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Interview with John Collins on William Marrion Branham (Part One)

March 8, 2019

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 19.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Fifteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: March 8, 2019

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2019

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 4,017

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

John Collins is an Author, and the Webmaster of Seek The Truth. He discusses: William Marrion Branham and his influence; Branham being considered a fraud and cult leader or cult-like leader; ways in which cults or cult-like groups grow; followers of “The Message” extricating or removing themselves from it; and ways to help those individuals or groups trapped in it.

Keywords: author, Christianity, faith healing, John Collins, Seek The Truth, The Message, webmaster, William Marrion Branham.

An Interview with John Collins on William Marrion Branham: Author & Webmaster, Seek The Truth (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We talked before. Let’s reboot the context, in brief, who was William Marrion Branham? Why was he influential? 

John Collins: Yes, thank you for having me back again!  It’s good to go a bit deeper than we did last time, and I think expanding upon the context we had before will be beneficial.  So much information has surfaced since our last conversation that a reboot will help open the door to many topics that are virtually unexplored.

William Marrion Branham was an American “faith healer” recognized for his participation in the Post-World War II Healing Revival that began in the mid-1940s and lasted through the 1950s.  It is believed by some that he initiated the revival when his “gift of healing” led to a series of revivals in mid-1946 and that his healing campaigns spawned the modern Charismatic movement.[i]  Understanding why he was influential requires an in-depth look into the mechanics of how he was influential.  Specifically, it requires an examination of the stage persona that Branham created to influence a nation during an extremely vulnerable time in American history, as well as an examination of the historical timeline of events that created the perfect storm.

Remember, it was a time of fear and unrest.  The Second World War had ended, and many people feared that a third was just around the corner.  With the Second Red Scare and McCarthyism spreading, and the thought of widespread communist infiltration of America was very frightening. [ii]  Trust was a scarce commodity.  The Revivalists offered a break from the mental strain of these fears, even if only for a few hours of an evening or weekend.  From farmers to stock brokers, working class to executives of large corporations, the revivals attracted a very diverse crowd and participation in the revivals was extremely high.  They were more than simply religious meetings; a revival was entertaining and therapeutic, offering a quick release of pressure for those who were about to explode.  Branham was not the only revivalist to preach sermons with themes and titles such as “Letting off the Pressure”.  Revivals with soothing themes were much needed during this time of distress and were highly popular.[iii]

The stage persona that William Branham created for his revival campaigns was specifically designed to appeal to the senses of those who needed a release.  He claimed to be a simple man who spent a large part of his childhood hunting and fishing in the hills of Kentucky[iv], which would have resonated with many people in the rural areas his revivals and marketing material targeted.  His usage of Southern slang words[v] and stories of a Huckleberry-Finn-lifestyle[vi] would have reinforced that feeling among his Southern crowds while appealing to the inner-child of even the most refined members of his crowd from the Northern States.

Towards the end of 1945, William Branham renamed his church from “Pentecostal Tabernacle” to “Branham Tabernacle”[vii] and integrated a new theme into his stage persona by claiming to be a Baptist minister newly interested in the Pentecostal experience.[viii]  On the heels of a series of healing revivals in spring of that same year,[ix] Branham began claiming to have been recently given his “gift of healing” during an “angelic visitation”[x], and created a heartbreaking story describing the events leading up to the “angel”.  This alteration was so successful that Branham would continue to use it for the remainder of his career, only adjusting the stage persona slightly to fit the timeline and fully separate this version from the previous iterations.  It is a stage persona that has been immortalized through the hundreds of his recorded sermons from 1947 to 1965[xi] and propagated through the reproduction efforts of Voice of God Recordings in Jeffersonville, Indiana[xii].

