I was alerted to Joseph Branham‘s written response to the WHAS11 news story on his father, William Branham, by a drive-by commenter who thought her comment would be lost in moderation. On the contrary, I’m quite willing to engage with the contents of the letter. In summary, it charges that the news story was biased, that quotes were taken out of context, and that the whole thing unfairly represented Message believers as a weird cult. You can read the full letter here. I’m going to respond to it, piece by piece, below.
It’s not often that we respond to a negative publication. One of the main reasons is that we rarely receive negative comments or negative press. We do our best to project a Christian attitude in every aspect of our work, and we try to avoid controversy because it rarely ends in a positive outcome.
First of all, I disagree that this was a negative publication. Indeed, the language is scrupulous: Traveling from city to city, Branham professed to use the power of God to heal. And quickly the message went worldwide. The article does not claim that Branham himself was the source of healing power, which indicates that the author was paying attention to the way Branham and the Message want to represent divine healing.
Second, one can’t claim moral superiority for “not responding to negative press” when one doesn’t regularly get negative press. I’d say jumping on the defensive in response to such a “rare” occurrence indicates that Voice of God Recordings is more than willing to engage in controversy at a very slight provocation. Again, the article is quite fair to the Message.
A local news organization recently published a slanderous article about Brother Branham and those of us who follow his ministry.
Again, the article patently refrained from passing judgment. It was an informative article, not a persuasive one. No slander here. Move along.
Truly, there is a love among the Bride of Christ that the world cannot understand.
Actually, I think “the world” can very easily understand why members of a subculture would leap to defend and support their leaders when they perceive an attack. Not that I think such perceptions are valid. Message believers will no doubt object to the label “subculture,” but Joseph’s statement here only underscores their group identity and social isolation – the rest of humanity can’t even understand their cohesiveness, apparently.
Now begins the actual letter Joseph Branham addresses to WHAS11 News:
First of all, blacking out the mysterious guest’s face is a blatant attempt to give the illusion that this man’s life would somehow be in danger if he was identified. In reality, he is an outspoken critic of both my father and all of us who claim to believe his teachings. He makes absolutely no efforts to hide his identity, and you even posted the link to his website that has his name, picture, email address, and his own life story. He plainly says on his website that he is the grandson of Brother Willard Collins, who you interviewed for the story. Do you think the fact that this man is attacking his grandfather might make a difference to your viewers?
Regardless of whether or not an eyewitness is publicly active outside of an investigative interview, the journalist is required to honor his request for anonymity. Mr. Walser wrote: A former Branham Tabernacle member spoke to WHAS11. He does not want to be identified. We will call him ‘Mike’. It’s very clear that “Mike” himself wished to remain anonymous and WHAS11 only acquiesced to his request. Your quarrel is not with the news station, but with “Mike” himself.
You also used a quote from Brother Branham and cut his words short of finishing his sentence, making it sound like he falsely predicted the end of the world. Why would you do this, other than to discredit our ministry? Here is his entire sentence:
Now, counting the time, we find that we have exactly -Listen- seventeen years left, and we will have the same span of time given to us as God dealing with us in the power of the Holy Spirit since A.D. 33 until 1977, the same span of time of 1954 years.
That’s called editing due to time constraints. I don’t see how lengthening the quote does anything to change its meaning. Branham was quite explicit in his statement, and the context only makes it more obvious.
(Reporter) In 1960, Branham predicted the end of the world.
(William Branham) Now, counting the time, we find that we have exactly -Listen- seventeen years left.
This is NOT objective journalism. In fact, I would say this is a blatant lie to the public. Doing my best to give WHAS the benefit of the doubt, I can only hope that the anonymous guest gave you this truncated quote, gambling that you would not do the proper research.
Actually, it is objective journalism to shorten quotations when shortening them does nothing to alter their original meaning. If journalists didn’t do this, all news articles would be twice as long.
Your reporter said, “Branham predicted he would be alive to see the return of Jesus Christ,” and “Many of his followers don’t expect him to stay inside the grave. People come from all over the world every Easter anticipating that Branham will rise up to foretell the Second Coming of Christ.” This is even more misleading than the previous example. The Bible predicts that the dead in Christ shall rise and meet the Lord in the air (I Thes 4:13-18). All Christians believe they will be alive at the Coming of the Lord, no matter if they die first or not.
