Respecting Freedom vs Undue Influence
We live in a very tumultuous time with respect to religious practice within secular society. Personally, as someone who once held very extreme fundamentalist views, I tire at the unending noise – on all sides of the spectrum. At the heart of the issue is a question of “freedom”. In North America, we herald the foundation of our constitutions on the promise of liberty and freedom for all. And yet, the fabric of that promise is stretched between two sides that struggle to allow the other to exist, let alone to enjoy and exercise their rights.
In this light, despite the fact that I adamantly disagree with William Branham’s message, I respect the rights and freedoms for their churches to practice their faith. If I am asked why I then choose to speak against the Message of William Branham, it comes down to these reasons:
Informed Decisions Require Information
When a person joins any kind of group or organization – religious or otherwise – they deserve information that allows them to make a genuine decision. Naturally, information will usually come with positive or negative bias. It’s difficult to write in a gracious and neutral voice. Obviously, the bias will depend on the source and possibly their experience in relation to the group. If I were to ask someone within the group, their voice would likely be full of glowing information that promises to be factual and authentic. As expected, people with a bad experience or who’ve separated (for whatever reason) are likely to be less enthusiastic. In the worst scenarios, their opinion might be passionately scathing.
Knowing whether or not the claims of either side are true – pro or con- is work on the part of the reader. Admittedly, it would be amazing to take everything at face value. But as with anything, to protect oneself a person has to dig through the contrasting voices to arrive at the best conclusion.
I have been shocked at how unknown “the message” is outside of itself. I have talked to very, very few people outside of the Message who’ve even heard of William Branham. Consequently, most information was from people presently supportive of his supernatural claims. Although there was plenty of information critical of William Branham, it was largely outdated and provided by people who were trying to understand it from an outside view. Most often, the information was poorly written and with limited understanding of the Message culture.
With the events of the past several years, more information is available from people extremely knowledgeable about the Message. There widespread criticism has made way for more expansive “pro-message” material as well. Since the message makes STRONG claims that places itself as the one and only true church on earth, it’s good there’s information to provide a different views. Should someone read it, and still choose to join the Message faith, so be it. The Mormon church is one of the fastest growing churches in North America despite the available criticism. Fair enough – the choice was hopefully an educated one.
If William Branham is true and authentic, there should be no fear in carefully considering problems that arise in regards to claims. In fact, if motives and intentions of the ministry are pure and honest, they should encourage a person to freely look and weigh the evidence – and be open to conversation and answering questions. All sides, pro and con, ought to be open to correction when information proves untrue and unsubstantiated.
Unfortunately, the Message (like all similar groups) thrives on information control, lack of awareness, and/or fearful rhetoric against listening to outside voices or opinions.
Undue Influence is Not Okay
What is “Undue Influence”? Essentially, it is any act that overcomes the free-will and judgement of another using persuasion, trickery and deceit. It is not a forceful act, but it preys upon the trust of people through these means and places them in a vulnerable position. Once an advantage is gained, the degree of influence and control actually removes the ability to freely think without fear of intense repercussion.
It is one thing to have a passionate viewpoint of scripture – and to build a religious movement around that. It’s another to make strong claims of being “the voice” – and the ONLY voice – of God’s truth for the end-time church (to reject this person is to crucify Christ). The claims were recorded, entered into databases and have only recently been scrutinized using technologies previously unavailable. That investigation has produced problems with the information and claims – whether or not they are agreed upon.
However, if it is true that William Branham was not honest concerning events in his life (such as the vindication of the Cloud, wherein he was not even there when it appeared), consider how much power his stories have held over the lives of people who, in faith, believed he was completely honest? This instance is a clear example of undue influence – and the long term implications. Generations of people have built their entire identity and life around the trust that William Branham and the ministers who carry his torch are honest. It does not need to be excessive, sensational and inflammatory – but with the available research, information producing problematic issues needs to be available. Granted, that research requires integrity also.
Undue influence is the reason why any discrediting information about William Branham’s claims are terrifying to examine. You might think that the people following “The Message” have complete free-will to choose if they follow or not. But I contest that viewpoint emphatically with understanding of the effect undue influence has upon the psychology of the human mind.
The very act of asking yourself “what if William Branham is wrong?” is an affront to your ‘Message Identity’. That is akin to entertaining blasphemous thoughts. Taking the time to dig deep into issues in your alone time, to actually read and RESEARCH for yourself – comparing quotes with quotes, quotes with scriptures – it opens a Pandora box of fear and guilt.
Try approaching a minister and tell them you’ve been reading online about “the cloud”. Tell them you are concerned that William Branham might have been dishonest. See the reaction you get. I tried it – and immediately, I was dismissed, labelled as “mentally unstable” and the threats were coming against me and my family. I can attest to the trauma of trying to leave the Message, and I have listened to hundreds of stories just like it. You CANNOT LEAVE without going through the gauntlet of shame, personal degradation, shunning, discrediting and spiritual threats.
I strongly believe the leaders of the Message, by virtue of the William Branham’s teaching, practice “undue influence”. Another term for it, essentially, is “mind control”. That is, they use tactics to create fear-based phobias to influence the behavior and thinking to align with their interpretation of “The Message”.
I also do not believe undue influence is done with malicious intent within a large portion of the ministry. The ministers themselves (just as I was) are exposed to Undue Influence by virtue of the Message of William Branham – and other message ministers who were mentors. It’s a system that has established an operational structure – and it’s passed on as a culture. Children are born into the culture and experience the indoctrination through undue influence fThe ones who are most guilty are those who know and REFUSE to recognize or answer issues and problems, and to encourage/influence/pressure their congregation to “only believe”.
As a believer in freedom of religion, the idea isn’t to dismiss the doctrine of the message. Leaving the Message doesn’t mean people can’t continue to believe as they choose regarding scripture. But you cannot bury these issues with rhetoric of fear and pressure – and think that the environment of the Message is healthy, honest and free.