The Message vs. the Gospel: Lust and Responsibility

Brazen harlotry from 1916.

One Sunday, about a year or two before I left my Message church, my pastor warned us that one of our own had fallen away. She was the primary pianist for a small church in Maryland. Unmarried and in her early twenties, she was someone I’d always looked up to as a smart woman, an example of someone who didn’t let her spirit get crushed by the constant assaults on womanhood from the Message’s doctrines.

What had befallen this woman? She’d visited a website (which I now believe to be John Kennah’s forum) that alerted her to the discrepancies within the Message. My pastor related this very soberly, not disclosing the name of the website. After making this announcement, he warned us all not to be led astray. “There are no discrepancies in the Message!” he roared. The congregation howled back, “Amen! Preach it, brother!”

Except he didn’t answer any of the said discrepancies. He offered no proof. He only reaffirmed the party line that the Message and the Bible lined up perfectly, which we were all expected to believe regardless of what our eyes saw or our ears heard. By seeking proof, this young woman had gone after the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and followed the hell-scorched footsteps of Eve.

Supposedly.

In a recent post, I dealt with the idea of “defilement” and identified some discrepancies between the gospel, Jesus’ own words, and what Branham did with those words. Branham’s own life story, including his teetotaling and avoidance of tobacco, flies in the face of Jesus’ admonishment that defilement comes from the heart and mind, not from the substances one ingests.

Now it’s time to consider another Scripture: Matthew 5:28. Message believers love this verse, but for all the wrong reasons. They think it gives them the authority to control what women wear and make women responsible for male sins. Let’s take a look at the verse and then what Branham did to it. Here is Matthew 5:28 in context. This passage closely follows the Beatitudes, which are also part of Matthew ch. 5.

27Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

28But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

29And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

30And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

Jesus is clearly addressing the man in this situation. He talks about the intentions of a man: looking at a woman with the intent of lusting. Then he talks about how that man should be so vigilant against his own sin that he should be willing to lose his own eyes rather than commit adultery in his heart.

Here’s what Jesus doesn’t say: He doesn’t say, “And if the woman’s dress offend thee, speak unto her husband so that he may command her to cover herself or put her away.” He doesn’t say, “And if a woman’s body tempt thee, command her to cover herself lest she send thee to hell.” He doesn’t say, “And if thou feelest attracted to a woman in thy nether parts, thy sin belongs to her, for she didst tempt thee in a manner which thou art powerless to resist.”

Jesus told a man who looks lustfully at a woman to take responsibility for his own behavior, up to the point of plucking out his own eyes. Jesus says nothing, literally, about a woman’s dress. In fact, I challenge you to point out any place in the Gospels where Jesus criticizes a woman for the way she dresses.

(Before you say, “But women back then were modest!” please stop and ask yourself: if women were so modest that men never felt lust, why would Jesus ever have brought it up?)

Now let’s have a look at the way Branham twists and tortures Jesus’ words into a caricature of their meaning:

You take a woman that wears them kind of clothes, and gets out on the street, I don’t care how moral you try to live, at the end of the age you’re going to be called an adulteress. If any man looks upon you to lust after you, and you’ve presented the proposition to him, you’re guilty of committing adultery. Jesus said so. You might be as clean to your husband, or boyfriend, as you could be. But if you dress like that, and some sinner looks upon you, he’s got to answer for it the day of judgment, and you presented yourself.
-From The World’s Falling Apart, Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 12, 1963.

Actually, Jesus didn’t say anything to women about “presenting” themselves to men as objects of lust. Jesus didn’t say anything about their clothes. Jesus never said a word about any “proposition” a woman was making by being out in public and looking attractive. Branham said it and then lied about it coming from Jesus. I’m pretty sure putting words in the mouth of God is considered blasphemy.

“Whosoever,” said Jesus Christ, “whosoever looketh upon a women to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” And before he could commit adultery, the woman had to present herself in that way. As she poured herself, sexy looking, out on the street. No matter how clean she is morally, she’s adulterous in God’s book.
-From Thirsting for Life, June 30, 1957

We’ve already discussed the fact that women wear clothing for reasons other than to attract men. Branham goes so far as to say that it’s impossible for men to feel lust unless a woman is improperly dressed. That, however, is nonsense. They can feel lust just by thinking sexual thoughts. Men can feel lust without a woman present at all. Men can even feel lust towards other men, but that’s another subject entirely. Women cannot prevent men from lusting, no matter how they dress. Branham’s words, however, give men an opportunity to shift the blame onto women and to think, “Aha! That woman’s knees are showing. That must be why I feel all hot and tingly. Harlot!

She's a witch! Burn her!

This idea stems directly from latent misogyny in American culture. It is the same attitude as the one that recently led a Toronto police officer to tell women that they are responsible for being sexually assaulted because they “dressed like sluts,” which sparked a wave of protests this year. Despite the potentially off-putting name “SlutWalks,” the idea behind the protests was that rapists are responsible for rape, and that women have a right not to be raped, regardless of what they are wearing.

Branham actually encourages men to think of women as sex objects by painting a picture of men who cannot control their sexual urges. This is contrary to Jesus, who said that men who can’t control themselves are welcome to pluck out their own eyes. Branham tells women that they will answer at the Last Judgment for made-up sins that Jesus never imputed to them.

Moreover, by claiming that “immodest” women are “presenting themselves” and “propositioning” men, Branham implies that there is no other reason for a woman to walk down a street than to be seen and evaluated by men. This is the very definition of the male gaze, and it’s arrogant and dehumanizing to women. Plenty of creeps on the street have lusted after me in a long skirt and a baggy sweatshirt as I walked into the grocery store. How do you figure that one, Branham?

The point is this: In Matthew 5, Jesus told men who leer at women to take whatever measures were necessary to control their own behavior and avoid their own sin. Nothing in the passage is addressed to women or touches on women’s clothing at all. Branham makes Matthew 5:28 mean the opposite of what it actually means. If that’s not “reasoning with the Word” or “adding to or taking away from the book,” what is?

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