In a sermon called “Prisoner” on July 17, 1963, William Branham introduces a man to his congregation. He says, “And I'll ask our brother there on the end, if he'll just stand up and tell us who he is, and his lovely little lady there, and the next brother.”
The brother stands up and says, “Thank you, Brother Branham. Privileged to be here. And I'm... Brother Roger and me live in Kansas, travel on the field, as an evangelist, telling, 'Jesus saves, heals, by faith in Jesus...?... ' I've always packing...?... This is my fiancee, Patricia Brown. We're going to be married, Friday.“
Roger Rudin and Patrica Brown were married by William Branham later that week. Roger moved to Phoenix after William Branham’s death and became the pastor of the Evening Light Tabernacle, a message church. He taught holiness, no cut hair for women, no makeup, no pants, no short dresses, no shorts for men, no smoking, drinking, gambling.
Roger Rudin died on June 15, 1998. In an article three days after his death, The Phoenix New Times reported on Rudin’s passing:
- His flock believed that his small Phoenix church was the only true church; they were the "Elect," the chosen people who prepared diligently for the great "catching away"...
- Instead, a very different man emerges from the scraps of his history, a man who led a remarkable double life he had carefully kept from the credulous members of his flock.
- Watching a 1995 videotape of a Rudin sermon, which is more eye-rolling, gesturing and theatrics than homily, it's hard to believe that anyone considered him a legitimate preacher, let alone the most important religious figure of his age. But for a small, close-knit group of Phoenicians, that's precisely what he was.
- They belonged to an ultraconservative faith with a strict "holiness standard," a code of behavior that prevented women from cutting their hair, wearing makeup, pants, bathing suits or dresses shorter than the knee. Men could not wear shorts. Members could not smoke, drink, dance, gamble. Premarital sex was strictly forbidden. Even sex in marriage was discouraged.
- That's because the world was about to end, and it made little sense to bring children into it. Rudin discouraged them from planning far into the future or from educating themselves, telling them that it was a waste of time. Better to ready their souls for the great spiritual migration, which they were required to do by making extraordinary financial sacrifices.
- Like their 17th-century counterparts, these modern-day Puritans believed that strict attention to their behavior, and to the behavior of their companions, was a requisite for being the Elect, the few chosen people who would achieve salvation. The rest of us, everyone but the 200 people in Rudin's church at its height, were damned to hell.
- At the same time, in 1985, that he railed against the sin of homosexuality in his church, only blocks away Rudin ran a gay bar called the Paradise Lounge. At the same time, in 1995, that members of his flock were asked to write letters on his behalf for, they were told, a part-time job, the letters actually went to support Rudin's plea for probation after his criminal conviction for cocaine possession. At the same time that the gay community knew Rudin was living in Oregon avoiding court judgments and financial ruin, he somehow managed to show up each week to preach to his flock and maintain the fiction that he still lived in the Valley.
- All but one member of the gay community contacted for this story say they had no idea Rudino was a Pentecostal minister with a church, an end-time message, a wife.
- A day after the wedding, when they had started on their short honeymoon, Brother Rudin became very weak in body as the enemy tried to oppress him. They immediately returned to Jeffersonville so that Brother Branham could pray for Brother Rudin. (from a Rudin booklet)
- A generation of evangelists exploded in popularity in postwar America, including an uneducated, simple Indiana man with a limited vocabulary but an uncommon power for faith healing. Raised in utter poverty, William Marrion Branham had begun preaching in the 1930s, but it was after 1946 that his ministry caught fire. Through the 1950s, his legend grew; Branham was said to have raised the dead, could read minds, and could diagnose afflictions with a touch of his vibrating left hand. He gained huge popularity with Pentecostals. After 1960, however, he began to make truly astounding claims about himself which caused some churches to turn away from him; Branham proclaimed himself Elijah, the prophet which the Bible predicts will precede the second coming of Christ.
- Branham said he had decoded the seven seals of the Book of Revelations (a feat that Branch Davidian leader David Koresh would make years later), and laid out many prophecies through the year 1995. What he didn't foresee, apparently, was the Texas drunken driver who slammed into his car in 1965; Branham died several days later. His followers waited months to bury him, hoping in vain that he would come back to life.