Whether it was a predetermined strategy or a skill that would be developed over time, large portions of Branham’s speeches would be focused upon molding this stage persona into a loveable, trustworthy figure that most Americans could relate to.  When he told of tragic events he endured during his many “life stories”, his description of those events was formatted in such a way that a majority of his crowd could both relate with and emotionally connect.  At the same time, he approached them from a religious platform of “inter-evangelical” [xiii]  or “inter-denominational” [xiv], removing any element of skepticism or critical analysis of his doctrine or symbology.  Listeners had every reason to trust him, very little reason to question him, and no reason to doubt him.  As a result, Branham’s influence was widespread, and his legacy is largely comprised of historical accounts that he himself created for use in his meetings.

2. Jacobsen: Why is he widely considered fraud and leader of a, at least, cult-like movement, which still exists today?

Collins: I cannot speak as to why others may view him as a fraud, but I can speak about the reaction myself and some of my associates have shared as historical information started surfacing that placed many aspects of this religion and stage persona into question.  The religious movement as it exists today has been declared to be a destructive cult by both religious[xv] and non-religious[xvi] groups, and when a former member first encounters critical information, it is often followed by waves of emotion.

There are numerous sects and sub-sects of the “Message”, the religious following of William Marrion Branham.[xvii]  There are also sects of Pentecostalism and other religious cult followings who place value on the doctrines that Branham introduced or re-introduced.[xviii]  Yet in all of their various forms, almost every sect has theology that requires William Branham to be a focal point.  In the more extreme sects, Branham’s stage persona has actually embedded itself into fundamental, core doctrines[xix], and leaders of those sects preach apocalyptic theology that is fully dependent upon William Branham as a means to escape Armageddon[xx].

As I slowly uncovered information[xxi] separating the “William Branham” used as a basis for core doctrine from the historical “William Branham”, and slowly began to distinguish the difference between the elements used for the creation of the stage persona and real life, the word “fraud” would have been tame compared to the other words racing through my mind.  Not only was I unaware that previous, much different versions of his stage persona existed[xxii], I felt as though I had been manipulated into my religious beliefs through deception.  This feeling was exacerbated by the leaders of the movement who had access to this information for decades yet continued to preach doctrines dependent upon the final adjustments to the stage persona while concealing information concerning the earlier iterations.

Once the emotions lifted, curiosity drove me into a research project that would last for several years.  I had to know whether or not William Branham could accurately be considered a fraud.  With information quickly becoming available that offered glimpses into his past and seeing a much different version of history than had been available to us in the movement, I knew that it was quite possible that his intentions were good – regardless of the destructive nature of their outcome.  Was he a fraud?  Or was he simply a good man with a passion for helping people during a difficult time in American history?

Our conversation will be unique, as it is the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to explore these questions in public, and the historical data used to form my opinion is virtually unpublished.

3. Jacobsen: What are the ways in which cults, cult-like groups, and others, can be created, maintained, and even grown over time? What are the tricks of their trade? How is Branhamism a case in point – in Canada, in Australia, in the United States of America, and elsewhere?

Collins: I recently have had the opportunity to work with former members of another Pentecostal cult that has a strong presence in the United States, Mexico, several countries in Africa, and more.  If I were to describe the structural composition of this religious movement to former members of William Branham’s “Message” cult following without mentioning its leader or doctrine, those who escaped Branham’s movement would instantly assume that I was referring to the “Message”.  Yet at the same time, former members of both groups contacted me after watching episodes of “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath”, describing similarities they had identified with the inner workings of Scientology and the cults from which they escaped.  Each time a destructive cult makes headlines in the news after a destructive episode or exposure, members and former members of other cults often notice similarities.

This is a much different experience for current members of a cult as it is for former.  Current members of cults, having been trained to place an unhealthy amount of focus upon their leader, notice the unhealthy level of interest members of the cult making headlines have in their leader.  They experience cognitive dissonance as they try to reconcile the conflicting emotions as they realize their situation is so similar and begin suppressing any troubling similarities while taking mental note of the list of any positive attributes of their own cult leader.

Former members, especially those who recently escaped, are more sensitive to the destructive qualities.  Like the general population who have never experienced a religious cult, they recognize the harm in placing unhealthy levels of reverence, importance, and power in the leader of the movement, but also recognize deeper observations such as similarities in the creation and control of the group they escaped and the group they are observing.

