*Updated May 27, 2020.*
The Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal continues apace and reflects a common trend in churches around the world. There are many facets of this to consider, including cults and fringe religious movements or groups, as this happens in and out of the communities of worship and the cults while the communities of worship and the cults provide a formalized structure for this.
Individuals who may not hear about the abuse in the church can be as upstanding citizens, and as moral individuals within some universal conceptualization of morality, as possible; however, other facets remain important for consideration in the context of the abuse of individuals within the church, whether physical abuse or psychological abuse, or sexual abuse. As we can note with some church members, they may state, “But I never heard about it.” One reason is the abuse did not happen at all. Another is some have not seen it because of the high costs to the victim, the culture of denial, and the complicity of the community in protecting the prominent men. This has happened in religious and secular communities. However, we see this more in the religious communities with an assumed divine mandate in support of the higher authority endowed upon the men. It can create some questions around theology.
If trends exist in theology, and if outcomes exist in people coming out of the theology in several churches and around the world independently, then some scrutiny is deserved, rather than necessarily confirming as a diagnosis. However, there appear to be confirmed cases in some churches around the world regarding The Message theology. From Canada to the rest of the world with over 2,000,000 adherents to this day, people after the Western world collapsed due to a second world war wanted answers. Preachers came in to fill the void. The theology of the late purported Prophet William Branham (1909-1965) was one response. A man who arose in the midst of the post-WWII Healing Revival Movement with several prominent figures proclaiming, by themselves, ‘faith healer’ status within a movement continuing to this day with televangelism and the Charismatic movement. Anything in association with Branham should be taken with suspicion and scrutiny, especially with historical cases of abuse in churches, including Cloverdale, Phoenix, Colonia Dignidad, Zimbabwe, or the cult compound in Prescott (click name for hyperlink).
There can be a man considered near to or equal to Jesus Christ as a messenger of the Lord of Lords through The Message, i.e., the late Mr. William Branham providing theological – his own – buttresses for the abuse in the churches. To quote Mr. Branham, “Let her daughter stay out all night and come in the next morning with her make-up all over her face and her hair twisted sideways, out drunk somewhere. You know what she would do? She would teach her a lesson with a barrel slat. That’s right.” Another time, “And I’ve see them laying out on the beaches half naked before man stretching themselves out there, say they get a sun-tanning. Brother, I — I may not live. But if God lets me live and keep my right mind, if one of mine does it, she’ll get a son-tanning. It’ll be Mr. Branham’s son with a barrel slat behind her. She’ll be tanned all right. She’ll know where it come from too. Yes, sir.” In this, individual churches of The Message may operate independently. However, the main point is an overarching theology called The Message. In this theology, this may influence some of the men in the private of the home or church, where the victims, if in a particular home or church, stay quiet. The Casting Pearls Project, devoted to abuse survivors coming out of The Message, run by Jennifer Hamilton gathers stories and quotes. From the Casting Pearls Project, we have a statement from Careyann Z.:
My father came from an abusive family. Through becoming a “Message” minister and missionary, he found a purpose and a way to feel accepted. He believed his interpretation or revelation of the “Message” would lead the bride into the rapture. My mother came from a strict Roman Catholic family. When my parents met, my father told my mother, “God told me you’re my wife.” My mother said it felt like a supernatural presence overtook her when my father asked her to marry him which forced her to marry him against her will. A week and a half later, they were married. My father was a very good manipulator. There were numerous healings that took place in my father’s ministry, and some of the things he prophesied took place. I chalk those up to luck. There were also many things that did not come to pass. Fear of God’s wrath effectively controlled his entire family and drove us to do everything he wished. When we went against his wishes, he would prophesy to us, staring deeply into our eyes as his countenance changed and his entire body shook. My father treated my mother like an object, and she just took it faithfully, helping him in all his businesses like a good slave. Once when she was 9 months pregnant and nauseous, she was up on a ladder painting a house. When she climbed down due to the nausea, he yelled at her to get back up on the ladder and finish painting. Whenever she questioned him or he disagreed with something she did, my father would speak in tongues and prophesy against her saying, “This is God speaking,” or “God is going to strike you dead.”
