Did David Koresh Die for Our Sins?

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.

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.

Image: SpectrumMagazine.org

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8706

Sometimes I wonder if people actually read the Bible. The things they write are just laughable when viewed from the perspective of the Written Word. It seems to me that some Christians, tiring of life’s burdens, have joined the cults of the Indian Gurus of yesteryear who popularized yoga, meditation, and the notions of enlightenment and God-realization through the Divine Spark in oneself.

Or perhaps they have become Gnostics dabbling in Transcendentalism:

American transcendentalism is essentially a kind of practice by which the world of facts and the categories of common sense are temporarily exchanged for the world of ideas and the categories of imagination. The point of this exchange is to make life better by lifting us above the conflicts and struggles that weigh on our souls. As these chains fall away, our souls rise to heightened experiences of freedom and union with the good. Emerson and Thoreau are the two most significant nineteenth century proponents of American transcendentalism.

NetFlix Documentary: Wild Wild Country


Well, I was there. Harriett and Hubb Phelps took him in, gave him work.

My then-husband was head elder and would take him in his truck to job sites and talk with him extensively.

We let Vernon take our sons camping and fishing. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking…yikes…I agree.)

Vernon was tragic, but he was also difficult. I doubt any Adventist congregation then or now could have handled him.

When he involved himself with the pastor’s beautiful daughter, he sealed his fate.

(Elder Hoffman also “exorcised” that sweet, beautiful girl, God help her.)

My then-husband was one of the elders who disfellowshipped Vernon.

The last time I saw Vernon was years later when he and his wife Rachel and baby Cyrus, and his mother Bonnie were at my house.

Vernon was very subtly inviting me to come to Waco. My husband caught the drift and ordered him gone.

The last thing I said to him was, “I’m sorry, Vernon.”

I can’t blame the Tyler church, really, though it did spew out the likes of both Vernon and me.

It was a pretty sick environment, but I’m not sure another church environment for Vernon would have prevented tragedy. God knows.

There were good people there—Harriet was a saint—but they were in over their heads.

For years I thought that if I hadn’t been “living in sin” at the time, the FBI would have let me in to talk to him and get him out, which his mother thought I alone could do.

I thought it was my fault because I was out of harmony with God and God couldn’t use me.

I literally believed those kids died for my sins.

This is another psychological/social/spiritual experience that seems impossible to sort out and integrate.

But, in the broader Adventist sense, did David Koresh die for your sins?

I doubt that you can sort out and integrate this psychological/social/spiritual experience any better that I can.

So here we are in the Bardo together.

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Oh, Cassie, this breaks my heart. I’m so very sorry. What trauma this must have caused in your heart and soul.

You haven’t worked through this yet, have you? What a difficult and soul-crushing guilt you have been carrying.

Thank you for sharing and for giving us insight into his time in Tyler and your relationship with him.

Re-living the experience through your recent viewing of the movie was obviously traumatic all over again.

I don’t know what to say to you who have experienced so much loss and so much trauma in your life.

You inspire me and I pray for peace for you. :heart:


Thank you, dear friend.

I once read a book called, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows.

And I believe this:

God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him.

All that has perplexed us in the providences of God will in the world to come be made plain. The things hard to be understood will then find explanation. The mysteries of grace will unfold before us. Where our finite minds discovered only confusion and broken promises, we shall see the most perfect and beautiful harmony. We shall know that infinite love ordered the experiences that seemed most trying.

He who is imbued with the Spirit of Christ abides in Christ. The blow that is aimed at him falls upon the Saviour, who surrounds him with His presence. Whatever comes to him comes from Christ. He has no need to resist evil, for Christ is his defense. Nothing can touch him except by our Lord’s permission, and “all things” that are permitted “work together for good to them that love God.”

Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service of God supreme, will find perplexities vanish and a plain path before their feet.

As a little child, trust to the guidance of Him who will “keep the feet of his saints.” 1 Sam. 2:9.

As we commit our ways to Him, He will direct our steps.
—Ellen White

I don’t believe any of us have worked through this experience, friend. We’re in the Bardo together, and can only do it together, which will become obvious when things start unraveling.

I’m just a place-holder for the collective pain, and I accept that.

We can do this.

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You’re perfect and I love you, sis. :heart:


This is interesting. I didn’t know you had a claim to infamy in such a VERY sad way.

I think you meant “because of your sins.” If they had died for your sins, you would have been the only person in the universe with more than two atonements to your name, and who knows how many more to come.


Point taken.

I was mirroring the writer of the article:

However, I have pondered many things about this shared history of ours which I may someday speak about.


Carry me, carry me, carry me now…

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