I find it both fascinating and disturbing that the same scenarios can be applied to the creation, maintenance, and growth of destructive cults.  Many cult leaders have emerged after having either experienced or observed the formation and design of other cult followings.  Rev. Jim Jones of Peoples Temple, whose cult following ended in mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, was a member of William Branham’s “Message” cult[xxiii] during the time the “Message” was more closely aligned with the “Latter Rain” sect of Pentecostalism. Branham, whose campaign team was comprised of former members from Rev. John Alexander Dowie’s “Zion City” cult, appears to have used many of Dowie’s ideas and theology, including a claim to be the return of “Elijah the prophet” from the Old Testament.  Before starting his own cult following and claiming to be another return of “Elijah”, Rev. Charles Fox Parham purposefully observed both Dowie and Rev. Frank Sandford, who also claimed to be the return of “Elijah”. [xxiv]   Each of these cult leaders, though only loosely connected, share many similarities in the creation and establishment, maintenance and control, and spreading of their religious movements.  All created their religious movements with an open-door policy, claiming participation with other denominations while slowly attracting members out of them.  Over time and as their cults were being established, cooperation was slowly replaced with distaste or even hostility towards the outside groups.  The two-way open door effectively transitioned into a one-way partially-closed door, and the isolationist mindset was established.  Though many different religious cult followings have vastly different origins and beliefs, in their core formation, some level of this transition must occur for them to become destructive.

Once a group of people has placed an unusual amount of control and reverence to a single individual or single group of individuals, i.e. the cult leader(s), and the following has started to become convinced that the leader(s) have supernatural abilities greater than other humans both inside or outside their group, it is difficult to maintain.  The leaders of these movements are, as we know, normal human beings, and are subject to all of the types of problems that exist in humanity.  Not only must they ensure that their followers continue believing in their “gifts” and their “elevated” status, they must prevent the group from critically examining all aspects of their lifestyle.  The group must conform, but they must also be controlled to prevent widespread critical analysis.

Religious cults often manipulate or control behavior patterns, from dress code to entertainment.[xxv]  In movies and in television, similar stereotypical clothing is used to depict a cult, and viewers generally agree that they “look like a cult”.  This is a direct result of creators noticing similarities in the dress code and behavior of religious movements in the news, and their contrast from other members of society.  For people in these groups, it provides a quick-and-easy way to identify members from non-members, but for the leaders, it shifts a great deal of focus away from themselves and onto those who do not conform.

Cult leaders must also limit the amount of information that is available to the group and control the information that has been made available.[xxvi]  Leaders who claim to be “prophets” must only allow information about “prophecies” that appear to have been accurate, while concealing or controlling the perception of information available for “prophecies” that were not accurate.[xxvii]  Healers must avoid letting the group learn of those who continued to suffer or die after being “healed”, those claiming benevolence must conceal their personal finances, and all must conceal or control information that humanizes themselves or their ministries.  This type of control is not limited to external sources.  Every group contains a very diverse set of members, many of which have very curious and analytical minds.  Thoughts and emotions must also be manipulated and controlled to prevent those minds from questioning and exploring to prevent widespread demotivation.[xxviii]

The difficulty in continuing this type of control leads to the outreach programs we see in Branhamism and other religious cult followings.  It is far more effort to maintain this level of manipulation in cities or even countries of origin.  Access to critical information is easily available for local members yet almost non-existent for those on distant shores.  Many religious cults turn to global outreach to grow their following rather than local campaigns to attract new members.

Thankfully, the information age has leveled the playing field.  The digitalization of media archives and social network interaction has managed to bring even the most distant parts of the world together, and the sharing of information has led to mass exodus or implosion of many destructive groups.