Another from Christine H.:
I married at a very young age (barely 17). It was expected that we marry young and not risk making “mistakes” before marriage. I went from being in a very controlling home, to being married and becoming a submissive wife. I was always raised with the idea that a man was to have the say in the home and that my place was to make him happy (in my mind, at all costs). This wasn’t how my childhood home worked, but it was what I was taught. I already had “pleaser” type of personality. This came from trying to please everyone in hopes of them being proud of me, and the dire need to be good enough. Both sides of the family were very controlling; my family would try to control what I wore and what I did even as a married woman. I never dreamed my life would turn out the way it did. It wasn’t long before the stress of life grabbed our young home, and I found myself in an abusive marriage. After almost 11 years and two children, we ended in a divorce. I felt destroyed, knowing I was committing the forbidden sin. Once again, more hurt and abuse by people that were supposed to love me the most. The pain felt unbearable. Why was I so unlovable? Why could people physically and mentally hurt me, knowing they were causing me pain, but still say they loved me?
The spiral began. My family could only see that their daughter was now divorced and how that was going to look to everyone in the “Message”. I was told I had no rights, but no one wanted to know my story.
Is the statement about barrel slats unquestioned? Why use this language and metaphor? If one can unquestioningly endorse statements of physical abuse with a barrel slat, then this raises questions about actions towards women following from it, as this man, within The Message, is considered a Prophet. At the same time, in The Message, women are considered of the devil. Branham is considered the Prophet of God. Who is a follower of The Message to question a Voice of God, especially a woman who is of the devil, anyhow? Either Branham was ordinary or not, whether ordinary made prophet of God to become extraordinary or ordinary and a liar about professed prophet status. Even with ignoring these claims about divinity or divine representation of He on High, there can be explicit statements, by the raised standards of today, of sexist statements by Branham, and behaviours within the churches.
Those statements belying particular attitudes with the views reflective of a general philosophy in regards to the roles of men and the roles of women within the “The Message” movement theology and the orientation of general subservience to men alongside a culture of silence. Do not take this from me, take this from an individual with extensive experience with former women members of “The Message,” Hamilton, who I conducted an interview with former member and author John Collins in an educational series where he invited Hamilton into the session, said abuse is normalized in the church. Therefore, this should qualify as a destructive cult.
For those with further interest in researching cults, I would strongly recommend the late Margaret Singer, and Rick Alan Ross, Steven Hassan, and Robert Jay Lifton. All four have been integral to helping hundreds of thousands of people around the continent, and probably the world, in working to combat destructive cults, which remain the main issue or problem now. Collins explained the general context in which the leadership, the pastor even, can further victimize a mother who has been abused by a husband (including the husband abusing the children). The mother was shamed to be in submission to the husband, as per their interpretations of supposedly sacred scripture.
Collins said, “Victims are pressured into keeping silent about abuse. As a result, many members of the group are unaware that sexual abuse exists. Worse, some people that are aware of the abuse have become accustomed to it and view the abuse is ‘normal.’ Some message followers rarely speak up against sexual abuse within the church because they are conditioned to keep silent. In many cases, there seems to be an unspoken rule that ‘if you speak about the problem, then you are the problem.’”
All the while this happens decades after the death of Branham in 1965. We continue to see the admonishments. The thou shalts and thou shalt nots as interpreted of the scriptures for “The Message.” In this case, the message becomes a message of denial of abuse of women’s and children’s bodies and subjugation of the wife to the headship of the husband. Collins described how the culture of abuse can create a situation in which the abused individuals remain accustomed, engendered, to the abuse culture. In the family, this can mean more of the normalization of the abuse in a cult setting with aberrant worship, doctrine, and leadership with destructive consequences under the guise of Christian theology, ethics, and norms. Many Christians would be appalled, probably. Collins only knew of a few situations in which the law enforcement agencies became actively involved in these cases of abuse.
