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Turning Milk Into Wine

 

Martin Luther once said, “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”

 

One of the biggest inconsistencies within our cult doctrine was the teaching concerning wine.  It was a tee-totaling cult, refusing alcoholic beverage of any sort, even wine.  Never was there a scripture quoted for it, and that is likely because there are very few passages that support that point of view.  Several instances condemn drunkenness, but drinking wine has far more passages promoting it than offering any sort of condemnation.

 

Some pastors explained this by claiming that we were under a “Nazarite Vow” – not mentioning the many other things we were to avoid when honoring the Jewish custom, such as cutting of hair.  And during communion, celebration of the Lord’s Supper from the Bible, we were instructed to drink wine and not grape juice – because juice dishonored our Lord.  We were told that what we used in honor of Jesus Christ was also evil.

 

My cousin who helped me through my deepest depression enjoyed drinking, much to the distress of his father.  It was viewed as sinful, and cult members condemning it would often refer to those who enjoyed a drink now and then as “drunkards,” even though a single drink would never bring intoxication.  But during one of my many phone conversations with my cousin, he opened my understanding a bit when he said, “but Jesus drank!”

 

Even non-Christians are familiar with the passages of scripture called “the Miracles,” the most recognized miracle being that of Jesus turning water into wine.  And though not as many are familiar with the passage, Christ himself was referred to as a “wine bibber,” which carried implications of a historical Jesus who enjoyed a very large amount of wine. 

 

On a business trip, my uncle still continuing to harass me with an abundance of text messages, I decided to determine which person was in the right: the man saving my life, or his father (my uncle) who was trying very hard to annoy me.  I found an interlinear version of the bible online, with references to the Greek and Roman words and definitions, and an online Strong’s concordance.  Starting with Genesis and ending in Revelation, I went through every single passage of scripture that mentioned grape juice, wine, strong drink, and alcoholic beverage of any sort.  Not only that, I searched databases of the early church fathers, including Jewish historian Josephus, to learn what they had to say. 

 

Before long, I found myself writing another book, one examining drinking according to scripture.  I titled it, “To Drink But Not To Be Drunken,” after scripturally determining that it was more sinful to condemn a person for drinking than it was to actually partake.  Proverbs giving instruction for strong drink, Apostles recommending the drinking of wine, Jesus filling hundreds of guests with not only wine, but the strongest of wines, it was all there, in black and white (and sometimes red).  But that trip was not the most interesting when it came to drinking.  It was another trip, soon after I left the cult, which would change my life. 

 

In a business meeting in downtown Atlanta, I found myself in the conference room of an expensive hotel with what appeared to be an expensive collection of liquors and fine wines.  Having been a teetotaler all my life, I shuddered at the thought of being around “those drunkards.”  (I actually knew better, having been in several business meetings just like this one with calm and respectable people drinking casually).  But in these meetings, I typically ordered a large glass of milk, so that none would confuse my drink for anything but non-alcoholic.  I’ll never forget the first bartender that I asked for milk.  The look on his face was priceless.  “You’ll have a WHAT???”

 

Sitting down at a table with business executives, I found myself sitting with a unique group of people.  Some were from the United States, some from other countries, all enjoying a tasty meal as we discussed sales opportunities.  The lady sitting to my immediate left was from Germany, and the idea of passing up good liquor for milk was foreign to her.  “Why don’t you drink,” she asked.

 

For the first time in my life, I could no longer say, “For religious reasons.”  I’d studied it, and there wasn’t really any religious reason at all.  It was either personal preference or cult doctrine.  In either case, it was an addition to the religion that appeared to have come in the 1930’s during Prohibition.  The vast majority of Christians, throughout history, have enjoyed drinking, unless you count various groups of Gnostics, which were condemned by scripture.  “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink.”  I refused, but she was very insistent. 

 

I’d heard of the healing power of wine, and especially of the effects on depression.  There were proverbs instructing “men of sorrow” to drink wine, and I was curious.  But I was also very hesitant.  I could just picture myself taking a sip and becoming instantly intoxicated, unable to control myself in front of my business associates.  If I were to do it – and I had no desire to do so – I would rather take my first drink in private.  But she was relentless.

