Was Bro. Branham a secret millionaire?

It is alleged that Bro. William Branham was a secretly rich man who used his position to grow wealthy and died with millions of dollars in the bank. Critics also allege his claim to have grown up in poverty was false, and that he was actually from a well-to-do family. In this article we will examine this accusation and the supposed evidence.

Why do the critics think Bro. Branham was rich?

The critics have three primary forms of evidence they point to suggest Bro. Branham was a secretly wealthy man.

Bro. Branham’s personal possessions

The mansion in which the wealthy Bro. Branham was born and lived at during his early life. The fact that he did live here was confirmed to an editor of this website by an aunt of William Branham who lived in the Burkesville Kentucky area for her entire life.

The first evidence critics point to in attempt to prove Bro. Branham was wealthy are some of his personal possessions. He purchased a new car in 1926. They say Bro. Branham must have been well-to-do to afford such a “luxury.” However, they omit several important facts.

The new car Bro. Banham purchased in 1926 was a Model T Ford. This is also the same year that Ford introduced a plan to allow purchasers to buy cars “on-time” by making regular payments over the course of time to purchase the vehicle. Bro. Branham was also a likely beneficiary of this new credit tool.  The 1926 Model T was sold for $360 ($4,895 in today’s money).12 

Even at full price, the cost of the Model T in 1926 was far below the average cost a used car in modern America. His new car was far cheaper than any new car that can be purchased in modern America. Knowing these facts help us to realize that this new car purchase made by a young Bro. Branham was not nearly as luxurious as the critics make it out to be.

Bro Branham did what many people do today as young people: at the first opportunity available he went and put himself into debt over his head, but did so thinking he could not pass up this once in a lifetime sale.

A person’s assets are not a clear sign of how wealthy they are. They may just be a sign of how in debt they are. Bro. Branham indicated in his sermons that he was a heavily indebted person and that his creditors even at one time repossessed his favorite arm chair. 

It seems very likely to the editors of this website, that Bro. Branham’s reported poverty in his early adulthood was partially due to his own actions extending himself beyond his financial means.

Bro. Branham’s hunting trophies

A second key element in the critics arguments that Bro. Branham was wealthy is the many hunting trophies he owned. The critics allege that the many hunting trips he went on were proof that he was wealthy, as no person of regular income could afford to go on so many hunting trips. They rely on a Jeffersonville Evening News article from 1942 which reported Bro. Branham had shot and killed a wolf at the Clark County Forest where he was a game warden to claim that he was wealthy even before the healing revivals began in 1946. The article reports Bro. Branham had been on at least four hunting trips before 1942 to Maine, Alaska, Montana, and the Rocky Mountains and that he had two bear skins.

There is no evidence that these hunting trips were to exotic resorts or were lavish affairs. Bro. Branham was a normal person. Normal people like to take vacations and do the things they enjoy. You do not have to be rich to do that. Pictures of the hunting trips indicate they were sleeping outdoors in sleeping bags and eating food cooked over campfires.

Camping and hunting is among the cheapest forms of vacation available in the United States. At that time, the only cost associated with it was the gasoline to get your car there and a few cents for bullets. A hunter and fisher could eat from the game they captured on the trail and camp with few amenities. Bro. Branham’s choice of vacation actually proves the point that he was likely of a low income. Additionally, it is quite likely Bro. Branham went on these trips as part of a group, which would further decrease the associated cost.

Hunting is also a very cheap way to secure a source of food for a family. It was common, especially in during that period in American history, for the poor to hunt wild game to provide food for their family. Bro. Branham’s hunting in his early life was done both for necessity and for leisure.

During the healing campaign years, when Bro. Branham was at the peak of his popularity, he was treated to one exotic hunting trip by men who associated with his ministry. He was taken on safari in South Africa during a campaign in that country and hunted large game for four days. This trip is the only such type trip he is known to have taken and it was paid for by his associates. They saw this as a reward and kindness to him for his years of service. This single trip is the one from which the critics assume all the hunting trips were elaborate and expensive affairs.

