the spotlight, totally omits him, as does Grant Wacker’s Heaven Below. Encyclopedias of religious thought place him amongst such contemporary evangelists as Billy Graham and Oral Roberts. Indeed, Branham spoke of these men with respect during his lifetime. All of them drew significant crowds, especially Graham. Branham attracted pentecostals with his “signs and wonders” preaching and demonstrations of the gifts of healing and discernment. Why, then, has he vanished from textbooks? And if he has vanished from textbooks, why resurrect him on this blog?
I have yet to find an acceptable answer to the first question. I don’t know how or why his name has been so thoroughly obliterated from the record of major American evangelists. I don’t know why only one historian, C. Douglas Weaver, has dedicated a book-length study to his rise and sudden fall (Branham’s popularity collapsed sharply in the 1960s). Branham also receives a relatively substantial (and sympathetic) treatment in David Harrell’s All Things are Possible (1975).
I do, however, have an answer to the second question: I am writing about the Message because I want to provide support for people leaving the Message who feel isolated, and I want to warn potential converts that there is more to the Message than they are being told. William Branham’s followers count on the fact that no one has heard of him in order to make a better case for conversion. I have already described the slow, calculated introduction of Branham from his life story, supernatural gifts and promises to his humility and emphasis on divine grace. It is crucial for Message believers’ witnessing program that they control the first face of Branham that their converts see. They know (and will admit) that they would never expose a new believer to “Marriage and Divorce” unless cornered. They claim it is because the new convert lacks spiritual maturity to digest the message – it is “meat,” they say, and “spiritual babies” need “milk” like love and forgiveness. In other words, if the new convert saw what she was signing up for without a carefully crafted rosy glass, she’d drop it and run.
Most websites opposing William Branham do so from an evangelical perspective, focusing on the heresies of his doctrine and calling him a false prophet. Whether or not he’s a false prophet is irrelevant to me. What matters to me is the havoc his doctrine wreaks on the lives of ordinary people, especially women. I therefore want to open the Message to public scrutiny.
I am neither objective nor disinterested, but I think I am fair. Message believers are not stupid. They are not psychopaths. They are not all broken people taken in by a ruse. They are genuine seekers of God and truth, and many of them are simply good people (though they would rather have you believe that their goodness is all the grace of God and submission to the Message). Affirming their goodness, however, does not cause me to affirm their beliefs – those who are good are good despite evil. There is some of both in the Message. Sometimes the Message affirms values I still hold – but what I hope to demonstrate is that one need not swallow the Message in its entirety in order to take hold of those kernels of truth.