4. Jacobsen: How can questioning followers of ‘The Message’ begin to help themselves become extricated from it?

Collins: It is very difficult leaving a destructive cult following, whether it is the “Message” (in its many various forms and leadership) or other.  For many former members, the negative effects were felt for several years.[xxix]  Ironically, the easiest way for most people to break free from these groups is to heed the advice of the cult leaders:  Study the group’s information!  If you are in the “Message”, study the “Message”.  Study the works, history, and legacy of William Branham.  If you are in Scientology, study Scientology!  Study the works, history, and legacy of L. Ron Hubbard.  Don’t limit yourself to study only the filtered information that the cult has promoted or manipulated, study everything from praise to critical analysis.

A member of one of our support groups recently commented, “It’s funny how we study the ‘Message’ more now that we left than when we were in it!”  It is true; many former members find themselves digging through mounds of information to try and piece together the artifacts that explain the last several years or decades of being controlled and manipulated.  At the same time, it is very therapeutic.  Leaning how and why a cult leader created and maintained their following is important but understanding how it directly affected your psychological makeup demystifies the manipulation and control.  It brings release.

5. Jacobsen: How can external agencies, groups, and individuals help those trapped in it?

Collins: There is a huge need for resources of all kinds.  There are as many as 5,000 cults in the United States alone[xxx], and very little information is available for most of them.  Sadly, a great deal of information exists for groups that have tragically ended in mass suicide[xxxi] but was almost non-existent leading up to their destructive event.  Many similar groups, with similar structures and conditions have the same potential outcome, and unfortunately will not be critically examined until their climax.

Counseling is both exhaustive and costly, and many who want to escape or have escaped cannot afford the added expense.  Most of their surplus income and even retirement funds have been given to the cult leaders.  In many cases, the cult was also their primary source of income.  After leaving, former members are starting over in all aspects of life, spiritually, mentally, and financially.

In some parts of the world, former members are clinically diagnosed as having Group Dependence Disorder and are treated for symptoms ranging from significant personal and family impairment to professional and social impairment.[xxxii]  In North America, however, these groups are classified generically in the category of “religion”, and the traumatic issues cult escapees face are dismissed incorrectly as simply a “bad experience with a poor choice in religion.”  It is critical that cult psychology training be required learning for psychologists and counselors, and that resources are available for those already active in their profession.

There is a wide variety of areas in which those wishing to assist in the escape of cult members could assist, from spreading awareness and assisting in educating cult members to contributing towards the much-needed counseling after their escape.  Those wishing to do so can contact us on our website, http://www.seekyethetruth.com.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Author; Webmaster, Seek The Truth.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 8, 2019: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/collins-one; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2019: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[i] Weaver, John. 2016, Mar 23. The New Apostolic Reformation: History of a Modern Charismatic Movement. p34.

[ii] Heale, M. J. 1998. McCarthy’s Americans: Red Scare Politics in State and Nation, 1935-1965. University of Georgia Press.

[iii] Gatewood, Willard B. 1966. Preachers, Pedagogues, and Politicians: The Evolution Controversy in North Carolina, 1920-1927. UNC Press Books. p39.

[iv] Branham, William. 1951, July 22. Life Story. “We were raised in the mountains of Kentucky”

[v] Branham, William. 1954, Aug 29. I Will Restore, Saith the Lord. “I’m just a Kentucky corn-cracker, with my words of, “hit, hain’t, tote, fetch, carry.”

[vi] Branham, William. 1955, Jan 17. How the Angel Came to Me, and His Commission. “Where I used to trap when I was a boy, had a trap line through there, and go up there and fish and stay all night. Just a little old dilapidated cabin sitting over there, been in there for years.”

[vii] First newspaper announcement of “Branham Tabernacle: 1945, Oct 13. Church Listings. Jeffersonville Evening News. Example listing as “Pentecostal Tabernacle”: Rev. Branham to Leave for Summer. 1940, Apr 29. Jeffersonville Evening News.

[viii] Branham, William. 1951, July 22. Life Story. “When it come mine I said, ‘Billy Branham, evangelist, Jeffersonville, Indiana,’”

[ix] Branham, William. 1945. I Was Not Disobedient to the Heavenly Vision.

[x] Branham, William. 1955, Jan 17. How the Angel Came to Me, and His Commission.