The Sarah Branham letter

The Sarah Branham letter is the third and final important piece of evidence the critics point to trying to establish that Bro. Branham was secretly wealthy. In a 1989 letter, twenty four years after Bro. Branham’s death, Sarah Branham wrote that the William Branham Evangelical Association had cash and stock assets of “$3,113,676 plus stocks $130,645 plus other things.” She stated that at the time of Bro. Branham’s death, the assets of the association were frozen from withdrawal from the association for 25 years by Billy Paul Branham. From this document, critics argue that Bro. Branham was indeed a secret millionaire. In this section we will examine where this money came from and determine if this is how much money Bro. Branham had at the time of his death.

So where did the money come from to start the William Branham Evangelical association? Operating his campaigns was not a cheap affair. Over the years a large sum of money passed through Bro. Branham’s healing campaigns to rent the venues, accommodations for the ministers, and travel expenses. It would always be necessary to keep some reserve capital ready to finance the next campaign. Additionally, Bro. Branham had his heart set on purchasing a large tent and had been slowly saving up money since the 1950s to finance the purchase. The critics only publish one letter from the series of correspondence to make their allegations. Additional letters between Sarah Branham, Billy Paul Branham, and others involved in the situation, were also publicly published by Sarah Branham in an effort to gain access to some of the funds for her family. Those letters explain where the money came from. The critics are dishonest in that they only selectively share the correspondence with their readers. The editors of this website have access to the full set of correspondence.

According to their letters, the money used to start the foundation was Bro. Branham’s accumulated savings over the source of multiple years for the purpose of purchasing a new tent, furnishings for the tent, trucks to transport the equipment, and other equipment necessary for campaign meetings. These facts are established by fully reviewing all the correspondence between Sarah Branham, Billy Paul Branham, and the ministers who were helping arbitrate the matter. We have not published that correspondence here out of respect to the Branham family.

The Sarah Branham letter says how much money was in the association in 1989, but how much money did Bro. Branham have saved up when he died in 1965? The critics would have us believe $3.2 million. Unfortunately for the critics there are some serious flaws in their logic. Sarah Branham does not state how much money was initially put into the association in 1965, she just states what her lawyers had discovered as assets of the association based on their investigation in 1989. She clearly states in correspondence that the amount in the foundation was the 1989 balance, not the initial 1965 balance. The majority of the money was in a bank account. Bank accounts generate interest on the money in them. At the very least, the stated amount is the initial amount Bro. Branham had, plus the interest it earned.

Did you know the 1970s and 1980s were the period of highest interest in United States history? Interest rates peaked at about 21% in 1981.3 In fact, money grew much faster in a savings account in those years than if it was invested in the stock market! This is hard to imagine in modern America were average savings interest rates are at historic lows (2019). Based on typical interest rates from 1965 until 1989, how much money would have been needed in 1965 to get to $3.2 million by 1989? The answer is about $340,000. (Critic Rod Bergen is a Certified Public Accountant, perhaps he will double check these numbers.) Here is a link to our detailed calculations.

So at the absolute high end, Bro. Branham may have had about $340,000 in his evangelical association when he died. However, he likely had much less than that, because there is a second problem with the critic’s allegation.

Sarah recorded in her letters that the association had a regular income, and was still receiving deposits. It is clear based on her letter that no money was flowing out of the association. But more money was flowing into it after Bro. Branham’s death. In other words, Billy Paul Branham was continuing to add more funds over the years, beyond the initial money his father had saved for a tent. It is our belief that the majority of the money in the association is money Billy Paul collected after Bro. Branham passed away. There is no record available to us to show how much money was initially put into the association, all we know is what it held in assets in 1989 and the related facts we have communicated in this article.

A tract was published in 1991 by ministers sympathetic to Sarah Branham which included a compilation of these letters, legal documents, and expressed the same positions shared in this article. This tract was widely circulated in the United States among Branham followers, and we find it difficult to believe that the critics do not have access to it, especially because they selectively post elements of the tract on their websites. We therefore are left to conclude they are purposefully using the evidence they have access to in a selective manner, rather than objectively looking at the facts.

