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A Balanced Look at the Roots of the I AM Activity

Erin Prophet

 Guy and Edna Ballard, founders of the I AM Religious Activity, with their son Donald and his wife, in 1938.

Guy and Edna Ballard, founders of the I AM Religious Activity, with their son Donald and his wife, in 1938.

From time to time, people write me with links to work by Gerald Bryan, who was for some time the only external source of information about the I AM Religious Activity, founded in the early 1930s by Guy Ballard and his wife Edna. Using the names Godfre Ray King and Lotus Ray King, they wrote and recieved from masters thousands of pages of material. Bryan's book, called Psychic Dictatorship Over America, is generally seen today by historians as a biased but occasionally useful polemic. Many people are not familiar with a more neutral description of the group by Charles S. Braden, included as a chapter in his book about minority religious groups, These Also Believe, published in 1949. Since this book is not widely available I have scanned the chapter here: The I Am Movement by Charles Braden

There is also excellent work that has been done by other scholars more recently, including in The Handbook of the Theosophical Current, edited by Olav Hammer. The I AM books influenced many people, including my parents, and as I wrote in Prophet's Daughter, were something I learned about in Sunday School as scripture, right next to the Bible. Just as it is important to expose the Bible to critical scrutiny, I think it is important to look critically at the I AM books and their context. The Braden chapter is a useful part of this process and I include it here as a resource for anyone looking for a deeper understanding of the I AM revelations.

As far as my overall opinion of the I AM books, I view them as didactic fiction whose real takeaway is the power of positive affirmations. I think it is possible that writings can be helpful spiritually while still laying out entirely unrealistic expectations for human behavior. The perfectionism and asceticism of the I AM mythology reverberates today in the lives of many who may have read the books and tried with varying degrees of success to apply them.

I have a 1999 interview with Dr. James Burns, longtime member of the I AM, who recalled an incident with "Daddy Ballard," regarding the eating of meat, which was forbidden to those who wanted to "ascend" in the I AM, i.e., become like Jesus after death. Burns recalls a Sunday morning breakfast at Clifton's Cafeteria in Los Angeles when Ballard was serving soup. Ballard "pulled a big piece of meat" out of the pot. As Burns remembers, Ballard "didn't get excited. He just put it in, cut it up, gave it to them." According to Burns, the Ballards themselves were not fanatical, "but people around them were, a lot of times." I raise this incident not to promote or condemn eating meat, but simply to point out that even within a single group, belief and practice can change over time, with culture.