This tract is the product of a broken heart. A lifetime spent in the Message of William Branham, deeply loving its teachings, and trusting deeply the leaders who preached it. The writer of this article has been a message minister living his life in the Jeffersonville Indiana area. The sorrow with which these things are wrote cannot be overstated.
Followers of William Branham’s teachings can be found around the world; William Branham claimed to have made over one million converts during his campaign meetings. In 1986, there were an estimated 300,000 followers. In 2000, the William Branham Evangelical Association had missions on every inhabited continent—with 1,600 associated churches in Latin America and growing missions across Africa. In 2018, Voice of God Recordings claimed to serve Branham-related support material to about two million people through the William Branham Evangelical Association, and estimated there were 2-4 million total followers of Branham’s teachings.
William Branham’s followers do not have a central unifying leadership. Shortly after Branham’s death, his followers divided in multiple feuding groups. Many different followers of Branham’s teachings have claimed to be his immediate successor, or an Elisha to his Elijah. Many also believe that Branham’s son Joseph has claimed the inheritance of his father’s ministry. Each of the men claiming to be his successor have established new sects of William Branham’s followers.
Because the group is decentralized, no one takes responsibility for what happens. Whenever reports of abuse surface, everyone excuses themselves and blames the Message church up the street. When in truth, their own church has the same type of things going on, they just have their head in the sand. Abuses of the worse kind are widespread and well documented within the Message. Most forms of abuse can be traced directly to the teachings and methods of leadership instituted by William Branham.
Several large sects of William Branham’s followers gradually developed in the years after his death. The sects gradually separated from each other starting in the early 1970s over various disputes and conflicts.
The largest sect today is led by his sons Joseph and Billy Paul who lead the William Branham Evangelical Association and Voice of God Recordings in Jeffersonville Indiana and claim over 1600 associated churches globally. Ewald Frank of Kreefeld Germany leads the second largest sect of followers with influence over a significant number of churches predominately in Europe and french speaking Africa. Pearry Green (1933-2015) based in Tucson Arizona was a leader with influence over many churches, especially in the United States, Canada, Mexico, english speaking Africa, New Zealand, Africa, and the Philippines. Lee Vayle (1913-2012) was leader of another large sect of Branham’s followers, primarily in the United States and Canada. Raymond Jackson (1924-2004) in Jeffersonville Indiana was the founder of another sect of Branham’s followers primarily in the United States, Canada, english speaking Africa, Norway, and the Philippines. Joseph Coleman (1927-2012) of Brooklyn New York was leader of another large sect of Branham’s followers, primarily in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and english speaking Africa and India. Smaller regional sects can be found in the United States, Canada, India, Africa, and South America.
Following the death of the second generation of leadership, the larger sects have further divided into factions. Tensions over Branham’s identity are one the primary causes of divisions between the groups. Followers of Branham’s son expect the resurrection of Branham to fulfill unfinished prophecies. Followers of the Green and Frank believe Branham’s prophecies will have a spiritual fulfillment and not require his return. Still other groups believe Branham was the return of Christ.
William Branham was very inconsistent in his teachings. He borrowed most of his teachings from Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists, Plymouth Brethren, Calvinist Baptists, and Armenian Pentecostalism. These groups have widely divergent views. William Branham often preached conflicting doctrines as a result. For example, he preached the Adventist view of 3 1/2 years left in the week of Daniel and the Plymouth Brethren view of 7 years left to the week of Daniel. Similarly he preached both conditional election and unconditional election. Numerous inconsistencies exist which some of his followers call “dual statements”. These inconsistencies in his teachings form another basis on which his follower divide and fued.
His followers range widely in belief and practice. Some followers have attempted to reform Branham’s most extreme teachings. While most Message churches adhere to a common set of tenants, the extreme local authority of the church promoted by Branham has led to widespread differences in interpretation of Branham’s prophetic teachings. One common theme among all groups is the belief that Branham was the return of Elijah the prophet and receiving his prophetic revelations is necessary to escape the impending destruction of the world.
