Two men notorious for preaching and haranguing women on London streets are followers of a dead U.S. evangelist whose sermons continue to inspire a disparate group of followers, including one group a former member describes as a "destructive cult."
- Everybody's had enough of London's street preachers
Last week CBC London reported that local women, church leaders and the mayor are growing tired of the actions Matthew Carapella and Steven Ravbar. The duo frequently preach on London's streets using a loudspeaker. They've also been barred from at least two London churches for confronting congregates and church leaders during services.
CBC's stories about the men came to the attention of John Collins, who lives in Jeffersonville, Indiana. He immediately recognized the men's preaching as almost identical to the sermons of evangelist William Branham, a U.S. preacher who died in 1965.
Collins was born into a Branham-inspired group called "The Message" which he describes as a "destructive cult."
"He is basically regurgitating what William Branham said," Collins said after watching videos on CBC.ca of Carapella preaching at the corner of Dundas and Richmond streets.
Collins has written extensively about Branham on his website and in books he's published.
In the years after World War Two, Branham was a doomsday preacher who led a movement called Latter Rain that increasingly deviated from mainstream Christianity.
Collins says The Message and groups like it have all the familiar elements of a cult: members weren't allowed outside contact and are forbidden from questioning the doctrine.
During his career, Branham had connections to the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Jones, who would later led more than 900 of his followers to kill themselves in Guyana in a mass suicide known as the Jonestown Massacre.
"I was raised and taught to believe that the world was ending at any time," said Collins. "I was taught that the whole rest of the world was the bad guys and our little church was the good guys."
Carapella confirmed during a CBC interview last week that he was introduced to recordings of Branham's sermons by Ravbar, his frequent preaching partner and his former Grade 7 teacher.
"The first sermon I heard by brother Branham, I rejoiced," Carapella said. "That's what I've been searching for my whole life."
Carapella said he believes Branham to be a "prophet of God."
The oppression of women is a common element in Branham's sermons. He often berated them from the pulpit, comparing them to "dogs" and "hogs." He also frequenly describes all women as instruments of Satan, sent to Earth only to tempt and deceive man.
He preached that women should be kept inside the home and not pursue careers. He also said women should not dress in any way like a man, including pants and short haircuts.
On London's streets, Carapella confronts women about their appearance and clothing, triggering complaints and an active investigation by local police and the city's bylaw enforcement officers. Women told CBC they've been called "whores" and "prostitutes" for wearing pants or having short hair.
Audio recordings of than 1,000 Branham sermons are available on various websites.
Collins said The Message members often don't have a regular place of worship, but instead have "tape services" where they gather in members' homes to listen to any of more than 1,000 audio files of his sermons posted online.
"They play the tapes in the home, and call this church," he said.
It's these recordings that continue to influence new followers more than 40 years after Branham's death.
Collins, who is 41, was able to leave the group in 2012 and now operates a website Seek Ye The Truth that aims to inform people about Branham-inspired groups. He also helps people whose family members have fallen under the spell of such groups which publicly claim up to four million members worldwide, but lack a cohesive leadership structure.
Collins says breaking free from the group was a painful, life-altering process that forever severed ties with friends and family members.
He advises anyone with loved ones involved in The Message or similar groups to be "patient and persistent."
"Getting them out, it's a massive undertaking," he said. "But there is hope for those who are willing to work with their family."
Street preacher's family reaches out
Meanwhile a member of the Carapella family, who asked not to be named, contacted CBC last week.
The family member said Matthew is under the influence of "a cult" and said family members are trying to help him. The family member acknowledged the behaviour — calling out women for how they dress and confronting people in their place of worship — is unacceptable.
The family member also reached out to two churches where parishioners were confronted to apologize for Matthew Carapella's behaviour.