Mythbusting the Message: The Ku Klux Klan

Mythbusting the Message: The Ku Klux Klan November 19, 2010
Branham with pillar of fire
William Branham with the pillar of fire on his shoulder.

It has been rumored that some of William Branham’s unsavory doctrines stemmed from a personal connection with the Ku Klux Klan. Such rumors are based on a misreading of Branham’s central doctrine, the Serpent’s Seed. According to the doctrine, Eve had sexual intercourse with an upright mammalian “serpent” and produced Cain, the son of Satan, followed by Abel and later Seth, the sons of Adam and therefore God. The belief that these two “bloodlines” are visible in today’s racial categories (especially black, Jewish and white) and that the black or Jewish race is the seed of Satan is sometimes attributed to Branham as a result of his highly physical reading of the Fall in Genesis. The rumor does not, however, have a basis in historical evidence.

I have been unable to find any association between William Branham and the KKK other than his claim that a woman named Mrs. Roeder obtained money from the Klan in order to help pay for his hospital bills when he was injured in a shotgun accident as a teenager. This passage comes from the sermon “Souls That Are in Prison Now” (November 10, 1963):

I remember Mrs. Roeder stood by me out there in the hospital. I’ll never forget that woman; no matter whatever happens, I can never forget her. She was just a young woman then. Her husband was superintendent
down here at the car works; and I–I remember she standing by me, her and Mrs. Stewart. And they was the ones actually that paid my hospital bill. I… We didn’t even have food to eat in the house; so how could I pay a hospital bill of hundreds of dollars? But she, through her church society and the Klu Klux Klan paid the hospital bill for me: Mason’s. I can never forget it. No matter what they do or what, I still… There’s something that that stays with me (See?), what they did for me. And they paid the bill to Dr. Reeder. He’s still living–lives here in Port Fulton, could tell you the story.

There is no indication that Branham supported the Klan ideologically or financially: the above paragraph suggests a debt of gratitude to individuals combined with discomfort for their group activities. Branham’s associates do not report his participation in Klan activities. While there are hints of racism in his sermons, they usually take the form of “benevolent” racism, claiming that Africans and African-Americans are more spiritual because they are less corrupted by modernity than white believers. This is sometimes referred to as “noble savage” racism, and reflects more ignorance than malice.

Branham explicitly rejected the racist implications of the Serpent’s Seed in more depth in Questions and Answers (July 29, 1953):

And I heard a discussion back there, where the first–where Cain got his wife. Well, the one that had the floor seemed to be the best of the argument; he said, “I tell you where Cain got his wife,” said, “Cain went over and married a great big female ape.” And said, “Out of that ape come forth the colored race.” Said, “You notice the colored person’s head’s kind of peaked like that, like–like the ape is, in the head.”
Well, I stood there; I was just about two months old in the Gospel. I said, “I don’t want to differ with you men, ’cause I’m not a student; I just got saved.” But I said, “If that be so, then the colored race of people would’ve ceased to exist when the antediluvian destruction, when the world was destroyed with water, for Noah and his family was the only ones that was in the ark. That was the only one that was in the ark. The colored race would’ve ceased to exist,” I said, “if that would be so.” I said, “No, sir. The colored race never come from there. No, sir. The colored race is off of the same tree that we’re off of, and every human being: the same one.” There’s no difference. Exactly. We’re just all… One may be yellow, and the other one brown, the other one black, and the other one white, and the other one pale, and the other one red, and just like that, but you’re all from that same tree. That’s just the physical part out here. That’s right. You’re human beings just the same, created here by God.

The Message website Believe The Sign includes the following paragraph disclaiming the racist implications of the Serpent’s Seed:

William Branham was also well aware of the potential racist connections of the doctrine, but preached against aligning these racist interpretations with his teachings. William Branham also preached and prayed with equal sincerity for people of different races, and was himself a quarter Cherokee.

As distasteful as the “I have a Cherokee grandmother, so I can’t be racist!” trope might be, the website is right to emphasize that Branham disavowed the racism that others read into the Serpent’s Seed. Since it was antithetical to his belief system that a person could judge the presence of the Holy Spirit (or who was the Bride of Christ) by actions like speaking in tongues, it seems all the more ridiculous to think that Branham would have espoused a doctrine that made such judgments on the basis of skin color. Moreover, Branham’s claim to be the last church age messenger to all people except the Jews motivated him to be racially inclusive. He was making a universal claim to the Truth, which would have been seriously damaged by white supremacist activity. Moreover, he deeply respected the Azusa Street pentecostal revival of 1906, which was led by the black minister William Seymour. While none of this is as satisfying as an outspoken condemnation of the Klan would have been, it presents a picture of disinclination to white supremacist activity that, coupled with the total absence of evidence, suffices to make Branham’s association with the KKK very unlikely.

There are more productive points of criticism to be made against Branham, the Message, and the Serpent’s Seed in particular, than the false allegation that Branham was a white supremacist. Let’s be circumspect in our judgments. Like most of his generation, he can be accused of racial insensitivity and ignorance, and even a blind, patronizing “benevolent” racism. However, Branham has never been authoritatively tied to Klan activities, and propagating such a rumor only distracts from the real issues with the Message.

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