The Fear of Psychology
Psychology: A Contentious Issue
I’m going to cut right to my point for this article before I start. If you are coming out of the Message, there are certain things which have been made “toxic” by the teaching. The concept of psychology is certainly one of them. And yet, if you are hoping to recover from what has happened to you, it’s going to take an element of psychology to make sense of it all. The fact is, your mind has been played and manipulated. Being afraid to think of it in those terms will not help you because your mind is going to feel stretched and pulled in ways that will be hard to bear. My encouragement is to recognize that understanding is a powerful tool.
What is Psychology?
By simple definition, psychology is the study of behavior and the mind. The fields of study can be diverse when you break down the aspects of psychology. But it all amounts that that; trying to understand what occurs in the human mind to understand how it impacts behavior.
Jesus Didn’t Need Psychology: It’s Not in the Bible
I’ve heard and read this argument many times. If Jesus didn’t use psychology or tell us to, then why should we? I find it an extraordinarily shallow viewpoint. Jesus never told us to use penicillin or build hospitals either. As Message believers, we were anti-intellectual and anti-education. We were quick to devalue the contributions of mankind for our common well-being. All because our learned fears toward the possibility of goodness in society and human intellect, which told us it was essentially all a slippery slope of evil that took us away from faith. After all, this was “Satan’s Eden”. And yet, for how much we demonize society and human advancement, we sure did enjoy lots of the benefits.
Realizing the Fear of Psychology
For the past many years, I’ve been curiously exploring the realms of psychology. (*GASP!*) It became a very intriguing aspect of ministry for me, especially as my time in the Message came to it’s conclusion. It stemmed from the fact that I became very aware of how deeply wounded a great many people were from issues of life. It wasn’t even a matter of “religion”. It was just a simple fact of being human. As I often said, so long as people were interacting with people, there would be hurt. Message people, despite their claims of abounding blessing, favor, peace, love and unearthly wisdom, were far from an exception. And as I will begin to explain, the deep rooted fear of psychology leaves a great many people in the Message without an option to find healing, beyond learning to smile and suffer. Just march forward professing positive deliverance to defy the negative symptoms of reality.
Psychology is and was a massive subject of contention in the Message, and one which I ran into fairly often. The truth is, psychology is a very contentious subject across the spectrum of all Christianity and religion. I’ve had to explore why that is because, as a Christian, I struggled to find reason to fear the study of the mind. Dare I say that I actually found it enlightening and profound?
On whole, it’s been fascinating to study the issue. The fear is that, by studying the way in which the mind works and how it impacts human behavior, it will threaten a person’s viewpoint on spiritual influences and sinful depravity in humanity. I’ve read many fear laden articles explaining how:
- modern psychology attempts to excuse a person from the necessity of suffering and the consequence of sin.
- psychologist often try to build a sense of false self-esteem that bypasses the reality of human depravity.
- the sufficiency of scriptural instruction is all that is required to produce a soundness of heart and mind.
- the love of “self” is against Christian principal.
- the founders of psychology are intellectual perverts (aka Sigmund Freud)
- …and there are plenty more opinions.
As with most medical subjects, William Branham didn’t speak of psychology with very much understanding (or none at all). He would refer to it often in prayer lines, suggesting that people were accusing him of using “psychology” to discern the minds of people. In the sense of things, there’s nothing supernatural about psychology. It’s a very deliberate and scientific exercise that doesn’t come with easy answers. It does take a great deal of knowledge and understanding to do effectively.
The Message & Psychology
The Message has an acute paranoia regarding anything hinting at psychology. I experienced it firsthand due to my association with a pastor who was not afraid to examine issues of the heart, often above doctrine. My pastor and I both read material that extended beyond what could be called kosher by Message standards. We were heavily and openly criticized for it – and I was personally cornered on more than one occasion to be given direct warning for the things I was preaching. I received letters and handwritten notes informing me of this more than I liked. We were often referred to as the church that preached “psychology”. I had personally started doing extensive counseling, and it was extremely revealing how much abuse people had experienced. How could it not have deep, harsh psychological implications when people who were “godly” exercised such brutal abuses?
There were very few solutions to personal issues that came from Message teaching alone. On occasion, William Branham would reference things like a “nervous condition”, “complex” or “clog” in the spirit of a person. But he could provide little to no insight into those things. Here is a statement I found which was, in my opinion, as insightful as he ever got:
« 46 † 137. Brother Branham, I am saved and have been baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ, but how do I get away from a stubborn spirit that I can’t seem to break away from?