“Typically, one of three scenarios happen when sexual abuse occurs. Unfortunately, more often than not, the victim of rape or sexual assault is afraid to speak up and the abuse is never mentioned to anyone in church authority. The second scenario is that the victim does speak to their pastor or church leader, but the pastor ‘handles’ the situation by either admonishing the abuser privately or dismissing the situation all together,” Hamilton stated, “The third scenario is the less common of the three, but the pastor might bring the offender before the congregation to reprimand them openly. In both instances of speaking out, the victim is almost always shamed and found at some fault. For sexual abuse towards girls and women, teachings of WMB place blame on the female body for being seductive and therefore a temptation.”
Indeed, as Hamilton further explained, they distrust the secular systems of jurisprudence and social services. She explained:
…when sexually abused members do speak out, the leader dictates complete control of the situation without reporting it to the local authorities. 1 Corinth 6:1-2 is most often used to justify this: “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest laws courts?” Message pastors have no theological or counseling education and erroneously fail to understand that this passage is about settling civil cases, not criminal ones. In a criminal case, such as physical or sexual abuse, the state opposes the perpetrator in court, not the victim.
Often, cases do not go to the court or to a sufficient authority to deal with these issues. Even if a crime is known to be committed and a charge would be appropriate, and in the case of real consequences for the perpetrator, the punishment for the “rapists and sexual assaulters [are] rarely appropriate for their actions.” Some of these conversations can be seen with some commentary of Nathan J. Robinson from Current Affairs around Joe Biden in a larger sociopolitical context about the Democrats and in extensive commentary about President Donald J. Trump in the examination of the claimants with substantive stories of sexual abuse and rape by the sitting president of the United States of America.
Managing Editor, Sarah Mills, of Uncommon Ground Media (and Min Grob) in “Coercive control activist: ‘Sally Challen case is about more than murder’” wrote on a similar phenomenon of coercive control as an aspect of manipulation through emotional abuse. Another relevant aspect of this cultural phenomenon of cults. Someone in non-normal, aberrant circumstances, where murder became a mind-set induced by coercive control in the case of Challen. A woman who murdered, but who killed someone intentionally with a long background of abuse. In another case from the same outlet, Beatrice Louis or Linda Louis, Business Editor, spoke articulately a couple of years ago about the proposition of “Enforced Monogamy” in the article entitled “What Does Jordan Peterson’s Enforced Monogamy Actually Look Like?“ Short answer: “not good”; long answer: “also, not great,” Louis astutely picked up on the ad hoc manner in which Peterson covers a behind connected to him. Louis highlights this statement, “Of much more interest is the preceding paragraph which is reported as, ‘violent attacks are what happens when men do not have partners, Mr. Peterson says, and society needs to work to make sure those men are married.’”
Louis went on to ask about the factors needing change for incels to stop being incels. To a New Mythologist in Peterson, as I call them, mirroring the New Atheist, formulation of loose, ill-considered philosophizing, Louis nailed the point in a form of a question, a circumlocution punctuated by a question mark, as the surrounding contextualization for this crowd comes in the mantra of “personal responsibility” without nary a notion of the “personal” part in matters of crucial concern: underground, online, misogynist culture with derivative manifestations in the larger sociocultural structure. Society retains a deep interest in the men becoming married. That’s the claim and argument in one. In having this, not the men, but the society or factors external to the individual should hold responsibility for the men, perhaps, the small group of online men who may struggle with heterosexual relations and shifting of norms in some societies towards pragmatic egalitarian norms should focus on individual change. When one claims this, then the double, loose, ill-considered meaning or ad hoc reasoning can mean this all along, while, in fact, the [fill-in-the-blank] was intentionally placed with a surrounding quota of partial truths so as to lead the ‘stallions’ to water. When the cowboy-shepherd is shown to be naked, he meant the more positive egalitarian notion all along. Implication: How could you be so dishonest and stupid to not get the message the whole time? Und so weiter. That’s on a form of a marriage built to industrial efficiency for the subjugation of women and children to the fathers in destructive cult cultures reflected around the world in hundreds of thousands of people’s lives under “The Message” theology.