This is a pretty deceitful spin, and it runs Joseph into a few pitfalls. Firstly, the William Branham Homepage provides the story of William Branham’s commission: In June 1933 William Branham was baptizing converts in the Ohio River; thePillar of Fire descended over him, and A VOICE spoke and said: As John the Baptist was sent forth to forerun the first coming of Christ, you are sent forth with a message to forerun the second coming of Christ. This has led many Message believers (despite Joseph’s attempt at imposing a more palatable orthodoxy) to expect that William Branham will have a special resurrection that precedes the general resurrection. In his book The Healer-Prophet: William Marrion Branham, a Study of the Prophetic in American Pentecostalism, C. Douglas Weaver has written about the delay between Branham’s death and his burial. Billy Paul himself suggested that Branham’s death had ushered in a probationary period that would terminate in the Second Coming around Easter (pp. 153-5). Other believers, unsanctioned by Billy Paul, Willard Collins or Pearry Green, continued to believe that Branham had to fulfill some of his visions before the general resurrection and millennium could occur (pp. 154-5).
Weaver also recognizes the “radical minority” (p. 142) that believes Branham was Christ reincarnate. While Joseph Branham may disapprove of and shun believers in “Christ Branham,” they are nevertheless equally able to claim the title of “Message believers.” Because William Branham despised denominations, calling them all the mark of the beast, there can never be a recognized Message denomination that has the power to root out heretics from its midst. Joseph Branham doesn’t seem to realize that he speaks only for the Message believers that recognize his authority, which is most definitely not all of them.
Joseph Branham goes on to provide this quotation from William Branham, which does not exactly disprove the claim to personal resurrection:
If I die before Jesus comes and they have–they give me a funeral, they’re going to play that (the song ‘Only Believe’) when they putting me down in the grave. So you here in New York, if you hear about it, you know when it’s going to be, stop and sing “Only Believe” once and remember me, will you? And remember, I believe this: that someday I’ll come out of there. That’s right. That’s my faith. I believe the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God with all my heart.
This is the second quote Joseph has chosen that does nothing to refute what was said in the news article. His best evidence against the existence of such believers is “I have never met anyone who believes that.” Well, I have. Two people left our church over the belief, in fact (the majority were of Joseph Branham’s persuasion). Just because Joseph doesn’t personally know people who believe what he regards as heresy doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
A professional journalist would have at least found someone who actually believes this, rather than cutting and splicing David Forsberg’s testimony. We invite your administration to review the entire clip of his interview at the gravesite. It will be much different than what you reported.
If this is true, why not tell us specifically what Forsberg said that was omitted? Or better yet, have him write an article about how his testimony was misused? A professional journalist is, in fact, allowed to make editorial decisions. Given that it was a six-minute story and Forsberg’s testimony was undoubtedly much longer than six minutes, it isn’t hard to imagine why all that cutting occurred. What’s really going on here is that Joseph Branham wants to control what is said about his father and the Message, and he’s irritated that someone might tell a story different from his own.
Your reporter asked why so many local people don’t know about William Branham. Your mysterious guest said, “It’s almost behind closed doors…” If there is a more open ministry than ours, I would like to see it. Take a walk around Jeffersonville and see how many people have heard of William Branham and his ministry.
There are plenty of more open ministries. For example, Bill Gothard’s ministry. Joel Osteen’s. Benny Hinn’s. Pat Robertson’s. These are names people have actually heard of, unlike William Branham’s. Jeffersonville is not the world. Of course people there know who he is! It’s one of the most dense Message populations in America, has a tabernacle named after him and his incredibly imposing grave is in its cemetery. Travel outside of Jeffersonville to, say, Bloomington, and you’ll find a much smaller concentration of people who know what you’re talking about.
