Home > News > 2013 > July >
20 Years After Waco Adventists Wary of Extreme Groups, Individuals
Submitted: Jul 29, 2013
By Adventist Today News Team

Seven in ten Seventh-day Adventists say that looking back on the tragic events of 1993 at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, their primary view now is "concern about extreme groups at the margins of the Adventist movement" and/or "a sense that one must be aware of the unbalanced people who may be in the church." Another third still have questions about how Federal agents handled the confrontation and one in four worry about emphasis on the apocalyptic.
In a survey conducted for Adventist Today in April and May among a random sample of church members only 14 percent expressed fear that the event may still be the source of negative attitudes toward the Adventist Church. Few respondents indicated that they have no memory of the tragic story that unfolded on national television in April 1993 when a small religious group called the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists got into an exchange of gunfire with agents of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempting to serve a search warrant. Federal officers and members of the group were wounded and killed in the gun fight and after a standoff that stretched for nearly a month, Federal officers from several agencies attempted to force the group to leave by using gas and a conflagration ensued killing women and children as well as gunmen.
The majority of Adventists who responded to the survey (57 percent) remember their horror at the deaths involved in a confrontation in which interpretations of the Book of Revelation played a public role. Another 31 percent remember that they were concerned that the general public might think the group was a part of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination; 29 percent remember that they were perplexed about how the tragedy could have happened and 18 percent were shocked that Adventist could be involved in such violence.
How should Adventist relate to the 20th anniversary of the event? Nearly half (48 percent) said that it is good to think about what can be learned from the tragedy. Almost as many (44 percent) felt that it is appropriate to remember the families who suffered from the tragedy. A third felt that the anniversary is cause for spiritual reflection and prayer and 14 percent said it should be a reason to redouble efforts against extremists in the Adventist faith.
Nine percent of the survey respondents indicated that they had a personal relationship with someone who was caught up the events in Waco in 1993. A number of Adventist families lost loved ones in the event because the group included both individuals who had left the denomination or been dropped from membership and people who were still members.
A total of 233 individuals responded to the online survey out of a random sample of 400 email addresses of church members. The response rate is 58 percent and the standard allowance for sampling error is eight percentage points, plus or minus.
The first issue of Adventist Today was published soon after the event and the cover article in that issue was about the Waco tragedy. Adventist Today continues to be the only Adventist news publication that regularly covers independent ministries and a variety of groups that consider themselves "Adventist" but are not officially affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. Current subscribers can access a PDF copy of that first issue in the archives on this Web site.
"There are still some small groups around the edges of the Adventist movement that have very extreme views about fulfillment of prophecy and related issues," an Adventist historian told Adventist Today. "There is also about a quarter to a third of Adventists in North America who are very conservative in their approach to the faith, almost sectarian in some ways. It may be a somewhat larger percentage in some developing nations, although no one has published really definitive research on this subject."
"More remarkable," said a retired pastor, "is the growth of a strong evangelical stream among Adventists in North America. In 1980 the North American Division included a question in a survey asking about assurance of salvation and 67 percent indicated a strong sense of assurance. Since that time the percentage expressing a firm assurance of eternal life has grown to more than 90 percent. You can see the same trend in the Valuegenesis 1 and 2 surveys among young people. There is much more emphasis on Christ-centered preaching and faith today."

Share your thoughts about this article:

Nathan Schilt
2013-08-01 1:51 AM

It would be nice to know how the 400 to whom the survey was sent were randomized. It would also be nice to see the actual survey so that we can see how neutral the questions were. How did you determine what the "primary view now" of the responders is, since it appears that many views were elicited? What were the demographics of the responders? Who's the Adventist historian? Who's the Adventist pastor? What's the point of quoting someone as an authority if you won't identify them?

I'm not saying the polling data isn't accurate. It's just that the obvious editorial perspective makes one wonder about the objectivity of the study.

Truth Seeker
2013-08-02 1:24 PM

In this case I agree with Schilt. What is there to hide? Transparency should be a hallmark of an independent publication.

2013-08-03 8:57 AM

I also have to agree with the two prior commentors. This article is so vague and nonspecific as to be of little or no value. Why not step up to the plate and provide some details. Who are these "fringe" groups and what do they believe? Why the continued failure to distinquish between the Koresh brand of branch Davidianism and a true Davidian Seventh-day Adventist? What about the 2520 folks, the anti-trinitarians? Why not invite each group to speak for themselves rather than here what others who do not agree with the status quo have to say?

If you are going to be different as the only Adventist publication that regularly covers independent ministries then you should interview and invite articles from these groups and give them an opportunity to speak.

Vernon P. Wagner
2013-08-03 2:18 PM

Except for one abortive attempt, by the State of Texas, to remove kids from an LDS polygamist/pedophile compound, that sect is generally immune to similar Federal intervention...strange.

