Married to a Message Man: What Should I Do?
(This article is intended for a wife who has questioned / doubted / disbelieved the Message – while her husband continues to believe)
For the last few years, perhaps the most frequent message I’ve received from women across the world relates to marriage. Some of the messages I’ve received are utterly heartbreaking – often sharing stories of severe neglect, verbal & mental abuse and spiritual domination (“you are the woman, I am your lord”). Nearly every case involved a woman coming to realize that the message was false, while her husband refused to acknowledge her plea to examine or provide answers to her questions. Often the wife was left with threats of neglect, abandonment, and abuse (towards her and/or her children) if she persisted to question/doubt. In some cases, the husband threatened to use their children as leverage against her (“if you don’t keep coming to our message church and believe Brother Branham, I’ll forbid you from seeing our children”). In the worst cases, there was physical battery – from the husband, and a blind eye from the ministry (who knew and refused to help – or committed their own acts of abuse in support of the husband).
I wasn’t always able to respond, in part because I felt inadequate to answer while transitioning away from the message. I didn’t want to ruin a relationship by offering advice based on one-side, and minimal information.
Now that time has passed – I have a more healthy view of everything. So – I’ll give my thoughts.
The Reason for Fear
Marriage and divorce is such a strong doctrine in the message, especially with the dynamic of absolute male headship. A woman in the message has been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that she is in every way submissive and below the headship of man. She should always be under some form of headship – whether under a father, husband or pastor. Unless she has a good husband or pastor who does not abuse his “rightful” position of power, she is in a complete position of weakness and vulnerability.
- She has been trained to think her gender is the cause of all evil. Her worth is often only as much as her husband gives – and it makes it difficult to navigate the emotional trauma of being treated as though she is worthless.
- To “doubt” the message or express unbelief opens her to extreme emotional vulnerability. A husband can lash out at her and manipulate her judgement by reminding her of her spiritual depravity (which the message has endless material for) – by linking her to Eve or Jezebel, for example.
- Many message women are relatively uneducated or have been discouraged from pursuing further education – especially those from past generations. They depend on their husband to provide security and basic needs for her and her children (unless he’s completely delinquent, as some message men can be). It leaves her in a position where she may feel powerless to express doubt/desire to leave – because he can financially manipulate her to extremes. Many of my emails came from women in areas of Africa where near poverty was already an issue.
- The message operates by it’s own law – their ways are higher than the law of the land. Thus, as lawmakers in their own home, men in the message are largely operate by their own rule and sovereignty. Women feel powerless to contest his rule – and in times of instability, a man can invent new rules and laws to bring back “order” to bring his family back in line. He has plenty of quotes and scriptures in his arsenal.
- Message ministry are often negligent to interfere in the home. Why? Because the marriage and the home type the church. The role of the male is sacred – and a Pastor wouldn’t want anyone meddling in his affairs either. Pastors often default to protecting the male – and women know it. I’ve seen it…. countless times.
- Furthermore, if the husband tells the pastor that his wife no longer believes the Message – then it leaves her open to shame, ridicule and an onslaught of cult-like tactics to manipulate her fears that have been fostered by the message environment. She will have few, if any, allies.
- Just because she doesn’t believe the message doesn’t mean she doesn’t believe in or fear God. Though she may be abused in her own home, she also fears the wrath of God on any decision to take action against her ‘head’ to protect herself. So she is caught between an abusive/controlling husband – and a wrathful God who forbids her to leave.
- Life outside the message is said to be hopeless, aimless, empty, horrible. To leave the message is doom and death. This is what you may have heard all your life from message preachers and theology. But is it? Are you going to fall off the edge of the earth into utter darkness and despair – and become a sin-loving wretch? Ummm. No. You are fighting with tactics of manipulation that the message NEEDS to make itself important and necessary. There are many other churches/religions/groups that use these same tactics; you can learn all about it over time.
There is more than could be said. Ultimately, the thought of a wife leaving is an impossibly terrifying option to even consider. Based on the options, the only reasonable outcome of leaving is a decision for earthly ruin, or heavenly damnation.
That makes me sick to think about. What a horrible place to be trapped.
My Advice: Just my Opinion
If you are a sister who is given in marriage within a “message believing” home – and you come to a realization (as I did) that the message is unbearably false, it can feel like a brutal imprisonment. You’ve committed to living a life under the rule of a man who expects you to submit and obey the rules according to the doctrine of the message. There is NO ONE who can understand how brutal it is to experience disbelief in opposition to loved ones and family – until you’ve been there. People who try to leave religious groups that practice strong undue influence often experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) – so the emotional trauma is real. Don’t dismiss your overwhelming experience and fears as “crazy” or irrational – it’s real.
Answer this Question: Do you feel you are in actual danger?
That’s my first question. More important than anything – if you feel your life, or the life of your children is at risk – this isn’t a religious conflict anymore. Get out. Call someone you trust (hopefully not someone in your message church). Call a women’s shelter or helpline. Call the authorities if you need. You can work things out with faith and God later. It should NEVER come down to you feeling unsafe, and that your well-being is threatened. If a church/religion/marriage makes you afraid for your life, it’s not healthy in any circumstance or scenario.