As for “closed doors,” it’s true. Message believers are careful to maintain an image of being ordinary evangelical Christians. Most of their churches aren’t named after Branham. Most of the time, believers are urged to witness for Christ before they mention Branham’s name. “God sent a prophet” is a line used only once the prospective convert’s trust is gained. And even then, believers are careful to say that a “prophet” just means a “messenger” and that Branham never pointed to himself, only Christ. From Joseph Branham’s perspective, this is because believers don’t follow Branham himself, but Jesus Christ. From an outsider’s perspective, it looks very much like salesmanship. If you come right out and say that you believe Elijah returned in 1933 to speak the pure Word of God and prepare the elect to meet Jesus, you’ll scare them away. (Deciding when to tell a potential convert that you believe Branham was a prophet is a tricky subject for Message witnesses, and “scaring them away” is always a matter of caution.) The trick is to gently introduce them to the sermons about love and about the Trinity, and save the hard doctrines for last.
He talked about selling toys and other things for a profit. We do sell a few things, but almost always, the items are sold at or below what we pay for them, and almost all of the material shipped overseas is given away. In fact, over 95% of the material produced by VGR is given away completely free-of-charge.
“We do sell a few things” is a pretty vague statement. If Joseph Branham is concerned about allegations that VGR has misused its money, he would do well to publish its sales records and donations so we can see how it sells below cost. Also, “free will donations” are a really dicey area. Is it “free will” when a believer sends in her entire paycheck or skips a mortgage payment because she’s been taught that God rewards those who give?
We were not contacted before your story ran. Objective journalism? Why would you publish a story about William Branham and Voice Of God Recordings without contacting Voice Of God Recordings, where both of his sons work?
A lot of people write stories on Catholicism without interviewing the pope. The Message doesn’t even have an official central organization, though Voice of God Recordings would like to see themselves as the gateway to all things William Branham.
I take personal offense at a comment made by your reporters: “They play the same old tapes, eleven hundred and forty sermons; they listen to them over and over and over again. That they did back in the fifties and sixties.” If my father preached the Word of God, then it should not be called “the same old tapes,” just as no one should say “they (Christians) read the same old 66 books of the Bible over and over and over again.” The 1,200 sermons we have are precious to us, because we believe they were spoken by a prophet of God.
And if the reporter in question doesn’t believe that William Branham preached the Word of God, is he still required to treat those sermons as precious and sacred? I don’t think so. There are plenty of non-Christians who might refer to the Bible in those terms, and that’s their right, no matter how “offended” Christians become. Look at the way Christians treat the Qur’an! If you want to claim religious sensitivity, you have to extend it to others, too. William Branham himself called the Pope the antichrist and the Catholic Church the “mother of harlots” and “Satan’s queen.” I bet he offended a lot of Catholics. Not everybody believes he was right. All religious people have a right to believe and practice as they choose; they do not have a right to demand that nobody ever use language that offends them.
Even if WHAS disagrees with us, we still deserve the same respect as any other Christian.
Message believers do not practice what they preach. They do not respect other Christians. Can you “respect” someone you call a child of a harlot who has the mark of the beast?
I don’t understand why you would disregard the truth and give credibility to a man who hides in the shadows and spouts off slanderous accusations with absolutely no basis in fact. This story by WHAS showed bigotry against a certain group of people who have every right to worship as they please, as long as they follow the laws of these great United States.
Lack of admiration is not bigotry. Indeed, the news story itself was a pretty transparent frame. What “Mike” said was not favorable because he has had unpleasant experiences in the Message. Should WHAS11 have censored him? The article contains exactly the same number of quotations from Willard Collins and “Mike.” That sounds exactly like fair and balanced reporting to me.
Bigotry, however, is present in the article: coming from Branham’s own mouth.
“Every sin that ever was on the earth was caused by a woman,” Branham preached in one sermon.
Branham compares women who wear makeup to Jezebel. “If you see a woman wearing that, you can say ‘How do you do, Miss Dog Meat?’ That’s exactly what God called her. He fed her to the dogs,” Branham said.
Why is Voice of God Recordings allowed to publish that kind of bigotry and hate speech against women, while a news station can’t casually speak of the tape library? Oh yeah, I forgot, because Branham was “right.” Or “because it was God’s word.” Again, not everyone believes that.
This whole letter has more to do with the author’s vendetta against “Mike” than anything substantive to do with WHAS11′s reporting skills. What Joseph Branham calls for is censorship in support of the Message, and I, for one, am grateful that he isn’t getting it.