A Difficult Group To Leave
Many followers of Branham’s teachings live within insular communities with their own schools and with no access to television or internet or outside media. Some sects also encourage interdependence, and in some Message communities, most or all members are employed by other Message believers. Some groups prohibit their members from having relationships with outsiders.
People who try to leave the teachings of Branham often face extreme repercussion. Those who leave are often shunned, disowned, face the loss of their income, are subjected to eviction from their homes, and often lose access to their children and spouse.
Carl Dyck wrote, “Those who have come out of this group give solemn evidence of the devastating effect that Branhamism had on them, both emotionally and psychologically. In fact, the followers of Branham pray that evil will come upon people who leave their church.”
Some groups encourage those exiting to commit suicide. Some do.
Branham’s followers have harassed critics and individuals who publicly reject Branham’s teachings. Dyck reported that people who published material critical of Branham’s teachings have been threatened by his followers and warned they may be killed. Journalists have also reported critics of Branham’s teaching being threatened and harassed by his followers.
The author of this tract has experienced similar treatment. Continual harassments for the space of several months, death threats, suggestions that I should commit suicide, a campaign of harassment, and attempts to break up my family, separate me from my wife and children, among other things, are all features of the their response to my exit from their control.
Such tactics are used primarily as a means to control the people within a cult. By demonizing those who leave and enforcing shunning, they create a barrier to prevent their members from discovering information they want to keep hidden. The harsh treatment of those who leave also instills fear in those who remain, helping to keep them in line. Fear is an important part of control.
Abuse and Molestations
In his book Churches that Abuse, Ronald Enroth wrote that some churches use William Branham’s teachings to “belittle, insult, and berate” their members as part of their discipleship teachings on submission, humility, and obedience. This is a common feature in many Message churches. Preachers use harsh language. Preachers who yell and scream at members of their congregation is a normal feature of many Message church services.
According to Enroth, Branham’s followers believe subjecting themselves to this treatment is necessary for them to “be refined and perfect” and “ready to meet Jesus” at his second coming. In some message sects, the pursuit of perfection is used to justify all manner of cruel abuses.
It is common in some sects for the leaders to break up families as a form of discipline by encouraging divorce, disowning children, or abandoning family members. Enroth reported some extreme instances of families being separated, with children being taken from their parents and reassigned to other families to be raised as a form of discipline. He also reported multiple cases of physical abuse against both adults and children in the United States and Mexico.
In our message sect, many families were broken up, divorces encouraged, and children disowned on the instruction and instistance of our leaders. It was a way of life. The author of this tract has been forcibly separated for decades from parts of his family by Message leaders. Why? Because they belonged to a competing sect of the Message.
Branham’s followers are often in the news for criminal activity. In a 2008 California court case, authorities investigating Leo Mercer’s group of Branham followers in Arizona discovered that following “Branham’s death in 1965, Mercer gradually became more authoritative, employing various forms of punishment. He would ostracize people from the community and separate families. Children were beaten for minor infractions like talking during a march or not tying their shoes. Mercer would punish girls by cutting their hair, and force boys to wear girls’ clothing. There was also evidence that Mercer sexually abused children.”
“In one instance, Mercer ordered that [a girl’s] hair be cut off to punish her because he had had a vision from God that she was being sexually inappropriate with young children. [She] was beaten and forced to wear masculine clothes that covered much of her body, hiding her bruises. Her fingertips were burned so she would know what hell felt like.“ Mercer sodomized children and adults. Survivors reported that they subjected themselves to Mercer’s abuses because of direction they received personally from Branham.
Abuses of this nature are widespread in the Message. Some leaders cover it all up though.
Most survivors of Mercer’s group are still followers of the Message and are widely dispersed among Message groups in the United States and Canada. The truth of Mercer’s actions are widely known. Message leaders, like Joseph Coleman, Raymond Jackson, Pearry Green, and Lee Vayle were all aware of the abuses in Mercer’s group while they were ongoing. It also seems very likely William Branham was also personally aware. But not a single one of them every did anything about it. Even today, the dozens of perpetrators of those molestations and abuses are in the Message churches in the United States and Canada and protected by leadership. No one anywhere ever has attempted to hold any of them accountable.