Mills’ and Grobs’ articulation of some of the emotional and psychological abuse is relevant here too. I love this statement from their article:
Abusive, controlling partners initially shower a potential target with intense flattery designed to seduce them. This is referred to as ‘love bombing,’ a tactic also employed by predatory organisations–like cults–in order to persuade their targets to let their guard down through positive emotional feedback: high self-esteem, a sense of being loved, and belonging. This initial period of idealisation succeeds in forging an intense bond with the abuser, a bond that will later be used against the victim, who will always seek to return to this state, or emotional high, following periods of cruelty.
Exactly, this becomes the basis for the abusive destructive cult tactics one can find in the world created in the post-WWII Healing Revival Movement of William Marrion Branham and others. As we see in the world of coercive control abuse tactics, or in the idealization of a state of nature with God, man, woman, and children, where the man is the head of the household and the woman exists below the man in service of husband and in devotion to the caretaking of the children and the maintenance of the home. God loves you. He is there for you, except during coercive control, during the abuse, after the scars heal while the mind reels, and still while his representative authority in the church shames you. If you come forward, the overwhelming response is a claim as a liar. Some of the most substantial research on rape, as an extreme form of violence against women, represents 8% of the cases as unfounded; thus, the default should be sensitivity and full consideration with the weight of the claims and, as well, the consideration of the claim of, in this instance, rape as highly probable rather than not, based on the statistical evidence gathered by the FBI and the Home Office of the UK – as far as I know, independently.
Hamilton said, “In the cases of the abuser being the pastor or in leadership, the victims are likely labelled liars and disregarded. Abusers in the Message are more protected than their victims through the forced silence. The Message teaches that if the rapist or assaulter confesses, their sin is ‘placed under the blood of Jesus,’ making them as ‘blameless’ as if the crime literally had never happened. Therefore, anyone who speaks about it is shamed for bringing that sin ‘back out from under the blood.’” There is explicit theological backing for these attitudes and behaviours as interpreted within “The Message.” Whether one looks at the more insider knowledge of Hamilton and Collins, or the collegial journalism on coercive control (a classic tactic of cults) and critical commentary of clumsy outmoded thoughts on enforced monogamy, Canadian society, and most other societies know better and, thus, should do better than permit open sanction of such institutional status within borders and cultures, as there have been extreme cases at Cloverdale, Phoenix, Colonia Dignidad, Zimbabwe, or the cult compound in Prescott. All functioning independently while under the common theological banner of The Message. Given the history and theology, these seem like plausible hypotheses about the organizations. Is there abuse near you? Are there considerations of trying to get out of community without community reprisal? There is help if you need it. There are the authorities – the police, the secret service agencies, the safe houses, the Casting Pearls Project, or other initiatives devoted to the safety of women (and men) who may be experiencing abuse – who can help you.
To the last question from the interview with Hamilton and Collins, I leave this to them prefaced by the original questions:
Jacobsen: For those who have not faced justice, how can they face it?
Hamilton: Time unfortunately impedes most abusers from facing the justice they deserve. Victims that are now speaking out about the abuse are sometimes unfortunately past their state’s statute of limitations. After leaving the cult, there is a processing period for de-programming and realizing that the abuse had been normalized and that justice was not served. No matter the length of time, victims can contact their local police station or Salvation Army for resources and advocates.
Collins: The only way justice can be served is through education and accountability. Members of any church – cult or not – must hold elders of the church to an acceptable standard of accountability. Leaders of church bodies must be trained in how to respond to abuse, when to report abuse, and how to properly warn members of their church when another member has abusive tendencies. As the proverbial “shepherd of the flock”, they must be held accountable to provide protection for their congregation.
At the same time, members of the church must be educated to recognize signs of abuse and recognize abuse of power. This becomes problematic for leaders, however, in the case of a destructive cult. In all cases where members are trained to recognize abuse of power, those same members become former members.