 

“Come on, try it!  In my country, everyone drinks, even the children.  It helps calm your nerves while you discuss business!” 

 

I took a sip.  Honestly, it tasted like cat pee smelled – a taste I could never imagine anyone wanting to put into his or her mouth.   It clashed badly with my food, and I knew that the combination should never go together even though I had no idea that “wine pairing” was even a thing.  It was probably the worst taste I had ever put into my mouth.  And I took another sip. 

 

All in all, I had about two to three tablespoons of the nasty drink, only to satisfy the persistent women next to me and move on from that topic of discussion.  It wasn’t even enough to feel the slightest difference in myself, and when the opportunity was presented, I moved from the table to mingle with the crowd.  A few sips were enough.

 

Later that night, finally making my way to the hotel room, I suddenly noticed something was missing.  Not sure what, I felt my pockets, double checked my wallet, and looked for the hotel keycards.  Everything in order, I turned on the television and stretched out on the bed, propping my head on a pillow.  Then I noticed it: my head.

 

Since as long as I could remember, the constant rhythm of pain in my head was torturing me.  The pain was worse at night, even worse than that first thing of a morning, and never seemed to let up.  But tonight, and for no reason I could explain, it was much, much less!  I hopped back out of the bed, looking for my medication bottle to count pills.  Surely I must have taken too large of a dose!  And at a bad time for it – I couldn’t be walking around like a zombie for tomorrow’s business meetings!  I found the pill bottle, and the few that I had collected for the trip seemed to be there.  What else could it be?  I remembered the wine.  The sips of wine must have had some strange effect.  Was this drunkenness?  If so, it sure felt good!  But I didn’t feel drunk, not even the slightest bit dizzy. 

 

The next morning, I woke up fully expecting for the needles of pain to resume their torture.  And they did, but not as harshly.  I was so excited that I nearly forgot to put pants on before I left the hotel room.  Anxiously waiting for the evening meal, it was all I could do to concentrate on my meetings.  I had to find out!  Could it be?  Could a few sips of wine take away that pain?

 

That evening, I forced myself to drink even more.  I couldn’t put down a full glass, squinting my eyes and making awful faces as I drank what tasted like the inside of a rotten apple.  More than a few tablespoons, I was able to get down at least an eighth of the glass.  Then I became even more anxious, wanting to see if it had the same effect.  If drinking wine was supposed to calm your nerves, it certainly wasn’t having that effect on me.  I was on pins and needles!

 

That night, and the morning after were much the same as before, only greater.  No pain, no dizziness, no drunkenness (I chuckled as I thought about it), nothing at all.  I felt completely normal, suddenly as though I had a chance at a new life.  I’d given up all hope at that life – being told by more than one doctor that depression would persistent, and that medication would be my constant future.  And it was, considering the fact that I could not miss a single day.  Missing a single pill would not only make the pain much worse, it would soil my shirts – I would literally start crying uncontrollably and have to return to bed completely soaked with tears. 

 

Returning home, I braced for the shock as I told my wife what I’d discovered.  “And I’m thinking about buying a bottle of wine for the house,” I added.  She looked at me.  “YOU WILL NOT!” (Actually, she may not have said it out loud, but her eyes were certainly screaming it).  Not knowing what to get, I bought a bottle that had a pretty label on it, and began my days as a “wine bibber that only sips”.  I didn’t enjoy it, and couldn’t force myself to drink it often, so I decided to drink a small glass of it on Monday evenings.  I did so, reluctantly, and over time the pain completely went away.  I started sleeping better, able to eat without an upset stomach, and started regaining strength.  Before long, I was completely healthy, and quit taking the mound of vitamins, minerals, and medication that I took daily.  But there was one pill that I could not yet avoid.  I looked down at the depression medication.  “What about you, my friend?”

 

The business meeting was in mid December.  By March of the following year, I was completely medication free.   I had successfully turned milk into wine.

Dying To Find Henry

 

 

 

Henry Thomas BuckleI once said that, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” 

 

This statement rings true with any religious cult following.  When only one single man is the source of new ideas, and the elders are the only ones qualified to discuss “great spiritual events,” the common people are left with nothing else but to discuss each other.  What might start as a simple flaw in personality can sometimes end as a demonic spirit, or what most would call a simple trip to the grocery store might end up sounding more like a perilous trip up the mountain to meet some man of wisdom. 