Some members of Mercer’s group ended up coming to my Jeffersonville church after they left his group. Our church was no place of safety either though. My church also had multiple child molesting preachers over the years, and several child molestors also sitting in the pews. To the best of my knowledge, none of them were ever reported to police or held accountable for what they did. I and several other boys in my peer group all had experiences of being exposed to the private parts of one of our preachers while we were minors.
The Living Word Fellowship, a group of over 100 churches at its peak, founded by John Robert Stevens, was heavily influenced by William Branham and promoted many of his doctrines, was often reported in the news during the 1970s and 1980s as a doomsday cult. They called their group “The Walk”, as opposed to “The Message”. The organization disbanded in 2018 following widespread allegations of sexual molestation of children.
In 2002, Ralph G. Stair, a pastor of an important message church in the United States, was arrested and convicted of molesting minors, raping multiple women in his church, and financial crimes.
Paul Schäfer, a follower and promoter of William Branham’s teachings based in Chile, and was discovered to have been running a compound where he was sexually molesting and torturing children in 1997. Schäfer had a history of child molestation dating to the 1950s. Schäfer was later arrested in 2006, convicted, and died in prison.
Paul Schäfer was connected to Ewald Frank’s sect. The same year Schäfer went into hiding, Frank arrived in Chile to take leadership over his group. Most of the abusers, molesters, and even suspected murderers were taken back to Germany for sanctuary at the headquarters of Frank’s sect. The Message leaders went to great length to protect and hide the predators, abusers, molestors, and even suspected murders from Colonia, and they are still being sheltered and protected in Message churches today.
Message churches are not a safe place.
The government of Chile banned Ewald Frank from entering the country after his efforts to protect and aid the escape of perpetrators of the horrors in Colonia. Schäfer’s followers told news reporters that Frank and Schäfer had known each other since the 1950s when they were both at Branham’s European campaign meetings together.
In 1978, at meetings in Montreal that were headlined by Ewald Frank and Joseph Coleman, it was discovered that the minister responsible for bringing The Message to the maritime provinces of Canada during the 1950s had been a child molestor. Frank and Coleman were both were given direct reports of the abuses at the time. Reports of the abuse spread quickly and came back to Raymond Jackson and other figures in leadership in Jeffersonville. The man had a history of child molestation dating back three decades. One of his victims committed suicide. But no one made any effort to turn him over to the authorities, hold him accountable, or seek redress for the victims. Coleman, Frank, all the Message in eastern Canada, and the leadership in Jeffersonville all failed to report the abuses to authorities. The abuser lived out the rest of his life in Message churches.
The minister in question attended and preached at Faith Assembly multiple times. He is sadly not the only child molestor preacher to frequent the church.
These are just a few of the stories of severe abuses I know of. My purpose here is to show you that the highest levels of leadership in The Message were aware of these things, and did nothing about it.
Message churches are not a safe place. Abuse is systemically covered up in order to protect the image of The Message.
Polygamy is another feature in some sects of Branham’s followers. William Branham authorized polygamy in his 1965 sermon Marriage and Divorce. (Don’t believe me? Listen to it for yourself.) Within one week of the sermon, some Message followers in Jeffersonville began to enter into polygamous relationships. Polygamy has been a fringe practice among Branham’s followers in the United States and Europe, but is followed by a significant minority of Branham followers globally.
Polygamist followers of Branham’s teachings have been reported by news media in the United States for marriage to minors. Marriage to minors is somewhat common in some areas. In one example I am personally aware of, one 30-year-old Message minister in the Jeffersonville area married a 14-year-old. There have also been similar instances in a South Carolina and West Virginia church which I am aware of, in one case involving polygamy. Authorities have gone so far as to raid one North Carolina church and threaten members with legal action for violating bigamy laws. The church I left was in the process of shifting it’s views on the polygamy issue. Whereas we historically condemned polygamy, our pastor had begun to teach that at a point in the future polygamy would become an acceptable practice again.
