With millions of American members, The Message cult has been influential in spreading hatred in the United States. The Message cult is a collection of churches — characterized by extreme white supremacy and profoundly racist and misogynistic attitudes — that originated from William Branham’s Pentecostal Tabernacle.
Branham formed the Tabernacle in 1936, and he claimed to be a prophet who channeled messages directly from God. With close relationships with white supremacy groups and prominent members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Branham taught his followers that Black people are the inferior race and that women are inferior to men. Until his death in 1965, Branham recorded approximately 1,500 sermons. Today, many sub-groups exist, and they use Branham’s recordings to keep the Message alive.
On a recent episode of my podcast, The Influence Continuum, I speak with a former member of The Message cult, John Collins. He has authored two books and built a website to expose facts about this cult. Collins was born and raised in “The Message” cult. He says that he grew up as “royalty” in the cult because he was the grandson of Willard Collins, former pastor of William Branham’s “Branham Tabernacle.”
From 1976 until he left the group in 2012, Collins was unduly influenced to believe and practice many of the religious and cultural views expressed by Branham and Branham’s inner circle. Since leaving, he has worked tirelessly to understand the cult’s true history and free himself from the trauma he suffered from growing up in it.
Background on the Message Cult
In the fall of 1930 Roy E. Davis, the second-in-command of the KKK moved to Jeffersonville, Indiana. Davis had recently resigned from his position as “Royal Ambassador” of The Knights of the Flaming Sword, a white supremacy group named in response to Indiana’s Oneness Pentecostal Leader Garfield T. Haywood. Haywood’s had recently published a tract, “Victim of the Flaming Sword”, which was very popular. Roy Davis took over an established church and established a new sect, the “Pentecostal Baptist Church of God”, which eventually transitioned to the Branham Tabernacle. In 1936, when Davis was eventually extradited to Arkansas on charges of grand theft auto and suspicion of murder, Branham took over Davis’ church, forming the Tabernacle. Branham had been working with Davis since 1928, prior to Davis’ migration to Indiana. Branham and Davis held revivals with the KKK’s supreme chaplain, Caleb A. Ridley, who led other white supremacy groups such as The Supreme Kingdom.
Shortly after World War II, Branham became one of the most prominent leaders in a resurgence of healing revival ministries. Thousands of evangelists joined Branham’s ministry, and several charismatic movements grew out of his movement (Word of Faith, New Apostolic Reformation, and others).
Branham’s sermons made use of white supremacist themes that the ‘white’ race is good and the ‘black’ race is evil. Branham popularized the Christian Identity doctrines of Wesley A. Swift, a KKK leader from California whose sect produced the Neonazis, “skinheads”, and Aryan Nation. Branham rebranded Swift’s doctrine as “Serpent’s Seed” and used it as a fundamental element of his “Message” sect. Throughout his entire ministry, Branham kept close connections to KKK members and supporters including Congressman William D. Upshaw – the Georgia Congressman that defended the Klan from Washington in the 1920s, E. Howard Cadle and Clem Davies. He regularly condemned civil rights advocates like Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy — even going so far as to claim that Kennedy was the antichrist. Branham spoke against education generally, but he especially disapproved of the education of blacks and racial integration in public schools. Black people had “no business” for reading, writing, or arithmetic, he insisted.
Furthermore, the church strictly regulated women’s behaviors and strongly discouraged women from working or going to school. Branham believed that letting women vote would lead to the “destruction of the United States.” He promoted a hierarchy in the animal kingdom, saying that human males were the highest, but women were even lower than hogs.
Members of the Tabernacle and subsequent offshoots made end-times predictions, spoke in tongues, had rituals for casting out demons, and used the concept of faith healing as a benchmark for religious devotion. A few engaged in polygamy, drinking poison, and handling snakes. Some Branham communes, such as Colonia Dignidad, had ties to Nazi Germany and tortured political opponents.
The Message cult employs behavioral control tactics to maintain power over members: members are encouraged or forced to isolate themselves from non-believers. They enforce the Pentecostal dress code and discourage or forbid modern fashion. They also forbid certain types of food and drink. Many sects regulate sexual intercourse, including forbidding birth control or forcing intercourse. In some extreme sects, sleep deprivation is forced on members.
Deconstructing “The Message”
After his escape in 2012, Collins began the process of freeing himself from the Message cult’s indoctrination and learning about the group’s true intentions. This process included re-evaluating every aspect of life, including personal experiences and beliefs core to his belief system, worldview, and personality. In his research, he found that the Message cult manipulates Christian theology to deceive and control members and spread white supremacist ideas.
While studying Branham and his history, Collins also researched the men associated with or influential to Branham, as well as notable events in the historical timeline of the United States and World History. Collins noticed patterns of data that appeared to suggest strategic usage of Pentecostal and fundamentalist extremism to advance the political views of men affiliated with or participating in the creation of William Branham’s ministry — many of whom were associated with white supremacist groups
A common characteristic of all authoritarian cults is the presence of a hierarchy. There are a few leaders at the top who are privy to all information and understand how the cult operates. The rank-and-file members are given only enough (often false or misleading) information to enable them to work to support the cult. In the Message cult, leaders kept certain information secret from other members. They deceived members about the group’s history and often lied about its connections to the KKK.
Collins continues to document and organize data on Branham and the Message cult for public usage as part of his ongoing project, William Branham: Historical Research. By exposing the corruption within the Message cult, Collins has helped millions of people realize they were following a false prophet, even though they believed they were just being “Christian.” There is now a growing movement of people leaving the cult, realizing the group and its leaders prioritize power and politics, not religion. Bringing attention to the group and its corrupt and racist history is a necessary step to helping people unlearn these ideas and reclaim their freedom of mind.