- While he was still alive, Branham was an inspiration to many aspiring evangelists, including a young Iowa preacher named Roger Rudin who in 1959 had begun traveling the revival circuit. Like Branham, Rudin claimed to have received divinely inspired visions portending the future; Rudin considered it a great honor when Branham performed the ceremony uniting Rudin with his wife, Patricia Brown, in 1963. As church literature indicates, however, Rudin's wedding night was not a blissful one. Several versions circulate among Rudin's former believers: One story has him panicked about sleeping with a woman; another describes him running through a motel parking lot until he's tackled by a friend. The official version promoted by the church claimed that the Rudins' wedding night was ruined by a "cloud of oppression" sent by Satan.
- Branham was recalled to counsel the shaken-up Rudin. Two years later, when Branham lay dying in a Texas hospital bed, away in Iowa Rudin claimed that he was overtaken with a sense of foreboding. He excused himself from a Christmas dinner and retreated to a bedroom. There, Patricia found him "beside himself." Later, they realized that at that precise moment, the spirit had left William Branham.
- For Rudin's followers, the message was clear: Rudin had replaced Branham as the true endtime prophet. In his sermons, carefully transcribed and still preserved along with his many papers, Rudin would spend hours hammering away at the parallels between himself and Branham, cementing this relationship in their minds.
- Other records show that congregants turned over control of property and cars and made large loans to Rudin. Frantic handwritten notes from members desperately asking for payments on those loans lie among the piles of Rudin's papers, as do various liens and default notices on the properties the minister controlled over many years.
- The most well-known of these was the downtown Hotel Westward Ho, which Rudin and church member Thomas Caprino purchased in January 1978 for $2.3 million. Rudin and Caprino had begun investing in properties together nine years earlier and bragged to the Arizona Republic that an evangelist should be able to make millions with prudent investing.
- After purchasing the Westward Ho, Rudin convinced Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini to back a plan for the federal department of Housing and Urban Development to convert it to subsidized housing for the elderly. HUD would pay for construction bonds, and Rudin and Caprino would net approximately $1 million in the deal.
- Church secretary Helen Robertson, long Rudin's most trusted lieutenant, recruited members of the congregation to write letters about their admiration for Rudin. Stevens and Lucas say they were told the letters would be used to help the minister land a part-time job. They had no idea, they say, that the letters instead were being submitted to assure that Rudin not get prison time. He received a three-year sentence of probation.
- It wasn't the first time that Robertson seemed to help Rudin keep a darker truth from the congregation. If no one in the congregation knew where Rudin lived, Stevens and Lucas say, Robertson must have known, at least to make sure that Rudin received important legal documents.
- "Helen was the piano player. She never did like me," says John. "She would get up and talk about how Rudin was the prophet, how we couldn't let him down, that he'd done so much for us. She would tell people to give wedding rings and things for the prophet. That's when I thought, 'Whoa,' this is beginning to look like a cult to me."
- This past March, when Patricia Rudin died of congestive heart failure, it was Robertson who refused to let Stevens and Lucas enter the funeral home so that they could pay their respects, they say. Not long after that, Stevens watched Robertson throw out Rudin's papers into a garbage bin behind the church.
- "We're under a little reorganization," Robertson says of the church now that Rudin himself has died. (The county medical examiner reports that Rudin's cause of death was atherosclerotic coronary artery disease.) "We need a new chapel. Our nonprofit status has expired, so we're going for status on that."
- Asked about Rudin's double life and his involvement with the gay community, Robertson says, "It doesn't matter what kind of life he led. He did counseling to many gays. He was involved in the homosexual community. He also counseled Hollywood stars."
- Church members say that "counseling gays" was something Rudin claimed to do a lot of recently, but he never admitted to the congregation that he was gay himself. As for Hollywood stars, Rudin told the congregation that he provided psychic readings to Jim Carrey, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and others. He offered no proof of it.
- "We went through a lot of hard times together," Robertson says. "I saw the truth of what he was preaching. It helped me through a lot in life, no matter what his personal battles were with people. He made some bad business investments. Big deal. Did people have faults? Yeah. But are the things people are saying about him true? No. He's never harmed a soul.
- "We're not a cult," she says. "If you don't like what we're teaching, you're free to leave. In fact, we'd prefer that you do."
Rudin’s lawyer from the gay community said this about him, “Roger Rudin had no honor. No integrity. No principles. And no social redeeming value. He was the ultimate con. I believe Rudin was a psychotic, if not sociopathic, individual. It seemed like he was simply evil. Evil in mind, body and spirit."
When the church tithes went to the ministry, they went simply to support Roger’s gay lifestyle. His male partner died of AIDS, and then he took another. Yet his faithful congregation had to wait until he passed away to learn that he didn’t care about them at all, that he had lied to them endlessly just for money.