In 2014, Robert Martin Gumbura, a leader of Branham’s followers in Zimbabwe, was arrested and convicted for raping multiple women in his congregation. Gumbura and his followers were polygamous. Gumbara reportedly had relations with over 100 women. He died in prison in 2021.
Investigating William Branham’s followers, Roberts Liardon commented, “According to Branham, since women introduced men to sex, polygamy was brought about. Women had to be punished. So men could have many wives, but women only one husband.” That is a very succinct summary of William Branham’s conclusion in his sermon Marriage and Divorce.
In 2020, Joaquim Gonçalves Silva, the most prominent leader of William Branham’s followers in Brazil was accused of raping multiple women. He reportedly had relations with dozens of women in his congregation. Silva died in prison while awaiting trial for his alleged crimes.
Besides all manner of sexual perversion, financial crimes are also common and widespread among Message leaders. Some prominent cases follow.
In 1997, the O’odham Nation in Arizona accused Wayne Evans of defrauding their tribe of over $1 million dollars and giving that money to Voice of God Recordings. The tribe filed a racketeering case against them to recover their money. In 2001, Evans pleaded guilty to charges of embezzlement, and Voice of God Recordings returned the funds to the tribe.
Joseph Coleman was connected to a multi-million dollar fraud through an investment management company. The news media reported that Coleman’s son had solicited over $20 million in funds under false claims. He and his fellow conspirators pleaded guilty in 2010 and in 2011 were sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay millions in restitution. The FBI reported that, “rather than using the investors’ capital to support the two funds, the defendants used the vast majority of investor money to purchase lavish gifts for their friends and themselves”
In 2020, Vinworth Dayal, a prominent Message minister who promoted Branham’s teachings from Trinidad was arrested and charged with money laundering through his church. His trial is ongoing.
Pearry Green was a defendant in multiple criminal cases concerning his financial dealings. Green has been accused and sued for all kinds of financial abuses against other Message believers. William Branham’s daughter Sarah published documents and evidence claiming Green had even stolen the inheritance she received from her parents. Green was found guilty in civil court in numerous cases and forced to pay restitution. In a 2003 criminal case, he pleaded guilty to theft in U.S. District court and served a sentence for his crimes.
I am aware of other serious financial abuses that occurred in Message churches, including my own Jeffersonville church. I was careful to leave with adequate evidence to prove it if required. The goal was always to cover it up, otherwise it may damage the reputation of the Message and its central figures. Looking back, I realize the people who participated in the cover up are just as guilty as the people who committed the financial abuses. How can we trust the leaders of the Message when many of them seem to be literal thieves?
Racism and violence
In 2014, Pastor Donny Reagan made news in the United States for promoting Branham’s racial teachings. Reagan is connected to Pearry Green’s sect. Several news outlets labeled Reagan as the “most racist pastor in America.” Reagan was just repeating the common Message beliefs regarding race. Outsiders don’t realize that even some people of color in the Message believe these same things. A Message believer would say, “how can our beliefs be racist? Even the black people believe it.” That logic is what is used in the Message to say the beliefs are not “racist”.
In the church I attended, for example, it was not unheard of for non-white preachers to apologize publicly before the entire church for being “brown.” People of color would openly accept and claim an inferior position. The Message defines racism differently than outsiders would. For Message believers I know, racism would defined as a desire to exterminate or get rid of a race. This is not the view held by Message believers. So when Message believers say they are not racist, they are being honest. They are just using a different definition of racism than society at large. In the Message, those who believe other races are inherently inferior do not consider that view to be racism, it is called truth.
They believe God can still save the “lower races”, just like he offered to accept Cain, but that their inherited animal nature makes them predisposed to reject the salvation.
In our church, we were taught that blacks descended from Ham, who had a nature inherited from Cain and the serpent. We were taught that the black races were intended for manual labor. We were taught that interracial marriage is why God destroyed the world with a flood, and that interracial marriage in modern times was a sign of the end of the world. These things were taught as late as 2018 by our Pastor James Allen, and before him by our Pastor Raymond Jackson.