Edwin A. Schwisow
2013-08-03 4:47 PM

As I read the survey report, it seems there are strong elements of information valuable to us, chief among them the sense among our fellow Church members that we no longer can rule out the possibility of violence erupting among us, or among those recently with us. The LDS denomination is mentioned in one comment, and case in point, the Mormons themselves admit that their denomination was born in violence and partook of it. There is nothing about early Mormonism that presents a picture of a peaceful, long-suffering organization of latter-day saints. This was a militant, politically indoctrinated sect with plans for an earthly empire; its founder was running for President at the time of his death through retaliatory lynching, not by gentiles, but by former supporters. Even the worst critics of the Adventist faith have never accused us of militancy or desire to conquer the cosmos through might of arms. We are a group of people that traditionally looks to extraterrestrial deliverance and relies (if necessary) on divine protection to safeguard us during the worst of troubled times ahead.

I well remember my mother complaining about the "Shepherd's Rods" propagandists who would come to church and in her view disrupt lesson study by injecting their thinking on various matters. But I was never warned that offbeat points of view and those who represent them are in any way dangerous to my health and temporal longevity. We Adventists primarily see ourselves (and even those who off-shoot from us) as inherently peaceful and responsible in the everyday sense.When Neil C. Wilson was seen at the 1985 General Conference Session (also attended by David Koresh), he was unexpectedly accompanied by bodguards, and my first impression was that apparently there had been some threat made by the "worldly" people of New Orleans against him. I'm no longer so sure that threat came from outside the extended Adventist culture.

We have learned here in the Northwest to beware especially of Sabbatarian sects and groups that place a great deal of emphasis on the more morbid passages from the Book of Ezekiel. David Koresh was consumed by these passages, and others who hear in these passages a call from God to cleanse the earth of iniquity seem prepared to take things into their own hands, if and when megalomania and narcissism reach full bloom. Whether or not the fear of further violence among Adventist offshoots is warranted is a question for another day. This survey approaches the question from the vantage of perception—how do we Adventists now feel about ourselves in the wake of Waco? The encouraging reality is that 20 years have now passed with no further incidents of this nature rising to the fore. Frankly, I do not fear ex-Adventist offshoots, per se. Their reasons for leaving or being driven from the Church rarely have to do directly with violence or the threat of violence. But I do take special notice of the source materials chosen and emphasis given by outspoken dissident leaders. We live in an era of terrorism, much of it senseless. But in the minds of unbalanced people, lashing out to kill before being killed (so to speak) can become a compelling motivation to act—and to act with expectation of God's blessing. It appears that the caustic militancy of David Koresh died with him. But juding from the survey results, many fear it has not.....

Truth Seeker
2013-08-04 9:26 PM

Why don't you enable us to see the details of the report?

Trevor Hammond [22oct1844]
2013-08-07 7:10 PM

It seems that a false fear is unnecessarily being instilled in the church by those who try and equate Koresh and crew with conservative Adventism. Koresh was not a conservative Adventist. The fact is that the Koresh at Waco was not an Adventist and that his dodgy beliefs had nothing to do with end-time events as held by Adventists. What is being passed off by some is that Koresh was an Adventist with extreme Adventist beliefs who then went crazy and led many of his followers on his compound to their death. While he did lead many of his followers to their death, it should be noted that it was not based on Adventist beliefs. He did not even mention Adventists during the standoff. He wanted publicity. Some people wanted the Adventist church to get involved. It was a catch 22. I'm glad they didn't. If they did, the Adventist church would have being accused of having ties with crackpots like Koresh.

Of course, I'm guessing here, but I think this poll relates to the views of what Adventists in the US think. Others may not see it this way. It also isn't clear whether the poll was conducted predominantly among liberal or conservative Adventists.

Nathan Schilt
2013-08-08 7:19 PM

And even if Koresh had been an observant mainstream Adventist, it would tell us little to nothing about the nature of Adventism or Adventist fundamentalists. And believe me, I am no defender of Adventist fundamentalism. I simply hate to see such blatant lack of intellectual honesty and integrity.

It is highly perplexing and annoying to see ostensibly intelligent people judge beliefs or groups that they don't like by individual deranged members who committed crimes 20 years ago. How long will the Adventist Left have to get beyond Waco before acknowledging that there may be no more connection between Waco and Adventism than there is between human nature and any belief/value system to which humans attach? Why don't liberals want to talk about the connection between Christopher Dorner and the grievance/entitlement/victocrat mentality bred by the secular Left? Whatever happened to common sense? Doesn't it strike anyone that it is absolutely ridiculous to take one isolated event in 150 years of a religious movement's history and judge any element of the movement by that event? 

Has anyone considered the likelihood that, if an angry ex-Adventist, turned agnostic, blew up a conservative SDA church, the Left would gleefully be blaming fundamentalist Adventism? The wonderful thing about being a fundamentalist, whether liberal or conservative, is that your beliefs can never be falsified. And you can turn any reality into an event that vindicates your beliefs.

Why is it that those on the Left perfervidly seek to dissociate particular politically favored identity groups from their pathological elements? The same folks who urge us not to judge the great religion of Islam by its pervasive violence and intolerance eagerly rush to diagnose Christianity and Adventism as diseased whenever a fundamentalist goes off the rails. What gives?


You do not have sufficient permissions to post a comment.

Log In to Post a Comment. Log In | Register

Adventist Today Magazine is published quarterly by Adventist Today Foundation

Phone: 503-826-8600   |   Email: atoday@atoday.org   |   Web: atoday.org