On his website, Jeremy Bergen states the followings

On his website, John Collins makes the following similar accusations:

This is a blatant untruth. Her letter, which they share, says explicitly “Just recently [1989] a noted lawyer in New York looked into the matter and showed me different bank statements…” It is from the 1989 bank statements her lawyer obtained that she arrived at the $3.2 million figure, and not from the documents concerning the creation of the association in 1965. There is no public record anywhere of how much money Bro. Branham had at the time of his death. Additional correspondence in the same tract more directly contradicts their assertion. Why are the critics lying about this?

It is the opinion of the editors of this website, based on our personal knowledge of Bro. Branham, that Bro. Branham had a significant sum of money saved towards purchasing a tent. We also believe Billy Paul began transferring money into the association from multiple sources soon after his father’s death. The sale of printed books and tapes plus the tithes and offerings paid to the Tabernacle where Billy Paul was treasurer was a substantial income.

We conclude Bro. Branham was certainly not a millionaire, but his ministerial corporation did have substantial assets, perhaps about $100,000 at the time of his death. All evidence indicates this money was being saved to purchase a new campaign tent, and not being used to live a lavish lifestyle. The $3.2 million Sarah Branham found in the association in 1989 was the result of multiple years of money accumulated by Billy Paul Branham and the record setting interest rates of the period following Bro. Branham’s death.

Where did Bro. Branham get his supposed wealth?

Bro. Branham (third from right) and his coworkers at the Public Service Company of Indiana (now Duke Energy) in the 1940s.

From the late 1920s until the early 1940s, Bro. Branham worked as a game warden in the Clark County Forestry and as a bill collector and line patrolman for the Public Service Company of Indiana (now Duke Energy). He also began ministering about 1930, and had started his own small church congregation by 1933. The income from these jobs would have enabled Bro. Branham to live a middle class life during this period of his life. These cannot explain the supposed wealth the critics say he had. So how do they explain his supposed wealth? 

They allege Bro. Branham was involved in a life of crime with the Ku Klux Klan and his first pastor, Roy Davis. This is a laughable accusation which we debunk in on our rebuttal of that accusation. Somehow, they believe Bro. Branham, beginning at age 19, was one of the greatest con-men in history. They believe he successfully cheated people by stealing charitable donations and engaged in KKK activities, yet completely escaped ever being charged with any crime while all the people he was supposedly conspiring with ended up in jail for the same thing.

There are multiple logical problems with this theory. First and foremost is how did he get away with it, if he did it? He traveled to hundreds of campaign meetings, revisiting the same locations sometimes year after year. If he was cheating people of their money, why is there not a single accusation by anyone? If he was cheating people enough to get millions of dollars, surely someone would have noticed. This does not add up.

A second big problem presents itself that the critics never discuss. People who knew Bro. Branham in the late 1930s until his 1965 death are still alive. Guess what they unanimously say? He was poor! After he started campaigning his financial situation did improve, but he and his family continued to live in the same small house and drive the same cars and dress in hand-me-down clothes. Many of their assets were gifts.

A third significant issue with their allegations is this: Bro. Branham almost never solicited for donations, and when he did it was on behalf of others such as the church which was hosting his meetings. This is quite the contrast to A. A. Allen, Oral Roberts, and other whose meetings revolved around taking up offerings and collections. If Bro. Branham was greedy and seeking money, why did he not engage in the widely accepted practice of asking for donations? Wouldn’t that have been a very easy way to legitimately boost his income even higher? Of all the recorded sermons and publications he made, there is not a single one where he solicited donations to himself or his ministry.

What do the academics say?

Fortunately there are multiple independent and reliable sources who have something to say on this topic. I wonder why the critics don’t include what they have to say? Please note, the sources I will now give are academic and peer reviewed sources who are authoritative subject matter experts in their fields of study. This is quite the opposite of the critics who are putting together conspiracy theories and self publishing them.

To his credit, Branham decried the excessive concern for money in the revival and exclaimed that he would never beg for a campaign contribution. He even claimed he turned down a gift for one and half million dollars. Branham’s lack of concern for money was so prominent that many observers felt that some of his managers misappropriated funds for their own wealth.

