20/20 Perspective: Cults Within Cults
Having left the message in 2013, this is a look back in hindsight of the things I’ve learned with the blessing of time and distance. These are personal thoughts and opinions from my experience.
The Confusion of Comparison
Early in my post-message life, I would have other former members approach me suggesting their experience was significantly different than mine. Likewise, there were times when I would read someone else’s testimony and be horrified or amazed at how differently their message life was. I also received messages from current believers who tried to convince me that the problem was the church I attended; it was clear to them that my church was not a “true” message church because my story didn’t resemble theirs.
When comparing, it’s important to note the reasons for wildly different experiences. You might encounter confusion about where the problem was; was it my church? Was it my pastor? Was it my understanding of theology according to the faction I belonged to? Or is there a larger perspective?
Also, as ex-believers, you might feel like your story is more important, or more insignificant when you compare to another person. The truth is, some message churches were AWFUL, while some seemed much less harmful. All the stories of ex-message believers are important. Don’t diminish your need to be heard just because you didn’t experience abuse like the next person. Trauma comes in many forms and degrees – and they all require unpacking, reckoning and healing.
Factions: A Fragmented Message
I was always aware of ‘factions’ or sects within the Message. In our own city in Edmonton, we had several church splits and each church was defined by their own characteristics.
- There was the church that leaned more heavily on the old-time gospel, emphasized William Branham, held the rod of correction strongly.
- There was the group that emphasized the pentecostal experience and pushed for the moving of the spirit as evidence, and held strict legalistic standards.
- There was the church that couldn’t get along with either, and valued doctrinal teaching as the most important.
- There was the church that sought balance between law and grace and esteemed the health of family life as evidence.
- There was the group that listened to tapes only, and who looked to Voice of God for leadership.
- And there was the group that were all to themselves, believing all the other churches were fallen and held their own pastor as a christ-figure.
This was just in Edmonton! And I’m sure there were more groups that I am unaware of. Step back and look at the full landscape of “The Message”. How many churches? How many pastors? How many versions of “The Message”?
Clearly, with a spectrum so wide, from church to church, there would be wildly different experiences. In a single church the various ministers could be very different in how they wielded the quotes. One would look for every opportunity to sniff out backsliders, while the next loved to just speak about doctrines. One was introverted and had no time to mingle with his own congregation, and the other was constantly organizing church functions. Depending on who the pastor was, and his personality, it could alter the environment of the church dramatically.
Cults within Cults: Which Branch?
The message had a fundamental concept that they were not a “denomination”. They prided themselves on “not having a headquarters”, as though that were evidence of their independence. The phrase used was “sovereignty”, where each church was a church unto itself – and they were merely ‘sister churches’ between them.
All this achieved is that the message “cult” is essentially a system of nuanced sub-cults. There’s a spectrum between the ones which were somewhat docile when compared to the most abusive, controlling and dangerous. This is why there’s so much disparity in “message experiences”. They’re all cults under the banner of “Branham” – the question is which sect within did you belong?