Social Pressure | But The Message Cleaned Up My Life!
One of the arguments I faced countless times while leaving the message was the issue of living a “clean life”. As per the experience of many, they testify to the transformation they experienced as they began following the message.
Through the many years I spent in the message, I’ve met people who:
- had a party-lifestyle and lived a little ‘wild’ for a season
- were obsessed with physical fitness/athletics and/or beautification
- were alcoholics and drug users
- were sexually promiscuous
- were involved in prostitution
- were fans of popular culture (music, movies, etc)
- were musicians playing in rock bands
- wore worldly clothing that was acceptable in ‘secular’ society (women in pants, men in shorts, etc)
- dressed provocatively
- and much more.
When coming to the message, these people testified of how they were able to overcome the lusts of their flesh to become holy (as per their understanding of scripture and the message).
I can speak for my own experience as well; when I came to the message at age 21, my life changed. Things that I was “okay” with in my natural life changed, and I quickly did the work of sanctifying myself from unclean habits and desires. I threw away half of my wardrobe, threw away hundreds of dollars worth of music CDs and removed myself from old friends to avoid circumstances of influence. It was indeed a transformation, although I know many other people had much more dramatic changes – depending on what life they were coming from.
I think it’s a wonderful thing for people to change habits that are self-destructive. My own father (who left the message over 30 years ago) told me often of how coming to the message possibly saved him of a family-problem with alcoholism. He was appreciative of it – as he should be!
The Effect of a Social Culture That Demands Compliances/Obediences
At one time, I would have believed that it was the result of the Spirit that made me want to adhere to the message laws and rules, as per church order and conduct, and lifestyle standards. It’s the perspective of divine guidance – and belonging to something that overrules our fallen human nature. That gives a shimmering ‘glory’ to the appearance of the congregational body and their uniform style of living and dress. However, that discounts something that impacts us in a very powerful way: social culture and pressure.
To be a functioning member of a Message church, you basically have no choice: unless you ‘change’ to meet the cultural requirement of holiness, you will not be welcome. It equates to “approval and acceptance”. For the child born into the message, this impacts their perception of what is required to warrant the approval and acceptance of a parent. And for the person coming into the Message from “the world/other denominations”, it represents the way to ‘become’ accepted into the group (and it’s version of truth). Certainly for a short time, people might have some tolerance for the ‘new person’ as they stumble to understand what is acceptable conduct. But that will eventually fade as the expectation changes to one of ‘requirement’ and “you should know by now…”. Kindness will be replaced by pointed pressure from the pulpit, possibly deacon intervention and overall church social pressure to fall in line with conduct and order.
The reminder is everywhere in message culture; when you step into a fellowship inside or outside the church – you see nothing but people who are following the standard. To do otherwise puts a gigantic spotlight on yourself. Thus, there is a social tension / pressure to follow. The more invested you become, the more you’ll want to be in harmony within the group, and the easier it is to adopt the lifestyle of the group culture. Obviously all of this is supported in the teaching of the church, as William Branham quotes and explanations of scripture will repeatedly be spoken.
Consider the same pressure occurring in other groups and faiths; including justification from their holy texts and prophets/leaders. The context of the religious practice will change the specifics of the expected outcome. If you were to become a muslim, a person would begin to adopt muslim lifestyle expectations and standards – according to what a Muslim would define as “holy” or “unholy”.
We have friends who are Mormons, and they actively and openly practice their lifestyle – including abstaining from caffeine and wearing their holy garments (underwear). Other friends of ours are Sikh, and they practice a whole different set of standards that a provided by their culture and belief (See Eleven Sikhism Dos and Dont’s) – that include the wearing of holy articles and abstaining from certain meats.
No matter what variety of faith you find fellowship within – especially one that requires specific and strict lifestyle adherences, there will be a transformation to what that group requires and esteems to be “the way”. And in some cases, because of the extreme nature of the rules, it will appear to be “dramatic”.
Othodoxy & Conformity
Conformity is a type of social influence involving a change in belief or behavior in order to fit in with a group. (https://www.simplypsychology.org/conformity.html)
This video is a humorous representation of how it happens very quickly. People simply don’t want to stand out. Something so silly as standing in an elevator with people all doing something different is awkward. As lighthearted as this is, the same mental struggle occurs in more sobering issues of ideology and religion. Something that is taught so strongly doesn’t have to be grounded in reason or truth when it’s so strongly enforced by social pressure and culture.
In that context, your crucial primary relationships (parent-child, pastor-congregation, brother-brother, husband-wife, God-Christian) are constructed to be dependant on compliance; and without it, it throws the comfort of the whole group into a form of perceived chaos. You can collectively feel the tension when someone steps out of order – and the reflex is for the group to apply pressure to restore the order.
Another term that we refused to use in the message concerning ourselves was “orthodoxy”: orthos is the Greek word for “right, straight, or true,” while doxa means “opinion.” In the Message, there is a strong culture of “orthodoxy” (the right/straight opinion) as per what we deem right and correct. To depart from message orthodoxy is to invite friction, contention, division and separation.
How many are willing to trade a comfortable relationship with their primary social community over the wrong pair of shoes, or the wrong taste in music? It will either drive them to conformity, to hypocrisy (as per the group/church orthodoxy) or to rebellion – with a backslidden label.
Social Pressure Produces Effective Results
Social pressure; it’s a great way to try to personally abstain or stop unhealthy habits. To put yourself in a social situation where the pressure is consistent and expected, you’ll hit a juncture where you have to make a choice of values. If you want to stay with the group – you’ll be very, very uncomfortable (and eventually, unwelcome) unless you adhere to the rules. It’s effective!
That doesn’t mean there isn’t temptation to stray when a person is alone; I know that behaviour isn’t necessarily consistent when comparing “with the group” or “away from the group”. But in general – sincerely motivated people will find themselves slowly breaking down in personal habits and changing. And in some cases, the transformation can be virtually instantaneous.
In every version of these practices between faiths and religions, you will find similar ‘testimony’ of profound change and being saved from one’s own destructive and wayward habits. And as you will frequently hear in message churches, when someone begins to stray and not come to church as often – there is threat of them “backsliding”. Often, it DOES happen where old habits and pleasures that a personal naturally enjoys start slipping back in. Why? Because the social pressure is reduced. Thus, as with many groups – making sure people are constantly surrounded by the group helps maintain the pressure to comply.
As my father said of the message, it’s not a bad thing to see a positive change. It can save a life and bring restorative healing to a broken family life. But – don’t dismiss the fact that the message is no different than any other group; social pressure plays a huge role. A testimony of ‘change’ is not evidence and vindication. 🙂