Prof. C. Douglas Weaver, PhD, Department of Religion, Baylor University
Weaver, C. Douglas (2000). The Healer-Prophet: William Marrion Branham (A study of the Prophetic in American Pentecostalism). Mercer University Press. ISBN 978-0-865-54710-0. p. 93

Branham especially identified with the lower-class roots of Pentecostal tradition. He was proud to affirm “I’m a poor man.” The evangelist often claimed he could have been a millionaire from the revenue of his ministry. He spoke of refusing a Cadillac for a gift because “I want to be like the people that comes [sic] to be prayed for.” When he finally accepted a Cadillac from a Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International leader, out of embarrassment he kept the car in his garage for two years.

In the later years of his ministry, Branham increasingly chastised other evangelists and Pentecostalism as a whole for selling out to a gospel of prosperity. Prosperity was not an automatic result of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Branham argued. Moreover the world’s emphasis on big salaries, fancy choir robes, and expensive church structures was inconsistent with a belief in the imminent coming of Christ.

Prof. C. Douglas Weaver, PhD, Department of Religion, Baylor University
Weaver, C. Douglas (2000). The Healer-Prophet: William Marrion Branham (A study of the Prophetic in American Pentecostalism). Mercer University Press. ISBN 978-0-865-54710-0. p. 109

Thus, after nine successful years on the field [1955], Branham faced financial difficulties. He had always been careless about his finances and vowed never to stress money in his campaigns. During the flush years of the revival, it had never been necessary. It was easy then for him to be nonchalant toward all business matters; Gordon Lindsay recalled he was “almost childish in some ways.” He sometimes missed scheduled meetings and was totally unconcerned about business details.

Prof. Edwin David Harrell, Professor of Religion in the United States, Auburn University
Harrell, David (1978). All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-525-24136-1. p. 37

Finances became an issue again in 1956 when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) charged Branham with tax evasion The American government targeted the other leading revivalists with lawsuits during the same time period, including Oral Roberts, Jack Coe, and A. A. Allen.The IRS asserted income reported by the ministers as non-taxable gifts was taxable, despite the fact Branham had not kept the gifts. Except Allen, who won his legal battle, the evangelists settled their cases out of court. The IRS investigation showed Branham did not pay close attention to the amount of money flowing through his ministry. It also revealed that others were taking advantage of him. Branham’s annual salary was $7,000 while his manager’s was $80,000.  Oral Roberts earned a salary of $15,000 in the same years. The case was eventually settled out of court with the payment of a $40,000 penalty.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_M._Branham

How much money did Bro. Branham really make?

Because of the facts known about Bro. Branham’s IRS audit, it is possible to calculate what the IRS determined his income as with a high degree of certainty. In 1956, Bro. Branham would have been paying a tax rate of 34%-43%.4 The IRS audits taxpayers for the preceding six years of income.

Multiple sources report that he was assessed $40,000 amount by the IRS, which included both interest and penalties on top of the tax due. Given the tax rates of the time, and the IRS penalty and interest laws, we can approximately calculate Bro. Branham’s income.5 We calculate that the interest and penalty portion of the assessed amount would have been about $12,000, leaving $28,000 as principle tax owed. Assuming an overall tax rate of 34%, we can determine that Bro. Branham’s pre-tax income during the peak of his popularity was about $13,725 annually, of which he would have been required to pay about $4,663 a year in federal income tax. This income is close to the $15,000 Oral Roberts was making. Note that same sources report Bro. Branham’s manager (Gordon Lindsay) reported earning $80,000 a year in the same period…. I think we can see where the money was going.

Although we can calculate that the IRS determined he was making about $13,725 a year, multiple sources make clear he was being taxed for gifts he did not keep. Therefore his actual take home amount was somewhat less than that.

This income was nowhere near enough to make Bro. Branham a millionaire. At this rate, he would have had to work 72 years and save every penny to get to one million dollars. 

What did Bro. Branham do with his money?