Well, my Christian brother or sister, whoever it may be, now, most times when you find people that’s got stubborn spirits, it’s usually a complex that causes this, either they have inherited it from a mother, father, uncle, aunt, or grandmother, grandfather, somebody like that. And if you’ll chase back down through your life, you’ll find… Now, I’ve taken it by experience under discernment, because I have met cases on the platform, thousands of those that had that spirit. And the first thing you know, I’d chase that spirit right back by discernment and find that there was a granddaddy, there was a grandmother, there was somebody else back down there, and you inherit that by nature.
The troubling thing for me is that this kind of explanation amounts to “inheriting” a complex “by nature”, and over-spiritualizing it by labeling it a “stubborn spirit”. It’s those kinds of statements that a message pastor would take and use as a solution in a “counseling session”. Because everything in the Message was a super-spiritual issue – it certainly couldn’t be something of a psychological issue. Those things didn’t really exist. You couldn’t find any understanding from life experiences or personal relationships for impacting your life, behavior and/or lack of overcoming.
Message Preacher Counseling
I’ll say it as plainly as I can. Message Preachers are NOT good at counseling. In fact – they are woefully unqualified and, I feel, did more harm than good. The common conclusion of a counseling session was often:
- Apply the Achan treatment (get rid of your sin, and all will be well).
- Or, a default solution “you need to get the Holy Ghost”. “God wants to give you the Holy Ghost more than you want to receive it” is a line often spoken in Message churches.
- If your fruits are less than perfect, it’s your fault. The heavens are full of God’s blessings – so “what’s wrong with you? Where’s your faith? Why don’t you just accept it? Why don’t you just give up and surrender to God?”. The blame then falls on the person for their lack of faith, lack of bible reading, lack of tape listening, or subjection to headship.
Never mind the fact the person was raised in a home where their father literally beat the children for their “disobedience” or berated his wife unceasingly with words of disapproval. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with a young daughter being called a whore by her dad when she was caught wearing a pair of jeans. Incest wasn’t too damaging, was it? Heaven forbid that forcing your kids to listen to tapes for hours had any negative impact. No harm to the inconsistent, bad behavior in the home and then arrive as angels in church, raising hands and condemning the “world” for being hopelessly blind. How about being constantly being pressured to run to the alter to reaffirm salvation and relationship with God – because you’ve failed to perform to God’s perfect requirement for receiving love and grace – and always feeling inadequate to understand or to live up to that standard? No harm there.
A Different Approach: The Work of Caring
According to most message clergy, it would be tantamount to psychology to listen, to care, to walk a person patiently through tears and to seek wisdom in helping the person mend in their mind and heart – without presenting quotes and expounding with scriptural, spiritual diagnosis. I have sat with many people over the years who have been labelled ‘rebellious’, or who have struggled with depression, anxiety, bitterness, fear, emotional numbness, disconnection and inability to love or feel love – and any variety of other emotions. And without exception, there is a very specific and rooted reason for these things. The solution is never to assign blame or demand more effort to be Godly, but rather to listen and provide a safe place to pour out fears and hurt. It helps uncover perspective and understanding – and through that, reconnection and healing. The key word in the process is simply this: love.
Do I have a problem with praying for those people? Absolutely not. But don’t hand them a couple scriptures to hold on to and send them off with a passionate prayer while patting yourself on the back for a job well done. Why not go into their heart and mind, and apply principles and wisdom that helps in the details of pain and confusion? Put down your bible and religious posturing and realize that something has happened – and there’s more to help than being more religious about it. Or is that too much effort? Is that Psychology?
I learned that it was much more meaningful to actually sit and talk to someone – and care for them. I’ve since had to wrestle my way through to come to an understanding of how I see this dilemma. I simply lost my respect for the dismissive approach that applied a spiritual label and was “resolved” with a exuberant prayer and reciting scriptures. I don’t discount the value of prayer and scriptural wisdom, but I think that most often an issue requires far more.
Seeking Professional Help
If you are someone who is on the journey out of the Message, and you are feeling torn up inside, I encourage you to consider sitting with a trained counselor. If you are most comfortable with a Christian counselor, then seek one out. I know, without question, that nearly everyone who has lived within the Message circles has experienced genuine abuse in the name of religion. Don’t be afraid to seek help.