Message Cult Mind Control - Sexual Molestation:
Of those we have worked with who left the "Message," the mind control cult following of William Branham, we often come across people who are struggling. Having been ex-communicated or disfellowshipped from lifelong friends and family is very emotional. To have them suddenly disconnect from your life is painful. But their journey is not nearly so painful as it is for those who were sexually molested in the cult.
The first time someone contacted me for help and mentioned the word "rape," I was in disbelief. At that time, I truly believed that William Branham's cult following was Bible-based, and that most people in the cult centered their worship around the Scriptures instead of William Branham. Not yet understanding the internal structure of a cult, and not having studied other cults for similarities, I mistakenly assumed that this would be a rare oddity. And then another contacted me. During the course of the next few years, people who were sexually abused began to tell me their stories. Though it took some time for many of them to become brave enough to talk about it, most leaving the message eventually speak out about the issue that tormented them day and night.
So many contacted me that I could begin to sense patterns in the stories. Some did not fit the pattern, and I had a hard time believing that they were actually abused. But while some were seeking attention, others were truly desperate for help. Former cult members have testified of their abuse from cult churches in states and territories in the U. S. and Canada, as well as parts of South America and Africa. More than one of them I knew personally from my childhood, and was disheartened to learn that men I respected as "spiritual" were so evil inside.
Though we don't often talk about it on this website, avoiding the chance of re-opening healing wounds, the discussion always sparks a debate in our online forums. This problem is not limited to the "Message," and current members of the "Message" cult are very quick to bring this to the attention of the former members, even those who suffered. They are especially quick to point fingers at the Catholic Church, since William Branham indoctrinated his followers to believe that the Catholic Church was the "mother of harlots." Though I agree with the cult members to some extent, there is a pattern that is well worth studying.
Many of the examples in studies of sexual abuse and its connection to religion are describing religions where a great deal of focus was placed upon sex. Passages of scripture that (in context) are referring to a much broader topic are misused and misapplied by several fundamentalist groups. With the example of the Catholic Church, the most highly publicized issues are with priests -- priests who take vows to be celibate. Is this religious practice the heart of the problem?
In Pentecostal-style cults, however, the problem is not limited to the priests. Misunderstanding many of the Bible passages to refer to "skin" rather than "humility," these types of fundamentalist groups are continually focusing their sermons against the fashion styles of the world around them. Teaching their members that the Country's "normal" is "sexy," they send their men into the public unprepared. While a non-fundamentalist Christian could walk through Wal-Mart and see "normal" people, a fundamentalist with this mindset could walk through the same store and see "sexy" women dressed to lure their eyes towards their "skin."
For those who suffered abuse in the 'Message', healing does not come easy. Trapped in a religion that programmed them to believe leaving was certain death, they could not flee their abusers. And with the unhealthy level of closeness of a mind control cult, they watched as others praised their abusers for their "faithfulness." Two different men, from two different states in the U. S. described being raped by other men in the cult. Over time, the victims began to actually believe that they were at fault. Their minds could not reconcile the internal conflict between the praise their abusers received and the abuse they themselves were receiving. The abuse victims who leave the "Message" often see themselves as damaged goods, never to be repaired.
But that is not the case.
In his book, "Combating Cult Mind Control," Stephen Hassan gives examples of former cult members who suffered many forms of abuse. Though healing takes time, these members are able to find peace. One of these examples is from the Jehovah's Witnesses 'Watchtower Society,' a group with a very similar structure and set of beliefs to that of the "Message.":
When Lee was eight years old, her mother abandoned the family, and Lee was forced to live with her father. Shortly after that, her father began sexually molesting her. The crime was reported to the police when she was 11, and her mother, whom Lee had not seen in three years, was awarded custody. Her mom was then living with relatives and studying with Jehovah's Witnesses.
When Lee was 12, her mom's common-law husband sexually molested Lee and her teenage aunt. When this was reported to an elder at the Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall, the elder advised the family to keep it secret. When it happened again, the elders decided that it should not be reported to the police. Lee's aunt was sent to live with other family members, while Lee was placed in a foster home for the next three years.
At age 16, Lee went back to live with her mother, who was then a baptized Witness. A year later, Lee was baptized and encouraged to marry a Witness, a man she hardly knew. They had two children, and she remembers the enormous pressure on her to be a good example to others in the congregation. Meanwhile, her husband— who appeared to be a fine and upstanding Witness— sexually and emotionally abused her.
However, she carried a secret. On the outside, their family life looked good. But inside she was depressed and suicidal. She had never received counseling for her childhood abuse, and the emotional and sexual abuse in the marriage only exacerbated many of the long-term effects of abuse that she only realized later on.
The Watchtower, the Jehovah's Witnesses' prominent magazine, counsels Witnesses to be wary of therapy and counseling, as they are supposedly ways for the Devil to destroy their faith. But after struggling for years with bad Watchtower advice, Lee received permission from the elders to get counseling. However, she was forbidden to tell her counselor that she was a Jehovah's Witness.
After two sessions, Lee realized what was happening in her life, that her husband was a repetition of the abuse she endured as a child. She realized she needed to get out of the marriage. She also knew that this would not be easy, as there were only two acceptable ways to make that happen among Witnesses— death or adultery.
- Steven Hassan. Combating Cult Mind Control
The book continues to describe the journey out of the cult. It is well worth the read if you were sexually abused in the "Message." But for this particular post, we'll skip the details to examine the ending. It should give some encouragement to others who were in similar experiences:
Lee went on public assistance and made the brave decision to register for college. She did well in her first two courses and decided to study full-time. In that environment, she began to thrive, ask critical questions, and challenge assumptions— none of which is permitted in the Witness world. Lee graduated with honors, formed a small nonprofit organization to help incest survivors, and provided counseling for over 600 people over seven years before she retired, due to ill health. Counseling others had helped her turn past childhood abuse into something positive. But it was now time to investigate her Jehovah's Witness experience. Using the Internet, she found a wealth of information about the Witnesses and cults in general, and the methods used to unduly influence members. When she finally proved to herself that Jehovah's Witnesses were a cult, it pinpointed many cult-induced phobias and fears that had lingered with her for years. She has since come to learn about the detrimental effects of the Governing Body's policies on child-rearing. This includes corporal punishment of children. Most repulsive is their organizational failure to call police when children were being raped by pedophiles in the organization. A number of high profile lawsuits have recently been brought against the Watchtower and several perpetrators. We can only imagine how many more victims will be coming forward.
- Steven Hassan. Combating Cult Mind Control
Stay tuned for more!
Combating Cult Mind Control (Second Edition): http://amzn.to/1NCnN45
Profile of "The Message" on Freedom Of Mind Resource Center: https://freedomofmind.com/Info/infoDet.php?id=883&title=The_Message