Did You have a Good Marriage until the Difference of Opinion?
My first desire is that you and your husband can work through the discomfort and communicate. I realize usually when a woman has written me, she has likely exhausted nearly all her immediate emotional reserves to remain and ‘try’. But it is important that you DO try in earnest to work through. In some cases, you may be married to someone you love deeply, and whom you’ve enjoyed a good marriage relationship/friendship with. That’s a good foundation to work on – because you’ve seen what kind of man he can be. Now – time to reach for understanding & communication.
Keep this is mind: When you are marrying in the message, there is no expectation to see such a dramatic change in a spouse where the other begins to ‘disbelieve’. It is, in essence, the worst scenario for the still believing partner. What do they do now? They weren’t supposed to marry someone who was unequally yoked in the faith – and the ‘change’ threatens to ruin their future and vision of marriage too. So you can expect – the reaction will be emotional and possibly harsh. To me, that is understandable to human nature. That deserves some patient understanding towards a partner to give them time to process the scenario. But there should be an appeal to mutual understanding – communication is the way to work things out, and you should be able to ask for conversation to occur in a thoughtful manner. The thing that hopefully exists at the time of expressing doubt is that “love” and “care” for each other is still important – and should be forefront in the ensuing conversations.
Also note that in message churches, I’ve seen good people come to heated disagreement – and close friendships are broken and lost. Churches fragment and separate over disputes of doctrinal interpretation. It’s often less of a reflection of the people involved as it is a reflection of the system. It’s the reason I have a distaste towards many aspects of religious organizations (in particular groups like the Message) – it has a tendency to divide and tear apart. All because people have passionately invested in an extreme interpretation – and the alternative is a non-option. The passionate views overwhelm a person’s natural personality – to the extent that they no longer behave in their authentic personality (such as, the kind, sweet gentleman you know is suddenly yelling, cursing and threatening).
It would be my first hope that a husband who is acting harshly is not doing it because that is who HE is – but rather because he’s caught in the message mentality/system that requires him to deflect opposition and challenge to his ultimate revelation. I would hope that you can somehow appeal to the man inside – to the man who you love and who has been your companion. He’s trapped – just as you were. And he’s fighting in fear for everything he’s been indoctrinated to believe (that if you disbelieve – you are in spiritual desolation).
I also know that not every situation works like I just mentioned. Some churches and people are entrenched in a further extreme of the message spectrum. Perhaps the marriage was uncomfortable to begin with. It’s unfortunately a reality – in extreme religions, there can be unnatural pressures to bring marriages together – and they suffer before they get started. In such cases where things are clearly bad/destructive – it feels hopeless, and perhaps it is impossible to reconcile the difference. But try. Fight for your partner and family as long as you are safe. Read books about mind control, undue influence, spiritual abuse. The internet will help inform you with mountains of insight.
Is it possible to come to a peaceful compromise?
A wife should be able to decide to attend a different (denominational) church if she desires to pursue God – but cannot tolerate attending a message church anymore. She shouldn’t need to spiritually starve and have no choice for herself. If peaceful compromises can be made where love can overcome differences, and a home can still be made – it’s admirable. I’ve known message people to try this and to do it successfully. But it is ultimately very difficult to accomplish it, especially if you belonged to a more strict sect within the message – and the husband is accustom to enforcing headship. It can be embarrassing for him to bend and compromise for the sake of the wife.
Sometimes these situations can reveal a gentle nature, or a genuine love that a husband has for his wife and family. If he is willing to allow love to prevail for the sake of his marriage – I respect that. And in some cases, with time, the husband can grow to become softer to understand the questions she has – and may begin to walk towards realizing the issues she has.
See what compromises can be made. But always be aware of your own mental health and well-being – sometimes compromise is still a prison and a kind of emotional slavery.
Big Decisions: When Home becomes Toxic
I will never be an advocate of separation or divorce. I do believe in commitment and loyalty. For a religious person, the act of divorce can be devastating in many ways; especially coming from a message mentality. Most women resign themselves to an understanding their life is over if they divorce. But depending on the level of disagreement and conflict – so is staying.
I think that there comes a time when a home is so toxic and a relationship so badly fractured that it is insane to stay together. I will not speak of the issue of remarriage – that is a complex issue for a Christian. I would recommend if you did ‘separate’ that you spend a significant amount of time examining the questions of your faith. Seek diligently, find resources for support. Find a safe place for you to naturally take care of yourself (and children?), look for a place of spiritual health (it may be a church…it may be within yourself) – and THEN make a decision concerning your marriage.
Though divorce is not ideal (I don’t think anyone marries with divorce in mind) – it is BRUTAL to live a life trapped in misery and emotional despair. Your life is precious – and to live all your years in misery, suffering the abuses of intense disagreement and distance from a partner who is supposed to represent ‘love’ – it’s tragic. I don’t think anyone deserves that. Don’t let fear rob you.
That’s my opinion. I know that it’s easier said than done – none of this is easy in any way. But when you’re thrown into the fire of turmoil and confusion – you can stay, or you can fight to survive. In the end, there are stories of people who fought to survive – and they were rewarded with new hope and life. To the women who have fought this battle – I hope, pray and trust you’ve found strength to endure your road.