Magazine article The Christian Century

Adventists Disavow Waco Cult

Magazine article The Christian Century

Adventists Disavow Waco Cult

Article excerpt

THE SEVENTH-DAY Adventist Church was quick to deny any connection with the violent Branch Davidians, a cult whose members engaged in a murderous shootout with federal authorities at the group's compound near Waco, Texas. The question arose because the violent cult traces its beginnings more than 60 years ago to a group of disaffected Adventists. Four federal agents were killed February 28 when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sought to serve warrants on the Branch Davidians and the group's leader, Vernon Howell, who also goes by the name David Koresh. Koresh has said he is Jesus Christ, and now says he is a prophet. Also killed in the gun battle were an undertermined number of cult members, with estimates ranging from three to 20.

The Adventists - one of the fastest-growing Protestant denominations worldwide, with 783,000 members in the U.S. and more than 7 million other adherents in 208 other countries - issued its statement from its headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, as hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement officers continued to lay siege to the cult's 77-acre commune, called Mount Carmel by adherents. The agency was investigating reports that the cult had a stockpile of illegal weapons and that children in the commune were being abused.

In a statement the Adventist Church declared that the Branch Davidians were "several splinter groups away" from the group's beginning as a group of disaffected Adventists. In a subsequent press release Shirley Burton, director of communication for the Adventists' General Conference, acknowledged that the church's own sources of information about the cult, "though believed to be reliable, are primarily defectors and others who have been associated" with the group and its leaders.

The group was formed following the 1929 disfellowshiping, or excommunication, of Victor Houteff, a Bulgarian emigre. Houteff, who was never ordained within the Adventist Church, moved the group from Los Angeles to Texas in the mid-1930s, calling it The Shepherd's Rod. Houteff, who died in 1955, claimed that he had been sent by God to "cleanse" the Adventist denomination.

Since 1955 the cult's history has been one of turmoil and violence. In 1959, according to news reports, Houteff's widow, Florence, predicted that God would set up his earthly kingdom that year, and that God would resurrect her husband to be the leader of the new city. …

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