Kacou Philippe was arrested in 2017 for hate speech and sentenced to one year in prison after preaching in multiple African nations that blacks should be submissive towards whites. Kacou Philippe was once connected to Ewald Frank’s sect. Philippe insisted the decolonization of Africa was a sin, and that Africans could only prosper when in servitude to Europeans. This is a commonly held belief in some Message sects. But Kacou Philippe is himself a black man. To some Message believers, the fact that men like Kacou Philippe exist is proof the belief is not racist. This is a difficult thing for outsiders to understand.
In 2017, street preachers promoting William Branham in Canada began to make national news in the United States and Canada for their aggressive behavior. I have met the men personally, and they been to many Message churches in the United States. It was a surprise to see them in the news though. Their tactics prompted officials to pass legislation targeting their activities in 2019. They were arrested multiple times in both countries for harassing women for their appearance and disrupting church services. Outsiders didn’t seem to realize that they are directly quoting William Branham in the things they say. What is unique is that they are quoting William Branham in public, whereas usually these things just happen in private church services.
From a Message perspective, what is really unusual about the street preachers is the location they are speaking at, not the things they are saying.
Almost all Message followers believe that everyone outside of their church is going to hell, that the overwhelming majority of women are whores or harlots, and that God hates them when they wear makeup and pants. This is standard Message doctrine. These men are just saying it in public.
The CBC investigated William Branham to find the source of the men’s antics and focused their reporting on William Branham’s connections to Jim Jones and the Ku Klux Klan. In 2021, the same men were reported in the news again as fugitives who were evading arrest after attacking women at a Presbyterian Church in Canada. To my knowledge, these men have harassed thousands of people like this and at dozens of churches. Probably many more than I am unaware of.
The rhetoric in Message Churches has led to mob violence. For example, in 2018, Pastor Théodore Mugalu, a leader of Branham’s followers in the Democratic Republic of Congo connected to Ewald Frank’s sect encouraged his followers to violence against Catholics in his country. Catholics are among the most hated enemy of Message believers and among the most frequently targeted by Message ministers as the agents of Satan. Message followers believe there is a secret plot by the Catholic Church and the Pope to take over the world. After Mugalu told his followers about a secret Catholic plot in his country, they attacked a nearby procession of Catholic pilgrims and forced 145 priests and nuns to strip naked, cover their heads, and then filmed their whippings. Violence by Message believers against Catholics has similarly been reported in the Philippines, South America and other African nations.
In 2021, Steven Hassan’s Freedom of Mind Institute published an article labeling Branham’s followers a cult stating, “Branham’s ministry was characterized by white supremacy and deeply misogynist attitudes.” “The Message cult has always been deeply connected to white supremacy groups.”
According to Hassan, Branham’s followers use “deceptive tactics to recruit and indoctrinate unsuspecting people. Recruiters do not tell new members that the cult originated with deep ties to white supremacy groups.” Hassan concluded by stating that “The Message churches have a significant following and an enormous potential to influence people and create violence.”
A Question For Message Believers
Most of I have said in this article is public knowledge. It can all be found and verified in reputable news sources. I know about it. Other leaders of the Message in Jeffersonville and around the world know about it.
To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a single child molester charged or turned over to authorities by a Message church. Why not? They are still in there by truck load.
To the best of my knowledge, not a single killer has been voluntarily turned over to authorities by a Message church. Why not? There are plenty. If you tell someone to give up their stroke medicine and they will be healed, but when they do they have a stroke a die, is that person not a killer? The Message has a lot of quack healers pretending to have a gift of healing which they do not actually have. And they are killing people.
Does your Message church pretend these things don’t exist? Why is that?
Does your Message church pretend only other groups are involved in these things. Have you looked very hard? I am aware of some degree abuse at almost every Message church I have ever heard of. I doubt yours is any different. Look closely.
How much of the stuff in this article needs to be true before we are justified in calling the Message a cult?
Jesus wants better things for you. Come out of her my people that ye be not partakers of her sins. The system you are in has turned into the very thing you thought you were escaping. Come back to the cross. Come back to Jesus. There are friends here waiting for you.
This article incorporates information first published on Wikipedia.