Editor’s Note: This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Waco Siege that occurred from February 28 to April 19, 1993. Throughout the weeks, we have been sharing on the website the articles that appeared in the May 1993 edition (vol. 23, no. 1) of Spectrum concerning this tragedy.
The public relations department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has done back flips in an attempt to distance itself from former member David Koresh. They certainly have a right and even a duty to do so. After all, he was disfellowshipped from the church in 1981 and much of his radical theology is of his own making.
However, I suggest that all of us who are or were Adventists recognize the fact that a piece of us is inside that Waco compound. We have all been part of a religious family that has its dysfunctional side, and our black-sheep brother David is acting out the role of scapegoat very effectively for us. With our religious addiction and bent toward our own kind of more dignified cultism, with the emphasis we have placed on apocalyptic—Day of Armageddon—theology, with its persecutorial paranoid overtones, we have inadvertently fed the dark side of the wounded and vulnerable souls like David Koresh.
As an illegitimate child with learning difficulties, his early life could not have been easy. Dropping out of school in the ninth grade certainly did not enhance his already low self-esteem. When he did join the Adventist church in Tyler, Texas at the age of 18, his grandmother reports he was treated with disdain because of his long hair, style of dress, and musical tastes. Instead of being accepted for who he was (as AA accepts any alcoholic), and unconditionally loved in the church, he was apparently judged and criticized. As a result, he moved on to join the Branch Davidians in Waco. We Adventists will never know just how much that failure to love and support a lonely and insecure young man may have contributed to the present tragedy.
But wait a minute, it is not just us Adventists who are setting up people for elitism, religious addiction, and cultism. Equally culpable are the members of any religious organization who put their religion ahead of their spirituality. Anyone who considers himself morally superior because of his religious belief. Anyone who sits in judgment on the personal choices of another human being whether those choices are sexual, religious, or political. Anyone who says his way is the only way to God. Anyone who would try to set himself up as the only source of religious truth or as conscience for another person or who would attempt to dictate what someone else should believe. Anyone who holds a dysfunctional theology like the old manipulative, fear-inducing Baptist doctrine of a God who condemns people who don't measure up into a burning pit of fire and brimstone for all eternity, a doctrine that has probably done more harm and kept more people away from real spirituality than any other teaching ever devised by the mind of humanity.
When religion is fear, guilt, and shame based, it becomes religiosity or religious addiction. This sets vulnerable people up to move into extreme positions like cultism.
Is David Koresh the Messiah? No. Did he die for our sins? Quite possibly.
Listen to this article:
Further reading on the Waco tragedy:
Apocalyptic—Who Needs It?, April 10, 2018
Fundamentalism Is a Disease, a Demonic Perversion, April 8, 2018
Futuristic Highs at Mt. Carmel, April 4, 2018
One of David’s Mighty Men, March 28, 2018
The British Connection, March 14, 2018
Apocalypse at Diamond Head, March 7, 2018
God, Guns, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, February 14, 2018
The Making of David Koresh, February 7, 2018
Paradise Lost in Waco, February 5, 2018
We Didn't Start the Fire but the Tinder was Ours, January 31, 2018
New TV Series Premieres for 25th Anniversary of the Waco Tragedy, January 24, 2018
Beware of Wolves Disguised as Sheep, June 8, 2017
Death of a Branch Davidian Friend and Other Memories, April 19, 2014
Branch Davidians (and Adventists) Revisited in The New Yorker, March 30, 2014
My Trip to Waco, December 27, 2012
This article was written by Douglas Cooper for the May 1993 issue of Spectrum.
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