The Passing of Pearry Green:
Yesterday, we took a brief pause from our usual posts to put aside differences and offer support to the families affected by the passing of Pearry Green, pastor of the Tucson Tabernacle and one of a handful of pillars who held the cult following together through the past fifty years. As you can imagine, doing so brought forth a surge of emotion from both sides of the fence.
Leaving a religious cult, especially a doomsday cult, is an experience that leaves its mark. Most of the people we've worked with who have left the cult of William Branham describe an emotional and even physical pain as they try to deprogram and enter the normal life that other Christians take for granted. Having been suffering through the battering of spiritual abuse for decades, many people experience the same difficulties in life that a battered wife would experience and endure long-lasting effects. Leaving is met with each of the five stages of grief one faces with a death in the family, and sees the face of their spiritually (and sometimes physically or sexually) abusive pastor in the faces of pastors in each new church that they try.
Of those who have left, some are brave enough to help others. They quickly find themselves suffering through a heated battle from men attempting to cover up the cult's hidden secrets while struggling with the emotional burden of each and every person they support during their exodus. And it takes its toll. Over time, and after having dealt with the pure evil that is underneath the covers of this and other doomsday cults, we become hardened to the circumstances of those both trapped inside and now fleeing. Faces start to glaze over. After a few hundred, new faces all blend in together. Over time, it starts to become a "good versus evil" battle rather than men and women helping each other escape from the bondage of an oppressive and dangerous religious system.
Too many times, we find the many examples of scriptures where Christ or the Apostles were very blunt in their statements concerning false teachers and apostasy. And being distanced from the human element, we sometimes forget that inside the shell of that false teacher is a living, breathing soul that God loves. It breaks the heart of God for any to perish, no matter their sin. Though their eternal destination is at risk, God loves not only the false teacher, but each and every person close to them. When their heart breaks, God hears their cries. If their soul is sent to punishment, God does not stand above them and scorn.
I will be the first to admit that I am no exception to this rule. After personally supporting the exodus of hundreds from the cult of William Branham through a constant flow of email, telephone calls, video chats, and internet messaging, I find myself overwhelmed. I would love to sit down with each and every person, put my arms around them, and spend the next several years helping them through the battle that I know will be their life for the years to come. But continuing this work for long periods of time can take its toll, as we have seen with some of the others who have helped hundreds out of the cults. When we lose that element of humanity in each and every situation, we become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
There are numerous passages in the Bible that describe the evil of failed prophecy, false teaching, and evil minds who would sever the body of Christ. And men who practice this sin are given a great deal of emphasis in scripture. Not only are they causing themselves to fall, they cause many others to stumble. But often, we misinterpret these scriptures. Having been programmed by a religious cult, we find ourselves reading scripture in the same way that our cult leader taught us. We quickly turn the God of love into a god of wrath that is no better than the gods of Greece and Rome that Paul devoted his life towards battling. But remember, we don't see many scriptures describing Paul's hatred of the men spreading false mythologies -- and with good reason.
These passages are not written for our condemnation of the mortal human who stumbled into sin. They are written as warning for God's children. That same God who loved even the vilest sinner loves his own, and does not want them to stumble into idolatry and worship of men or their gods. The scripture condemning false teaching is not given as an example for Christians to gather around condemning other humans or torment their families for their sin. The scripture is given for Christians to be aware of that sin, and to condemn the evil that infected the human.
And they are grossly taken out of context of both the writing itself and the culture surrounding the passage. "Let the dead bury their dead" (Matthew 8:22), for instance, has a much different meaning in our culture. In the English language, this sounds very much like Christ is telling a potential follower not to hold a funeral for the death of his unbelieving father. Correctly applied to the culture, the man is unwilling to leave his heritage behind to follow Christ, because his father is at the last few years of his life. Christ's statement is not a condemnation of his father, but rather a plea for the son.
We have been programmed to read condemnation into every passage of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. We read it as a roadmap to the destruction administered by an angry god of wrath rather than a love letter to a soul that God loved enough to send His only Son to die for. We are trained to praise those who convert to our belief system and condemn those that disagree. Until they convert, of course, and then we love them as though they were always seen as another human being. We forget that God sees us in the same way, no matter what point in our lives He is viewing. Too many times, we loosely use the phrase "Judge the sin, not the sinner," without actually applying that strategy.
But worse, we forget the unbelieving thief on the cross. Remember, Christ hung between two thieves, one who found salvation immediately before death, and one who did not. Because the saved sinner heard the words of Christ, we rejoice and recognize him into our minds as a fabulous story of a deathbed conversion. But what about the other sinner? Did not Christ love him just as much? Did not Christ want him to find salvation?
This situation applies not only to the corporal punishment described in scripture, but also to the situation at hand. And we are living in days of the Eternal Covenant of Grace, not the severity of the Mosaic Law. As Mr. Green "hung on his cross" while recognizing that his life was quickly coming to an end, which pathway did he choose? Did he choose life, joined to the family of God? Did he choose death? Did God love him any less, no matter his choice? We cannot say which pathway that he chose. None of us were by his bedside.
Like the Pharisees in the days of Christ, we find ourselves turning the Bible -- even the New Testament -- into nothing more than another set of Laws, just as we were programmed to do by false teaching. And we scrape through each book and letter, finding verses that agree with our stance on the issues that we find more important through doctrinal study. Like the Lawyers of Christ's day, we expand upon those passages, trying to determine how best we can apply those and condemn those who do not agree with our application. But remember, God did not give us these books as just cause to condemn our fellow man. The entire collection of books and letters is summed up in love:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.â€
- Matthew 22:37-40
Let us not be guilty of following the first commandment while ignoring the second.