 

When a man or a woman chose to leave the cult, one can only imagine how the stories grew.  As a child, it was horrific – tales of death and dismemberment, all stemming from instant “judgment” for “leaving the truth.”  I heard stories of heads severed from their bodies in catastrophic vechicle accidents, cars plunging into canyons as a family moved away to another town, and many other fates.  These stories were always presented with some strange sort of pride; we were the ones that stayed and lived, while they were inferior and deserved their fate.

 

When I left the cult, these types of curses were applied to my family and myself.  In the onslaught of disgruntled followers calling to pronounce judgment upon our family, I had a grand variety of deaths that I was about to receive.  Some would call me to describe their “spiritual dreams,” in which I suffered some awful fate.  Others would use examples of the deaths that they themselves had witnessed as they watched others leave the cult.  One story in particular was especially tragic.  A poor soul left to be a “motorcycle renegade,” and was travelling up a hill at a high rate of speed.  Not seeing the other side of the hill, a transfer truck was in the wrong lane and struck the poor soul head-on.  His body flew from the bike higher than two telephone poles, and landed in pieces flat on the highway.  He literally exploded.

 

And I never questioned these stories, though I’m not sure why.  If everyone who left suffered tragic endings, it would be worthy of investigation.  There’d be news reporters, police investigation, interviews and depositions and more.  We’d have federal agents knocking down doors to find out why! 

 

When I started researching “Henry Branham,” I had no idea what was coming.  I never stopped to think about those tragic stories of those who left, and ignored the many curses that were placed upon my head by disgruntled cult members.  They affected me about as much as if they’d stood their with a water hose and sprayed my house as I looked at them through a window, and were almost as comical to visualize.

 

I had been searching through hundreds of newspaper articles, mostly finding advertisements used to promote the Branham campaigns.  Some were full-page ads, describing all the awes and wonders one could imagine – almost as if you’d picked up an advertisement for a circus.  “See the next wonder of the world!”  “You’ll get thrills, chills, as you see the roaring lion scaring the people from the ring!”

 

In 1933, there were some local advertisements, nothing significant.  This was the year that Branham supposedly started his ministry, claiming that he was commissioned by a God who spoke from the heavens.  According to his story, there were thousands to witness the event, and newspaper reporters standing by to capture the details.  These reporters were said to have printed a story that the Associated Press published in newspapers in multiple countries – and yet, not a single copy can be found from any city in any state.  Sometime later, another cult researcher would find one single story about a handful of people being baptized, but not enough to justify Branham’s claims.  Nothing was mentioned outside of normal preaching and baptism.  From 1933 to 1947, almost nothing could be found.  There wasn’t a single story to back up his many claims of newspapers thrilled with his prayer campaigns and supernatural signs. 

 

But in 1947, there was a sudden appearance.  Not by William, however, it as an appearance by his brother Henry.  According to William, the reporters got his name wrong, incorrectly printing “Henry” instead of “William,” but as I searched the newspaper archives something just did not add up.  How could they get this wrong?

 

This was no small gathering in Vandalia, Illinois.  It was well advertised ahead of time, and a large portion of the city was overrun with people from miles and miles around.  A massive tent, filled with an unusual amount of technology for its day, the reporters marveled at the fact “Henry’s” voice could be heard throughout the city on practically every city block.  Henry himself was described much like a river boat gambler, nattily dressed as opposed to what remembered in the cult leader’s descriptions of the early days: a humble worn-out suit coat and seersucker trousers. 

 

The fact that Associated Press reporters were present would suggest that the advertising was successful.  Though Vandalia was near the highway it was not a large town.  Likely chosen because it was easily accessible with plenty of grounds to pitch a large tent.  But it was not the sort of town that would attract reporters for the Associated press.  More than an hour away from St. Louis Missouri, Evansville Indiana, Springfield Illinois, and over four hours drive from Branham’s hometown in Jeffersonville, it was not on anyone’s radar.  This tent meeting would have not been a normal attraction for anything outside of local Vandalia news, and must be advertised in order to attract AP reporters.  To have been there would be to have known whom, exactly, you were going to see.  Henry.