Bro. Branham’s income would have been a large income for the 1950s. What did he do with it? Based on the Sarah Branham letter, Bro. Branham had a large amount of money in savings. It is clear from IRS case, Bro. Branham believed and reported on his tax returns that he was living on a middle class $7,000 a year salary. (About $55,000 per year in 2018 dollars).  The income over $7,000 was being spent on the healing campaigns and in later years being saved towards his future tent. For Bro. Branham to have amassed savings over over $100,000 at the time of his death, he would have been saving and not spending the majority of his income for many years. This is further proof that he was not living an extravagant wealthy lifestyle.

If the Internal Revenue Service of the United States audited his income, we can safely assume they did so exhaustively. It is very clear that his income was nowhere near the level necessary to make him a millionaire. Critic Rod Bergen is a CPA, perhaps he can double check our math? I wonder why someone with a background in taxes and finances never thought to validate Bro. Branham’s income in this way? Maybe because they are not interested in the truth? We believe their claim to be fair and honest, so we hope they will withdrawal this allegation.

The Final Fatal Flaw in this allegation

If the IRS numbers are not proof enough that Bro. Branham was not a millionaire, there is yet a major logical flaw in the critic’s argument. Do you know why the healing revival came to an end? It was not because the miracles stopped. It is because the evangelists could no longer afford to campaign. This assessment is universal among the researchers of the period, including David Edwin Harrell, Douglas Weaver, John Crowder, Michael Moriarty, and others. Who are those men? They are people who have nothing to do with the Branham movement who wrote about Bro. Branham for academic or charismatic religious reasons.

If Bro. Branham was a rich man, why did he stop holding the big campaign meetings? Couldn’t he have financed them himself? Couldn’t he have kept the revival going? If it was such a great source of wealth for him, why stop? Or better yet, why not copy A. A. Allen or Oral Roberts and start soliciting money on the radio or television? The allegation just does not add up.

Finally, if he was so rich, why did he live so poorly? Why did he not get a bigger house? Why did he not buy a nice car? Why didn’t he get new suits? There are many living people who can attest to the manner in which he lived. He practiced what he preached, and lived a generally ascetic lifestyle.

Other so-called evidence

Critic Peter Duyzer offers some especially ridiculous evidence to support his claim that Bro. Branham was well-to-do in his childhood. He presents the following evidence to “prove” Bro. Branham was not poor.

  • A story in which Bro. Branham told an audience where he received a nickel from his father which he was able to use to purchase candy. The event stood out in the memory of Bro. Branham for its novelty. Duyzer believes poor people never get candy. Really?
  • Indiana, where Bro. Branham’s family moved to, was a supposedly wealthy state thus Bro. Branham’s family must have been well-to-do. However, according to the IRS, out of 48 states in 1920, Indiana was 37th in average income, certainly making it one of the poorest states. It was in fact poorer than Kentucky which his family had left.6
  • Duyzer claims Mulligan Stew (a favorite meal choice of the homeless) which Bro. Branham ate when growing up, was a clear sign he was not poor.7 Really?
  • Bro. Branham’s father’s addiction to alcohol means they must have had plenty of money. How else could he have been able to purchase enough liquor to get drunk on? Really?

The editors of this website find this “evidence” to be rather pathetic. They seem to support the likelihood Bro. Branham was poor, rather than be any smoking gun evidence to the contrary.

Disclaimer

The editors of this website wish to make clear that our defense is of William Branham and not the financial dealings of Billy Paul Branham and Joseph Branham.

  1. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ford-motor-company-unveils-the-model-t
  2. Lewis, David (1976). The Public Image of Henry Ford: An American Folk Hero and His Company. Detroit, MI, U.S.: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8143-1553-8.
  3. http://www.fedprimerate.com/prime_rate_history-monthly.htm
  4. https://www.tax-brackets.org/federaltaxtable/1956
  5. https://www.fool.com/knowledge-center/how-to-calculate-interest-rate-penalties-on-late-t.aspx
  6. https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-soi/20soirepar.pdf
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulligan_stew_(food)

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