[xi] The Table. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from https://table.branham.org

[xii] Voice of God Recordings. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from https://branham.org/en/aboutus

[xiii] Branham, William. 1948, April. The Voice of Healing: An Inter-Evangelical Publication of the Branham Healing Campaigns.

[xiv] Branham, William. 1954, June 20. Divine Healing. “I never joined any denominational church, and I don’t intend to. I intend to stand between the breach and say we are brothers.”

[xv] Jacobsen, Ken. 2009, Jan 19. A Refutation of William Marrion Branham. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from https://culteducation.com/group/1289-general-information/7839-a-refutation-of-william-marrion-branham.html

[xvi] The Message. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from http://old.freedomofmind.com/Info/infoDet.php?id=883

[xvii] Message Sects. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from http://en.believethesign.com/index.php/Message_Sects

[xviii] 2018, Aug 18. Rev. Beniece Hicks, founder of Christ Gospel Church, dies. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from http://cityofnewalbany.blogspot.com/2018/08/rev-bernice-hicks-founder-of-christ.html

[xix] Example: The Messenger. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from https://www.messagechurch.com/message/the-messenger/

[xx] The Mystery of the Rapture. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from https://endtimemessage.info/rapture.htm

[xxi] The Message: The Series. A Historical Look into William Branham’s “Message”. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from http://william-branham.org

[xxii] Example: Branham, William. 1945. I Was Not Disobedient to the Heavenly Vision. (Branham’s “gift of healing” came by vision in 1945, as opposed to his later stage persona which claimed the “gift” came during an “angelic visitation in 1946: Branham, William. 1954, Aug 9. The Manifestation of Thy Resurrection to the People of this Day. The very day that Israel was declared a nation again for the first time for twenty-five hundred years, that same night the Angel of the Lord sent me out to pray for the sick, the very same time, May the 6th, 1946, the Lord Jesus did that”

[xxiii] Collins, John. Duyzer, Peter M. The Message Connection of Jim Jones and William Branham. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from https://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=65112

[xxiv] Collins, John. 2017. Jim Jones – The Malachi 4 Elijah Prophecy. Dark Mystery Publications.

[xxv] Hassan, Steven. 1988. Combating Cult Mind Control.

[xxvi] Steven Hassan’s BITE Model. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from https://freedomofmind.com/bite-model.

[xxvii] Example: Branham, William. 1960, Nov 13. Condemnation by Representation. “By the way, Mr. Mercier and many of them are going to take some of these old prophecies, and dig them out, and revise them a little, or bring them up to date, and put them in papers.”

[xxviii] Collins, Glenn. The Psychology of the Cult Experience. 1982. New York Times. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from https://www.nytimes.com/1982/03/15/style/the-psychology-of-the-cult-experience.html

[xxix] Hassan, Steven. 2012. Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs.

[xxx] Clark, Charles S. Cults in America. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre1993050700

[xxxi] Example: Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple Search this website. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from https://jonestown.sdsu.edu

[xxxii] Jansà, Josep, M.D., Perlado, Miguel, PhD. Cults Viewed from a Socio-Addictive Perspective. Accessed 2019, Feb 3 from http://www.ais-info.org/application/uploaded/cults_viewed_from_a_socio-addictive_perspective.pdf

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Interview with John Collins on William Marrion Branham (Part One) [Online].March 2019; 19(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/collins-one.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2019, March 8). Interview with John Collins on William Marrion Branham (Part One)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/collins-one.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Interview with John Collins on William Marrion Branham (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 19.A, March. 2019. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/collins-one>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “Interview with John Collins on William Marrion Branham (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 19.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/collins-one.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Interview with John Collins on William Marrion Branham (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 19.A (March 2019). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/collins-one.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘Interview with John Collins on William Marrion Branham (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 19.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/collins-one>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘Interview with John Collins on William Marrion Branham (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 19.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/collins-one.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Interview with John Collins on William Marrion Branham (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 19.A (2018):March. 2019. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/collins-one>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Interview with John Collins on William Marrion Branham (Part One) [Internet]. (2019, March 19(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/collins-one.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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