 

It was this author’s personal opinion that Henry WAS the faith healer they found when they entered Vandalia.  It was well known in the cult that William’s brothers helped work the crowds in the early years of the Branham campaigns, and I could envision a scenario where brothers took turns alternating between playing card-collector and being the man who guessed the information on the cards.  I began searching, asking, digging for anything and everything I could find about Henry Branham.  I should have seen it coming, but I did not.

 

The email came in late one night, just as I was preparing for bed.  A desperate plea to help a less fortunate lady, the subject matter appealed to my compassionate side.  I had just come through a very harsh time.  I knew what it meant to be down on your luck.  In a short amount of back-and-forth conversation and a telephone call, I was given a location and a telephone number for the person in need.  I replied with my assurance that I would do everything within my power to help. 

 

She was a relative of Branham’s sons, though I knew very little about their family outside the siblings and one uncle.  Widowed, no other relatives, out of work and out of money, she was holed up in a cheap motel for her last remaining night.  Everything she owned was with her, which I was told did not amount to much.  And she was desperately pleading with the Branham brothers for help, only to be turned away. 

 

It wasn’t until the next morning when I finally made contact.  It was a Sunday, and my wife and children were getting ready for church.  I offered to pick her up and take her to our Sunday school, hoping to learn how Southern Baptists handled desperate cases.  I knew that we worked with an outreach program for the homeless, and she definitely was falling into that category.  When I arrived at the motel, she was exactly as described.  Obviously poor, but clean wearing what once would have been nice looking clothes.  Offering her breakfast at the local Dairy Queen, we talked a bit about her situation to break the silence. 

 

I did not recognize her last name, and her first name was common.  I was a bit skeptical at first, never having been caught in this type of situation before.  She told her story, confirming everything that came to me in both email and by telephone the night before, but clearly was a different person with a different accent.  But then, the bomb dropped:  “I’m Henry Branham’s daughter.”

 

That afternoon, I engaged her in numerous conversations to learn the missing history from 1933 to 1947.  We talked about the prayer lines, how they worked, her father’s involvement, and what she could remember from the stories she heard growing up.  She was not alive at the time, obviously, and was not able to answer some of the more detailed questions, but remembered her father opening up towards the end of his life.  We talked about the Branham family, intimate details that my family knew but that few others would know. I found myself shocked that anyone besides my own father could have known some of these details about the Branhams – and it certainly was not public information.  She talked about the two brothers, how she approached one of them for help, and the stern refusal.  And then she pulled out a piece of paper, signed by a hand that I recognized.

 

This was the same signature that I had framed, hanging above my desk for almost twenty years.  I knew it well.  It was on a white sheet of paper, no letterhead, with a simple statement about a transfer of money.  No amount was listed, and she said that one brother met her in a parking lot, gave her a very small amount of cash, and drove away.  It seemed odd to me, why the signed piece of paper, but then the entire situation was odd.  From Henry’s daughter landing on my doorstep to the letter she held in her hands to the inside knowledge on the Branham family, something didn’t add up.  I quickly started talking with fellow researchers through an Internet chat client. 

 

Using the name she had given me, one of the friends was able to pull up information describing her.  The last name she had given me was one of her aliases, and there were others.  It appeared that Branham was her original name, and she was indeed from Jeffersonville, but apparently was not an upstanding citizen.  Right across the room from me sat a woman whose photograph I now viewed above a “WANTED” sign. 

 

I called my wife over.  “Look at this joke Emily sent me,” I lied.  My wife walked up, eyes got big, and she laughed a convincing fake laugh.  “That’s funny, she replied, “boys, come help me in the kitchen!”

 

As she and the boys went into the kitchen, the lady followed, giving me a chance to dial 9-1-1.  Whispering into the telephone, I explained that we were in danger, and needed assistance.  Within two minutes, four policemen were in our home and escorted her out of our house.  A few weeks later, underneath the mattress in my bedroom, we found the .44 Magnum revolver that she intended to use.